Cooking at Home for Your Cat

 

You love a delicious home-cooked meal, right? Turns out that your cat just might enjoy one, too. "The ingredients in homemade cat food are fresh and less processed," says Nathalie LaPierre, a veterinarian at the Lilburn Animal Hospital in Lilburn, Ga. "Digestibility is easier, and the benefits to the cat's body are greater."

And many pet owners take this to heart. Joy H. Bailey of Cartersville, Ga., has been making her cats homemade meals for years. "When I make my cats' food, I'm in control of the ingredients," says Bailey. "I love my cats, and they give that love back tenfold. Why wouldn't I give them the healthiest food I can?" 

Are you ready to hit the kitchen? Before you pick up your frying pan, it's important to know that cats are not able to eat all of the ingredients people can eat. To make sure your efforts result in a safe and healthy meal, learn these important safety rules about cats and food.  

1. Certain foods are toxic for cats
"Never feed your cats chocolate, or anything in the onion family," warns LaPierre. Why? Chocolate contains the compound theobromine, which is a diuretic, as well as a cardiac stimulant. This can cause a pet's heart rate to increase or cause the heart to beat irregularly, both of which can be dangerous to the animal. Onions contain sulfoxides and disulfides which are toxic to the red blood cells of cats and can lead to anemia. Other foods to avoid are pork (including bacon), raw fish, raw eggs or bones. Each of those forbidden foods has its own ill effects on cats.

2. Skip the milk
Even though many people believe cats love a big saucer of milk, most cats are lactose intolerant. "The adult cat has lost its intestinal flora to break down milk properly," Dr. LaPierre says. "It can cause diarrhea in cats. Even kittens shouldn't drink cow milk -- only the milk from their mommies."

3. Don't create a diet for your cat that has vitamin deficiencies
"When you make your own cat food, you risk nutritional deficiencies if you don't prepare it correctly," Dr. LaPierre warns. Consult your vet about suggested vitamin or mineral supplements for your feline.

4. Go by the book
There are many cat cookbooks in bookstores, such as Real Food for Cats: 50 Vet-Approved Recipes to Please the Feline Gastronome by Patti Delmonte (Storey Publishing, LLC), and The Ultimate Treat Cookbook: Homemade Goodies for Finicky Felines by Liz Palika (Howell Book House). Using vet-approved recipes found in books like these will give you peace of mind that your cat is getting all the required nutrients. "I think a cookbook takes some of the risk out of making homemade treats," says Palika.

One of Palika's favorite recipes for felines is for "Sardine Spectacular Cat Treats." The only two ingredients you need are one 3.75 oz. can of sardines in oil, undrained, and a half-cup of plain, unseasoned bread crumbs. Place the sardines and their oil in a food processor or blender and puree to a thick paste (Add a tablespoon of water if the fish doesn't form a paste.) Place the paste in a mixing bowl and add the bread crumbs. Stir until thoroughly combined. Place the mixture in an airtight container in the refrigerator for at least one hour, then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Bon appétit!

Acupuncture for Cats

You knew alternative medicine was catching on with some people, but how about for pets? The truth is, the use of acupuncture on animals traces back to China's Western Jin dynasty, circa 300 A.D. In the western world, animal acupuncture's roots are more recent and seeping into the mainstream. But when might it be appropriate to try it with your cat? And what should you expect from treatment? We asked New York-based veterinarian and certified veterinary acupuncturist Stacey Joy Hershman to provide a fresh look at an age-old therapy.

An Overview
Acupuncture involves inserting thin, sterilized needles into pressure points slightly below the skin for between five and 30 minutes. It works by increasing blood flow, thereby promoting healing, relieving muscle spasms, stimulating nerves and helping to regulate the immune system. In doing all of the aforementioned, it is thought to treat the whole animal, rather than simply treating a set of symptoms. It is often used in conjunction with other treatments, including traditional Western medicine.

Kitty acupuncture is indicated mainly for musculoskeletal problems, skin problems, respiratory problems, gastrointestinal problems, inflammatory problems and cancer (to boost immune functioning and control pain). "Some common chronic illnesses treated with acupuncture include torn ligaments, muscle sprains, slipped discs and arthritis," says Dr. Hershman. 

Success for Some
Concerned about the side effects of conventional medicine, Barbara Stocker of Tuscan, Arizona took her cat to an acupuncturist to treat a hip joint disease. "When my cat, Violet, was diagnosed with hip dysplasia, we thought her fun-filled, active life was over. We didn't want to go with painkillers, so we talked to the vet about acupuncture," Barbara says.  "Violet has responded so well to the treatments. From the beginning, we saw increased mobility and energy. It was obvious that the treatment was alleviating some of her pain." Today, she receives an acupuncture treatment once a month.

Olivia Goldstein of Chicago wasn't sure how her new cat would react to the treatment, but decided to experiment as a last resort. "I adopted an abused cat, and before I adopted her, she'd gotten her front paw stuck in the grill of a car," says Olivia.  "The vet could have amputated the paw, but suggested trying acupuncture first. Apparently, the needles can restore nerve function, and that's what they did. Banjo walks normally now, and doesn't seem to have pain anymore."

Unique Approach to Healing
How a cat responds to acupuncture has a lot to do with its individual temperament. "It depends on the cat," says Dr. Hershman. "Some relax and stay still, or fall asleep. Others won't tolerate the needles." Because cats tend to be more comfortable in their home environment, Dr. Hershman and many other certified veterinary acupuncturists make house calls, though this option is more costly. (For example, Dr. Hershman charges $100 for a house call, plus the cost of the treatment -- between $65 and $80 per application.)

Dr. Hershman notes that the needles can also be used to treat depression and behavioral problems. "After the possibility of any underlying medical issues are ruled out, a cat can receive calming points for anxiety, stress and spraying of urine due to stress," says Dr. Hershman.

Acupuncture isn't a one-shot cure-all, and requires commitment on the part of a cat owner. "Treatment can be once a week for four to eight weeks depending on what the cat is dealing with," explains Dr. Hershman. If relief from symptoms occurs during the initial treatment period, some cats are put on a maintenance schedule of one visit each month.

Litter Box Solutions for All Cats

When you brought your cat into your home, you committed to providing love and care forever. But one thing you didn't promise is to sacrifice your aesthetic sensibility and keep a drab plastic box in your kitchen until the end of time. And now you don't have to. These days, there are a slew of attractive alternatives to the standard litter box. Finding the right one for your home is simply a matter of your taste -- and your cat's.

Uncovered Boxes
Portland, Oregon-based feline behavioral consultant Mieshelle Nagelschneider says 70 percent of cats prefer uncovered boxes. "Covered boxes tend to trap odors and keep the litter moist longer, and both of these are a big deterrent for cats," she explains. "Escape potential is also important to them, especially once they reach social maturity, and a covered box doesn't allow for an easy out." Most litter box solutions do come in the form of covered boxes. If your cat insists on an uncovered box (and it will make its preference known), you can get creative and decorate your own box, or try something like Sittin' Pretty Cat Products' litter basket -- an acrylic-lined willow basket that can be stained or painted to suit your style.

Flummoxed about what to do with her own cat's unsightly litter, Boston cat owner Lindsay Potter bought an all-purpose tub at a hardware store, and a large piece of canvas from an art supplier. "I painted the canvas to contrast nicely with my bathroom. I used a staple gun to attach it to the tub. It looks a lot nicer, and the tub has high walls, perfect for my male cat."

Faux Furniture
One innovative and attractive type of covered litter box looks more like a cabinet than a restroom for kitty. The Refined Feline, for example, offers a closed wooden cabinet with a hidden side-door. Another option comes from Felinerina, featuring a white bathroom cabinet with wainscoting panels, shelf space and towel bars -- the litter box goes inside, your cat enters through a space carved from the front of the cabinet. And another style, made by Pet's Best Products, hides the litter box in a faux plant pot, complete with the fake plant of your choice sprouting from the top.

"Some cats will use a box no matter what its design, and that kind of cat would do well with a box that falls into this innovative category," says Nagelschneider. "If you choose this design, make sure it's roomy and kept clean. Also, bear in mind that it may be better tolerated by felines in single-cat homes."

Kitty Cabanas
You don't have to buy an entire piece of furniture to hide an unsightly box. The most common (and least expensive) type of litter concealer is simply a cover placed over the box. NYC Dog & Cat suggests that you hide your cat's litter box under a high gloss laminate design (a palazzo, a country manor, an antique bookcase, or a plain damask cover). Petaroo offers simple basket-weave covers that blend into any space. Top-loading boxes, available at most pet supply stores, come with their own covers (with openings in the top for your cat's entry), and are good for male cats that aim high.

"The litter box cover saved my relationship," laughs Austin, Texas cat owner Brian Nash. "My girlfriend didn't want to move in unless I could offer her a closet, but the extra closet was where I kept Paul's litter box, and I didn't want the box out and exposed in my apartment. The cover helped us both get what we wanted." With a little bit of trial and error, you and your feline friend can get what you want, too. 

Homeopathic Remedies for Cats ... and are They Healthy?

While most people take their cats to a traditional veterinarian for care, some may wonder whether homeopathic veterinarians are actually the way to go. Homeopathy in general is about addressing symptoms rather than naming a disease, which some may say puts limits on treatments.

Dr. Arthur Young, DVM, CVH, was a traditional veterinarian for 30 years before moving over to homeopathy gradually. He changed his focus when he began to think that many animals’ health problems stem from over vaccination, excess antibiotic use and poor nutrition.

Here are some of the basics you should know before making the decision to switch your own pet over to the homeopathic route.

Pet Profiling

Homeopathic remedies are not species specific, but symptom specific.  As Dr. Young explained, “Homeopathy is individual specific. Once you have a picture of the patient built by questioning the owner, that creates a profile of the animal and the problem. It doesn’t have to be a cat; it could be a dog or hippopotamus. There are over 2,000 homeopathic remedies, and whatever fits a patient’s problem, that’s the one that’s correct.”

Treatments

Dr. Young said that he sees many cats that he believes have problems due to over vaccination. The solution, according to Dr. Young, would be to vaccinate your cat when she’s a kitten, and then not do it again. In his practice, Dr. Young says that cats he’s seen who he believes have been over vaccinated tend to have emotional instability and increased fear, which he treats with Bach’s Flower remedies. This type of remedy helps alleviate stress, which is a huge obstacle to getting better.

An important part of homeopathy is solid nutrition. “Cats get 70% of the moisture [they need] from their food,” said Dr. Young. “Cats are notoriously bad water drinkers. Dry food contains 10% moisture, so they have a 60% moisture shortage if your cat only eats dry food. This lack of moisture leads to problems with the urinary system like cystitis or inflammation without an infection.” 

A homeopathic approach to the lack of water in a cat’s diet would be to feed her a good wet food product that contains minerals, vitamins, enzymes and probiotics. Dr. Young also recommends supplementing your cat’s diet with taurine, a dietary supplement that prevents blindness.

Check out this story for more on understanding your cat’s drinking habits.

The homeopathic remedies that your vet will recommend for your cat do not require a prescription. They come in small pellet, tablet, powder or liquid form, and are given orally. “When you give your cat, or any animal, a homeopathic remedy, the protocol is no food and no water 20 minutes before or after,” said Dr. Young. “If your cat just ate or drank, it will compromise the energy of the pill, since it produces the effect in the nerve endings of the tongue.”

Taking the Plunge

At the end of the day, the type of medical treatment you pick for your cat will be a very personal decision, and finding the correct remedy for an ailment may take some time and a few tries. If you do decide to try homeopathic medicine for your pet, find a board certified veterinarian who has been trained in homeopathy for animals. You can look up a list of homeopaths at http://www.ahvma.org/

The Most Unlikely Cat Hero

Just as neighbors have been known to put aside their differences to help each other during a natural disaster, search and rescue teams recently found a heartwarming example of two mortal cat enemies doing the same.

And a tiny kitten is alive because of it.

Rescued From the Rubble
On May 20, a devastating tornado
ripped through Moore,Okla., leaving in its wake utter chaos and destruction. The next night, rescuers digging through the debris saved what appeared to be a rather large housecat. The seemingly portly pussycat was soaked to the bone, curled up in a ball and clearly in shock when rescuers delivered it to the emergency shelter at the Central Oklahoma Humane Society in Oklahoma City. It was there that Veterinary Assistant Sabrina Cantrell, 40, took over. 

“The cat was covered in dirt and debris and wood splinters,” Cantrell said. “I thought the cat was injured, then I went to examine it and I saw a little head with two little beady eyes pop up covered in mud, and I realized the larger cat was clinging onto a kitten.”

It turned out the fat cat who was rescued was actually a skinny cat latched onto an emaciated kitten. Cantrell, who lives in nearby Mustang, Okla., and the rest of the staff assumed they had come across a mother cat/kitten combination. After washing the mud off the larger cat, Cantrell, who is also a registered nurse, was shocked to find out that it was a “he” and not a “she.”

“Usually males don’t have that kind of affection toward infants,” she says.

An Unlikely Pair
Affection turned out to be an overstatement, as the two cats had to literally be pried from each other’s grip. The male cat turned out to be one of thousands of feral cats that populate the Oklahoma City area. "I could not get the baby away from him,” said Cantrell. “They were holding onto each other for dear life. It made me cry. It was not even 24 hours after the tornado, so we were working around the clock. It brought to light the devastation out there. It was touching. I broke down a bit, gathered myself and got back to work."

In any other situation, male feral cats -- commonly known as tomcats -- would be aggressive toward, or even kill, kittens, which made the pair quite an odd couple. But just as people put their differences aside to help each other in an emergency, the tomcat came to the rescue of the tiny kitty in distress. Cantrell believes the kitten was separated from his mother during the storm and cried out to find her. She thinks the male cat must have heard his cry and come to his aid. "He was protecting the kitten from the chaos around him,” she said. “We really think he was trying to hide the kitten and keep him safe.”

Life After the Storm
Both cats were immediately administered fluids, cleaned up and fed.  The kitten barely clung to life. For the next week, Cantrell fed the four-week old every three hours, around the clock. “I took him home with me every night,” she says. “I would get up in the middle of the night and bottle feed him. He was extremely skinny, had runny eyes and an upper respiratory infection.”

The two cats have both recovered and will each find a good home. The feral cat has already been pre-adopted and will go to a farm, part of OK Humane’s Barn Buddies Program, which sends unsocial cats to farms where they can live outdoors.

The kitten will have a little while longer to wait before finding a home, since The Humane Society has a 45-day waiting period before adopting out animals in order to give owners enough time to claim their pets.

Cantrell credits the feral cat for saving the pint-sized kitten’s life. “He was sick and distressed from being pounded by the storm and buried in the rubble,” she said. “I don’t know that he would have made it through another night out there.”