posted by meowser
A few months ago, I told you all about Binkley, my icon-kitty. Now I’d like you to meet Zevon. (Yes, named after Warren.) He’s 4-1/2, loves to play fetch with ugly-ass ponytail holders, and will pole-vault into my lap about 20 times a day when I’m sitting at the computer, if I let him. And yeah, I usually let him, even though it feels like holding a library-sized Webster’s Unabridged in my lap. One that purrs like a helicopter. Fortunately, I provide plenty of lapspace.
He was always a bit hefty; when he was a wee furbag, my friend J. picked him up as if using her hand as a scale, and said, “He’s beefy!” And in the last year or so, since we moved into a house and decided to make all the cats indoor cats, he became beefier still, beefy enough to break down the cat door leading to the basement. (SCATOLOGY ALERT, feel free to skip the rest of this paragraph if you are eating.) Around the time we moved, I switched all the cats to grain-free food (wet and dry) at the behest of my vet who was treating Pendo, my only “standard sized” cat, for his heart condition, and there was something in the food that didn’t agree with Mr. Z. He started leaving little poopgifts — nasty, gunky-looking ones — on the basement floor. We put him on a different food, Organix dry only. The poop looked a little better, but not much, and he was still going where he wasn’t supposed to. So, I had to haul him into the vet.
Oh goddess, the vet. I KNEW the first thing I’d get would be a lecture about his weight. It’s not like he was eating me out of the house, not at all, or even wanting to. I measured out the amount of food he was eating during a typical day of “free feeding” Organix dry food, and it was 3/4 of a cup — what the package directions said to feed a 12-pound cat. And Zevon, the last time he’d been weighed 14 months prior, was already 20 pounds, and I knew he’d gained since then.
And of course, being a fatass myself, I was rather dreading the moment when I would tell the vet how little Zevon was actually eating, and he would take one look at the Fat Cat Mom Who Was Obviously in Denial, and mutter, “Uh huh, riiiiight.” Vets, in my experience, are if anything even more hung up on the weight issue than humans’ doctors; all cats are supposed to be the same weight, and you’re supposed to be able to feel his ribs, but not his backbone, quit spoiling him to the point of diaBEEEEtus, blahblahyakyak. And almost no veterinary Web site ever, ever acknowledges any other reason for a cat being fat other than OMG IT’S EATING THE WHOLE ENTIRE HOUSE.
So yeah, not looking forward to it, even though this vet (who was well-versed in both holistic and allopathic veterinary medicine) seemed like a decent, thoughful guy when I saw him with Pendo. Of course they hoisted him up on the scale first thing, and they said, “Thirty pounds!” That meant he’d gained 10 pounds in a year, which would have been quite a feat for an adult cat even if I HAD been feeding him the entire house. The vet said Zevon was the heaviest cat he’d ever had in his practice. I told him I had a coworker once whose cat weighed 34 pounds, and she showed us a picture of her barely-90-pounds-soaking-wet self holding him in order to prove it, which impressed the hell out of me.
Now, good news first: Although they would of course test his stool to make sure there was nothing funny in it, the chances were good that Zevon didn’t have an intestinal parasite or a serious illness like Feline Infectious Peritonitis or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus causing the diarrhea, because if he did he’d be losing weight, not gaining it. (And the stools did come back negative.) I told him what Zevon ate, and he said he believed me (whew) but told me that was way too much cereal to give a cat. What I got recommended to me was a BARF (bones and raw food) diet. (Terrible name, huh? “My cat eats BARF!”). He told me about a store on East Burnside called Meat that specialized in making raw-food pet diets affordable (I’d always figured it was prohibitively expensive yuppiechow). The vet said Zevon was probably allergic/intolerant to some ingredient in the food he was getting and that he was pooping outside the box in order to tell us his tummy wasn’t feeling right, and a real simple diet like this (in addition to an herbal mix he was giving me) would clear it right up.
And yeah, I did get lectured about his size, and told that the raw diet would probably get some weight off him. But at least I wasn’t accused of stuffing him like he was being taxidermied. And they told me, “Do NOT under any circumstances let him go a whole day without eating. Fasting is really bad for a cat his size. If a cat loses weight too fast, it can get fatty liver disease, which is really serious and expensive to treat.” (Makes you wonder, if losing weight fast is known to be extra bad for cats, how can it be something to unconditionally encourage in humans? I mean, I know we’re different species and everything, but geesh.)
So I went to Meat, and they were super-nice and super-helpful in there. I bought a frozen-solid 2-pound package of ground turkey, ground up with bones and giblets, for $6.25, plus some cod liver oil and ground veggies (just a tiny amount to use for fiber; that’s really the only nutritional use cats have for vegetables). I started out Zevon with just the raw turkey mix first without anything in it, to see how he’d like it. Not only did he love it, I couldn’t keep the other cats out of it. So then I mixed in some cod liver oil. They were still digging it. Then the veggies. Uh-oh. Kitty reject. Nobody would touch it. (I think Pendo actually looked at me like, “You’re kidding about the green stuff, right?”)
I asked the Meat lady what to substitute for fiber instead, and she suggested plain canned pumpkin, just a couple of tablespoons for every 2 pounds of food. That they ate. So now all three of them are BARF-ing. And it turns out to be no more expensive than the “super premium” food I was giving them before. (If I owned one of those $200 grinders that could do raw bones in addition to the raw muscle meat and giblets, it would be cheaper still. But also more of a mess. So I’m happy to pay a small surcharge to let someone else do the grinding.)
They still get a tiny, tiny amount of dry food, but not too much, as Zevon loves the crunchies but the feeling is evidently NOT mutual as evidenced by the quality of his poop when he eats it. And speaking of poop, you wouldn’t believe how little poop there is when cats eat this way. It’s like they’re actually using what they eat. Fancy that. And they’re a lot friskier eating this food, too, it really brings out the kitten in them. Which will be amusing until Zevon tries to hoist his 30-pound self up the drapes. Fortunately, he’s managed to resist the urge so far.
Now, let’s talk about quantity. Binkley, although the middle cat in age, has asserted himself as the “alpha kitty” in this house, and he thinks nothing of pushing the other cats out of the way and taking their food unless I stop him. I always wonder: Is he really physically that hungry for that much food, or does he just do that because he can? When I set down food for the three of them, Binkley vacuums it up, whereas Zevon chews every mouthful so thoroughly that C. has taken to calling him “The Great Masticator.” (Pendo gets fed in a separate room since he gets heart supplements mixed in his food.) The sooner Binkley finishes, the sooner he can swipe Zevon’s food, and maybe even go for a bite or two of Pendo’s leftovers.
How hungry are they? Often I can tell by how eagerly they gobble up a tiny bit of food I put on my fingers; if they are way too close to biting my finger off, they’re REALLY hungry. Roughly, it takes me about 3-1/2 days to go through 2 pounds of the meat plus the other mix-ins. (If for some reason I space and don’t have a package defrosted in time, they get some Wellness canned food instead.) That’s about what they told me it would be at Meat, but I wonder if Binkley isn’t getting way more than the others because he’s bullying Zevon out of his share while I’m in the back with Pendo. I’ll have to learn how to monitor that better. But Zevon is at least eating something, and he seems to be satisfied with the amount he’s getting. And there have been no more poopgifts.
And if he doesn’t lose any weight, or loses only a minor amount, even eating as little as he is and eating the food he’s supposedly hardwired for his body to prefer, you know what? I don’t want to hear it from the vet. Or anyone else. Health at Every Size is for the animals in our lives, too.
(ETA: Catnutrition.org is a good resource if you’re just starting to check out BARF diets. They’ve got some information on mail-order suppliers, as well as complete instructions for making the food yourself if you want to go that route.)