(NOTE: This article is the first in our series "Cat Tales" all about Kitteh Care, they will be archived in a section above when we release the next few articles.)
|Luna our 5 year old and Sage our 1 year old|
Cats may not be as popular as dogs, according to the mainstream, but if you’re a cat person, dogs don’t stand a chance. People often are drawn to cats because the idea is: they’re independent, can care for themselves, and all the owner has to do is clean the litter and put down food &; water. That’s a dangerous misconception—dangerous to you, the potential owner and to the cat.
Often it leads to maladjusted feline companions, and maladjusted feline guardians, which can often lead to the cat being given up. Unlike dogs, many folks who can’t deal with their cats tend to just let them out. Cats in this situation may go wild, or may find themselves in a kill shelter. Luna, my 5-year-old Domestic tuxedo, was lucky enough to find my husband heading home from work when she found herself in this situation 4 years ago. She’s the exception to the rule.
Unlike dogs, cats can be rather high maintenance—particularly if the diet part of their equation isn’t attended to properly.
Any feline behaviorist or specialist—from Anitra Frazier to Jackson Galaxy (my 2 feline inclined heroes)—will tell you cats need food, shelter, a place to go-go, active play, and love. This is all non-negotiable &; without writing a book, I’ll give you a basic break-down.
Hands down, this is the most important—and most neglected. Cat behaviorists tend to focus more on how maladjusted felines lack play elements in life. But, I’d say the food is the first step. Without a healthy diet, the cat won’t live a healthy life.
The first rule—and I know many of you will tell me to fuck off promptly—NO DRY FOOD. I’m not going to kid you and say, cats are wild animals, they need live meat. That’s horse-crap too. BUT, being carnivores—cats DO need meat. Sorry there are NO VEGAN CATS; and any vegans out there are kidding yourself that your vegan cat is healthy. I have never met a healthy cat fed a vegan diet. Nor have I ever met a healthy cat fed dry food.
And I’ve learned through experience.
After the tainted pet food scare that killed so many dogs and cats several years back, you can now find higher quality pet foods off the shelf without having to have them specially ordered. But, those unfortunately will cost a fortune, and as you know you can’t always believe the labels. Wellness, an excellent brand that I had used for years, got into trouble a few years back for filling their foods with brown rice and wheat products. They didn’t list these ingredients on the label, and several animals with rice and wheat allergies, died or became very ill. Now, Wellness lists brown rice and wheat or gluten. That shook my confidence in this—and many other—brands.
Before now, I was spending almost $90—for one cat—and on food. The deciding factor was made when my brand went from 90¢ a can to $1.10. I just couldn’t afford it any more. I had also been using dry food, with the idea that it would help keep her teeth clean.
Dry food doesn’t clean a cat’s teeth. In fact, if your cat is prone to gingivitis, the build-up of carbs on a cat’s teeth can have the opposite effect, as I learned from my vet when Luna needed her teeth cleaned. Dry food is often made—regardless of the label—of lower, quality protein. And, when a cat digests this lower, quality protein, the body is left literally wanting more. The cat will tend to eat more than necessary to overcompensate for the body not getting enough high quality protein.
Often owners will leave the bowl of dry food down so kitty can self-regulate. While a cat may not eat to vomiting, like a dog would, cats aren’t capable of such self-regulation. Crikey, most people aren’t.
If you ask me, the food is left down out of pure laziness. It’s convenient, sure—but for you. Not kitty. But, I’m sure, you’re asking—I go to work, what happens if I’m not home for feeding time?
A cat can—and should—go for 8-12 hours BETWEEN meals. If you have a kitten, an ill or older cat, you should feed kitty every 4-6 hours. But, unless you commute from Brooklyn to the Arctic Circle, I’m sure you can manage. If you can’t, then you shouldn’t be a feline guardian.
When you leave the dry food down, all the time, cats smell the food, all the time. As Anitra Frazier discusses in her The New Natural Cat, when a cat smells food constantly, it causes the body to salivate and produce enzymes that put the cat in constant digestion mode. This end up in kitty overeating—again.
Wet food is preferred, twice a day. I already noted the problems of cost &; lack of enthusiasm around the wet food I was using. My solution, make my own food.
It’s not as difficult as you think either, and, after I’ve begun doing this, my food costs were RADICALLY reduced. For 2 cats, the shopping bill for kitty food ingredients ranges from $100-120, depending on whether there are sales—for TWO and a half MONTHS of food. A pound of my home-made food lasts approximately 3 meals, for both cats. So, for $120, I’m getting between 40-50 pounds of food.
It goes without saying that you WILL need a LARGE FREEZER to do this. You’ll also have to get the appropriate feline vitamins to guarantee that kitty is getting the required nutrition. When I first began making my own food, more than 15 years ago, I didn’t know what I do now about the need for taurine. Taurine tends to be bitter. When I tried using it alone, Dusty—my older, now passed-on kitty— refused to touch it. Without taurine, cats will go blind &; suffer nerve damage.
In my experience, the BEST feline vitamin is Alnutrin. It’s available online, in a powdered form. The cheaper version requires you to have a scale capable of measuring in the gram amounts. For $20 plus nominal shipping (for 2 bags, it cost me $42), you’ll have enough vitamin mix to make several months of food. Purchasing 2 bags lasts me between 6-7 months, perhaps a bit more. And, the BEST part about them—you can send them a SASE &; they’ll send you a sample of their product to make sure kitty likes it. I did &; have been using their vitamins, and making my own food purely, for more than 3 years. I have had, to date, the healthiest cats that have ever lived with me.
I’ll post my recipes separately, but, after I switched to Alnutrin, my fussy Luna has NEVER turned down a meal. She has never walked away from a bowl of food and Sage never even had to go through the ‘adjustment period’ the rescue group warned me about, since she was raised on dry kitten food during the first 4 months of her life, before she came into our family.
Making cat food takes some preparation—there is the time to shop, prep, and make—but you will be rewarded with healthy cats, I promise you.
Domesticated cats should NOT be outdoor cats. Period. If you have a kitty that needs extra activity—or likes the outdoors, I mean what cat doesn’t—get a harness &; leash &; take that kitty walking. Like I said before, the misconception about cats is that they don’t need us. That’s bullshit. Cats are domestic animals, and unless you live on a farm and have your cats solely for rodent control—keep your cat indoors. Cats who live an outdoor life live a shorter life, running the risk of accident, illness, and injury far more frequently than an indoor cat. Cats who live outdoors also damage the environment, decimating native bird and small mammal populations in many areas, &; tend to stink up the place—literally. My garden suffers from eau de Tomcat &; while this may keep the mice away, I don’t relish the idea of growing tomatoes laden with cat piss. Cats who live outdoors tend to not be spayed or neutered, contribute to the overpopulation of cats, contribute to the over crowding in shelters and thereby perpetuate the pets-are-disposable kill-culture we live in. Also, outdoor cats run the risk of getting lost and becoming feral in some way.
If you want your kitty exposed to outdoors, do it safely. Take your cat for a walk on a proper harness and leash. Don’t think a walk with a cat is like a walk with a dog. It doesn’t have to be longer or more complicated than a walk around the garden. If you’re apartment bound, you can get a cat carriage. Yes, they have screened in baby carriages for kitties. It’s crazier when you see people putting pampered pooches in them, but they’re made for cats primarily. You can also, if you have the space, time, and means, make some outdoor “Catarium”—or screened in space attached to your home somehow, for the kitty to freely go outside in a protected environment. Dare to dream.
A place to go-go
It may sound childish, but your cat needs to have a secure, healthy place to do her daily constitutional—just like you do.
It never ceases to amaze me that people who call themselves feline guardians have issues dealing with cat shit—or piss—or both. And, many people who opt not to have cats say it’s because of the smell.
Whenever I have houseguests, they always say—“I thought you had cats. I don’t smell anything.” Having a cat does NOT equate having to live with the smell of a litter-box. And, if you have kitty stink, you’re not dealing with the litter-box properly.
Off the bat, every cat guardian at some point has used TOO MUCH LITTER. If you use more than 2 inches of litter in that box, it’s too much. Too much litter promotes bacterial growth, which creates odor. Face it, you will be cleaning that box at the least once a week for one cat &; twice for 2—and I mean washing &; replacing that litter. If you have cats, it’s a requirement. Those self-cleaning boxes &; reusable, washable litters are a total joke &; a complete waste of money. If you cannot deal with the litter box, you cannot have a cat. Period.
Do NOT use any litter that has any odorizer or anything that neutralizes the odor. Most of the deodorizers are POISON to your cats. Those best-selling blue crystals have compounds, like Mr. Clean and Pinsol, that will break down a cat’s liver and kidneys over time. Baking Soda type odor neutralizers are likewise TOXIC to cats. And, the clay, while it clumps nicely, is tone of he worst unknown environmental disaster we are facing. Water doesn’t penetrate it and basically we’re strip-mining areas of our planet so our cats can take a shit.
There are several natural litters—and they all have their pros &; cons. The first, which I wouldn’t use because of the negative reviews, is the paper-derived litter. It’s basically pellets taken from recycled newsprint &; paper. It breaks down way too easily &; forms a sticky gunk. It also does nothing to deal with odor &; it breeds bacteria, which cause the odor.
There are two food derived litters, both are exceptional, but have serious issues. One is made from wheat &; the other corn. If you use either, clean the box regularly (wash &; replace litter &; scoop solids daily), &; use no more than 2 inches of litter—they’re great. But, since it is a food product, you have to deal with moral issues of allowing your animal to shit in perfectly good food when there are people starving everywhere AND you may have to deal with critters. Admittedly, before I knew that Sweat Scoop was made of unprocessed wheat—and not just wheat hulls like I was told in a pet store—I used it for about a year. Then, when my husband went to get a new bag, he found the pet store’s stock was infested with maggoty critters. Another, corn based litter, brought weevils into the house. Not pretty.
We switched to a pine-based litter. It takes some experimenting and kitty will need to adjust to it, but I will not go back. Even when it completely breaks down (you scoop the poop & stir the rest around), there is ZERO SMELL. I don’t like to let it get too powdery because they do tend to track it around, but keeping a small sweep broom next to the box &; cleaning up after them like I would my husband, keeps it all in check.
The added advantage is the pine litters use recycled content. The most popular brands use only saw dust—not virgin wood—so you are using something that would otherwise be thrown away. And, as long as you use it sparingly &; not in a food garden, you can even use it now &; again as mulch in the garden, or in compost—as long as it’s not for food production.
Again, no new-fangled contraptions. No covers please. No boxes with movable parts. Litter boxes with lids are for human convenience only. Imagine trying to take a crap with a hood fitting around your toilet. Covers over boxes promote cats, particularly male cats, spraying urine. Covers also promote insecure cats from trying to hunker down in their own waste for comfort. Get that box uncovered &; in a traffic zone. We have ours in a corner of the bathroom. I can easily monitor it. It’s convenient as far as clean-up and regular washing. If they have an accident, again, clean-up isn’t a problem. And, if you’re very lucky, your cat might give you company when you’re going yourself. It’s hilarious to have a pee-pee buddy.
When you clean the litter &; the box, use a natural, kitty safe cleaner. Personally, there’s nothing better than ordinary dish soap. Dump the litter. Put that sucker in the tub, get an old rag, some ordinary dish soap &; wipe it down. Rinse in hot water. Dry with a dry cloth &; refill. Honestly, if you do it regularly, it takes 15 minutes, tops. With one cat, I cleaned the box every week, exactly. With 2, the box needs washing every 3-4 days.
Cats need to play actively EVERY DAY—at least 30 minutes. And, active play isn’t just chasing around a laser dot either. It may look active to you, but chasing something you can’t touch &; can’t smell &; can’t catch has to be frustrating. Most cat behaviorists agree &; use the laser light as a redirection away from negative behavior, or as an initial play to just get the juices flowing—followed by some toy that can be attacked &; ‘killed.’ If you have super high energy breeds, like Bengals or any cat that likes to jump & run, your feline companion may need more than 30 minutes.
If cats don’t have enough play, they will act out—usually on you. Cats need to release their instinct to hunt and kill, but in an appropriate manner. For more detailed info, read anything by Jackson Galaxy who is a devote of active feline play—and the man knows what he’s talking about.
If you’re willing to readjust your life, toss out old misconceptions about cats, hunker down and make your own brand of cat food, AND engage your cat in active play—you are expressing love. Cats may not always be cuddlers, but neither are dogs. Giving a cat appropriate affection isn’t the only way to express love. And, the first step to expressing love for cats is the ability to be honest with yourself about the ability to adequately care for a feline. If you can’t, then don’t. If you can, then you will be rewarded by years of love in return.