Prepping for your Cat-- longterm and in the now
Prepping, not to use what's becoming a kitschy term, means preparing for you but also your felines. You can certainly stock up on several pounds of dried kibble and store it for some time in the event of a disaster-- or even to prevent the constant rise in food prices, not just for you but for your kitties.
But, the problem with dry food-- as I note in some other posts-- cats need increased water when they eat the stuff, AND dried kibble is a one-way ticket to an early grave for your cat, harsh as that may sound. Dried kibble causes the cat's body to want more protein, because mainstream varieties (even those sold or recommended by your vet) have low-quality protein. Other, chic, organic kibble is still kibble. Cats, like us, were never intended biologically to eat processed food. It wreaks havoc on their bodies.
Unlike some folks that I've seen and read about, I will NOT be putting my cats down if there's any SHTF scenario. My girls are a part of our family, and they're part of our emergency alarm system-- so they're part of our preparing.
The first stage is to make your own cat food. Get used to doing it now, and get your cats used to it now. It'll save you money and create a healthier cat. It'll also help remove you from the need to purchase processed prepared cat food.
You’ve read our other articles and made the decision that homemade cat food is the way to go for sustained independence-- for yourself and your kitty. You have enough stock pots. You have the digital scale, complete with tare function, and you even ordered Alnutrin after finding out that your cat didn’t mind the taste of it at all-- or found a suitable substitute that doesn't contain toxins (like sodium bicarb or propylene glycol or similar nastiness).
Hint—when trying out a vitamin like Alnutrin, follow their directions about how to prepare and serve the meal. I just use cooked meat, for previously mentioned reasons. Unless you have access to chickens and lamb you can and are willing to kill for your kitties, then I suggest you do the same.
So, kitty ate the first Alnutrin meal with NO problem. What now?
You could do one of 2 things. Start clean and fast: give kitty the new food. Both of my kitties took to it immediately. I didn’t have to acclimate them to it. It’s that good. Honestly, my husband sometimes wishes I cook this well for him.
The latter method would be to start slow. Feed your usual food and start adding the new bit by bit.
If you’re using dry food as a main food source, you will shock kitty by removing it entirely. NEVER Never ever leave dry food down all day for your cat. I’ll refer you again to my feline bible—The New Natural Cat by Anitra Frazier. She tells you exactly what to do about dry food and why.
The next step would be to give your kitty 2 meal times—morning and evening, ideally 8 to 12 hours apart. I generally feed my girls around 8am and 8pm. They’re more than happy with that. When I was feeding Luna a lunchtime meal because the new kitty Sage needed a 3rd midday meal, Luna began putting on a bit extra poundage. By the time I noticed that, Sage was about 7 months and perfectly fine with 2 meals a day.
If using the 2nd method, acclimation, begin with 3 parts the old kitty food and one part new, homemade food. A healthy cat shouldn’t need more than 4-5 ounces of food per day—not per meal. That’s only 2 to 2 and ½ ounces of food PER MEAL. That’s plenty. Anything more is obesity territory. Your cat won’t starve. And, if your cat IS obese, you must—for her health—cut back on the food intake.
A general rule—if a cat is pretty much lying down while eating, she’s too fat. If you pet her and cannot feel her backbone or her ribs, she’s too fat. If you see her sitting still more than she’s active—she’s too fat. Granted, cats do sleep for 75% of their lives. They can sleep up to 12 hours a day, or more. But, if you never see your cat doing any kitty activities that involve running, chasing, or climbing-- your kitty is most likely too fat, unless there are other health issues going on.
Obese felines are just as numerous as obese humans. Depending on your cat’s breed and gender, a healthy feline should be between 7 and 13 pounds, unless you’ve got a Maine Coone or another massive breed on hand. A Domestic Shorthair shouldn’t weigh more than 10 pounds, but for a Bengal, 10 pounds is pushing obesity. Be aware of the weight limits for your breed. Those orange tabbies that do tend to get large, still shouldn’t be more than 11-12 pounds. Ever single one that I’ve seen with an owner that claims “He’s big boned” was in denial over a seriously obese feline.
So—back to acclimation. If you’re feeding the proper amount, 2 ounces per meal—initially only ½ ounce should be the new food. Keep this ratio for two to three days, then increase the new food to 2 parts, or 1 ounce. If all’s quiet on the kitty front, after another 2-3 days have passed, then increase again to 3 parts, or 1 and ½ ounces of homemade versus ½ ounce of old food. And, with the final push after another 2-3 days of no complaints, eliminate the old food entirely.
If your cat has for some reason stopped eating, go back to square one. You went too quickly. Keep in mind, the older the cat, the more time he or she needs to become used to the new food. If your cat refuses to eat it at all, it’s not the food—it’s the feline, the environment, and perhaps even her guardian. So, please, be positive. Give your kitty good, positive energy-- she will pick up on it and reflect back at you what you send her. So, if you think-- this is nonsense, she won't eat this-- then she won't. Have confidence that she'll eat it-- and like it-- and she will.
Make sure your cat’s sinuses are clear, that there’s no evidence of runny eyes or sneezing, that there’s no cold or respiratory thing. And, make sure kitty’s nose is clear. The only 2 times Luna wasn’t interested in the food was when she was dealing with a blocked tear duct and had a blocked nasal passages as a result, and when I found a dead bug up her nose. Mommy to the rescue both times and as soon as she could breathe, she ate. A cat who can’t smell, can’t taste and won’t eat, generally.
If the nose isn’t the problem, make sure you have no remnants of the old food lying around—no old dishes, no kibble. The scents of food lying around will mess up the kitty's body chemistry and she may not be as interested in the food. If you have a dog in the house, please remove the dog food from the area too—and wash the floor. Just because you can’t smell it, it doesn’t mean kitty can’t. The smells from other foods-- especially mass produced, processed animal food, will make competition for your homemade variety. The processed foods have chemicals that make the food appetizing-- and addictive. Your food has nothing in it other than the ingredients. Think about you when faced between the smell of McDonald's French Fries and a homemade salad. Which has the more EAT ME NOW smell?
When I first began using homemade food with Dusty, in 1995 when she wouldn't eat the original formula (all from Anitra Frazier and not remotely what I make now) she wouldn't go for it. But, here was a 9 year old cat who had eaten for her entire life canned food AND dry food. She had been used to 2 meals of wet food and a bowl of kibble down all day. I followed the vet's directions on how to feed her. And by 9 she was almost 17 pounds. She had gone down to 8 pounds in the first year she had been diagnosed with diabetes. So, in addition to having an illness that was out of control at the time, having the stress physically on her body, and then getting her food changed radically-- is it a wonder she wasn't too interested in the new food. But, after I washed the floor with plain old dish soap and water, I washed it a second time with Nature’s Enzyme, a product usually used to clean up around if kitty has an accident somewhere. If you can’t get Nature’s Enzyme, use distilled white vinegar. I followed with a wipe down with plain old water and allowed it to dry thoroughly. I did try to feed her again-- and this time she tried it. While she didn't eat the whole thing, she at least at half. And she was by far the most finicky feline I have ever had in my life.
We had some minor issues with the food with Sage, however. There were a few times she refused to eat it at all. We narrowed it down to 3 things.
First, it was a goldilocks moment: the food was either too hot or too cold. I zap the food for 30 second in the microwave to get the food a little warm and to get the aroma going. They're not too keen on food right out of the fridge. Besides, ice cold food can give kitties the equivalent of an ice cream headache. I now test the food to make sure it's just right. If it's too hot, add a little cold water. Too cold, give a quick zap again.
Third and final reason, when she gets treats-- she's put off her food. And, when I mean treats, I don't mean processed treats. I mean little bits here and there of homegrown treatables-- a little bit of cheese, wedge of mommy's homemade multigrain bread (which Sage goes bonkers for), a sardine or bit of salmon, or some roast chicken. So, I keep her treatables to a minimum, and don't fuss if she doesn't eat her meal later that day. She's back on her food by the next meal.
Finally, in regards to the overall switch to the new food, if you have multiple cats—you must all get them on the same food regimen. The only friend who tried homemade food and claimed failure wasn’t failing because of the food. She failed because she tried giving new kitty homemade food, while she kept another, older feline, on dry food. Matters were complicated by a dog, who ate at a whenever schedule and the result, new kitty became a dog-food addict pretty quickly.
The length of this changeover process really depends on you more than your cat. Don’t hover over him while he’s eating. Don’t pay too much attention to the new food. Give good, strong positive energy with the clear intent that this food is DELICIOUS. Don’t think about the time you spent making it. Don’t complain and Do NOT regardless of your cat’s reaction, scold him or her.
Cats aren’t children and aren’t dogs. Keep a positive mind and your cat will like what you want him to like….eventually. And sometimes, eventually is right away.
The quickest acclimation period was my own. I made the sample food, Luna scarfed it. I took the plunge and prepared the first batch of food—Chicken and Broccoli, using about 6 pounds of meat initially and, since I was following the Alnutrin recipe to the letter, I didn’t give her any grain and no veggies. She still scarfed it. The only bump in the road was her digestion. My personal belief, and my vet's, all meat was literally plugging her up. Granted, cats are carnivores first and foremost-- but after getting their systems used to eating fiber and plant matter, they need it. Cats eat grass for the chlorophyll and to help them pass from both ends-- helps bring up hairballs and helps move things along digestively speaking.
After doing more research, reading the articles for and against raw 100% meat diets for cats, and speaking to my vet, I came up with my recipes and preparation methods that I’ve already written about. I’ve been using it ever since, with zero regrets.
The longest acclimation period, a friend who was admittedly inconsistent with her kitty, was about 3 months. The inconsistency included a complete unwillingness to remove dry food. She was a single mom, supporting herself and her child, and was a firm believer that kitty needed to have access to food ALL day ALL the time.
Admittedly, the scent of dry food is irresistible to most cats. As I already noted, it’s made that way—with preservatives and scent enrichers and all sorts of questionable stuff, even in the organic, higher quality stuff. I had mentioned that I had tried using an organic, high quality dry food with Luna, with the intent of cleaning her teeth. We started calling it kitty crack because she very quickly refused all other food. This was before making homemade food, though. We even found her gnawing a hole into the bag one day, and wound up putting it into a metal container (one of those large, metal popcorn tins). Another time, we found her wrestling with the tin, trying to get the lid off. She was howling the whole time. Her behavior also became pretty aggressive too. She was getting frustrated because her access to the kitty crack was limited, and so she started taking out that frustration on her humans. In less than a month, I removed the kitty crack from the house entirely. I kept it on the porch and fed my neighbor’s neglected outdoor feline with it until he disappeared from town.
Try option 1 first. I have such confidence in the food that I think kitty will take to it immediately.
If not—try option 2. If you’re still having trouble, contact me. I’m available (in the NYC area) for home consultation, for phone consultation, or even email and via Skype. Email for rates and details.
My next hurdle with homemade cat food is how to preserve it. Currently, I make enough for 2 to 3 months and store it in the freezer in 1 pound baggies. Without electricity, all that stored food is useless. Also, since Alnutrin has a shelf life of only about 6 months, canning the food will help lock in the nutrients. And cats who eat homemade food, eat less. My girls only eat about 4-5 ounces a day, total. And I don't starve them either. If I give them more, they don't eat it. A 16 ounce ration of food lasts between 2 and 3 meals, for 2 cats. If it's a richer meat, like lamb, we get 3 meals because it's more filling for them than chicken, which generally lasts 2. I'll do the math another time, but that's a fair starting off point to decide how much you'll need to have canned on hand to feed your felines during an emergency.
Hubby and I recently made the plunge and purchased a 15-quart pressure canner. It looks like Robbie the Robot and weighs more than both my cats combined. A few weeks ago, after doing lots of research on canning meats and not getting satisfying answers, I did an experiment. My online research told me that the high heat of the canner would destroy the vitamins-- so my batch was minus the vitamin mix. Other research, in my stacks of dusty tombs on how to preserve everything, told me that canning things with thick gravies is a big NO NO because bacteria will breed in that thick stuff. Also, you don't want the center of the jar to be overly dense. So, I did the food a little differently. I cooked the chicken, gizzards, and liver separately like I usually do-- and I cooked the broccoli separately, like I usually do. Instead of chopping them all up so they're small enough for the girls-- but still of decent size for them to tear into-- I kept them in rather large pieces. I sterilized the jars, and kept them in boiled water until use-- along with lids and my other tools. I kept a stock pot of hot poultry stock nearby and I set about filling the jars. Into 16 ounce jars, I filled the jar a quarter of the way with the liver and giblets, put several large pieces of chicken (a guesstimate about a chicken breast worth of chicken), about a quarter cup of broccoli, and filled the jar with stock, leaving an inch to an inch and a half of headroom. I carefully tapped out all air bubbles, ran a silicone spatula around in the jar to make sure there were no pockets. If there were, I added more stock. Then, following the basic canning instructions, I canned the jars-- 6 in all-- at 11 pounds of pressure for 1 hour and 45 minutes. I left them in the pot to cool down, which alone took an hour.
I haven't tested them, but they've been there for about a month, in the pantry. I do check to make sure I don't see any visible signs of spoilage-- mold, serious discoloration, or air bubbles-- but so far so good. I want to test them at 6 months and see how they fare. Since it's just basically a chicken soup-- no vitamins have been added-- I'll probably test it myself instead of handing it to them and just watching if they get sick.
Before canning, please do your own research for proper canning times for the jars you use and your altitude. In my research, the canning time is similar to the canning time for a stew. There's all the same kinds of ingredients, and you can certainly add more stock to each jar so you're making sure that kitty has her daily water requirement there with food. Just remember not to add any grains and no vitamins. Also, make sure the liquid you use is a thin broth or stock. No thick gravies.
One last word on homemade cat food. Don't freak out if your can doesn't drink water from a dish-- or anywhere else in your home. If a cat has sufficient water in her food, she won't drink water during the day. My cats NEVER do. Luna has, to date in 5+ years, only drank water 3 times-- and all 3 times she wasn't feeling well. Twice was after returning from having her teeth cleaned, and the excess water may have been to flush the anesthetic from her system. So in an emergency scenario, homemade and home canned cat food would contain the daily calories and daily water requirement for your feline companion.