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7 Tips for a Healthy, Happy New Year for Cats and Their Humans

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Happy New Year to all of you!  Thanks to your support, The Conscious Cat is growing rapidly. We have some exciting new things in mind for the new year, and we’re looking forward to continue to bring you all the information you need to keep your cats (and yourself) happy and healthy.

The seven tips listed below will get your year off to a good start and help make this your best year yet, for you and your cats!

1.  Feed a species appropriate diet

Nutrition is the foundation for good health. Cats are obligate carnivores and they need meat to thrive.  If you’re not already feeding a raw or grain-free canned diet, consider making this the year you make the switch. Your cats will thank you for it. You’ll find a wealth of information on feline nutrition, and on how to switch your cat to a healthier diet, right here on The Conscious Cat.

2.  Regular veterinary check ups

The American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends a minimum of annual wellness examinations for all cats in its Feline Life Stage Guidelines. According to the guidelines, “semi-annual wellness exams are often recommended for all feline life stages by veterinarians and veterinary organizations.Their reasoning includes the fact that changes in health status may occur in a short period of time; that ill cats often show no signs of disease; and that earlier detection of ill health, body weight changes, dental disease, and so on, allows for earlier intervention.”

3.  Keep your cat’s teeth healthy

Dental disease is the most frequently diagnosed health problem for cats, and, if left untreated, can lead to serious health problems including heart, kidney and liver disease. For more on why good dental health is so important for your cat, click here.

4.  Regular playtime

Make time to play with your cats. Regular playtime will not only keep your cat happy, it’s also a wonderful time for you to bond with your cat, and it helps you relieve your stress. Additionally, it provides exercise for kitty. Interactive toys make playtime fun for both of you. Consider puzzle toys for the times when you can’t play with your cats.

5.  Meditate with your cat

The benefits of meditation for humans have been scientifically proven. It just so happens that cats make the ideal meditation companion. For more on how to meditate with your cat, click here.

6.  Educate yourself about cat health

You are your cat’s guardian when it comes to health issues, and the more you know, the better off your cat will be.  You can count on us to bring you the latest information on everything you need to know to keep your cats happy and healthy.

7.  Do something for less fortunate cats

Helping others is an integral part of a life well lived, and it’s good for your health.  Even though we’d like to be able to, we can’t save every cat in need of a home, but there are things you can do to help, from donating money to your favorite shelter, to fostering cats for a local rescue, to volunteering time at a shelter to give the cats some love and attention.

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Book Review: Natural Nutrition for Cats by Kymythy R. Schultze

Natural Nutrition for Cats: The Path to Purrfect Health by Kymythy R. Schultze, C.N., C.N.C, is a comprehensive guide to species appropriate nutrition for cats.  Schultze, a Clinical Nutritionist and Certified Nutritional Consultant, shares her extensive knowledge of proper nutrition and points out why most commercial pet foods may not be the best way to feed our cats.

The book covers the basics of cats’ nutritional needs in great detail.  Cats are obligate carnivores and need protein to thrive, but they also need fat, minerals, vitamins and water.  What they don’t need is carbohydrates, and Schultze explains why grains in a feline diet can cause many of the degnerative diseases we see in cats, such as diabetes, kidney disease, and even cancer.   She looks at how commercial pet foods are formulated and manufactured – information that is not for the faint of heart.  It may be quite surprising to many what actually goes into these foods. 

Schultze is a raw-food proponent; like many others, she believes that cooking, and especially the high heat used to produce commercial pet foods, destroys vital nutrients.  She cites the Pottenger’s Cats study as one example of how cats on a raw diet tend to thrive when compared to cats who are fed processed foods.  She provides step-by-step instructions on how to transition cats to a raw diet, and offers a variety of recipes for those inclined to make their own food.

This book is a must-read for anyone interested in improving their cats’ health through nutrition.  Even if you don’t think raw feeding is for you, the book still provides valuable insight into what makes our feline friends tick when it comes to nutrition. 

For a thought-provoking extract from the book, read Feline Nutrition – Who Bears the Responsibilty

You may also enjoy reading Feeding Raw Food  – Separating Myth from Fact, and The Truth About Dry Cat Food.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Diet

Far too many cat parents accept occasional, or even chronic, vomiting and diarrhea as a fact of life with cats.  Cats just do that sometimes, don’t they?  Well, no.  Healthy cats don’t vomit on a regular basis, nor do they have diarrhea.  Chronic vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration, and, if left untreated, can become life threatening.

The most common cause of gastrointestinal problems for cats is Inflammatory Bowel Disease.   Although cats of all ages can be affected, it is typically seen in middle-aged or older cats.  The term IBD is used for a number of chronic gastrointestinal disorders.  Physiologically, it is characterized by an infiltration of inflammatory cells into the lining of the digestive tract.   The location of the inflammation can help determine the specific type of IBD.

Symptoms of IBD

Symptoms most typically include chronic vomiting and diarrhea, but sometimes, constipation can also be a problem.  Some cats present with weight loss as the only clinical sign.

Diagnosis of IBD

To rule out other causes of gastrointestinal problems, your veterinarian will perform diagnostic tests that may include complete blood cell counts, blood chemistry, thyroid function tests, urinalysis, fecal analysis, abdominal x-rays, and ultrasound.  The most definitive way to diagnose IBD is through biopsies of small samples of the intestinal lining.  These samples can be obtained through endoscopy or abdominal surgery.  These procedures require general anesthesia.

Medical Treatment

IBD is usually treated with a combination of medical and dietary therapy.  Corticosteroids are used for their anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant properties, and they can also serve as an appetite stimulant.  However, steroid therapy carries serious longterm side-effects.

The Diet Connection

There are commercially manufactured diets available for the treatment of IBD, most of them containing so-called “novel proteins,” ie., proteins that the cat may not have been exposed to before such as rabbit, venison, and duck.  (We used to call them the “Disney diets” when I still worked at a veterinary clinic – Thumper, Bambi and Donald…).

However, increasingly, holistically oriented veterinarians are seeing a connection between diet and IBD.  These vets believe that commercial pet foods, especially dry foods, are a contributing factor to the large numbers of cats with chronic IBD.  They also discovered that many cats improve by simply changing their diets to a balanced grain-free raw meat diet.  Similar results may be achieved with a grain-free canned diet, but a raw diet seems to lead to quicker and better results.

Vomiting and diarrhea are not something you, and your cat, should learn to live with.  Take your cat to a veterinarian for a thorough physical exam.  After ruling out other conditions or diseases as causes, the solution might just be something as simple as changing your cat’s diet.

Photo by Kim Newberg, Public Domain Pictures

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Feline Nutrition: Who Bears the Responsibility?

Guest Post by Kymythy R. Schultze

At this point in my investigative journey to decide what to feed my cats, the commercial, processed pet-food products were definitely not coming up roses — or even catnip. But let me state for the record that I don’t think the manufacturers are purposely trying to harm our cats. I don’t think there’s a cigar-smoking executive sitting behind his desk (in a corner office with a big window) doing a Snidely Whiplash impression while chanting: “I’m going to hurt some kitties today,” followed by evil laughter, of course. No, it’s not that personal — it’s just business. It’s like any other industry that makes billions of dollars every year: The bottom line is the top dollar.
 
I’m not faulting these companies for trying to make lots of money, but I don’t have to approve of the way they do it. I’m certainly not a fan of animal testing, low-quality ingredients, components that aren’t even appropriate for felines, too-frequent recalls, and questionable marketing tactics. But hey, when it comes down to it, my cat’s health isn’t really their responsibility.
 
Is my cat’s health my veterinarian’s responsibility? Not really. Yes, I go to vets for their professional opinions, which are very important to me. I respect their experience and education in most areas of animal health. But unless they’ve taken it upon themselves to study animal nutrition in an unbiased forum, they may not be the best source of advice for species-appropriate food for my cats. At veterinary schools, they receive very little education on this subject, and what they do get is mostly taught by employees of the larger pet-food companies. The little time devoted to nutrition usually involves the incomplete research we discussed earlier and heavy product pushing — not information about real food.
 
I have very dear friends who are veterinarians. Through their wisdom and my own experience and research, I’ve come to understand better why vets aren’t always the best source of unbiased nutritional information. You see, when I was studying animal nutrition at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine a few years ago, only a couple of my professors weren’t paid employees of pet-food companies.
 
I’ll never forget one particular lecture where the teacher/veterinarian was discussing the different forms of pet-food products — dry, canned, and so on. While she was talking about the semi-moist products, she mentioned in an offhand way that she would never feed them to her pets. Then she quickly laughed and said, “Oh, my boss would kill me if he heard me say that!”
 
I didn’t find it amusing. It was painfully clear that she was repeating (except for her slip-up) what the pet-food company wanted the students to hear — not unbiased information or her actual opinion.
 
The biggest pet-food companies hire brilliant marketers to sell their products. After all, what could be better than having experts (veterinarians) endorse your product? How did this come about? Well, one of the parent companies that’s become very involved with vets also makes toothpaste. Do you remember the old advertisement that boasted eight out of ten dentists recommend a particular brand? It was a brilliant campaign and put this firm at the top of toothpaste sales.
 
At the time, the company also had a very small pet-food division they were about to sell, but an executive came forward with a great idea: If they could use the same tactic with this branch as they had with their toothpaste, they’d be equally successful. So they used the pharmaceutical industry’s practice of spending tons of money to woo doctors. In fact, a retired sales executive from the pet-food company commented on why this marketing strategy works so well: “It’s just like taking drugs: You go to the doctor, and he prescribes something for you, and you don’t much question what the doctor says. It’s the same with animals.”
 
They know that the trust cat guardians have in vets is so strong that they’ll feed what they’re told without question. So the manufacturer spends a great deal of money enforcing that connection. In fact, other than universities, this company is the country’s largest employer of vets.  They fund research and nutrition courses and professorships at veterinary colleges and offer a formal nutrition-certification program for technicians. They’ve also written a widely used textbook on animal nutrition that’s given free of charge to veterinary students, who also receive stipends and get products at zero or almost-zero charge.
 
This relationship doesn’t end after graduation. The corporation sends veterinarians to seminars on how to better sell their products, provides sales-goal-oriented promotions, gives them lots of promotional tools, and offers big discounts so that vets make more money on product sales.
 
There’s really no point in naming names in this situation because these practices aren’t confined to a single pet-food company. Although one or two used to have a corner on the veterinary market, others have now reaped the rewards of employing similar strategies. It’s genius, really, and I can understand that many veterinarians have busy practices and may feel that they don’t have time to investigate pet-foods more closely. It certainly must be easier and less time-consuming to simply suggest a familiar product and be done with it, but if they’ve got such an extremely close association with a pet-food company, we may reasonably assume that it might be difficult for them to offer an unbiased opinion on nutrition to their clients.
 
Please understand that there are more and more vets today who are taking the time to learn about real-food nutrition. And with their busy schedules, I truly respect the ones who do; and I like to support these independent, open-minded individuals who enjoy continuing their education.
 
The bottom line is that my cat’s health is my responsibility, and your cat’s health is your responsibility. We choose which veterinarian to take our cats to. We choose to follow our vets’ advice or not. We choose which type of food to feed our cats. All the choices are up to us, so choose wisely, grasshopper (my cats love to eat those guys)!
 
Kymythy R. Schultze has been a trailblazer in the field of animal nutrition for nearly two decades. She’s a Clinical Nutritionist, a Certified Nutritional Consultant and one of the world’s leading experts on nutrition and care for cats. Visit her at Kymythy.com.

 

FIV: Separating Myth from Fact

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Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is an often misunderstood condition.  According to the Feline Health Center at Cornell University, the virus affects approximately 1.5 to 3 percent of healthy cats in the United States, with slighly higher rates in cats that are sick or at high risk for infection.  FIV is a lentivirus, which means it moves very slowly, and it gradually affects a cat’s immune system.  It is passed from cat to cat through blood transfusions and serious, penetrating bite wounds.   FIV cannot be transmitted to humans.

There are a lot of misconceptions about this virus, and contrary to what many people believe, FIV cats can live long, healthy lives if cared for properly.  My former office cat, Virginia, lived to be 14, despite her FIV positive status.  This article hopes to dispel some of the myths surrounding this virus and provide a better understanding both for those who live with an FIV positive cat, but also for the many FIV positive cats in shelters and with private rescues who are looking for loving homes.  The fact that a cat has the virus should not automatically eliminate her from being considered for adoption!

Myth:  FIV can be spread through casual contact, such as cats sharing the same food or water bowls, or cats grooming each other.

Fact:  FIV is transmitted primarily through deep, penetrating bite wounds.  Casual, non-aggressive contact of cats living in the same household does not spread the virus.  On rare occasions, the virus is transmitted from the mother cat to her kittens, usually during passage of the kittens through the birth canal, or when they ingest infected milk.

Myth:  Cats infected with FIV show symptoms immediately.

Fact:  Infected cats may appear normal for years.  The only way to diagnose FIV is through a blood test.  A positive test indicates the presence of antibodies.  Since there is the possibility of false positives, veterinarians often recommend retesting, using a test with a different format.  In kittens born to an FIV positive nursing mother, antibody tests will most likely show positive results for several months, although these kittens are unlikely to be infected.  The kittens should be retested every two months until they’re six months old.

An infected cat may not show any symptoms at all, or his health may either deteriorate progressively,or show a pattern of recurring illness followed by long periods of good health.  Once FIV positive cats become symptomatic, you will typically see poor coat condition, loss of appetite, fever, inflammation of the gums and mouth (gingivitis or stomatitis), chronic and recurring infections of various organ systems, persistent diarrhea, slow weight loss, and various cancers and blood diseases.  Since all of these symptoms can be indicative of any number of other conditions, it’s important to work closely with your veterinarian if you have an FIV positive cat.  A case of “just not doing right” in a healthy cat that may resolve on its own in a day or two could be a precursor to a more serious condition in a cat with a compromised immune system.

Myth:  There is no treatment for FIV.

Fact:  While there is no cure for FIV, the disease can be managed by keeping FIV positive cats indoors, providing a healthy, balanced diet (due to the compromised immune system in these cats, raw feeding is not recommended), and regular, at least bi-annual veterinary check ups.  Vigilance and close monitoring of health and behavior is even more important in these cats than it is in other, healthy cats.

Myth:  Cats with FIV don’t live very long.

Fact: Many cats with FIV live well into their teens if they are receiving proper care and monitoring throughout their lives.

There is a vaccine available that is supposed to protect cats against contracting FIV, but the effectiveness is poorly supported by current research, and there is also a small risk of the cat developing sarcomas at the injection site.  Additionally, cats will always test positive for FIV after receiving the vaccine, so if they become ill later in life, there will be no way to eliminate FIV from the diagnosis.

An FIV infection does not have to be a death sentence, and it is not necessary to get rid of a cat who tests positive.   It also shouldn’t preclude adoption of an FIV positive cat.

Photo by Dan Davison, Flickr Creative Commons

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Benefits of Digestive Enzymes for Pets

I previously wrote about how to choose healthy foods for your pet.  In the article, I said that I was not a proponent of a raw food diet, because I felt that the risks outweighed the benefits.  However, I have since come to the conclusion that feeding raw food is truly the healthiest way to feed our pets.  We know from human nutrition that the less processed our foods are, the better for us, and the same holds true for our pets.  Additionally, cats are carnivores, and as such, they are designed to eat raw meat.   That being said, some pets, especially cats, can be difficult to transition to raw food .  For those pets, the the next best thing for achieving the same results you get from raw feeding may be supplementing your pet’s diet with digestive enzymes.

The reason raw food is so good for our pets is because it still contains all the digestive enzymes.  When food is processed and cooked, enzymes are destroyed.   Enzymes aid in food absorption by breaking food down into simple, soluble substances that the body can absorb.  Enzymes are important building blocks for a multitude of metabolic functions and can help the body fight the degnerative processes that come with aging, aid in better absoprtion of vitamins and minerals, and help build a healthy immune system.  Enzyme deficiency can show itself in poor haircoat, allergies, intestinal problems, and voluminous stools, often with the fat still clearly visible. 

If you’re not able to feed raw, you may want to consider supplementing your pet’s diet with digestive enzymes.  There are numerous products on the market.  One I like is Dr. Goodpet’s Feline Digestive Enzymes.  In addition to enzymes, it also contains probiotics.  It also has absolutely no scent or flavor, which can be an issue with cats.  Amber readily accepted it on the very first try and has been taking it for the last few weeks.  The most noticeable difference so far has been a marked decrease in the size and the smell of her stools. 

The research, and testimonials, for the benefits of digestive enzymes, are convincing.  Like pets on raw diets, enzyme supplementation can help your pets  look and feel great.  Pets on a raw diet tend to have glossy coats, clear ears and eyes, and better teeth.  They maintain their ideal weight.   They don’t have allergies or intestinal problems.   If you’re not able to feed raw, enzyme supplementation can help you achieve the same results.

As a side note, I wanted to test the benefits of digestive enzymes for myself, so I began taking them right along with Amber (not the feline version, though!  I choose a product designed for humans, Enzymedica Digest).  While I can’t say that my coat has gotten glossier, I’ve definitely noticed an improvement with my digestion!  I’ve also noticed that I don’t get hungry as quickly as I used to in between meals.   My – completely unscientific – assumption is that it may be due to the fact that my body is absorbing nutrients better as a result of the added enzymes.

Please note:  if your cat is diabetic or immuno-suppressed, digestive enzymes may be contra-indicated.  Check with your veterinarian before changing your cat’s diet or adding supplements.