I fed low-quality, 'prescription' food — from a company I don't respect — on purpose.
It's time to come clean.
After years of righteous raging indignation against most commercial cat food, and levying particularly harsh criticism in the direction of the insanely low quality and absurd species-inappropriate formulations in so-called 'prescription' diets, for two weeks earlier this year, I fed one of those diets.
And I’d do it again if I had to.
There is a word in Sanskrit - karuna - which translates as "compassion."
I want to share a few words about my dear friend, VJ Supera. She is the essence of compassion. And she spends a good part of each year in Puttaparthi, India.
And she's become deeply involved in an extraordinary nonprofit organization that helps animals in need there.
The Karuna Society for Animals and Nature has been around for 15 years and provides free medical care and shelter for sick, injured, and abused animals in Puttaparthi and surrounding areas.
Might I ask you to consider a donation to this worthy organization so they can finish their work to provide assistance to cats in need? This project is near and dear to the heart of a trustworthy woman who's been deeply involved in compassionate work her whole life.
Even a small donation can go a long way. A big donation can go still further, of course.
Click here for donation options. And many thanks.
I am so proud and pleased. Dr. Lisa Pierson - whose acquaintance I was lucky enough to make many years ago when I was first noodling around the whole cat nutrition question - is featured in an extensive interview published by Mercola's Dr. Karen Becker.
The link to the story is here.
And the interview itself is below.
Like my website credits say, Dr. Pierson is a California veterinarian who works unbelievably hard to save countless cats from misery, pain, and abuse through tireless and often heartbreaking rescue work. She's helped to keep me on the straight and narrow when it comes to interpreting and deciphering the professional literature on feline nutrition.
If you've not spent time reading and absorbing the great details on her website, what are you waiting for?
It's rare that I offer an unsolicited review of a cat product, especially one that has nothing to do with cat food. But I'm so jazzed about a new product that I stumbled on at my fave local holistic pet supply store, PetSage, that I'm going for it.
If you ever read my page on litter boxes (note to self: update litter box page), you know that I whine about the fact that I'd never found the truly ideal cat litter. One that didn't have perfumes or additives in it. And that wasn't dusty. And that clumped well and was not environmentally hideous like clay. And, most important, was a cat litter that was truly cat-friendly - soft on the paws.
Some litters had some of those features, but no single litter I'd found had all of those qualities. It was always a compromise.
When I was at PetSage, the store owner - my dear friend Terri - showed me a new product she'd just gotten in. It's called SmartCat All Natural Clumping Litter by Pioneer Pet Products.
I picked up a bag from the shelf and the first thing that hit me was how very light the bag was for the volume of litter it contained. Be still my heart. Cat litter that doesn't tear rotator cuffs? I once injured my shoulder (for real) moving a big heavy bag of cat litter off a store shelf to get it in my shopping cart.
I looked at the bag and saw what the ingredient was and I confess I was skeptical that it really clumped.
The only ingredient? Grass.
That's it. Just grass. Grass that's specially chopped and extruded somehow (don't ask me how) to make it clump-able. But only grass.
Since fools rush in and I'm one, I bought a couple of bags, figuring it was worth a try. I pulled out a spare empty litter box - leaving the two existing litter boxes untouched - and filled it up with the SmartCat. I didn't detect ANY dust. So far, so good. Light weight. Not dusty.
Sidney-Beans immediately came to investigate and pawed around in the box and gave me instant pee-feedback on the clumping qualities of the litter. Using a five-star rating system, I'd easily give it five stars. This stuff is seriously great at clumping. Light weight. Not dusty. Clumps.
Wilson initially opted to continue using the old box with my regular litter (Dr. Elsey's). I was intrigued enough that I wrote the company to confirm that this stuff truly was only grass and that there was nothing else in there. They answered me immediately and with assurances it was only grass.
I began to slowly switch the litter in the old boxes over to the SmartCat. Because I'm superstitious and terrified of cats not using their litter boxes, I took a (probably unnecessary) extra step of tossing in a little of the Dr. Elsey's Cat Attractant in the new litter for the first couple of weeks, just to make sure my fellows were drawn to the new litter.
It's been three full weeks now and I declare this experiment a smashing success. I've found the cat litter of my dreams.
1. It clumps as well as clay litter, if not better. The folks who came up with this amazing stuff made a super fun and silly video showing the power of the clump of their litter.
2. It doesn't break your back to carry or lift a bag of this stuff. Bonus!
3. It is biodegradable and therefore infinitely more environmentally kind to Mother Earth than clay litter. Hallelujah.
4. It is soft on a cat's paws. Awesome.
5. It's not dusty. Better for your lungs and your cats' lungs. Yay!
6. It doesn't contain any silly or dangerous perfumes or additives. Thank you.
7. Cats dig using it. Shazzam.
Cross my heart, Pioneer Pet Products didn't ask for my review or offer me any freebies or enticements for a positive review. Though, hey, if they want to send me some free bags, I'm not going to offend them by declining the offer. Just saying.
I wanted to share this because I know that many of you share the same frustrations I've had with most cat litters. This product is very new to the market and I don't think it's yet widely available in a lot of stores - though you can order it online.
Two thumbs and four dew-claws up for this stuff!
A kind soul is eager to ensure that these two beautiful sisters, kittens, currently in Pakistan are cared for and have a home - and has generously agreed to pay what it costs to have them moved to the United States. These two need to stay together in one home.
If you can open your home and heart to welcome these two beauties, please contact kvanvlec AT hotmail DOT com for details and to coordinate this miracle. I know we can do this!
A note of gratitude to all of you who are helping me and spurring me on to keep this website alive and kicking.
When I started the website over ten years ago, it was out of exasperation. I see now, looking back, that exasperation has slowly morphed into inspiration - a much more joy-affirming motivator.
The brief history: Shortly after I was celebrating the success of curing my cat's IBD in 2002 with a home-prepared raw diet I'd learned about thanks to a Yahoo e-group, Natascha Wille, Michelle Bernard, Lee Ellis, and my own panic-stricken desperation for an answer for my beloved Dukie-boy, an odd turn of events led to an interview in a veterinary publication for clients about my experience.
I was thrilled at the chance to share my story and spent hours on the phone with an interviewer sharing what I'd learned along the way - the many false starts I'd had trying several recipes that included grains, attempting a cooked diet, struggling with bewilderment about my choice given all the admonitions against raw feeding, and my inability to secure advice from a trusted veterinary source on how best to evaluate the balance and safety of the raw diet recipes online.
When the article was published and arrived in the mail, I saw that all my deliberate references to "raw diet" were expunged, and replaced (without running the copy by me beforehand) with "veterinary supervised home prepared diet."
I was livid. Veterinary supervised? Not so much! The point of my story was that I could not - as many others could not - find a veterinarian to help with something so very important. That the gap between vets and clients on such a fundamental aspect of cat health was not a good thing. That there were sick cats who could be made well again if only we could rely on vets to help us understand what it means to feed well. In my subsequent exchanges with the author, she offered sympathy for my frustration but explained that a veterinary publication could not 'in good conscience' implicitly or explicitly endorse a raw diet. And that the editorial board thus determined the safest decision would be to share my story but substitute "home prepared" and "veterinary supervised" for all references to a raw diet.
In commiserating with a colleague and friend - a scholar in another field altogether who had, over the course of his very long career, published many important books uncovering injustices and travesties in 20th century history - I said, "The deck is stacked too high against those of us trying to share this message. There's no way to make any kind of a dent in the dominant paradigm that the pet food industry has the answers to help sick animals."
His reply: "Don't go there. Why give up so easily? It may not happen overnight, but don't underestimate the power over time of sharing a message that needs to be heard. It may be cliche, but one person can make a difference. Two can make an even bigger difference. Add a few more and pretty soon a few folks will take notice."
Point taken, but what to do? Ooh ooh ooh! I know. Write letters.
With help from my then new friend and ally in the healthy feeding world, Dr. Lisa Pierson, I launched a one-woman letter-writing campaign to all the veterinary universities with nutrition departments in North America. It was quite an undertaking. I put together the original sources I'd assembled on my own, wrote a cover letter to each with an entreaty to please help all of us learn to feed our cats better, and snail-mailed off scores of information packages to each. I recall the day I'd finally gotten all the separate parts of the package edited, printed off, collated, and sitting in neat little piles on the dining room table ready to assemble. I stared at all that paper wondering if I was nuts to even spend postage on all this. But I mailed them off anyway. Maybe in some way I'd spur some veterinary nutrition teacher to start shortening the too-long learning curve on this question.
I waited. And waited. And waited. For some replies, that is. Days. Weeks.
The silence was deafening. The solitary response received came on fancy letterhead from a nutrition department professor who politely opined that my cat's recovery from IBD was almost certainly coincidental, had nothing whatsoever to do with the raw diet, and that my cat most likely would have gotten better on the right commercial diet. He also warned me to about the dangers of handling raw meat for my own health.
Okay, so writing to veterinary universities wasn't the way to go. Lesson learned. Time for Plan B.
So I started the website. I questioned the wisdom taking time I didn't have to spare on a venture that would not only would never make a dime and was unlikely to ever to reach more than a few people. I knew nothing about building a website. But I did it anyway. It was a pretty sorry site, design-wise, but you gotta start somewhere, right? Fools rush in, especially with fightin' words like "coincidental cure" ringing in the head. Coincidental my a**.
What if just one sick cat got better? Would that be worth the trouble? I looked at Duke's amber eyes and thought of the many other sick cats out there suffering needlessly from a malady that was so easily turned around with the right diet and thought, "Yeah, Duke, we gotta give this a shot."
One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, wrote a fantastic book in 1994 about writing called "Bird by Bird" that I finally had the good sense to read a few months ago. In the author's own words, the story behind the book's title goes like this:
Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'"
I wondered then how I would ever possibly be an effective little cog in the then small wheel that made up the chorus of voices sharing the word about truly healthy nutrition for these feline creatures? I see now that my answer was the same.
Cat by cat.
Today, Google Analytics stats claim that the website averages about 2,000 unique visitors each day. I don't know if that's good or not by today's web standards, but I know that in 2002 the very idea of that kind of reach seemed ludicrous and unimaginable.
When I tentatively dipped my toes to move this message out a little further into the social media world, I remember thinking I'd be pretty content if the Facebook page for the website ever reached 100 "Likes." Today the page is edging up on 2,000, which, simply put, blows me away.
Best of all, I realize that while there are still moments of exasperation at how much resistance many of us face in questioning the dominant paradigm on healthy feeding for cats - the collective of voices, honest companies, and brave vets has made a dent in that paradigm. Exasperation yielded to inspiration. I cannot even tell you how very much I still learn from website and social media visitors - if I could purr in gratitude, I would.
In truth, I was ready to let the site fall by the wayside a couple of years ago. Like everyone, I have a busy life and plenty of competing claims on my time and energy. And while cat nutrition was a passion, it wasn't the only one that I wanted to feed. I wasn't sure that there was any need for it any more or if I could muster the motivation to keep it going. I figured that anyone who was going to get the message already had and that by now all this was old news.
But you all inspire me. And so do your cats.
I love especially the proliferation of more and more good sources of information on feeding cats. Is there still far too much misinformation out there? Heck yes you bet there is. From vets and lay people alike. But? It's not nearly as difficult as it was a decade ago to find a vet that supports raw feeding. There was no "Feline Nutrition Education Society" a decade ago. It was rare then to find a pet food store selling really decent raw food.
Running an Internet search on "raw feeding cats" today doesn't only bring up a first page of results with dire, fear-mongering, and outright misleading warnings from pet food companies.
Who made that happen? You did. You and your commitment to and compassion for these creatures.
So? Thank you for taking the time to look at the www.catnutrition.org website. I know it's not the only site out there with (hopefully) useful information feeding cats.
Thank you all for your many helpful suggestions.
Thank you for sharing your own compelling stories and questions and for being part of our virtual Team Feed-Cats-Way-Better. We should all get snazzy t-shirts and hold a flash mob in Times Square or something.
I'm so honored to be on the team with you. Thank you.
More than a decade of running this crazy little website has brought in thousands of questions and comments from many smart, concerned, and discerning site visitors. Since I began using social media as another way of getting the word out, however, the volume of questions has skyrocketed. I can often refer folks to an exist FAQ or page on the website. But I'm seeing that even that sometimes doesn't get at the real heart of the matter or answer the more fundamental questions that underpin the messages filling up my inbox each day.
I think I must have the most generous website visitors on the planet.
Eunyoung Lee and Eunsoo Lee, who have been translating so many pages of this website, just finished a full translation into Korean of the page on periodontal disease. A big heaping plate of thanks to them both for making more and more of this website accessible worldwide.
Halo is now putting carrageenan in their Liv'a Little treats - the product that was the "bribe of choice" I'd recommended to site visitors for years. It was a tasty, simple, unadulterated treat that cats loved - it helped persuade a lot of reluctant cats to dive into healthier food.
I don't know when they started adding this ingredient to their treats; clearly, I've been lazy about following my own advice to always read labels for any foods or treats. I focused on this the other day when a website visitor emailed me to let me know that when she looked at the Halo treats she's heard me rave about, she noticed carrageenan on the ingredient label. Deep mournful sigh. I'm grateful to her for the heads up, and I'm reminded formulations can change often. Blink and next thing you know your favorite food or treat contains some additive that not only adds no nutritional value but is linked with causing or aggravating intestinal disorders.
Ironically, only last month, I wrote a little missive about why carrageenan may be worth trying to avoid in one of my "L'il Bites" - a super spiffy new feature on this site, by the way, so check it out!
Feel free to read it if you like, but the Cliff's Notes version is that this is a highly controversial food additive (a "texture enhancer") directly associated in scores of peer-reviewed medical studies as an agent that induces gastrointestinal inflammation - and has been identified as a possible carcinogen to boot.
I'm disappointed in Halo on this one - though they're definitely not a lone wolf in adding this ingredient to a food product. It's all over the darn place in pet food and human food.
Wilson and Sidney-Beans' days of enjoying those treats are behind them. The good news? There are still healthy treat choices out there. I just stocked up today at my favorite store, Petsage, on a bunch of Bravo's Bonus Bites - and a taste test here gave them four dew-claws up.
Cheers and hoorays and bravos for Bravo.
And a wag of my finger at Halo. Pains me to do that, as they're generally a pretty cool company: they've done some great stuff promoting animal welfare and rescue just for starters. And I'm grateful that Halo treats helped to transition scores of cats from dry food to wet or homemade food.
But when it comes to nutrition for the cats, I'm just not willing to compromise when I don't have to - and when I have a choice. I wrote them today to ask what on earth they were thinking by using this very questionable, and, arguably harmful, ingredient to what was a fantastically popular and otherwise great choice for a cat treat. We'll see what they say. I'm an optimist at heart - and like to think that good people looking squarely at facts will come to a reasonable conclusion.
Too risky for my taste, carrageenan. An abundance of caution seems a sensible approach when it comes to additives to foods, especially those like carrageenan which add no nutritional value. I don't know what their calculus or rationale was for adding this to their product - but I cast my vote against anything that might put our critters at risk with no discernible benefit to outweigh the possible dangers to their long-term health.
Perhaps Halo improved the texture of their product with carrageenan. But they've lost two previously enthusiastic cat customers for now - at least until the carrageenan is gone.
Big thanks to Melike Uzun for translating the first main recipe on the website into Turkish! What a great thing to share. Much appreciated, Melike. Quick link to the translation is here, and also on the recipe page at the bottom with other translations.
My deep gratitude to all the many generous folks who have translated portions of the website into other languages so that others can have access to more information to help make wise decisions on what's best for cats.