Promoting Cat Health: The Middle Way
Our 18-year-old cat, Sweetie has been with us since he was 4 months old. He was given to us by my Course in Miracles teacher who bought him in a garage sale. He has been a natural cat. We have never had him declawed. He spent as much time outside as he did inside for most of his life. Our neighbors all know Sweetie, the large longhaired cat with the beautiful green eyes. We think he is part Main Coon. Main Coons are known for their verbal communication. When we talk to Sweetie, he seems to answer us with his meow.
Other than for yearly vaccines, we never had to take Sweetie to the Vet because of illness until a few years ago when his health began to deteriorate.
First it was arthritis, quite apparent from his slower gait. Soon after, it was brought to our attention that he had periodontal disease, from years of lack of attention to his oral hygiene. This was a bit embarrassing since my husband is a dentist, and at our office we are constantly preaching the importance of brushing, flossing and regular cleanings.
By the time Sweetie was 16, he had lost a couple of teeth. We did not invest in the cleanings, where the Vet puts the animal to sleep. However we did start paying more attention to the food and treats we were giving Sweetie.
For most of his life we simply had to take him to his groomer, Lisa, for regular nail trimming and long hair care. No matter how much we brushed Sweetie, he always seemed to get mats in his fur. A Couple of years ago I started him on a yearly spa day, where he sees the Vet for his normal check up and vaccines and then spends the day with the groomer where he has a bath, whole body hair shaving (the lion cut), manicure and pedicure.
We avoided flea and tick treatments for years until we realized he had fleas when he was about 14 years old. At that time, the Vet prescribed Revolution; a very strong medication applied every month for fleas, ticks, worms and other common ailments. Revolution is so strong you have to apply it with rubber gloves. That always bothered me, but it never seemed to bother Sweetie until Labor Day weekend 2012.
That weekend, I applied his Revolution. Several hours later, he started acting very strange. He seemed confused, was chasing his tail, and then rolled back and forth, lost all control of his bladder and was shaking and foaming at the mouth. He was having a grand mal seizure.
Even though I am a nurse, I had never seen this type of seizure. I did what one should do for a seizure. Gently moved the furniture around him and gave him space. After a couple of minutes he stopped, laid still, and then looked up in a very disoriented stare. I got a large soft towel and cleaned him up and then just kept him comfortable. It was very sad to see Sweetie in this condition. Within a few minutes, he did get up and look for his food and water, a good sign. And then a few hours later he had another seizure.
He had 4 seizures within three days. We called our Vet after the first seizure and scheduled an appointment. They said as long as he was eating and drinking and seemed to be himself within the hour of the seizure, it was not an emergency. Also his seizures never lasted more than a minute and a half. When you are witnessing a seizure, this can feel like a long time.
After Sweetie was examined, the Vet said that often cats this age get brain tumors. Without an MRI we could not be sure. Sweetie’s blood levels revealed that his kidney function had decreased. The Revolution was not mentioned as a primary cause. What I know now is that Revolution should not be given to an animal with impaired kidney or liver disease.
He was started on Phenobarbital for the seizures. I hated to give him this drug, however, we did not want him to suffer with seizures. Since last September, Sweetie has been on the Phenobarbital, at varying doses according to regular analysis of blood levels.
He has had other episodes of seizures and at his last check up, the Vet said his kidney and liver function were impaired and it was time to change him to a low protein kidney disease diet and add supplements.
Up to now we have fed Sweetie a high quality dry food diet mixed with a garlic Vit B pill and treats. We have always given him a small portion of a canned seafood formula once a day, which he loves.
I didn’t really know much about cat food up to now and thought he was fine.
But when our veterinarian wanted to switch him to a prescription food and supplements, I decided to do some research.
The first thing I did was consult with a natural cat coach. First she berated me for vaccinating him and for feeding him dry cat food. She also said that the low protein diet is an old fashioned treatment for kidney disease. Research has shown that the best diet for a cat is a raw food diet, preferable home made, supplemented with vitamins and minerals.
She gave me a recipe using ground sirloin, organic chicken, powdered calcium, raw organic eggs, and butter. She also recommended supplementing with a vitamin/kelp mixture and stress formula B vitamins. My Vet was against it for food safety reasons. Raw food can get contaminated very easily if not handled properly. They were ok with a homemade diet and they had a recipe using cooked liver, calcium, and brown rice.
I didn’t know what to do. I then began researching everything I could find on the Internet. I also listened to radio podcasts of shows with experts on cat food.
I found a pet store in Cincinnati where they sell dehydrated raw food and frozen already made raw food for cats and dogs. I took every free sample home and we tried a variety of the raw food samples with Sweetie. He loved raw food. He also loves canned seafood and more liquid in his diet.
A friend of ours who is a veterinarian, is not thrilled with the raw diet, the main reason is the fear of salmonella or e-coli. You do have to be very careful when handling raw foods. However if done right, what I have learned is that a high quality raw food diet of meats, vegetables and the right amount of calcium and minerals, is probably the best diet for ailing animals. Some animal experts would say it is the best diet for all animals since they eat raw food out in the wild.
Sweetie seems healthier on the raw food diet. We give him the prepared raw food mixed with a supplement of brewers yeast, bran, kelp, and calcium powder. I also supplement with a Vit B stress formula. I open the capsule and add it to yogurt mixed with pumpkin. This is Sweetie’s afternoon or evening meal. When we are home we try to feed him 3 times a day, which the cat coach and others say is optimal for a senior cat.
We have noticed an improvement in Sweetie. His fur is softer with less dandruff. He is sleeping less and talking more. He still has arthritis and periodontal disease but seems to be moving around better. He has occasional constipation but for the most part has a daily bowel movement. He uses his litter box, but sometimes decides to leave a few stool samples on the carpet.
He is still a natural cat to us. He is still getting his half pill of Phenobarbital twice a day. He is allowed outside but other than a morning walk to check out the day, he prefers to stay inside.
We never got an MRI and we are not getting his tooth cleaned. If we ever have another pet, I would have their teeth cleaned. We did stop the Revolution. He sees the Vet more often now for blood work. He still goes to the groomer for spa days. Sweetie is Sweet and a joy to have around.
I know he is 18 years old and the average life span of a cat is 15, but we have vowed to keep him as healthy and happy as we can for the time he has left. When the time comes we are ready for “gentle euthanasia.” Our plan is to have him cremated and take his ashes home to be buried in our herb garden.
PS-I just got a call from our Vet. We had Sweetie's bloodwork done yesterday-His liver enzymes are normal. His kidney function has improved and all else is stable. Yeah! for lifestyle changes!!