Friday, October 29, 2010

Raw Feeding Update #2

(Warning: This post contains pictures of raw meat. Squeamish folks take note.)

I just realized it's been a while since I posted a raw feeding update, and now seemed like as good a time as any to write one.

I will start by noting that via my research over the past few months, it has become even more apparent to me that some raw feeders tend to be very...ideological about the whole thing. Lots of these individuals consider commercial food to be, in general, a bad thing. Personally, though, I'm not really a fan of ideological approaches to diet, whether for cats or humans. It seems like the more one venerates ideology, the more one diverges from the scientific and/or pragmatic. And I don't see any point to any kind of dietary regimen unless you're doing it for practical, reality-based reasons.

That said, I definitely think that my and my cats' particular circumstances quite nicely lend themselves to a number of practical, reality-based reasons for feeding raw to whichever cats will actually eat it. I don't claim that what's right for me and my cats is right for every human or every cat, and none of this is meant to be "moralizing". So hopefully it doesn't come across that way; in general I aim to be informative and expository when I write about this stuff, not political and certainly not ideological.

In my last update (way back in August!), I noted that the youngsters were eating about 80% raw / 20% commercial. I've since further reduced the amount of canned and dry commercial food Cora, Brodie, and Shadow are getting, which means they're probably close to 90% raw-fed. Nikki is still on commercial stuff but frankly given her pickiness I'm just glad she hasn't been refusing her wet food lately.

The youngsters still get a little bit of canned commercial food -- maybe 1 ounce each daily, if that. They enjoy it as what amounts to a gravy-like condiment with their raw food. They also get some dry food (EVO or Orijen) as "treats" -- I might toss a few pieces across the floor for them to chase, or into the air, or tie some into a tissue "pinata" hanging from their cat tree, etc. They all love these activities so I figure it's not a big deal, so long as I don't accidentally feed them too much (but that's pretty easy to avoid by measuring out a small quantity of crunchies in the morning for the day's treat allotment).

As for what their raw meals are comprised of, probably the largest percentage of what they eat is chicken, simply because they all love it and it's relatively economical and easy for me to get. Most of the organs (liver, kidney, etc.) they eat are from chicken as well. However, I wouldn't want to feed them JUST chicken, seeing as in the wild cats generally aren't going to get all their sustenance from a single protein source (plus, exposing them to a greater variety of proteins at a younger age can supposedly help prevent them from developing allergies).

Quail is another favorite around here and I am very happy to be able to get whole (aside from heads and feet) quail in six-pack format for a good price locally, seeing as even a smallish cat like Cora can eat pretty much every bone in a quail.

Once in a while I'll get turkey thighs but since the bones are huge it's not really practical to get it all the time. I tried getting turkey necks once but those were ridiculously hard to cut and too massive to serve whole, so I'll probably not get them again.

Lately I've also worked in beef, which everyone also seems to be a fan of -- I figured they should be eating at least one land animal that wasn't a bird. And while I don't feed a lot of seafood, I figure a bit of fish is probably a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids and such, and hence I've included smelt in the past few batches of food I've made. Smelt is a small fish meaning it's less likely to have high levels of pollutants and supposedly it's quite nutritious as well.

As for how I prepare a "batch" of food...usually I dedicate a few afternoon hours once every 2 - 4 weeks to this. The recipe I usually refer to for basic proportions is this one from but I don't stick absolutely strictly to it. E.g., I ALWAYS add taurine even though I also always add heart meat, and I never grind meat or bones (all the youngsters will happily consume whole bones, so long as they're of an appropriate size).

I start by breaking 2-4 raw chicken eggs into a bowl and mixing this with some vitamin B, vitamin E, and taurine supplement. Then I chop the liver and smelt to a fine mince and mix this with the eggs and supplements. Note that the liver and smelt are the ONLY things I chop finely. Whole smelt are apparently scary -- none of the cats will eat them unless I turn them into unrecognizable mush, so I do, figuring at least that way they get their dose of fishy nutrients. As for the liver, I discovered during my first forays into this endeavor that too much liver in any one meal tends to lead to poopsplosions, and the chopping enables me to better distribute the stuff.

Also, a tip for anyone inclined to try this: liver is MUCH easier to chop when partially frozen. I find it almost impossible to chop when thawed because it's so squishy...the knife just seems to compress and push it around all over the cutting board, which is about as logistically obnoxious as it is disgusting. And it IS disgusting. Thawed liver also smells really wrong and horrible to me -- I know the cats like it but good grief. Part-frozen liver isn't nearly as pungent.

Once the egg-supplement-fish-liver glop is well mixed, I stick that in the fridge. I then get all the "main" meat, wash it (to remove at least some of the surface bacteria) and then cut it up into approximately mouse-sized chunks, bone and all (if applicable -- the beef I get is boneless, but the chicken generally isn't). For the chopping I use a meat cleaver (a fairly cheap one -- I got it for about $8 -- but so far it seems to be working fine) and occasionally kitchen shears if I'm dealing with a ridiculous amount of chicken skin.

The chunked meat all gets put into a huge stainless steel mixing bowl and mixed with the eggy glop. The result is an utterly horrific-looking medley of chunked-up animal parts. The mixed-meat medley is then partitioned into freezable plastic containers and/or zipper-closure freezer bags and put promptly into the freezer.

To serve, I simply take out a container of frozen food, thaw overnight (or all day) in the refrigerator, and present to the kitties at breakfast and dinnertime (they get two main meals a day with some treats in between). At that point it's really no more logistically difficult than giving them canned food, which was a nice discovery!

Below is a picture of the finished product, thawed and ready to serve. Looks pretty vile to me, but the kitties love it! Oh, and the really nasty-looking yellowish stuff is mostly liver, egg yolks, and fish guts:

...and here are the youngsters demonstrating their enthusiasm for this horrid-looking concoction:

As for how much raw food I feed the cats...I've never weighed the portions I give them, I just try and feed them as much as they'll enthusiastically eat in a sitting, and figure if anyone looks like they're gaining or losing an unhealthy amount of weight I can adjust accordingly.

So far Brodie has stayed stable at 14 pounds for the past few months (a good thing -- he was rather waistless for a while there, whereas now he's grown into his mass somewhat), while both Cora and Shadow have gained slightly. They're also all really solid and muscular...especially Shadow, who when I hold him feels like he's filled with bricks!

In terms of general health, as far as I can tell everyone is still doing great. Soft, sleek, shiny coats and bright eyes are the norm around here.

On the gastrointestinal front, initially I was kind of terrified about salmonella (and I am still really anal-retentive-obsessive about cleaning prep surfaces and tools and wearing gloves myself) or other contamination, but so far I've seen no evidence whatsoever that that's happening. Neither Matt nor I nor any of the cats has gotten sick.

In fact, in nearly 4 months of raw feeding we've only had two instances of Feline Regurgitation Theatre -- and I don't mean two per cat, I mean two, period. And I'm not even sure which cat it was (other than "not Nikki", as Nikki was either outside or in a separate room on those occasions), seeing as it happened in the wee hours of the morning both times.

Even when the youngsters eat grass now (I bring them in a little bunch of it every now and then so they get some roughage in their diet, and just because they love it) they don't puke. I suspect the additional fat they're getting the way they eat now has cut WAY down on hairball potential, because this is seriously unprecedented.

As far as things go at the end that doesn't meow, litterbox conditions are about as pleasant as it's possible for litterbox conditions to be. The cats poop maybe once a day, perhaps once every other day, and it barely smells like anything. They pee more than I'm used to cats peeing but that's to be expected given they get a lot more water in their diet by eating raw, and it's also healthy for them to have more dilute urine (less likely to form crystals that way).

On the activity-level front, certainly nobody seems lethargic, and since the weather's finally cooled down, I've been seeing an upsurge in "run maniacally around the house" and "chase my siblings up and down the cat tree" games. So at the very least they're getting what they need to fuel their high-energy antics.

All in all, I would say the raw-feeding experiment I embarked upon back in July 2010 is turning out to be a rousing success. Not only do the cats seem to be thriving, they act like they've just won a free trip to Kitty Disneyland at every mealtime, and it's an utter joy to see them so happy. It seems as if they enjoy the process of eating a lot more, too...when they get a big chunk of bone-in meat, for instance, it's like a combination meal and puzzle game (since they have to turn it around, bite it from odd angles, etc., in order to consume it).

I am also, I should note, spending a heck of a lot less money than I would be to feed them solely high-quality commercial cat food, so it's turning out to be a perfectly feasible endeavor despite my being unemployed. (This is especially relieving seeing as there's really nothing at the grocery store in the cat-food section that Brodie could safely eat, given his problems with corn, etc.).

All that said, there are still some things I worry about, and I definitely want to make sure and get certain lab values checked by the vet the next time everyone goes in for a checkup. I know that it's possible for cats to look and act very healthy right up until it becomes obvious that they are, in fact, very sick, and there are a few nutrient combinations and ratios that can seriously mess things up if they go askew.

The main thing that I am concerned about in this regard is the calcium/phosphorous ratio. Meat contains a fair bit of phosphorous; bone contains both calcium and phosphorous. If a cat eats a diet consisting literally of whole prey (e.g., mice, small birds, lizards, insects) this ratio sort of takes care of itself, but when you're feeding smaller pieces of larger animals (no 15-pound cat in the wild is going to take down a cow!) you're faced with the task of having to cobble together something that hopefully provides the same nutrient balance.

Commercial cat food manufacturers do this by basically starting with rendered protein (which, due to how it has been processed, no longer contains sufficient amounts of nutrients cats need, such as taurine) and supplementing it in precise amounts.

When preparing raw homemade meals for one's cats, you generally aren't using many supplements, but rather trying to balance things on a more "macro" level. It's not impossible to do this, but it does take some vigilance.

I've used a kitchen scale to weigh out liver, for instance, and mix it with appropriate amounts of muscle meat, and in my earliest attempts I actually used bone meal powder rather than whole bone so I could measure more precisely. Now, though, since learning that Cora and Brodie and Shadow actually love crunching small bones, I will do things like try and include a few quail ribs in with each meal for a few days, or alternate one day of no-bone meals with a day of bony meals. I have a rough sense of what the bone-to-meat ratio in a mouse looks like so I just try and get as close to that as I can.

I suspect that, just as with humans, the net nutrient balance they get over time is more important than what they get in a single day. So in the end I guess I'm not THAT worried that I'm screwing this up...I just think it would be good to get levels of various things checked at some point to see if there's anything diet-wise that might need to be adjusted.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Shadow in the Sunbeams

The following sequence of photos was taken recently while Shadow was resting and generally lolling about in his wonderfully cattish way on the bed. His personality really comes through in these shots, I think!

Glancing off to the side, with a very solid expression. Shadow always has this look of unabashedly belonging wherever he is.

Also, you can sort of see his ghostly melanistic-tabby markings a bit here, specifically the "necklace stripe" which is obvious on Cora and Brodie but only shows up on Shadow in certain lighting. The brown tinge to his fur is also totally normal in black cats; very few are "true black".

Gazing upwards toward the window. There was probably a bird outside. And he is so SHINY! This isn't fancy camera effects...he really is that sleek-looking IRL. Probably due to a combination of spending 98% of his time indoors and his diet (he's mostly raw-fed).

Rolling playfully onto his back. Usually this is accompanied by a squeaky meyawn (meow-yawn combination), which will be repeated until the requested scritchies are delivered.

Not all cats like having their bellies touched or rubbed, and humans should never assume rolling over means a belly-rub is being requested without knowing the individual cat really well. Shadow, however, loves belly rubs, especially when accompanied by chin scritches.

I should also note that he's now (at about 1 year, 3 months) up to fifteen pounds and 38" long from tip of nose to tip of tail. Which is just amazing to me seeing as this time last year he was barely two pounds, and very easy to lose in the spare bedroom because he could literally hide behind a row of small paperback books!

This is a very "I'm quite relaxed, but would not be averse to attacking a dangly toy, should you be so kind as to present one to me" posture.

This one is probably my favorite in the set. Positively radiant with Shadowishness!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Nikki: Hypercolor Cat

An interesting fact about Siamese cats is that their characteristic "pointed" fur coloration is temperature-dependent. This is related to a particular form of partial albinism, though the temperature-based aspect of that is certainly not universally found in albino animals.

In short, the enzyme activity for melanin production works differently in Siamese cats than in other kinds of cats, and this can lead to some very interesting effects when the cats experience highly localized temperature differentials (as opposed to highly localized distortions of the spacetime continuum -- sorry, Star Trek joke...).

Ahem. Anyway, Nikki had a followup appointment with the vet last weekend, and received a clean bill of health. Her wound is basically fully healed and her bloodwork looks good overall (one kidney value was apparently "a little high" but the vet didn't seem overly worried about this, so I'm just going to make sure it gets monitored). She is definitely feeling better...I can tell in part because she's gotten extremely assertive again. (When she isn't feeling well she tends to get more passive, so I've actually learned to watch for that as a warning sign.)

Here Nikki is earlier today, sunning herself on my bed, and very happy to no longer be wearing the lampshade cone:

You can sort of see the interesting fur coloration she's developed here, but it's a lot more apparent in the close-up image below:

The darkest area is right in the middle, which is where her fur was shaved closest (right around the wound). It's sort of a grey-brown color. This area is surrounded by a patch of less closely-shaved but still short medium-brown fur. This, in turn, is surrounded by the cream-white fur that is normal for the parts of her body other than the "points" (ears, face, tail, paws).

Eventually everything will grow back in cream-white on that side, but that won't be until enough fur has grown in to normalize the surface temperature across the formerly shaved area with the surrounding area. In the meantime, Nikki is just going to look rather interesting for a while.

Incidentally, sometimes I wonder if Tim (pictured below, stalking a mouse that got into the living room!), the Siamese cat I had as a youngster, was very dark overall in part because we lived in Connecticut, which got a lot colder than this part of California does.

He was an indoor-only cat (his former human had gotten him declawed, grrr...) but my parents weren't really the types to blast the heat in the wintertime so who knows. On the other hand, Tim was a Seal Point Siamese whereas Nikki is a Chocolate Point, so that could account entirely for the color difference.

Either way, Nikki doesn't seem particularly fashion-conscious so she's likely not stressing over what Matt refers to as her "bull's-eye", and certainly I'm not. Most likely both of us are just happy her injury has healed.

(Oh yeah. And the term Hypercolor in this post's title refers to a type of clothing that a lot of my junior-high classmates in the early 1990s wore, which had the interesting property of changing colors in response to the combination of the wearer's body heat and the ambient temperature. I never had any of this clothing myself but I certainly saw plenty of it and the whole Siamese temperature-based-color-changing thing reminded me of it, even though of course with the cats the color change doesn't happen right before your eyes in realtime; it's a fairly gradual process that involves the fur actually having to grow in a different color.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Almost Almost Friends

Unfortunately I didn't manage to get a picture of this, but yesterday Nikki actually, of her own volition, jumped up on the couch and snuggled up against Brodie! At the time Matt and I were watching "Mythbusters" and Brodie was napping with his front half on my lap and his back half sort of curled up against my leg on the sofa. And at one point Nikki proceeded to jump up onto the couch, lean down, sniff Brodie's tail (which he didn't seem to mind at all), and then wedge herself into what must have been a cozy spot between Brodie and the inner surface of the couch-arm.

She's ended up in positions that look similar with both Brodie and Shadow in the past, but those have always been due to the boys managing to sort of "sneak up" on her and generally it hasn't lasted very long. But this was the first time I'd ever seen a clearly mutually-acknowledged-and-approved snuggle occur between Nikki and any of the other cats. And the two of them stayed that way for a good 15-20 minutes (15-20 minutes during which I was trying not to move for fear of startling them -- that's why I don't have a picture, as getting up to find the camera would surely have led to Cat Scatter).

Anyway this pretty much confirms to me that Nikki might very well be willing to make friends with Brodie, and that I was right about Brodie having amazing Kitty Social Skills -- he's such an impeccably polite gentleman-cat that not even a Cat of Little Patience like Nikki can manage to stay perpetually irritated by him. Which is just all kinds of awesome. Again, I'm happy just so long as the cats are civil to each other, but this is really nice to see regardless.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Sit-With Invitation: A Second Video

Below is Part 2 in my ongoing Respecting Your Feline Housemates video series:

I called this video "The Sit-With Invitation" because it is about the situation when one might want to invite a cat to sit with them. (A future video will concern the "Participation Invitation", which is when you-the-human invites a cat to come share in some activity or play a game or whatnot.)

Of course there ought never be any obligation for the cat to sit with you, but cats are generally very polite creatures, and hence may just appreciate some signal from you that you're available at a given moment.

Anyway, Part 2 features Brodie and Nikki (it just randomly worked out that way, but seeing as Part 1 featured Coraline and Shadow, I figure this is a nice balanced way to start out the series).

Brodie and Nikki, as you'll see if you watch the video, have very different styles and preferences.

Nikki generally doesn't mind being approached (and will sometimes, though she doesn't do it in this video, yell at me until I walk over to where she wants me!).

Brodie, on the other hand, very much prefers to be the one doing the approaching. He very much likes sitting with me but he's got a very strong "flight" reaction and will usually run away if someone walks up to him too quickly, stares, points at him, etc.

This isn't due to anything being "wrong" with him -- it's just his temperament. Frankly, part of the reason I wanted to make sure and include a video of him responding to an invitation in this series is because I know how often cats like Brodie get written off as "unfriendly" or "standoffish", when really they're just extremely sensitive to movement, etc.

Oh, and another thing I wanted to mention in the video but forgot to is the concept of "social timing" when interacting with cats. You will notice that I do a fair bit of waiting in these videos. This is in deference to something I've noticed about cats, which is that very often they don't react immediately-in-human-terms to something, but rather seem to "process" for a while before taking action.

And...I've found that it's often beneficial to (as the human half of any human-feline interactive exchange) know how to wait out the cat's "processing interval". I've seen a lot of humans, when a cat doesn't respond immediately, start doing all kinds of other things to try and get a response out of the cat. Of course particular cats vary in how they're inclined to react to this, but a lot of them seem to (again, in my observations) just get annoyed and leave, or appear to ignore the human. odd as this may sound, I am beginning to suspect this may have something to do with differences between the typical human's sense of time and the typical feline's sense of time.

Again, I can't claim to literally see inside their heads, but much of what I've seen them do in various situations suggests to me that cats don't readily distinguish between something that happened a split second ago and something that happened up to, say, five minutes ago.

In other words, it looks to me like felines have a relatively large "now" compared to the typical human's sense of "now". To them, perhaps, it just looks like we're being weird and irrational when we start waving our arms and making googly-eyes at them when they were just about to respond to our first invitationary gesture...which can compel them to figure that maybe they don't actually know WHAT the heck we want, and hence, perhaps we're better off left alone.

I can relate to this in some respects myself, as my own sense of time probably isn't human-typical, but even so I've definitely come to realize lately that cat-human interactions benefit tremendously when the human is willing to wait and sit still and not demand an immediate-in-human-terms response.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Approaching Cats: A Video

I want to do a series of videos showing interactions between cats and other cats, between cats and their environment, and between humans and cats. Mainly I want to highlight two things with these videos: (1) things cats do and ways they might respond and communicate that aren't commonly noticed or mentioned, and (2) how humans might, by taking feline nature and individual cat-personalities into account, interact more respectfully and on a deeper level than before with cats.

The first video of this sort is embedded below:

It's a bit "rough", especially in terms of the audio...unfortunately when I was filming the water heater in my house (which is old and nearing time for replacement) was making all these obnoxious banging noises, which the camera microphone picked up even though I was in a separate room from the heater.

I also didn't script the video due to the fact that I was not sure what the cats (Cora and Shadow in this case) were going to do, and hence my narration is not super articulate. I did attempt to add captions, though, so hopefully that compensates for some of the audio issues.

Anyway, basically in this video I am trying to convey something about approaching cats (as a human living or otherwise interacting with them). Because one thing I see a lot is humans who don't seem to consider whether or not a cat might WANT to be petted or picked up. And a lot of people don't seem to even have an idea that cats CAN communicate this kind of thing, I mean outside something really egregiously obvious like running away or squirming.

But I am quite certain there's a heck of a lot being transmitted by the cat before they get to the point of needing to do something really blatant. While of course I can't claim a direct pipeline into the feline mind, I've definitely gotten the sense over time that cats prefer a modicum of politeness on the part of their human(s) when being approached by same. And while I'm not perfect at the finer points of feline politeness myself, I certainly plan to keep trying to get better.

This particular video just sort of introduces the topic of approaching cats, without getting too deeply into explanations. Initially Cora and Shadow were sitting on the bed together, but then they engage in a few seconds of grooming leading to (unserious) face-biting followed by Cora deciding she was done napping and proceeding to amuse herself jumping about the room and climbing on things. Shadow, meanwhile, stayed on the bed for some more relaxation with me. The end of the video hence trails off a bit into a rambling description of Shadow's tendency to pick up human words...of course that's not the ONLY thing he does that's interesting or worth noting, but it's what I ended up talking about in this case.

So, like I say in the video, hopefully future chapters of this will be better planned out. But I do really like the idea of observing cats in real-time like this. The next video, which I hope to have up before this week is out, will be on the concept of inviting cats (to sit with you, to share in some activity, etc.).

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Not sure if I should take this as a compliment or what...

...but, um, I've noticed as of late that all four felines-in-residence here seem to have developed a habit of running to the litterbox (a) right when I get up in the morning, and (b) if I go out during the day, right when I get home in the afternoon.

Seriously. Take today, for example. I've been home a good forty minutes at most (today was a lab-volunteering day; I'm helping out a biotech research group, mainly in the capacity of Fix-It Girl for various bits of equipment). And I am pretty sure every single cat here has gone #1 AND #2 at least once just since I've been home. I've gone around scooping once, and as soon as I get up from posting this I'm going to scoop again (I am an obsessive scooper -- I can't stand stuff piling up, and my guess is the cats wouldn't like it much either).

But really, kitties -- what AM I supposed to think of this? Are you just so pleased to see me that you literally can't contain yourselves? Or is it more along the lines of "oh hey look, the janitor is here, let's all go crap now and she'll make it disappear again!"?

I've also noticed another interesting trend in which someone runs to take a dump (in the litterbox -- thankfully everyone here is pretty good about that) as soon as I myself happen to sit down somewhere with a plate of food.

Perhaps some questions shouldn't be dwelt upon. And I shall keep this post brief as the scooper once again beckons.