This post is part of our “Journey to Raw” series, published every Wednesday, and comes to you from Angela Agar, who lives in Upstate NY with her husband, Lucy the dog, and two cats, Tommy and Mortimer. Angela is passionate about rescue and works with the good folks at Rescued Treasures.
When my husband, Evin, and I first moved in together, he demanded a cat. I, having never owned a cat, went along for the ride but as a self-proclaimed dog person, wasn’t entirely sure. My personality dictates that I must research anything I do to the degree of obsessiveness. I researched the best carrier, the best litter, and the best food. And what I learned was that cats need a diet with no corn, no soy, no wheat and the first ingredient should be meat, but most of all, that they need kibble to clean their teeth and that fresh water and food should always be available. (Disclaimer: This is what I learned. That is NOT what is true.) I went to the pets store before we’d even adopted a cat and purchased what was probably the most expensive bag of kibble I could find. It was a very pretty bag with lots of pictures of meat and fruits and vegetables. I left feeling pretty darn good about myself and what a good pet owner I was going to be. We adopted Tommy (a 1-year-old Norwegian Forest Cat Mix) a few days later and although there were many surprises along the way as a new-to-cats owner (I thought I could make him do what I wanted…. Ha!), the biggest was the alarming rate at which he began gaining weight. Actually, let’s call it like it is…. He got fat, and quickly. The cat we adopted at 12 pounds started looking chunky and when we weighed him just three months after adoption, we were shocked to find he had ballooned up to 18 pounds. This called for a diet overhaul.
He was immediately put on portioned, timed feedings. We put a decorative bowl of pinecones where his full bowl of kibble once sat, and remember giggling when he sat there staring at it for hours…. We imagined just how confused he was. He couldn’t get to his bowl fast enough when it was dinner time; we’d cut his food back so far but he was barely losing weight. The day that my husband fed him and he just laid there, he knew something was wrong. I worked in retail at the time, so I got home after 10 PM, and when I walked in to see an uneaten bowl of food, I was equally concerned. “What’s wrong with Tommy?” I asked. “I don’t know – he won’t eat. He fell off the couch earlier, and I’m worried he may have hurt himself.” I went over to pick him up and he just hung there limply, until I adjusted my arm and put pressure near his hind leg and he lashed out. I looked up at my husband and said, ‘Something is wrong…. We need to get to the vet.” We got to the emergency vet around 11 PM. They x-rayed him and determined he had soft tissue damage to his rear hock and gave him some pain meds and sent us home. They said to follow up with our regular vet in 2 days or so. I told them repeatedly how concerned I was that he wasn’t eating, but they said it’s normal for a cat to not eat if they’re in pain, and we should only be concerned if he didn’t eat by the following night, so we went home.
Tommy crawled in the closet and slept all night. My husband woke up and went to work. I pulled the food out to feed him, and no Tommy. I shook his bowl… and still no Tommy. I started looking for him and found him, flat as a pancake in the middle of the bathroom floor. I tapped him and no movement. My heart started to race. I picked him up and he hung like a limp rag, and let out the tiniest cry. I called my vet sobbing, and they had me come in immediately. I got to the vet and they brought him right into an exam room. The technician looked over him, quickly walked out of the room and grabbed our vet. She palpated his stomach, said, “This is an emergency, we need to bring him in back,” and walked out of the room with him. I was dumbfounded, and alone. She came in a few minutes later, explaining that Tommy’s bladder had blocked and he was very, very sick but they had gotten a catheter in to relieve the pressure on his bladder and I’d need to leave him there for at least a few days. So began our battle with FLUTD (Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease). I signed all the paperwork I needed to for them to save his life and went home, catless.
Tommy was at the vet for well over a week. They flushed his bladder but as soon as they took the catheter out he blocked again, so they started all over again. When we picked him up, they recommended a prescription dry food and even though I was horrified at the ingredients (Corn flour? Wheat gluten? Modified corn starch? Those weren’t on my list of quality ingredients!) I thought that was the only option, so we took it home and fed it to him.
After being home for a few weeks, Tommy came up on the bed just as I was waking up, and I was shocked to see him squat down to pee – he’d never done that! I yelled, “Tommy!” out of sheer surprise, and I stopped breathing when I realized that nothing had come out. Back to the vet I went, and the news was grim – Tommy was blocked for the third time, but because of all of the inflammation in his urethra, he now he had a urethral tear very close to his bladder and they couldn’t get a catheter in, so I needed to decide what to do. PU surgery was recommended, but it would be complicated because of the tear. I signed off on paperwork to pay whatever the bill might be, and told them that if he wasn’t fixable to please not wake him up but begged them to do what they could. I drove to Evin’s job, asked him to come out to my car and tearfully told him that I didn’t think Tommy was going to live. I hope I never have to see my husband that sad again.
Tommy did make it through surgery, but recovery was rough. He was in pain, and there was no way around it. As he recovered, though, we started to see a change in behavior. We found out that Tommy actually PLAYED. He ran, and had fun. We had never seen him act like this, and we felt horrible that he’d obviously felt sick for a while before it became an emergency and we just didn’t know any better. We’d been pumping him full of food that his body physically couldn’t process, and it was hurting him.
Fast forward a few months, and apparently one dog and a cat with health issues just didn’t seem enough to me for some reason, so I made the announcement that we were getting another cat. Evin went along with it, but when we arrived to meet the rescue cat that I’d fallen in love with over the internet, I took one look at this sweet little Siamese and said, “Tommy would beat the crap out of this cat.” There was another cat that was out and playing, and he was a big cat (16 pounds) so I asked about him. I explained to the adoptions specialist what we were looking for, and she said, “Oh, we have some kittens!” I laughed. “I don’t do kittens. What about this guy?” She explained that “Ashford” had been found a few weeks before on Halloween. He actually had jumped into an Animal Control Van on his own, but he was kind of old to be adopted at 6 years old. “We’ll take him,” I said, “but we’re not keeping that name.” My husband refused all of the “old man” names I was choosing on the ride home, until I jokingly said, “Well, fine, we’ll just call him Sir Cornelius Waters.” He jokingly went along with it, and somehow it stuck. We stopped at the vet on the way home to introduce them to “Sir” and schedule his first appointment.
When the time came for his vet appointment, I proudly announced he was going to be our first healthy animal. I had already fallen hard for this big, derpy bundle of fur. Then came the gut punch. Our vet said, “Sir has kidney disease. He might be a lot older than 6 but we can’t be sure, but he’s Stage III bordering on Stage IV.” We started medications and administering fluids at home. They recommended a dry prescription diet, which we immediately put him on, and I went home and researched, and researched, and researched some more. This cat had come into our home to be taken care of, and we were going to do just that. In my preliminary research, I found that moisture was key, and I was surprised to find that so much of the information about kidney disease also fit with Tommy’s FLUTD. I threw out every last bit of cat kibble we had in the house and picked up canned prescription food. After a few short months, Sir stopped eating. He was put on antacids and appetite stimulants and the vet said to feed him whatever he would eat because he needed to eat. I continued researching, and I kept seeing mentions of raw feeding. I couldn’t get this cat to eat cat food, let alone “people” food… would it really help? I offered him some raw chicken. He refused it. I wound up alternating different wet foods when he’d stop eating, and when he flat out refused to eat I’d get him a fish fry (awful, I know, but I was desperate). He’d get some food in his belly, and feel a bit better, and start eating again. I never could get him to eat even the tiniest bit of raw so I gave up. His muscular frame started to resemble a skeleton, and he just kept losing and eating less and less. The last time he stopped eating, almost a year to the day after he was diagnosed, even a fish fry didn’t do the trick. At that point, he was under 10 pounds; I knew it was time and we had lost the fight. He had been poked with needles for fluids, and had so many different medications shoved down his throat every day, and this was it… the end. I was devastated. I still AM devastated. Watching him fight the anesthetic broke my heart, and I picked him up to try to calm him down and he let go in my arms. Tommy laid with him, and cleaned him and cried… and it’s probably an odd thing to think at such a horrific moment, but all I could think was, “I need to start feeding raw, because I don’t want this to be Tommy.” It was without doubt the most difficult day of my life so far, the most difficult decision I’ve ever made and my nightmare all wrapped in one.
We went home with one cat, when we had left the house with two. Tommy needed some space and we didn’t want to be home, so we went out. We went to a few different places that we wouldn’t be too embarrassing to be seen all red faced and puffy, one of which was the grocery store. I bought some chicken to see if the animals would nibble. When we got home, I cut a little piece and handed it to the dog….. she gobbled it up. I dropped a piece in Tommy’s dish, and HE gobbled it up and cried for more, so I gave him more. No, not the most balanced meal, but he was mourning, so what could it hurt? I spent the next three days researching how to balance a raw diet, and then we started feeding it (with a lot of help along the way). The day we started feeding raw was the same day we took in an abandoned 5 week old kitten, who I named Mortimer Herschel Ager (remember the old man names?). Yes, I know I said I don’t do kittens, but I needed a fresh start, and the only way I could ensure such a start was to get a kitten. Plus, he was such a cute little hamster puff! He was weaned from Kitten Milk Replacer straight to a balanced raw diet.
Slowly, wonderful things started to happen. Tommy, who was a walrus at this point, started to lose weight. His coat became shiny and we didn’t feel like we were going to pass out when he went to the bathroom from the stink. His eyes were a little brighter and he moved a lot more. Tommy had blood work and a urinalysis done just a few weeks ago, and his results were perfect. Lucy (our dog) had chronic diarrhea and vomiting on kibble, and her stomach has settled so much since we switched to raw. On top of that, she lost weight and her allergy symptoms started to dissipate. Mortimer grew before our eyes, and he is healthy and strong (and just a little crazy!). I’m so proud to say that Mortimer’s never known kibble and never will, and I can’t wait to see the difference it makes as he continues to grow.
It’s been the better part of a year that I’ve raw fed now, and I can say without a shred of a doubt that my animals are all in the best physical shape of their lives. We were very lucky that our animals all transitioned to a raw diet easily, so our transition story isn’t that fascinating. I just hope that people learn from our heartache and do their research on what they’re putting into their furkids bodies before they get sick like ours did.
If you feed a home-prepared raw menu to your kitties and would like to see your story featured here, please contact us via private message through Facebook on our page or in our group or leave a comment below!