And so this is Christmas. A time of quiet reflection for some, a time of overindulgence for others. I’m quietly reflecting on over-indulgence. I’m also ignoring all those finger-wagging ads and articles that urge restraint over the holiday treats. Just gain the five pounds already and lose it later. An extra five won’t kill you. Unless you’re a cat, apparently.
Here on Vancouver Island we’re caring for two felines, Bill and Pierre, who watch their weight not just at Christmas but all year long. They’re big-boned cats, and if they pack on the pounds, we all know fat cats are at risk for diabetes, arthritis, joint problems and, the biggie, heart disease. So their meals — high-quality canned — are carefully measured out twice a day, with minimal treats — just high-quality dry food — in between.
I’ve never known anyone who doesn’t “free feed” their felines. Every cat I’ve had or cared for grazes on a brimming bowl of kibble, and knows when enough is enough. Experts, however, shocked me with the revelation that a cat is not a cow. And these cats are definitely more porcine than bovine. They’re gluttons that hoover up their food in seconds and cry for more while still licking their chops. They leap up from a deep slumber every time we make a move toward the kitchen and salivate when we eat our own meals. It makes me wonder, would they be so ravenous if free-fed? No, but they’d be massive balls of fur-trimmed obesity. A better question might be, is hunger such a bad thing? For poor abandoned kitties, of course. For your average pampered puss? Nah.
House cats are basically small lions and tigers and leopards — blood-sucking carnivores, in other words. They crave meat and nothing else, certainly not grain-packed kibble, which is hard on their digestive system. They’re designed to gorge on a big meal (after a successful hunt) and not eat again for many hours, or even days. As experts claim, this allows for the toxins to clear the system. Nibbling dry food all day long doesn’t allow the digestive system to do its job and leave the stomach empty, as it should. An overworked digestion from all-dry all the time can actually age a cat and leave it vulnerable to disease, like urinary tract infections and cystitis. Your mouser needs moisture to keep all its parts in good working order. Studies show cats fed wet food only have much lower incidences of these illnesses. Plus, dry food, especially when bought in bulk, can go bad and even mouldy, especially in humid climes.
The modern cat, of course, is dependent on humans, not the open savannah, for its food. Kitties know who holds the keys to the cupboard, and they’re accomplished manipulators. You’d think these guys were starving to death the way they constantly circle and whine, and wrestle each other into a headlock over the first bite. Then again, one was abandoned and the other born of a feral mother, so they can be forgiven their fear of never eating again. We just can’t give in to ploys that put their health at risk.
As a side dish to their carefully controlled portions of good-quality food, these guys are offered a dish of skim milk. As much as they love it, it’s not a good thing on a regular basis. From the cats-aren’t-cows handbook, most cats can’t properly process the lactose in cows’ milk, causing vomiting and diarrhea, not to mention the odd hairball. When Bill started coughing and hacking too many times, we cut it out and replaced it with an occasional teaspoon of plain, unsweetened, non-fat yogurt. Not only is yogurt easier on their systems, all that good Probiotic bacteria actually helps balance the bad. Good thing they lapped it up. And being non-fat, they don’t have to worry come January 2 about losing their girlish figure.
Bottom line, you hold the keys to the cupboard (and the pocket book). If your kitties can show restraint and display no signs of illness or disease from a (high-quality) dry diet, go ahead and free-feed (and throw in a bite or two of turkey to celebrate the festive season). As for me? I’m going to free-feed too this holiday season, and reflect on my good fortune that I have that option.
Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Happy Holidays!