*I will get to the point eventually, I promise*
Don't tell my cat this, but I am actually more of a dog person.
I got my cat out of pet lover's desperation in January 2009. It had been over a year since my dog died and I didn't want to live without a pet any longer, but I didn't have the heart to leave a dog at home all day while I worked. So, I compromised with a Ragdoll Cat, the Golden Retrievers of the cat world. But, I didn't plan on getting too invested in this new pet, I expected that he would just look pretty and hide away most of the time. I didn't plan on buying special food or a bunch of fancy pet supplies. It was JUST A CAT, after all.
Despite my intentions however, everything changed after I met my little love bug, Oliver Twist. I adopted Ollie as a retired breeding cat from what I thought was a reputable breeder. She had sent me pictures of him and had letters of recommendation posted on her site. But, when I brought him home, I realized the poor guy was not in good shape. He had mats and bald patches and poop stuck in his tail. He was sneezy and smelly and had goopy eyes. Not only this, he was not well socialized and was traumatized by the transition to my home. I kept him in the bathroom until he settled in and he hid in the tub and cried all night long. I thought I made a huge mistake, but the one thing that kept me going were the moments where I'd scoop him out of his hiding place and hold him tight while he madly purred and snuggled for about 30 seconds before he'd realize what he was doing and run away again.
After a couple of months, Ollie was starting to look better and was much more comfortable in my care so I decided to take him to the vet to have him checked out. I was concerned about his ongoing digestive problems and goopy eyes. She was concerned about his sneezing and wasn't even sure if he was a "real" Ragdoll due to his funny coat and nervous demeanour. I brought up the potential of allergies as I had noticed that certain "flavours" of the cat food recommended by the breeder seemed to irritate things, but the vet disagreed and felt that worms and bacterial infections were more likely due to his earlier life in a cattery. She also wanted me to change his cat food to a veterinary brand rather than a grocery store brand.
So, I gave him the medications and changed his cat food. This change of cat food was the first of many I made last year. Over twelve months, I must have tried 12 different brands of food. With each new brand, I did more research into the cat food industry and became more invested in my puff ball. The first thing I noticed was the amount of grain in cat food. In the veterinary brand, corn was the first item on the ingredients list and, even to me, a cat newbie, this didn't make sense for an obligate carnivore. I also knew that foods containing fish products weren't sitting well with Ollie (and later learned that fish, in fact, is not a natural food for cats) and so, went in search of grain free, fish free cat food. And, let me tell you, this is not an easy task! However, I did find a few brands and tried them all with little success.
By August of 2009, Ollie was doing so much better in so many ways that I started to think that his ongoing bowel issues were just going to be part of the package. But around the middle of August, I noticed that he was spending a lot of time in the litter box without any results. So, I trucked him off to the vet where he was diagnosed with Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD) and thought to have bladder crystals. He was placed on a special diet to dissolve these bladder crystals as well as antibiotics, but rather than getting better, he got very very sick. He had massive tummy issues and, when he wasn't curled into a ball, started scratching his hair out. When I tried to switch him back to his regular diet, the FLUTD reared it's ugly head and when I tried to treat the FLUTD, the rest of his body seemed to revolt. It was awful and, by this time, I was head over heels for my poor little muffin and had no idea how to help him.
Finally, in November, after I had nearly reached my wits end and the bottom of my bank account, I returned to the vet with a bloody kitty (from scratching) and pointed out the small black specs collecting on his chin. With these two pieces of information (the black specs were feline acne), my vet announced "he has allergies!" (um, yes, I knew that about 10 months ago) and that he had developed colitis, secondary to the allergies. She also explained that it was unlikely that Ollie ever had bladder crystals (this diagnosis had been made by an emergency vet) and that while he did have some form of FLUTD, it was likely secondary to inflammation rather than an isolated condition. She acknowledged that finding the right food was the key (again, yes, I knew that about 9 months ago) and immediately took him off the FLUTD diet. We tried several more veterinary foods before settling on a venison based diet. This seemed to settle things down and return Ollie to his state prior to his FLUTD diagnosis, but I knew that we had not come to the root of the problem and that it was just a matter of time until another illness arrived.
Everything changed one fateful day in December (corny, but true!), when I was at my dentist, of all places. I was telling my hygienist, a cat lover, about all my ordeals and she called over the receptionist, a mother of two Ragdolls. The receptionist had a cat from the SAME breeder with almost the SAME problem! And, she told me the secret of solving this problem with these three magic words: "raw food diet". I waited until the new year to get started, but with the help of some very knowledgeable staff at Buddies Natural Pet Food, began to sort out a new diet as soon as I returned from my Christmas holidays.
Ollie had severe colitis by this time and I had to cook his food (note: never cook pet food containing bones) until there was no longer any blood in his poop (yep, colitis is yucky) and then slowly transition him on to raw food. This process took about two months and, by that time (and even within a few weeks), Ollie was doing so much better! The change was amazing! He had stopped scratching and sneezing, his skin was healing and his poop was normal for the first time since I met him (sorry for the details, but this was pretty momentous)! When I took him into the vet for his annual check up in April (having cancelled several follow-up visits because he was doing so well), she exclaimed over his beautiful coat and loveable temperament and even acknowledged that he now "true to his breed". I was nervous to tell her about the raw food diet, but when I did, she agreed that it was the right choice for Ollie.
I am not going to go in to detail about Ollie's specific diet as his is not a "complete diet" and it is not necessarily something I would recommend to others. Ollie's allergies are so severe (grains, any form of poultry/fowl, fish, pork) that it has been difficult to balance things out for him, but I feel that the compromise between a few missing nutrients and colitis is a valid one to make in his case. He has had success with elk and lamb (including organ) meat at this time and continues to have small amounts of his canned veterinary diet (venison) to make up for any shortfalls. There are still some minor skin irritations (feline acne and itching) that I think would be resolved if the veterinary diet was eliminated and we will continue to try and work things out. This bottom line is this: I am now an absolute raw food convert and will be feeding raw diets all of my future pets.
I am not sure if Ollie's breeder was neglectful or just an irresponsible seller, but I would not have purchased a cat from her if I had known then what I know now about how she cares (or doesn't) for her cats. Having said this, I am very relieved that my Oliver Twist is here with me and not with her. And, yes, I am an absolute cat lover now. If you have not woken up with a purring little teddy bear wrapping their paws around your neck, you don't know what you are missing!
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