Posted by: phynbarr | December 9, 2014

Cats and pancreatits

Just a word from the beginning.  I am not a veterinary or medical professional, I have no training in animal welfare, all I am about to say comes from my personal experience with one cat.  So please, if you think my story bears investigation in your own circumstances, then please do your own research and talk to your professional advisors.  Personally, I think there is scope for investigation and research here, but I am not currently in a position to carry this out.

First, the story

In June 2010, my Siamese cat had 3 male kittens.

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The smallest and youngest had problems from the start and had to be fed supplement.  He also had fits at around 6 – 7 weeks of age and there were doubts he would survive.  But survive he did and, typically, it was this cat my daughter wanted us to keep.  So we did and he was called Moth (the original plan was to call the kittens Moth, Peaseblossom and Mustard Seed but being three males it didn’t really stick).

Moth was fine for a couple of years.  He was skinny little thing but then many Siamese are and there were no obvious medical problems.  Until I left the cats in a cattery while we went on holiday.  On our return the cattery owners said they thought one of the cats had been ill but they couldn’t be sure which (they were all in the same pen on my naive belief that they would be happier that way.  More later).  I could tell at an instant who was ill and he was off to the vet as soon as I could make an appointment.  Luckily.  This was my first introduction to a cat diagnosed with possible irritable bowel syndrome in cats and definitely pancreatitis.  With care, fluids and steroids he came through and were told he would have to be on a special diet for life.

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And it was true, if he ate what the other cats ate he became quite ill quite quickly and life became trying as I tried to continue to feed him separately from the rest.  In the end, I put them all on this specialist and highly expensive diet food and they were all truly unimpressed.

In the meantime I was investigating pancreatitis, what caused it, how to deal with it and finding either blank walls or utter contradiction and becoming confused and fed up with it all.

There were more bouts of pancreatitis and it was becoming clear that stress was a factor in kicking it off.  And Moth’s health was not improving; he remained a stringy little thing with no more flesh on him that a wishbone.  So my investigations continued and by following lead after lead I eventually came up with this website (Cat Nutrition) and the phrase that would change my investigative direction and understanding about cat health for the future

CATS ARE OBLIGATE CARNIVORES

What exactly is an obligate carnivore?  I think this can answer that question better than I can and in more detail but basically it comes down to the fact that cats are not designed to digest anything to meat.

That was the first revelation.  The second came as I traipsed up and down aisle after supermarket aisle looking for a commercial cat food that contained just meat.  Do you know how many I found?  Very few.  And what was worse, in looking at the contents described on the labels in detail it appeared that many commercial cat foods not only contained cereals but also sugars in various guises ( as a side note, just because it doesn’t actually say “sugar” do not be fooled.  Look for anything end in “ose” – dextrose, fructose – and you are looking at sugar.  Even oligosaccharides are complicit in the sugaring of otherwise unpalatable contents.  And vets complain about the epidemic levels of obesity and dental problems in pets!

That brings me to another issue – your veterinary professional.  Now don’t get me wrong, these individuals have spent many years going through their training and would not be in the profession at all if they did not care for the health and welfare of our pets and other companion animals.  However, it is a generally accepted truth (which I cannot, in all honesty, vouch for) that diet and nutrition gets very little space on the packed agenda of veterinary training and is often undertaken with or by pet food manufacturers.  Personally, I would be very careful about permitting organisations potentially with a vested interest or agenda to do MY training but the result is that many vets come out of training with a somewhat skewed perception.   So if you are looking at feeding your animal something other than a commercially available pet food – choose your vet wisely.  And remember that whilst they may advise from the professional knowledge you and only you are finally responsible for the health and welfare of your pet and are entitled to make your own choices.

Where was I?  Oh yes, discovering that many commercial pet foods on the supermarket shelves contained cereals and worse.  But I had also discovered websites dedicated to feline nutrition

http://www.catnutrition.org/ 

http://feline-nutrition.org/

I had nothing to lose in trying the diets offered and at least if it was biologically appropriate I could give it to all my cats without worrying about the expense or the consequences.

AND

It became apparent that to the purists the cat owner should prepare the raw diet from basic ingredients.  This was a problem for me as not only did I not have the time or equipment of mince and rinse to prepare fresh food, I also had 4 little sugar addicts who were deeply unimpressed at being asked to give up their nice sweet diet.

Here’s something else I learned along the road

CATS CANNOT BE ALLOWED TO STARVE

Unlike dogs who can be allowed to become hungry enough to eat, cats will very rapidly become ill with fatty liver syndrome or feline hepatic lipidosis if allowed to go without food.  It can happen very quickly – within days.  Check out this site and seek out your own information as well to confirm this.

The nub of this is that changing the diet of a cat cannot take place suddenly and, if they don’t like the change and won’t eat it, the consequences can be substantial.  My little sugar addicts were a case in point and after several false starts I found a formula that worked.  First of all I had to find a commercial cat food that was purely meat based.  Fortunately I had a sympathetic vet who offered suggestions and advice.  I am not a veterinary professional so whilst I can tell you what worked for me, PLEASE do not take this as advice but work with your pets and your professionals to find out what works for you.  I ended up using a combination of Nature’s Menu pouches (they despise the chicken with salmon and tuna but mostly it goes down OK) and the Nutriment cat food.  The key that made all the difference was to mix it all together in a mulch and add warm water.  They do like their food warm and, when you think about it, if you were catching your prey it would mostly be eaten at body temperature.  I also add some supplements to ensure they are getting enough taurine (an amino acid cats cannot get from anywhere else but their food) and some salmon oil for essential fatty acids.  Again, cats are obligate carnivores and would get their fatty acids from an animal source.  My understanding is that they cannot absorb seed oils (flax seed, evening primrose etc.) so avoid those.

I also feed little and often.  Remember that prey.  It is unlikely that a cat would settle down to a huge meal and their stomachs are comparatively tiny.  This can cause problems if you’re out at work and in the summer with flies but we’ve managed.  Mostly.

Where are we now?  We have our ups and downs.  Some days food gets rejected and I have to go back to basics and work out why.  One I thought they might be bored with endless beef or chicken and tried a new supplier.  That went down like a lead balloon and I was quickly back with the one they knew and trusted with a lot of wasted food to find a new home for.  Moth is now a substantial cat with a lovely coat.  He still gets pancreatitis occasionally but I am aware that the main trigger is now stress and do what I can to avoid it.  For instance, he recently got a scratch on his forearm and licked it raw.  The vet used an Elizabethan collar to keep him away from it and his stress levels hit the roof.  That was an interesting situation to deal with.

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Finally?

I wouldn’t go back to commercial cat food.  Not only because I now know that cats are obligate carnivores and it contains cereals and other products (investigate carrageenan) which are counter-productive to my pets’ health but also because they are just better for it.  Is it more expensive?  Possibly, but if you factor in the vet’s bills I was getting to treat pancreatitis which – as a pre-existing condition now – is not covered by insurance – I am quids in.

I also think there is mileage in undertaking proper research into the number of cats which appear to be suffering this horrible condition.   Like dental and obesity problems is it an indicator of what’s in our pet food?  Can it be that some cats (and it does appear to affect highly bred breeds such as Siamese) cannot tolerate the quantity of cereal in their diet and are quietly suffering IBS which ends up as pancreatitis?

As I said at the beginning, I am not a veterinary professional, this is one person’s experience with one cat.  I would ask you to look closely at what is in your cat’s food and not just the commercial brands on the supermarket shelf.  Look at the specialist diet you may have been “prescribed” and check that it is fit for purpose.

And I wish you and your cats the best of health and a long and happy life

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