Lynne Murray says:
I shared a fat acceptance experience with my cat on Mother’s Day. El Nino was sick. The shaggy, black, gentle giant who rules the roost in the cat colony where I live–aka my apartment–had a medical problem that brought us to the animal emergency hospital Sunday morning. He was weighed there and found to weigh 31 pounds. He’s a large-framed cat, long, with huge paws, half Maine Coon cat.
The last time he was weighed in this facility was 4 years ago, and he weighed 25 pounds, which impressed the staff–and not in a good way. This time, they got a little hysterical (and a lot judgmental) and told me his medical problem was due to his size and not being able to keep the cyst area clean.
The vet told me face-to-face and on a diagnosis sheet that: “El Nino needs to be on a rigid weight loss program.”
When a veterinarian in a small room with a fat cat and a fat cat owner, uses the words “rigid weight loss program,” the amount of blame in the air is suffocating. The vet, a square-built, athletic looking woman, had said a few snarky things earlier, on hearing that another vet wanted to put Nino on a diet. “His diet seems to have worked in reverse.” I let that slide, because I was hoping she’d let it go at that. I try never to get into a debate with medical personnel who are about to pick up sharp instruments and use them on someone I love. It’s like a hostage situation.
She did do an excellent job of gently cleaning Nino’s infected area–he didn’t even hiss at her though no anesthetic was used. His sweet temperament impressed her, and she said she offered him some kisses along with petting but he declined. Even in the best of times, he’s never been fond of kisses from humans. Now she was on a mission to do an intervention for his sake.
She had a sheet of diet recommendations, which she faxed to my regular vet. She wasn’t authorized to make an appointment for me to take him over there, but it was clear she wanted to. She suggested immediately cutting his food supply in half, feeding him separately so he didn’t take the other cats’ food, and hauling him in for frequent Jennycraig-esque weigh-ins. It was pretty hard to miss that she was telling me I was damaging my beloved cat, and probably myself, though overfeeding, though she only talked about the cat. She told me to stop giving him any wet food, and to cut his dry rations in half. The dry rations would consist of special “diet food” which my regular vet would recommend.
Since age 9 when I first encountered them, medical personnel wielding diet sheets have never been my friends or allies. This time, I had anticipated a problem and asked a male friend to come along, to help me carry the cat carrier, and also to keep me from turning into a raging pit bull.
I asked the vet on what she based her assumption that a 9-year-old cat should lose 1/3 of his body weight in less than a year. What about regain? She said the same thing the previous vet said, “He won’t regain because you will control his food intake for the rest of his life.”
I asked if there were scientific journal articles that offered credible evidence that the cat would be healthier, more active, etc.
She didn’t happen to have any journal articles on hand–I didn’t really expect her to. She had suggested that I could find them online. She cautioned me to only look at veterinary sites. That made me smile, grimly, because she was trying to stay in control of the situation by predicting that if I looked on the internet, I’d probably manage to find some lunatic fringe information, and end up hurting my cat worse.
The vet had no doubt been expecting the fat owner of a fat cat to be more apologetic and compliant.
It wouldn’t have made any difference if I told her that this huge cat was pretty active. He had spent the previous night on top of an 8-foot-tall bookcase that he usually climbs once or twice a day, even when he’s under the weather. The numbers on the scale, and the fact that he had an infected cyst, made any argument by me irrelevant.
It was shut-up-and-do-what-I-tell-you time.
My friend’s presence kept the encounter from deteriorating into–um, well, a cat fight, while poor, not-so-little Nino waited in his carrier, wanting only to go home.
For me, the worst was afterward, napping with Nino. He took the whole thing in stride, little knowing that his food supply was threatened. But the encounter struck at the heart of my hard-won self-esteem and my need to protect my family of cats. I had been too worried to sleep, and fatigue had made me vulnerable. But after some catnapping with Nino and company, I made my way over to the computer and began to research cat nutrition, etc.
What I found shocked me. The standard, conventional “veterinary sites” said the same thing the vet had said: feed less, feed “diet food”. But there were several other references, by vets, breeders and ordinary cat owners who had successfully dealt with cat illnesses from IBS to obesity. The best site I found was, in fact, from a veterinarian. Lisa A. Pierson, DVM, in an article entitled Feeding Your Cat: Know the Basics of Feline Nutrition, states:
Unfortunately many veterinarians are poorly educated in the area of nutrition. Too often their recommendations are taken from the pet food industry which does not always have your cat’s best interest in mind when formulating their products.
Her site even includes an open letter to print and bring or send to your vet on the subject of species-appropriate feeding.
In her (long!) article, Dr. Pierson talks about how cats are totally carnivorous by nature, and often don’t do well eating the grains and non-meat filler that makes up the 40% carbohydrates in dry foods. This can contribute to feline obesity. The pet food manufacturers then proceed to offer kitty diet foods. Where have I seen THAT pattern before?
Pierson continues (the bold is in her original):
These “light” products are among the most species-inappropriate, unhealthy diets available to cat caretakers. Many caretakers feed very small amounts of these diets hoping that their cats will lose weight but feeding a small amount of a diet that is inappropriate for the species is NOT the answer! The caretaker simply ends up with a crabby, overweight cat.
Speaking as a human, of course, “crabby and still overweight” certainly sums up my dieting decades. How sad that the ignorance, fear and fuzzy thinking of our current diet insanity affects even the way we feed our pets.
I have to take responsibility for my knee-jerk negative reaction to the useless “starve the cat forever” program recommended by the earlier vet. It was so similar to the futile never-ending diet advice I’ve gotten from medical doctors that I got defensive instead of using my mind to look more deeply into my cat’s situation. Only when Nino was really sick was I moved to do the research and find something that could make a difference.
In the days since, I have begun to give my resident carnivores as much as they want of a high-quality, high-protein canned food a couple of times a day, rather than leaving out bowls of the equally expensive but high-carb kibble all day for free-feeding.
The cats’ initial reaction was to look around for the kibble, and then vocally complain. They mistrust all changes on general principle, and that dry food was tasty. But the all-meat meals seemed to satisfy them–lots of licking their chops and long, happy naps afterward. Now that they’ve got in touch with their inner predators, they’re working up a routine of circling around and staring like vultures when the appointed meal time approaches.
I’ve finally(!) got past being angry at the vet. The strategic details of her advice sucked. The blame and the manipulation were unacceptable. But her concern for my cat was real. If she hadn’t done her number on me, I wouldn’t have gone looking for a feeding strategy that promises to be better for all my cats.
Final note: some online kitty commenters refer to the high-protein, carnivorous cat food as the “Catkins diet.” Much as I dislike Atkins, from personal bad experience in the 1970s and for turning some of my friends into temporarily insane carbohydrate-bashers, I think the Catkins joke is cute.
So sue me, I’m pussy-whipped.