Now we are Five

Warning: sad post alert!  Get some tissues now!

As a follow-up to my post of 7th October, my little old Gatekeeper left us on 6th December.  We still cannot believe that he managed to hang on for two more months.  I have never known a creature so unfazed by illness: Barney’s main concern was to carry on ‘ruling the roost’, as our vet put it.

Barney, Top Cat to the end

Barney, Top Cat to the end

He was still mad keen for his food, and although he ate slowly he was usually first in the queue. He would eat whatever I gave him, whether ground raw mixes of chicken, turkey, rabbit or beef, and the odd tin of sardines.  He would even gamely having a go at chunks of raw chicken. He had no sense of smell at this point, so I guess his survival instinct kicked in and he just ate.

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Eric the Jack Russell terrier came to stay the weekend, and it was business as usual for Barney.  Straight on Eric’s bed as soon as it hit the floor.  But he allowed to Eric creep on and have the other side…

Sharing Eric's bed

Sharing Eric’s bed

…for a while!  Then Eric had to make do with the cat bed.  Fortunately he’s only a little dog so he just about fit in it.

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I love how these pictures show Barney’s legacy of ‘Dogs? Huh!’  I hope Larry, Monty and Herbie will always remember to be cool with dogs.

During Barney’s last weeks, we were in a state of high Barney alert.  Has he eaten? Does he seem tired or depressed? Is there any change in his habits today?  We were acutely aware of his symptoms and his ability to shrug them off.  Every day could have been his last.  Every morning we thought, where is he – is he still alive?  And he was – alive and demanding breakfast.  Tough as old boots. Tough old moggy.

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His nosebleeds were less frequent and stopped.  His breathing became less noisy.  But we knew this was not actually a good sign. Looking carefully, we could see he was breathing through his mouth, just as the vet had foreseen.  The tumour had progressed to the point of completely blocking his nose. Somehow or other, Barney carried on eating, walking around the table and greeting visitors. We were in an agony of indecision. Clearly his body was struggling, but we also felt that Barney’s indomitable spirit had to be respected.

On 6th December Barney really did not want his breakfast.  He was drinking a lot. He had a new unpleasant smell about him, and he seemed low.  I knew it was time. I called work and said I wouldn’t be coming in.  It wasn’t so much the refusal to eat: he had skipped the odd meal before only to tuck in 12 hours later.  It was the smell which I remembered from Bob’s time, the stench of kidney failure. We could not leave it a moment longer.  I gathered myself together and called the vet.  Fortunately our veterinary surgery is at the end of our road, and our vet is a very kind Dutch lady who loves cats.  I asked if she would come to the house when she had finished her appointments for the day.  The receptionist put me on hold and then said the vet and the head nurse would be with us in half an hour.

Last picture of Barney

Last picture of Barney

Barney was in his bed in front of the fire.  The vet had trouble finding a vein as he was dehydrated. Barney swore at her – ‘get on with it woman!’ and he was gone in a few seconds. Tough, feisty old moggy to the very end.

We did not want to keep his body or have his ashes returned to us.  I have never derived any comfort from having tokens of death around the house, or bodies buried in the garden. We have a wooden casket of Fred’s ashes from 2003, and it makes me feel so uncomfortable that I have hidden it away in the attic.  In 2010 we chose to bury Bob’s body in the garden, but I found the burial a hundred times more traumatic than the euthanasia and I was almost hysterical.  So we asked the vet to remove Barney’s body for us.  I was expecting her to produce a practical, heavy-duty plastic bag of some sort.  But to my surprise she took out a rather nice pet blanket with a paw-print pattern all over it, to wrap him in. I was touched by her sensitivity.

Every bereavement is different.  After a long illness it comes as no surprise.  There is not the raw shock of a sudden death of a young creature. I had already done a lot of grieving for the old lad. But the house felt very different and very empty. I realised how much I had worried about him over the last few weeks: the daily face-wiping, cleaning up, moving his tray around after him, trying to work out how much he had eaten, constant vigilance for signs of pain, and snatches of lap time whenever I could.  I went through drawers and cupboards, throwing away his medication and his pills and potions.  There is a big hole where all the love, care, and laughs used to be for Barney.

A week later I got a card in the post from our vet.

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Enclosed was a packet of Forget-Me-Not seeds, to plant in the garden.

Till next time,

L x

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Raw Feeding my Cats

I started raw feeding my cats in January 2011. There was no dramatic reason for the switch. It was just that the more I learned about raw feeding, the more it made sense.

I first read about raw feeding cats on a forum. Switching to feeding raw had very quickly cured a nasty case of cystitis in a cat, where vet-recommended food and medication had persistently failed. As someone who had never thought to question a vet’s judgement, this was fascinating and I wanted to find out more about it.

At that time I had two young kittens, Larry and Monty, and my elderly cat Barney. The kittens were on top quality kitten kibble (ha! that’s what I genuinely thought at the time).  Old Barney was on ‘senior’ kibble, and had been mostly kibble-fed all of his life. I had always fed my cats dry food, from the ‘better’ brands like James Wellbeloved and Iams. None of the cheap and nasty Go-Cat or supermarket’s own brand stuff. I believed the blurb on the packaging and I believed that was a good diet for them. In 20 years of cat ownership, no-one, including vets, had ever suggested to me that it might not be the best option for my cats’ health. After all, my cats were perfectly healthy. Or were they?

Looking into raw feeding, the same stories came up over and over again. Switching to raw had miraculously cured all manner of niggling health problems which conventional veterinary medicine could not alleviate. A good raw diet had even stabilised the health of cats with more serious conditions such as kidney failure, diabetes, and irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, bladder infections, allergies, and dental issues. On top of this, it was claimed, fur became softer, silkier, less matted; teeth cleaner; poop did not smell any more and there was less of it; cats had more energy and zest for life.

Well this just sounded amazing. But what really gave me the push to switch, the real eureka moment for me was this. The top two causes of death in the domestic cat are cancer and kidney failure. I knew this. Every cat owner knows that lots of cats die of kidney failure. Very common. And cancer. Look at my own past cats. Kibble-fed. Died relatively young of: cancer, and, uh, kidney failure. Hang on a minute! Had I been responsible for shortening their lives via their dry food diet? It was a devastating thought.

Of course, this was speculation. There is no way I can know for sure if long-term kibble feeding had caused their deaths. I had to conclude though, that it must have played a part. The idea that I might have given them a longer, better quality of life by simply feeding them a better diet was a terrible revelation to me.

So I set about making the transition to a raw diet. I found that there was a lot of useful information out there and friendly raw feeding groups for cats. An invaluable resource was (and still is) the Feline Nutrition and Education Society, founded by Margaret Gates. I wish I had found this site first. It is so comprehensive and well-written, and it answered all of my questions.

Larry’s turkey drumstick

Fortunately, Larry and Monty didn’t need much persuasion to switch to raw. In fact, Monty was wild about it. He thinks he is a wild animal, after all. It was hilarious seeing him with a chicken wing. Lots of melodramatic growling. He never growled over his kibble. As they are young, I didn’t see a dramatic difference in their health or appearance. But their poop was easier to cope with: less of it, dry, and almost odourless. There is very little waste matter with raw.

Monty’s turkey drumstick

Barney, however, was a different story. The change in him was unbelievable. As a kibble junkie with bad teeth, it took much longer to get him fully onto raw. But even before he was fully transitioned, he had more energy, softer, shinier fur, and cleaner teeth. He was up and about and in our faces just like when he was a young cat. He started to jump onto chairs and laps again. He looked and acted like a cat half his age. It was wonderful to see.

Barney

Sadly I discovered that raw feeding carries a lot of controversy and not everyone would accept what I was doing or my reasons for doing it. It is still a hot and sometimes heated topic on many forums. For me it always comes down to this. The domestic cat is a carnivore, 100%. Cats are not able to digest vegetable matter or carbohydrates. They rely on meat, meat, meat (i.e., meat, bone and organs, in the correct ratio) for their nutrition. Just like the big cats. So why is commercial cat food so often more than 50% vegetable matter, and the meat protein of such questionable quality? No wonder feline health problems abound. And typically, this poor quality, species-inappropriate food is promoted by vets who should know better. There are powerful commercial interests at stake here.

Till next time,

L x