Tuesday 1 July 2014

Learning the Art of Non Judgement from Animals

I’m very lucky to be working with animals, pure souls, who are a joy to be with.  I’ve written before about some of the things they’ve helped me to learn, including the joy of being and living in the moment.  I don’t always manage it, there are many distractions for us humans, but they have helped me to be so much more conscious of it.  And it brings me a sense of peace, and so much more besides.

But there’s something else I’ve been noticing recently.  I’ve learnt this through my work with animals, but not necessarily directly with them, although they practice it quite naturally all the time.  And do then reinforce it for me.  Quite beautifully.

And that’s the art of non judgement.

A few words about judgement first though.  We all do it, it’s part of our conditioning, handed down through generations, in our DNA.  We judge others for many reasons, but often aren’t even aware we’re doing it.  So becoming alert to it first is important.

Then notice how it makes you feel.  I’m pretty good at noticing when it happens to me these days, and it just makes me feel heavy and yucky.  Not nice at all.  Anything that makes you feel like that, you just know it’s really not doing you any good.  Your feelings and emotions are your guide. 

We all have our own particular triggers too.  Mine’s probably while I’m driving, from pet visit to pet visit.  I see and experience some awful driving, thoughtless, uncaring, bullying sometimes, and downright dangerous.  And then I go into judgement overdrive!!!  Makes me feel horrible!!

What’s yours? 

Judging others can have the effect of making us feel better about ourselves.  At least that’s what the ego part of us wants it to do.  Judgement comes from ego, which does its best at protecting us as we go through our lives, that’s its purpose - but it’s really quite misguided much of the time. 

Working with animals has been a revelation to me in this regard.  They never ever judge.  Their love and appreciation are unconditional.  What a wonderful lesson to learn from them!! 

No matter when I turn up they’re always so pleased to see me.  Even if they’ve been on their own since I was last there, even if I’ve been delayed by something.  They don’t care what I look like, what I’m wearing, or even if my hair needs a wash!!  All they care about is the love in my heart, and a heart to heart connection with them is magical. 

But lessons in not judging haven’t always come directly from the animals themselves. 

What I’ve been noticing more and more of late, is how we, as humans, judge other humans, especially when it comes to animals. 

It can get quite nasty. 

One recurring theme in particular relates to people who give up their animals.  I see it on Facebook a lot. 

I can’t imagine ever giving up on Bella or Dylan.  But I don’t know what the future holds.  Suppose I became very sick and just couldn’t continue to look after them?  Would I want to struggle on, knowing I probably wasn’t giving them the life they deserved any longer, or would I – because I love them so much – want them to go to live with someone who could properly care for them?

Over the years I’ve been asked by friends, acquaintances, clients even, to see if I can find a new home for their cats.  I’ll ask around in many ways, perhaps share the request on Facebook too.  And sometimes someone jumps in with a judgement about them.  They don’t know them, they don’t know their circumstances.  Yet they feel qualified to pass judgement. 

In the last few months I was asked by a client to see if I could find a new home for his little cat, just a year old.  He didn’t want to give him up, but he’d realised that the life he was offering to him just wasn’t fair.  He lived alone, was working long hours, and was out a lot too at the weekend.  He almost didn’t dare ask me if I could help.  His words to me began “at the risk of being judged………………..”

I thought that was so sad.  And I was glad he’d asked me.  He is such a caring person, and this is something he was doing out of love.  Oh, I know, there will then be people saying “well, why did he take the cat on then?”  Another judgement couched as a question.  He had saved the cat from an abusive situation he became aware of when the little one was only a few months old.  He thought the cat would be living with him forever, that was certainly the plan.  So, it was very brave then to admit that that wasn’t for the best after all. 

I recently watched a conversation on Facebook, that was started by someone I know well, like and respect, who is also very involved with animals.  The post was suggesting people shouldn’t be giving up their animals to rescues because they were very unlikely to find new homes, they’d never come out.  Now, I disagree with this “fact” hugely (a topic for another post I think), although I’m aware that it might happen at some.  The point here is that one by one people jumped in with awful comments about those who give up their animals.  Just a wholesale, nasty condemnation.  All lumped together, no thought as to why, just judgement upon judgement.  It was horrible.  I chose to leave the conversation. 

I’m lucky.  At the Society for Abandoned Animals where I’m a member and volunteer, we take in many animals from those who are no longer able to care for them.  And we always find them homes.  Some take a little longer, but we stick by them all until they can be found new homes. 

My experience here, and at other sanctuaries has taught me not to be judging others.  It could be a very easy thing to do, just slipping into it.  I did in the past, I’ll admit – but I’ve become much more aware and conscious through working with homeless animals for many years, and I understand now that there are always reasons why people hand their beloved pets over to us.  Even those who abandon their animals by the gate or on the towpath.  None of us know what they’re going through. 

The point is that none of us are perfect, we’re all in this life learning and developing and growing as we go along.  And that’s fine.  That’s what we do.  So we really all ought to think about being a little kinder to others when we could be so easily judged ourselves.  What good does it do?  Doesn’t even make the judger feel better in the long run.  A little humanity and compassion is what’s needed, and we learn that best of all from the animals in our lives.

Friday 23 May 2014

I am not an expert.............

That’s quite a statement isn’t it?  Because I get loads of people coming to me for advice, guidance and information in regard to any number of animal health and behaviour issues.

It began at the point that I started pet sitting.  My first client had an expectation that I would know something about cat behaviour, and why not?  Thankfully, I had done much reading on the subject (and others), so was able to help her.

But in the last seven or so years, most of my knowledge has come from experience.  There’s really no substitute for it.  You can read and read and read, follow courses, take exams, become qualified on paper, but it’s nothing without good solid, practical experience to go with it.  Of course, it’s essential that this experience is conscious experience.  By that I mean, that everything that happens is considered, thought about, perhaps read up on, discussed with others, and compared to other experiences. 

I’m so lucky, I have had some wonderful animals as teachers along the way, they’ve taught me things that quite surprised me many times!  And I am constantly in touch with others in a wide variety of animal-related endeavours, activities and businesses.  We talk to each other, explore, ask questions, share experiences, and listen. 

And I read books, animal related publications, on line information, articles and research, and I take it all in, think about it, what resonates with me, what fits with my experiences.  And perhaps next time I visit a particular cat, I’ll also bear in mind what I’ve been reading about, to test it out. 

So I know a lot about my subject.  But it’s just seven years’ worth.  The learning continues and continues and continues.

There will always be things I don’t know, things I’ve never come across before.  I think that’s fantastic, because that gives me new things to learn about, to add to my repertoire of “expertise”. 

But it’s in inverted commas, because I’m reluctant to call myself an expert.  There will always be others with more knowledge or experience than I have, or different at least.  We will interpret in different ways.  There is never any one right or correct method of viewpoint or opinion.  It can always be changed, the more that is learnt and experienced. 

I am not a fan of paper qualifications.  Never have been.  I’ve come across too many people with amazing qualifications who actually seem to know, or have experienced, very little. 

An example………….   Every now and again I consider whether I ought to gain a pet behaviour qualification (cats in particular).  I am sure that I would learn much to add to what I already know, and that’s the only reason I might do it.  It’s a good reason to do it.  But, since I began taking care of animals all those years ago, I’ve come to realise that I often don’t agree with what I read from many qualified behaviourists.  Some of it yes, but not all, or they miss the point. 

My working with energy, including intuitive communication, can be a curse as well as a blessing.  I learn so much from animals through this work, so much that I often find myself disagreeing with much of what many pet behaviourists say.  And this is the problem.  Perhaps I’m second guessing, but I can foresee so many disagreements in the way my assignments might be marked.  I don’t know, perhaps I should give it a go. 

But I have a friend, another pet sitter, doesn’t work with energy (that she knows about anyway) or communicate intuitively, but has nearly as much experience in working with animals in their normal day to day lives as I do.  And yet, she’s pretty much abandoned the Feline Studies course she was taking, as she found she was constantly in disagreement with what she was being taught.  That’s put me off.  I probably shouldn't let it do that though!!

What I’d really like to do is to share and combine all this knowledge, find a very open minded cat behaviourist who’d also like to expand their knowledge too, work together, and perhaps we could create something wonderful.  I have been looking, still looking…………..

I’ve already written of my experiences and concerns about information vets provide to animal guardians about feeding and obesity.  They are looked up to as experts, it’s surely essential that they have open minds, and are prepared to learn as much as possible, especially from those with specialist knowledge and experience.  And keep their knowledge topped up, consciously and proactively.  I would not call myself an expert in feeding cats, and yet I’m pretty sure that I’m more expert than most vets are. 

The word “expert” seems to come from an ego place, and we’re now at the point in the human race where we leave this behind.  Let’s all admit we don’t know it all, and let’s love the fact that we don’t, that there’s so much more to learn, that it never stops, and that we can all help each other in gaining knowledge.  Only that way do we all become experts in the truest sense. 

How do you protect your cats and dogs from parasites?

Ever since I can’t remember when, I’ve always had an innate sense of not liking to take chemical manufactured drugs to help me to heal.  The odd paracetamol, yes, but very little else.  I have a deep inner knowledge that this planet contains all we need to help us to heal in a very safe and natural way, and in ways that maintain the oh so important balance of all life here.  It all comes packaged perfectly, a plant is likely to contain all the constituent parts needed. 

Yet there’s little money in that, and drugs companies are forever on the lookout to create new drugs, manufactured for us, that may mimic what nature is doing, but using only the active ingredient.  This is unbalanced.  And more than that, many are quite dangerous, often not fully tested until actually out in the market place.  I know people on drugs for many reasons, where they need to take a cocktail in order to counteract side effects caused by another, and another, and another……………  And slowly poisoning themselves.

Which is why it’s bizarre really that for so many years that’s exactly what I was doing to my own cats.  These beautiful beings who are my family, who I love so much, and deserved far better from me.   Especially when I actually did know better!!

I guess though it’s because I trusted vets to know what they were talking about.  And why not?  We ought to be able to.  We all do that, I’m sure you do too. 

Yet, I realise now that I did know that what I was doing was wrong, perhaps at a more unconscious level.  Bella hated her spot on every month.  She’d flinch from the smell as soon as the top was opened and run away.  We had to be very quick to shut the kitchen door when it was time, but she always knew what was happening.

The smell was vile.  That ought to have given me a clue.  It smelt toxic.  Bella had to squeeze her eyes shut to stop the fumes making her cry.  And sometimes she’d be sick afterwards. 

There wasn’t any particular defining moment when I thought I had to stop, and yet one day there was just this realisation, that I guess had been building. 

From that moment I decided that neither Bella nor Dylan were going to have to suffer it ever again.  There had to be safer and more natural ways to combat the risk of parasite infestation.  So I started researching.

And, as an animal healer, one who uses natural methods and energy to heal, very successfully, I began to have concerns about all the other cats I knew, and all those I don’t too. 

I’m lucky.  In my field, I have many many knowledgeable and experienced contacts, friends and colleagues.  So I talked to them for ideas, and then did lots of reading to back up what they were telling me about.

I alighted on Diatomaceous Earth a couple of years ago now.  From what I’d been reading, it seemed pretty perfect.  It was easy to use, cats would tolerate it, it caused them no harm whatsoever, and killed all parasites.  It can be used to treat infestations, and as a preventative.  And it’s very natural. 

I’ve used it very successfully for the last 2-3 years, and have suggested its use to others who’ve asked me about safer methods of parasite prevention – they too had huge concerns over using man made toxic chemicals.  And have been using it successfully too.

But my quest and research has continued, as I am on a mission to help animal guardians to care for their furry families in the kindest ways possible – and different methods are preferred by different people and animals. 

If I have a concern about Diatomaceous Earth at all, it’s that it is mined from the ground, it’s being dug out of our planet, and this is something that does bother me.  Clearly the scale is nowhere as large as with oil extraction for example, but for me that’s not the point.  And there’s something else too.  I’m a friend to all beings on this planet.  Just because they’re tiny and causing problems to my cats doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be cared about too.  So any treatment that kills other beings doesn’t sit quite right with me. 

Put in perspective though, I still feel using Diatomaceous Earth is a million times better than using toxic chemicals on my cats.  Chemicals that are designed to go into the bloodstream, so that the parasites then die from ingesting the blood of the host.  Monthly we’re willingly putting toxic chemicals into our beloved animals????

And then, very recently I came across another product, one that’s been successfully used in other parts of the world for the last few years, but is new to the UK.  I was contacted by a friend who’d learnt about it, and was so impressed after all her research, decided to bring it to the UK. 

It’s called Pet Protector and is a little disc that goes on the collar (a quick release safe collar for cats always please!!), and sends out energy waves that repel parasites.  There is a hugely informative website providing plenty of useful information on its raison d’etre, how it was developed, how it works, and many success stories. 

Having read up about it, and talked in detail to my friend, I decided that this was another product that I was very happy to support.  So much so that I’ve become a representative for this product.  Clearly there are earning opportunities for me here (and why not?), but my main motivator to becoming involved is the product itself, and wanting to help animal guardians do the best they can for their loved ones. 

If you’re as concerned as I was about putting toxic chemicals into my animals every month, then I’d encourage you to have a good think about making some changes.  Do your research, you might uncover things I haven’t, and I love it if you’d share anything with me. 

I’m very happy to talk to you about both Diatomaceous Earth and the Pet Protector, and here are some website links to help you:

Some general information on Diatomaceous Earth from Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diatomaceous_earth

This one is from the shop of the Canine Health Concern (CHC is Catherine O’Driscoll, an expert on both pet vaccinations and parasite control (scroll down the page for information on how to use Diatomaceous Earth):  http://chcstore.weebly.com/diatomaceous-earth.html

And this is my Pet Protector page:  http://www.petprotector.org/?ID=37571

Incidentally, Pet Protector are looking for more representatives to spread the word, so if you’d like to get involved too, you’ll see a form to fill in.  And again, talk to me, I can help you there too. 

I am now feeling much happier that I am doing better for my own animals, and my mission to spread the word, so that others can learn for themselves and make informed decisions.  Please do as much research as you can, I’m not a vet, and not qualified nor empowered to diagnose or prescribe.  But I can talk about what I’ve discovered, and what feels good to me, and I’d encourage you to do the same. 


Friday 2 May 2014

Animal Cruelty Pictures

No, don’t worry, I’m not about to post any here.  Something I’d never, ever do. 
But I’m going to write about it because it’s become a nasty phenomenon on the internet these days, and many people are as disturbed by it as I am.

Very sadly there’s a lot of animal cruelty in the world.  From unspeakable things done to animals in various countries (including this one!), to the sanctioned and licensed use of animals in experimentation. 

I do appreciate that some who care about animals want to open people’s eyes to this barbarity.  And that for the most part most mean well, and think they’re doing the right thing. 

I’ve “unfriended” a few friends on Facebook, as I really don’t want to be faced with something that will haunt me in my dreams.  And for others, it’s getting close. 

As well as being very disturbing and upsetting to look at, I’m also of the opinion that it does no good anyway;   I’d even go so far as to say it’s counter-productive to the cause. 

On a personal level first……  I’m an animal healer.  I work with animals in all their aspects, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  And mostly they are all linked anyway.  I have been a volunteer at animal sanctuaries for a number of years, and have seen the results of awful cruelty.  Which I’ve helped to heal. 

In order to heal, my vibrations have to be clear and clean, sparkling even.  I always take time to ensure that the energy running through me is as pure and clear as it can possibly be, vibrating at the highest possible level, because only that way can I be of the best benefit for the being I’m trying to help.  But when faced with a distressing picture of an animal in a desperate situation, I can’t possibly send the best possible healing to them.  I will always happily send healing to animals in need, I don’t have to look at a picture to know about it.  And if that picture then sends my energies spiralling downwards, how will that help? 

On Facebook, thankfully, there are a number of people coming out and saying “this isn’t right, I don’t want to be seeing that, this doesn’t help”.  I and others of this opinion are sometimes accused by the posters of those pictures of putting our heads in the sand, pretending it doesn’t happen.  It can get quite nasty.  And it’s not true.  Not true in the slightest.  All those I know who also object are those who love animals, many of whom, like me, help rescue animals. 

I’ve heard it said more than once that those who post these pictures have a need to share their hurt and suffering with everyone else, that there almost becomes a psychological need to have others feel their pain so much too.  It could be true, it does seem like it sometimes.  But that’s not an area of expertise that I have, so no point in commenting. 

But to those who think that pushing this in our faces constantly will have the effect of waking people up to this, many of us are already awake, and are doing what we can, in our own particular and special ways to mend and heal those affected, and to stop these practices.  And to those not awake, my feeling is that the more of these pictures they see, the more they become desensitised to them.  It’s already been proven with pornography, and really, this is pornography of the worst type. 

And will someone then tell me why we know that it’s not right to be posting such pictures of humans, yet it’s ok to paste the walls of Facebook and Twitter with them?

This blog post is something that’s probably been a long time coming, I’ve felt the need to write something on the subject before now.  But it was this post on Facebook this morning, by a friend that convinced me.  Very well said, I think!!

“To those who fight for animal right, and wish to make people aware of the evil goings on concerning their treatment.  I know you mean well, but I must stress that by posting links and pictures of these atrocities does not help the situation, as people are already aware.  But what you are doing is actually disturbing those who are deeply affected by such pictures.  I do not wish to see dogs or cats being skinned alive, nor do I wish to see mammals being ripped to shreds.  This does not mean I do not care, this means I find these postings disturbing, I do not wish to have them replaying repeatedly inside my head or the heads of my family and friends.  This is harmful to us as humans, as our being upset about these issues does not fix the situation.  Rather than doing such posting, why not find petitions yourselves where you are able to sign, and join some animal rights groups where you can share your pains and views with like minded people, who don’t mind viewing such evil.  Thank you and Namaste.”

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Our Obese Cats

Gosh, there’s a real problem with obesity in cats these days isn’t there? 

Or is there?

You’d certainly think so, given how many articles are published in various cat and pet magazines and on line, and the number of vets who seem to be turning into the feeding police. 

As with people, obesity is an important health problem and there does need to be awareness, and it does need to be addressed.  I really don’t want to belittle the problem. 

But this overkill approach, I think, is not the right way.

I’ve started to write an article on this subject a few times now, it’s something that really bothers me, but I’ve stopped.  It’s felt a little too contentious, and who am I, a mere pet sitter, to be having a view on this issue?  Perhaps now is the time to be contentious though.  Some of you may not agree with me, but I think that many probably will.  I welcome any and all thoughts on the issue, it needs to be discussed.

What prompted me to put pen to paper finally on this issue, was a metaphorical nudge I received last week. 

This week I’m visiting a cat I’ve visited a few times now, I know her very well.  She’s never been overfed, she’s always had a small appetite, she’s not particularly food motivated, she’s not fat, she’s not even slightly big.  Yet when I texted her person a few days ago to ask if there was anything I needed to be aware of while they’re away (I always do this), I was told she was on a diet.  Just 20g of dry food and half a pouch a day.  He commented that she always seems hungry now…….   I’m not surprised!!!

My mind goes back to when Bella was little.  Her first year check up came around and she was weighed.  3.8 kg, I remember it.  I was told that it was about right, but she didn’t need to get any bigger.  Ok, I thought, she doesn’t eat much, she’ll be fine.

The following year she was 3.9 kg.  About the same.  A different vet this time who made me feel that I was being so told off!!  He didn’t have a problem with the weight as such, but as his colleague had done the year before, cautioned me that she didn’t want to get any bigger.  In a very unfriendly and unhelpful way.

I remember asking – out of curiosity, because I wanted to do my best for her, and because he was the expert (!) – how much she should be eating.  That threw him.  Told me to go by the manufacturer’s recommendation.  Which, for the brand she was eating, was 3 pouches per day.  She’s never eaten anything like that amount ever in her life!! 

Which I told him.  Well, you might need to cut it down a little then, was his response.  Still not very helpful.  Bella isn’t food motivated, never has been, and you should see her eat, kisses her food, gets bored very quickly and leaves it.  She just doesn’t have a big appetite.  I don’t think I could get her to eat less than she does eat, and to be honest, I wouldn’t want to.  I’ll open one of those little 85g tins, and give her about a third of it.  Which she doesn’t finish. 

To be honest, my worry might actually have been that she wasn’t eating enough, but she’s always been fit and healthy, so I’ve never been concerned about this.   But it was ridiculous that I was being encouraged to cut down a little.  And said this to the vet. 

My memory is that he just didn’t believe me.  Oh well…………..

I came away feeling quite shocked.  He had given me no useful information at all, in fact it was minus useful information.  This was the expert (or so I thought back then), and he had no idea what he was talking about. 

And this is the problem. 

In recent years I have made quite a study of feline nutrition and feeding.  Aided by spending almost every day for the last seven years actually feeding cats, hundreds of them by now, and getting to know exactly how much they eat, what their lifestyles are like, and what their weight does.  So I’m much much more clued up than I was back then. 

And one of the things I learnt was that vets receive very little instruction on feline nutrition during their training.  Most of what they know comes from the pet food manufacturers’ marketing literature and reps.  I should point out here that some are much more knowledgeable, I’ve even come across one myself – but in my experience the majority aren’t.

Yet, they continue to put all these varied and diverse beings into boxes.  So a small one year old cat should weigh this much, should eat this much (which itself varies wildly depending on which pet food manufacturer you read).  And if they’re more than this, they’re overweight, and are very likely to become obese.

The last time I took Bella to the vet was 2-3 years ago for an annual check up.  A different vet again.  Weighed her and she was 4kg.  I took a breath and waited for the pronouncement on my cat caring abilities.  She looked at me and smiled, said it was all good, she’d been pretty much the same weight all through her life to that point.  I could have hugged her.  She was being sensible.  Bella was Bella, not other cats.  She was the right weight for Bella. 

Dylan’s first year check up was similar to Bella’s previous check up (different vet again).  He’s a big big lad, size of a small horse!!  Big long strong bones – legs, back, tail – and solid muscle.  First year he was 5.8kg.  Yes, it was a lot, but look at him, he’s huuuuuge!!  But then I’d stopped listening well before that point.  He’s still big, he still weighs around the same, it’s the right weight for him.  He runs around lots, loves his garden, and like Bella, doesn’t eat a great deal.  Eating style is different, he shovels it up, but then stops when he’s had enough.  There is always food left. 

And that’s what I find for most of the cats I visit.  Very few are not able to moderate their intake.  Most cats, in my experience, are really good at stopping when they’ve had enough.  Leaving dry food out to graze on?  And that’s what they do, they graze, they don’t hoover it all up.  Little and often, or not so often, depending upon their appetite and metabolism.  Most of the cats I visit do not demand feeding as soon as I arrive, they know and trust that it’s coming.  And a good few won’t actually eat when it’s put down, but will wait until they’re ready, often after I’ve gone. 

Now, there will always be a few who do overeat, and these are the ones that need the attention, and this is a serious problem that must be addressed.  In the right way.  Is there something causing the desire to overeat?  What are their lifestyles like?  What is their weight and eating history, has it been consistent and reasonable, or has a change happened recently?  So rather than just limiting food, get to the bottom of the problem.  Perhaps it’s boredom and more enrichment and playing are needed.  And in fact the question of exercise is an important one, especially for indoor cats.

Vets see cats for just a few minutes at a time, and know very little about them, their emotions, their lifestyles, yet with this mere snapshot they will only look at and treat the overeating symptom, and only then by recommending a diet.  Could there be another condition causing the problem of either weight gain or overeating?  And if they’re not overeating anyway, then why recommend a diet, look further.  And how exactly, would they define overeating?  I get so frustrated. 

I know that there are good vets out there, who will take the time to properly get to know a cat, and take steps to find the right solution.  But just not enough, and I’m talking here about those vets. 

Among all the cats I’ve got to know over the years, there have been a small number (very small) who were obese.  One in particular comes to mind.   He didn’t eat much.  At all.  So overeating isn’t always the problem. 

Another old lady cat I knew very well was overweight, and her person was encouraged to reduce her food intake to prevent possible future health problems.  The vet recommended that she eat more than she was actually eating.  Her person did take steps to reduce her food intake nonetheless, but felt that she was taking away her one pleasure in life - even though she didn’t actually eat that much.  The cat developed diabetes, and passed away not long after – sadly my client couldn’t shake the feeling that if she’d cut down her food intake even more she might not have become ill.  She felt guilty, when in fact she had nothing to feel guilty about.  She had done her absolute best, and more, yet the discussions with the vet had left her feeling that she wasn’t a good cat guardian. 

I suppose that around half the cats I care for might be considered by vets to be overweight.  They aren’t slim.  Yet they are what they are.  They are the right weight for them.  I can’t think of one who gets too much food, or who eats too much.  I can’t think of one where their weight has noticeably gone up in the time I’ve been taking care of them.  Some are active, others less so.  There are a few I look after who might be considered to be on the way to becoming obese – and these cats are on diets where they get very little food.  And which actually seems to make very little difference.  And they always seem to have been the same in the time I’ve known them.

As I was writing this I was wondering, is it just me who thinks like this?  So I asked other pet sitting friends, all of whom agreed with me.  One said “Excellent read, sensible points backed with knowledge and experience.  Like you I’ve rarely come across cats whose weight causes me concern/discomfort/an urge to say something to the client.”

She went on to explain about an exception: 

a lady with three cats, all of them huge, all of them fed bucketloads of wet food, all of them indoor cats who from what I can tell were frequently kept in a large utility room when owners were out of the house - and with no evidence of toys. They were bored, never played and therefore they ate. I told her that her cats were overweight, she reluctantly agreed. One was so old and obese she could barely walk as her belly dragged across the floor and her legs were struggling to bear her weight. Cruel and very difficult for me to challenge as she clearly loved them all very much.

So, I use these poor souls as a barometer if a client says the line "the vet has said my cat is overweight so I've reduced/changed their diet". I totally agree that most cats self-regulate their food intake, very few wolf down food like you'd see a dog do - and those that do are generally the ones where food is very strictly rationed and they don't have dry food to graze on. They are, therefore, starving.”

Obesity is a problem, but in any population of cats, there are only a very small number who are truly obese.  And even then does reducing food intake always work?  Especially when some cats are clearly on starvation diets, and it’s not having an impact.  Apart from making them miserable. 

If vets really want us to take obesity in cats (or other domestic animals) seriously, then they need to change their approach.  They must properly get to know the cats they pronounce to be overweight, everything about them.  And then consider the whole animal, and explore all options to ensure optimum health.  Because this is really what it should be about.  The overall health of the animal, rather than focusing on one aspect of health, which doesn’t always tell the whole story. 

What I’d love is to have some clearer information as to how many cats are considered to be obese.  And how this is measured.  And is this consistent?  I’ve seen the little diagrams, but they aren’t very helpful.  How many are consistently a regular weight, even if it’s considered to be overweight?  How many have been on diets where nothing has changed?  I’d like vets to properly explore the animal’s eating habits, lifestyle and overall health on a holistic level before pronouncing, and I’d like them to consider their overall metabolism, their eating and weight history, are there any emotional issues, and much much more before deciding on what needs to be done.  If anything.  And I’d love to get involved in any studies on this important topic.  Those of us who spend their lives working closely with animals, and in particular feeding them, have so much useful information to share. 

Post script….. 

The little cat I mentioned at the beginning - my first visit this time was yesterday and I was shocked to see her.  Her back end reminded me of some of the older cats who come into the sanctuary with thyroid problems that haven’t been picked up.  Very bony around the hips, and very sunk in around the waist.  I could easily get my fingers into the gap behind her hip bones.  And her coat looked to be in poor condition.  She looked quite malnourished, and I was worried about her.  A text to her person elicited agreement to increase her dry food intake from 20g per day to 30g, with still one half pouch.  It’s something but it’s not enough.  I am keeping a close eye on her these few days, and will be encouraging him to take her back to the vet, or perhaps a different vet, as soon as they’re back.   If it were any longer I’d be taking her to the vet myself.  I can’t in all conscience sit back and let something like this happen, it’s almost animal cruelty.

And one final point.  My client is a sensible, intelligent, professional person.  Who trusts other professionals, so although he was surprised to hear the vet claim she was overweight, he trusted him.  I can tell he has his concerns too, but we’re not used to challenging those who we see as experts in their field, whether they actually are or not.  Meaning that very few vets are nutrition experts, they’re generalists, they don’t know everything, they can’t do, and that's fine.  But say so then.   

The key point the vet seemed to be making was that the cat had a little swinging belly.  Well, she’s very skinny now, too skinny, and still has her little belly.  Most cats do.  Some don’t.  Vets actually don’t know what causes this, although there are plenty of theories  – a holistic vet I spent some time discussing cat nutrition with is convinced it’s to do with a dry food diet.  But they are all just theories. 

In my experience of feeding cats, it is impossible to tell.  I look after cats who have only ever eaten dry food and they have no bellies, and others who only eat wet food and have hanging bellies.  There’s a school of thought that thinks it’s likely to be connected with the eating of processed diets, rather than natural raw food.  I’m not a fan of processed diets (subject for another post I think), but nearly all our cats eat this way, so that doesn’t explain why some cats tend to hanging bellies and others don’t.  That’s not the answer. 

And why do some cats who eat loads always look slim and never put weight on, while others who eat little always look to be heavier?  Part of the answer is bound to be to do with lifestyle, and exercise, but even then, when thinking about the cats I care for, that’s not the whole answer either. 

The truth is they’re all as different as we are.  And we don’t really know.  Lots more research needed into this important subject, and would love to help.

Monday 14 April 2014

The Easter Bunny

Many rabbits bought as Easter gifts will soon be unwanted when the amount of care they need becomes apparent and the novelty wears off. 

Please - do not buy any animal as a gift for others, and please do not take on any animal yourself without first researching their needs. 

The Rabbit Welfare Association conducted a survey and at least 67,000 rabbits are in rescues across the country, so if you are looking to give bunnies a home, Adopt Don't Shop.

Wise words from the Society for Abandoned Animals, where I'm a member and volunteer.

Sunday 6 April 2014

Debunking the Cat Diet Myth

I watch cats eat, then I deal with the poo.  Have done pretty much every day for the last seven years.  I’ve got to know hundreds of cats and their eating habits, and consequently also their digestive systems. 

Most of the cats I know eat a fairly varied diet.  Granted it’s all pretty much processed food, but what I mean is they’ll eat a mix of different product brands, types, textures, and flavours.  Some eat the same day in, day out, but not that many. 

I’ve volunteered in animal sanctuaries for many years too – and the same happens there too.  At the Society for Abandoned Animals we depend upon donations of food from many very kind people.  Which means the cats eat whatever there is, pretty much. 

In the wild they get a varied diet too, depends on what they catch.  Could be mice, rats, voles, birds, even small rabbits, and a good selection of invertebrates as handy snacks to keep them going. 

Cats enjoy variety.  And why not?  Why would we want to bore them by feeding the same thing at every meal, day in and day out, when if living wild they would enjoy variety.  Their digestive systems are robust, they can cope with it. 

Oh, and in case you’d not noticed, cat nutrition is a favourite subject of mine, so have read and researched extensively on the topic for many years.  I’ve talked to animal nutrition experts, and asked questions.  

So I get so frustrated when I hear that old myth trotted out again.  You know, the one that goes “stick to the same food, don’t vary it, or they’ll get upset tummies”. 

I’m not sure where it originated now.  So many vets just spout it out, without even thinking about it.  Perhaps they were just told it one day, and they’ve accepted it on trust, and continue to repeat it.  I don’t know, but that’s how it seems sometimes.  

I was quite shocked to learn through my research (vet nurses and vets themselves) that vets get very little animal nutrition training while they’re learning to be vets.  Vet nurses seem to know more and adopt a much more sensible approach to this subject.  It seems that most of what they know is what they’re told by pet food manufacturers.  Who’d have a vested interest in encouraging animal guardians to keep their beloved furries on the same food and never changing it, wouldn’t you think?  Hardly the best place to go for your animal nutrition knowledge. 

My frustration came to a head just last month when I needed to take one of my charges to the vet.  She’d been sick for a couple of days, and was very listless, not herself at all.  The vet took her temperature, pronounced it high, so probably an infection (agreed), and gave her an antibiotic shot.  And then proceeded to ask me about her diet, had it been changed recently? 

Well, yes it had, but what it had changed to she’d been on for at least a couple of weeks with no ill effects.  Wasn’t listening to me by then.  Told me I had to change it back to what she had been eating before.   And trotted out the myth……….

Oh dear.  Took a deep breath, and told him that in my experience I’d have to disagree.  But of course what did I know?  I am not a qualified vet.  He was friendly and polite, yet rather condescending at the same time.  Yet I’d venture to say I have far more concrete, day to day observational experience with cats, what they eat and how their digestive systems deal with it.  Backed up with a lot of common sense based on what they would eat if living wild, and much self guided learning on a subject that interests me greatly.

I have no axe to grind with vets per se.  But when they find themselves with someone who clearly does have a lot more practical experience in a particular subject, I’d love it if they said “that’s so interesting, tell me more”.  And then we could have a proper discourse on the subject, and both, no doubt, learn more from each other. 

Cats can get upset tummies when changed to a new food, especially if they’ve been on the same food for a long time, absolutely.  But if they eat a varied diet all the time, their digestive systems cope very well.  And they’re much happier.
They’d be even happier if fed a raw diet, lots of contradictory views there too, and perhaps a subject for another time. 

Oh, and while I'm about it, please stick to food intended for cats, ie meat, they're obligate carnivores.  So no pizza!!!