Tales from the Trenches: Feeding Kittens a Raw Diet

Tales from the Trenches: Feeding Kittens a Raw Diet

I'm the President and Founder of a home-foster based cat rescue in Sandy Hook, Connecticut called Kitten Associates. The tagline for our group is "the NEW Breed of Cat Rescue." We call ourselves the new breed because we do things a little bit differently than other rescues for a variety of reasons, but one of the main differences is that we do not allow our adopters to feed dry kibble or brands that are sold in vet's offices as prescription and scientific focused. Many years ago we learned about the almost miraculous benefits of feeding a raw diet to our own eight cats and it just made sense to carry that regime on to our foster cats.
 
The difficulty, generally speaking, is that most of our foster cats come off the streets or off of "death row" at municipal shelters where kibble reigns supreme. Transitioning takes time, sometimes longer than we can realistically take, since finding a good home is a priority. We're content if we can get the cats off kibble and onto, at least, grain-free canned food, so that's often our goal.
 
It costs us more money to feed something other than kibble to our foster cats, but we feel the benefits outweigh the expense. I often hear adopters tell me how amazing our cat's fur feels or how they seem to have a sparkle in their eyes and a zest for life they don't see when they've met with other rescue cats. Ideally, we'd feed them all a raw diet, all the time. But the truth is, it's a lot harder to adopt out a raw fed cat into a home, especially a home with other cats who are fed differently from our fosters. Add to that that we ask the adopters to continue to feed our cats a raw diet, at least, even if they're not going to switch all of their cats over to it, and that's asking a lot. We've compromised on this, hoping that the canned food would suffice.
 
The good news is that we've also educated every adopter about raw feeding and some of them opt to do it once they realize the benefits. We also prepare them for the tiresome vilification from vets and some pet food companies that raw diets are dangerous. We have to tread thoughtfully, but we're having more and more success.
 
I recently took in a mama-cat and her five, four-day old kittens. I toyed with the idea of weaning this litter onto raw food. My initial plan was to at least cut out commercially available kitten milk replacer. The brand I'd been using included a lot of rice syrup, so that was not something I felt was appropriate for setting up a maturing digestive system. I'd start them off with a mixture of plain chicken baby food and some goat's milk, which I'd learned was easily digested and had some other promising properties, and a probiotic made for cats. I wasn't certain I should feed raw meat because, realistically, I have to get these kittens adopted and asking for a "no kibble" adopter is difficult enough.
 
The kittens reached the age of weaning and I began their transition, carefully monitoring their output and well-being. Their stools were very puddly and smelly. I had a stool test done and it was negative for parasites, which you always have to check for with kittens. The kittens were de-wormed using a well-tolerated, safe product. Their stool was still terrible and they often cried and defecated outside the litter pan. It was quite a smelly mess and I began to dread entering their room because I often had to scrub down all the surfaces, and them, every day.
 
I asked some experts if I should just put the kittens on a raw diet. They felt it was definitely the way to go, but again the fear of finding an adopter came up. I decided to put the kittens on a very low carbohydrate, grain-free canned food. They ate it, but their stool did not improve. Some if it had blood in it so I called the vet and tested the stool again and found nothing. I de-wormed again, as is the protocol, but I kept worrying about my little wards.
 
After a few weeks on canned food, I decided, almost on a lark, to give them raw meat. They fought over it they liked it so much. They cleaned their plate in seconds and were ready for more. They ate three times what I expected them to eat and within a short period of time their stool started to improve.
 
First it was soft, but formed, then the quantity was less and the smell began to go away. They rarely moved their bowels outside the litter pan and the kittens seemed to grow sturdier, if that's possible, and gained weight quickly. I kept the kittens on raw meat for a few weeks and late one night when I ran out, I decided to give them a small meal of grain-free canned food.
 
The kittens loved it, but the next morning the "splats" appeared again, so back to the raw diet I went. Another week or so passed and I thought it would be all right to try it again, this time giving them a small amount of a simple grain-free chicken based food with some gravy that utilized potato starch as an ingredient.
 
I only fed the canned as a late night meal for a few days in a row. Last night, while I was playing with the kittens, one of them ran over to the litter pan and cried and fussed about. I got up to investigate and discovered his stool was a big, pale, smelly, mucousy puddle.
 
Although it will be more challenging to find homes for my kittens, I'm determined to keep them on the raw diet. They just don't do well if they eat anything else. Hopefully their new families will respect this diet, though I have fears they ultimately won't. I've seen the dramatic effect just a few days off the raw diet has done to my dear fosters and while they're barely 11-weeks old, I don't want to put them through the upset stomachs and uncomfortable time in the litter pan any longer. So, we'll continue to fight the good fight and fly our raw-fed flag with renewed pride.
 
Update, November 18, 2013:
 
Of the five kittens, three have been adopted into great homes who are all continuing to feed the kittens a raw diet. One of the adopters even switched their dog and other cat over to a raw diet and were amazed at the change in their animals' energy levels and coat condition.
 
Lil' Gracey and her brother, Confetti Joe hope their adoption day is coming soon, too. They're just five months old and terrific cats. They get along great with other cats and are fully vetted. We're also hoping to find their mom, Minnie, a loving home. So far we haven't even gotten one application on her. Minnie gets along with cats, dogs and kids and is barely a year old and fully vetted. She's very playful and affectionate.
 
Robin A.F. Olson writes about her life rescuing and fostering cats on her multi-award winning blog www.coveredincathair.com. Kitten Associates is a non-profit 501(c)3 cat rescue based in Sandy Hook, CT. We do out-of-state adoptions to states bordering Connecticut. If you'd like to learn more about why Kitten Associates is the NEW Breed of Cat Rescue, visit their web site at: www.kittenassociates.org.
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