What Bob Dole Taught Me About Raw Food

What Bob Dole Taught Me About Raw Food

In 2006, my mother died unexpectedly. She was survived by her cat, Bob Dole. Yes, he was named after the same Bob Dole who was the 1996 Republican candidate for president. Like his human namesake, this Bob Dole had an injury — his left front leg instead of arm — when he first appeared at my mother's house as a stray in 1998.
Already feeling overwhelmed by my own cats, I was reluctant to adopt Bob. Faced with no one else to take him, I decided to at least get him back on his feet and find him a good home. Bob had only been to a vet once in his life, something my mother and I fought about many times. The only time he was vetted was to finally get him neutered. He'd been intact for about eight or nine years and spent his days outdoors. I don't want to think about how many offspring he's sired.
Though crushed with grief, I was clear-minded enough to know that Bob was not stepping one paw into my house until he was fully vetted. I already had six other cats' well being to consider!
Of course, the news was not good. Bob's teeth were in horrendous condition. Many of them needed to be removed. Years of eating kibble and packs of low quality wet food had taken their toll. Not only that, but Bob was FIV positive. I was broken hearted. At the time, I didn't understand that I could have an FIV positive cat with ones who weren't infected. I just thought it was a death sentence for him. After the biggest loss of my life, I wasn't ready to give up on Bob, but I was scared that I'd put my own cats' lives at risk.
 Bob Dole, after a "lion cut" and dental.Bob Dole, after a "lion cut" and dental.
I got Bob's dental done. They shaved him down and gave his bright orange coat a "lion cut," as he'd become badly matted. They ran a complete blood test. The results made them suspicious that Bob might have diabetes also. His liver values were through the roof. At that point, I was about to throw my hands up in the air and walk away, but it was Bob. I couldn't do that to him. He was a sweet-hearted cat with an odd, bubbly purr and bright green eyes. Bob never asked to be left outdoors and fed inappropriate food or not get vet care. Somehow I would help improve his outlook.
While Bob was recovering in his own room, sequestered from my cats, I began to do some research online about how to treat diabetes. I found information about the dangers of grain in cat food and the ill effects it triggered in a cat's health. I suddenly realized that it was probably the reason for so many health issues that my own cats faced, including diabetes.
I had my vet run more tests to make sure Bob had diabetes. I did more research. I realized that another of my cats, who had died from cancer, had been overweight and diabetic, too. I'd been free-feeding her kibble for the better — really worse — part of her life. My heart sank.
I'm just a regular Joe. I'm not a vet or nutritionist. I see the pretty picture on the box and it looks like the food is nice. It has only rice and "real" meat — meat by-products, that is — in it, so it should be good and the dry food cleans teeth, right?
By the time Bob was diagnosed with diabetes, I was not only furious, but feeling duped by the pet food industry. I would not feed any of my cats food with grain in it again. It just did not make sense to feed an obligate carnivore grain.
Then, something happened that really opened my eyes. My vet was out sick, so I met with his partner to discuss treating Bob's diabetes. I'd already decided which insulin I was going try first and I'd located some grain-free canned food I was going to feed him. This vet told me to put Bob on a diabetes "management" dry food. I was shocked. I challenged the vet. It made no sense to me to give a cat grains or carbs when he was diabetic. He showed me a very glossy, slick presentation book that the pet food company had prepared. It showed a nicely lit package shot and a promotional blurb about how good this food was for keeping my cat on the road to wellness. For once I was not buying into the marketing hype.
 Spencer, my fat poofy cat before a raw diet.Spencer, my fat poofy cat before a raw diet.
I told the vet he was out of his mind. I asked him why give the cat carbs when it was protein he needed. He said that they created the food in a sanitary facility and it was made to the highest standards. I asked him to read the ingredient list. The first few ingredients were corn gluten meal, soy flour and corn starch. I saw my least favorite, "poultry by-product meal" listed there, too. I told him that it made no sense to me to feed that crap to my cat and while I would follow the amount of insulin he prescribed for Bob, that was all I would do. Feeding Bob would be up to me. He looked at me like I was nuts and probably thought I was rude, too.
Four weeks later, Bob's diabetes went into remission. Four years later it has not come back. His liver values have improved dramatically, as well. You tell me who's nuts.
That began my journey, my quest, to try to figure out what to feed my, now seven, cats!
It was one thing to get Bob weaned off of grained food; getting my other cats to do it was going to take a miracle. Not only were my cats picky, but some also had other health issues to deal with. What was I going to do? In 2006, there weren't many resources for grain-free feeding. I'd only seen one article about making your own cat food. And feeding raw? Are you kidding me? My dad was a microbiologist! My maiden name was Feminella. Guess how many times I was called Salmonella in elementary school. There was no way I was going to feed my cats raw meat!
A friend, who's a vet tech, suggested a pet food shop in a nearby town. She said the owner really knew about cat nutrition. I felt like I was going to see a shaman on a mountain top. At last I would get some answers, since my own vet didn't seem to have any.
I ended up having more questions. I learned at that time there were a few choices for feeding grain-free in both canned food and dry kibble. My ears perked up. I could feed dry food? Hallelujah! Of course I wouldn't feed just dry. I thought at the time that I'd mix it up and the dry would keep my costs down and be less fussy for me to deal with. So little did I know.
Phase One: Doing the Math
I thought the search for the "Holy Grail" was paved with cat food labels.I thought the search for the "Holy Grail" was paved with cat food labels.I had no idea math was involved in feeding cats. I had to figure out the gross poundage of my cats, and then figure out how much food they needed. At that time I had over 120 pounds of cats. Two of the cats were at 23 and 24 pounds. One was only 8 pounds. Figuring out how much to feed them was a nightmare that involved a calculator and thinking and whining to my boyfriend to make him figure it out for me.
I measured out dry grain-free food. No more free-feeding. I began a search for grain-free canned food that all of my cats would eat. Ha ha ha. Like they would all readily eat the same thing.
My cats are a pain, a bane to my existence! I tried to do right by them and what did I get in return?
The cats wouldn't eat it.
They loved the kibble, though. Mmmm, yes. And I love chocolate chip cookies and would ditch a salad in a heartbeat should I have the choice between the two. I get it. But, I'm a hard-ass cat-mama. I don't take too well to resistance. I'm the boss!
So I continued to feed the grain-free kibble to make sure my cats were, at least, eating something. Then began my miserable odyssey of buying half a dozen or so of each and every grain-free canned food I could find. I became like an addict. I was so obsessed with finding the grain-free food they'd like, I kept a label from each brand and flavor and wrote notes on each one about which cats liked or disliked the food. I looked for patterns. I looked for them to eat something.
In the meantime, my cats were dropping weight. Really fast. Too scary fast. I noticed they were holding out for the dry grain-free food. So, I took it away, but kept the bag on hand. Then, I waited.
Phase Two: I Hate My Cats
Cats are truly stubborn creatures. They want what they want, when they want it. If they don't like the food, they turn away in disgust. They act as though you're trying to poison them. I was really getting upset. I called my vet. He said that after four days of not eating, I had to feed them something they'd eat or they'd get  hepatic lipidosis and die. Well, at least teeter on the brink of death. Yikes!
 Nora and Bob check out the latest shipment of food. But will they eat it?Nora and Bob check out the latest shipment of food. But will they eat it?
So I tried again. I fed them. A few nibbled at it. The rest would walk, sometimes even run away from their food. On day four, they reluctantly ate more food, but it wasn't consistent. There was no "Holy Grail" food they'd eat unless it was just tuna-based, and I was worried about giving them too much fish.
I got very irritated, as is my nature, but I kept at it. I figured out if I warmed up the food in the microwave, they might eat a bit more. I put their food out for only a short period of time, then took it away. I fed it at regular intervals and was consistent about it. I let them get hungry. I went back to feeding them a tiny amount of grain-free dry on top of the canned food as a garnish, just for the short term. Eventually, I stopped adding it.
I saw the condition of their coats improve. The litter pan wasn't packed with stool and urine clumps, but there were still health issues to contend with. Nicky, our huge cameo shorthair, kept blocking up. For some reason, he and his brothers who live with my sister-in-law a few miles from here, all got sediment build-up in their urine. After three blockages in a year, we opted to have the surgery done to remove Nicky's penis. That way he'd have a larger opening to urinate from and no more life-threatening blockages.
What I didn't put together until later was that the dry food was making Nicky block up in the first place. Grain or not, he couldn't handle it. Even after his surgery was long over, he would get a greasy, waxy build-up on his behind. In searching for an answer to help him, I decided to try feeding the cats raw. On paper, it seemed to provide all of what my cats needed. I just needed to get over my fears.
Phase Three: Back to the Drawing Board
Once again, I was faced with doing math. This one hurt. I thought the cost to feed a raw diet to so many cats was going to kill me. I'm not one to make my own food. It's not going to happen. But I had to try.
Bob and friends really took to a raw diet.Bob and friends really took to a raw diet.Now that I could provide good grain-free canned or dry food as a backup, I could start with raw. I planned to introduce it slowly and see how it went.
The cats really took to it quickly and enthusiastically, but I wasn't sure how I was going to be able to afford to keep doing it. Then, Bob got sick. Really sick. Over four long weeks, I feared he would die. After $6000 in tests and hospitalization, the best they could tell me was he may have had pancreatitis brought on by feeding raw. I didn't know if that was true or not. I felt as though it was easy to blame the raw since it wasn't manufactured by a corporation. My track record with vets knowing about nutrition wasn't so hot, but I couldn't take the chance that they were right.
So, I stopped feeding raw.
I went back to feeding the cats grain-free food. Nicky's greasy butt returned. Nora struggled with weight issues. I waited another year and decided since Bob had been stable to give it another try. I had seen such a big, positive change after feeding raw and now with a much larger variety of raw feeding options, I was sure I could manage it.
Phase Four: Looking Forward
I cut out dry kibble. Finally. I did it only five months ago. I started to re-introduce raw food, but still fed grain-free canned, too. I warmed it up slightly and the cats loved it. I found a secret combination of two brands of canned food they would all eat.
Spencer shed 3 pounds after kicking the kibble.Spencer shed 3 pounds after kicking the kibble.Now, Nicky's rear end looks like a new penny, without Lincoln's face on it — nice and shiny! Most of the cats are losing weight. Two of them had complete blood panels done and my vet said it was like the blood work of a 2 year old cat, instead of cats that are pushing 10.
I even started to feed frankenprey just a few weeks ago. The cats were their usual picky selves, but of all of them, Bob went nuts over it! Considering that Bob is a senior cat, FIV positive and with just a few teeth, he's doing great. This difficult journey saved Bob's life, and I know added quality years to it. Instead of a creaky old man, he's sprightly, playful and a joy to be around.
It was all worth it. All of the time and effort and math. And I'm still not done. My last hurdle is to be feeding a completely raw diet that I put together myself, that I can afford and that will cut the cord to being dependent on any kind of processed cat food.
I know if my mother were alive today, she'd think I was being foolish to make such an effort for my cats. But I'm done with watching my pets slowly get fatter and fatter and sicker and sicker, followed by dying too young and from terrible ailments. I want my cats to live good, long lives so they have plenty of time to annoy me.
Robin A.F. Olson is the author of the cat-centric blog, Covered in Cat Hair: Mostly True Stories of a Life Spent with Cats. Robin is also the founder of Kitten Associates, listed in the Raw Savvy Rescue section of the Feline Nutrition Resource Center. She admits to having too many cats and rescued fosters to be able to provide an accurate head count, but suggests you visit her website if you'd like to see photos of them or read stories about the little twerps…um, darlings.
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