Good Brands/Bad Brands Page Removed

Y’all, it was past time: I finally deleted the good brands/bad brands page. There are numerous reasons for this, but it all boils down to: it was just too much to keep up with. New brands coming out all the time, brands becoming embroiled in controversies and recalls, and, god, the amount of time and brainspace it takes to sift through the information and misinformation. Now, with the information about DCM coming out, I realized I couldn’t in good conscience maintain it any more.

I think the cornerstones of feeding your cats a good diet are thinking critically, educating yourself about feline dietary needs, taking dietary claims made by pet food manufacturers with a big ole grain of salt, and hunting down primary sources whenever possible. And for real: you can feed your cats a super wide range of diets and have them be happy and healthy. The worst diet, by far, is a bad home-made diet. My recommendation remains, inasmuch as my opinion counts for anything (spoiler alert: it really shouldn’t count for much, believe your vet before you believe me): feed ’em as much wet food as possible, feed as wide a variety as possible, pay attention to your cats, and take them  in for regular checkups.

Goodbye, Good Brands/Bad Brands page. I won’t miss you at all.

A note about Dilated Cardiomyopathy and Grain-Free Diets

There’s been building panic about grain-free diets causing dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in cats, resulting in vets pressuring clients to switch cats back to diets that contain grain, and it is absolutely driving me up the wall because my own vet is starting to do it to me. It’s especially aggravating because it a) misrepresents the science and b) flattens the topic into insensibility.

Spoiler alert: grains in their diets are not magically protecting kitties from dilated cardiomyopathy. That makes absolutely zero sense because cats have eaten negligible amounts of grain throughout their evolutionary history. There are other factors at play, and the two big ones are probably: 1) the cats are being fed unbalanced diets, or 2) because they’re being given diets high in legumes—technically pulses, which are the edible seeds of legumes. Think beans, peas, and lentils.

The Deal with Dilated Cardiomyopathy and Diet: What Cat Studies Show

So first of all: dilated cardiomyopathy. It’s a heart disease that causes the walls of the heart chambers to stretch, making them thin and fragile. In cats, it’s frequently caused by insufficient quantities of dietary taurine. Cat food manufacturers have known this for a very long time now and have supplemented accordingly.

However, the grain-free dog food crisis has—very understandably!—made people twitchy, and researchers have begun to look into how grain-free diets might affect cats. I’ve been able to find one cat-specific study in PubMed: “Dilated cardiomyopathy in cats: survey of veterinary cardiologists and retrospective evaluation of a possible association with diet.” ONE study. One. It’s a survey of feline cardiologists, and here’s a quick summary of what they found:

  • The sample size is very small: 52 cardiologists were surveyed, covering 37 total cats with dilated cardiomyopathy
  • 20 of 37 cats ate a low pea/lentil diet, 14 ate a high pea/lentil diet, 3 had incomplete diet information
  • After adjusting for other variables, the cats eating high pea/lentil diets but who subsequently switched to low pea/lentil diets lived significantly longer

I don’t have access to the full study, so it’s unclear whether the survey asked whether the diets were home-made vs. commercial, which brands they were, whether they were wet or dry formulations, and whether the cats surveyed suffered from other risk factors, but one of the takeaways certainly seems to strongly imply that diets high in pulses are implicated in higher risk in dilated cardiomyopathy, and switching to diets low in pulses improved mortality rates.

This isn’t new. We’ve known since 1995 that soybean protein results in lower taurine levels in plasma for cats. In fact, when I first started hearing rumblings of this in 2018, my immediate thought was “man I bet it’s the legume content fucking with taurine absorption.” I’ve had that link in my Long Guide for as long as I’ve had this website, so since 2009. To this day, I don’t feed significant portions of food to my cats if legumes appear high on the list, or if more than one species is listed. If the canned food lists “pea protein,” I straight-up don’t bother to buy it—it’s the main reason why I don’t feed Merrick.

But it’s also super important to recognize the limitations of this study! Among many other things:

  • The sample size is tiny.
  • We don’t know what the confounding factors are.
  • Studies in dogs indicate that taurine deficiency/malabsorption may not be the main culprit, and that some of these diets may contain unnamed cardiotoxic compounds that may also cause DCM.
  • It may also be the case that pet food manufacturers suck and either didn’t formulate the food properly, or did formulate the food properly but aren’t manufacturing them to standard.

But whatever the reason, it’s becoming quite clear that at least with dog food, and somewhat likely with cat food, that foods high in pulses are a bad idea.

Bean (and Pea, and Lentil) Counting: Dry Food

Here’s the thing about grain-free dry food: you need a binder of some kind in order to make kibble work. Not only is it essential for physical integrity, it’s needed in order to facilitate the correct sort of crunch. As a bonus, the cat food manufacturer gets to bump up their protein content; it’s not that different from adding corn gluten meal to a formulation. Additionally, and big caveat here that this is pure speculation and should absolutely be taken with a grain of salt, but fresh meat ingredients (i.e. without the word “meal” appended to them) are weighed on a wet weight basis, whereas beans and lentils come in dried form. What might end up happening is that once everything is cooked down, the pulses probably make up a much more significant portion of the protein than their positions in the ingredient listing suggest, potentially outweighing the fresh meat ingredients when all is said and done.

If you look at many of the top grain-free dry food brands, you’ll see tons of leguminous ingredients. Some examples:

Orijen has at least six different ingredients that are either whole pulses or derived from pulses. The culprits are listed right after the meat proteins—that’s pretty high on the list! These are the pulses they use in their formulations, appearing in different places and in different combinations depending on the flavor: Whole Red Lentils, Whole Pinto Beans, Whole Peas, Whole Green Lentils, Whole Chickpeas, Whole Navy Beans, Lentil Fiber, Pea Starch, Whole Yellow Peas.

Wellness CORE uses peas and pea protein, generally listed somewhere between third and fifth position in the ingredient list depending on formulation, which, man that is extremely high on the ingredient list.

Petcurean GO! uses an assortment pulses starting anywhere from 3rd to 11th position, depending on formulation: Peas, Lentils, Pea Flour, Chickpeas, Pea Fiber.

Purina Beyond uses Pea Starch, Pea Protein, and Pea Fiber, starting as early as second position in some of the formulations. Ugh.

Purina ONE uses Pea Starch, Pea Protein, and our old friends, Soybean Meal and Soy Protein Concentrate, starting as early as third position.

American Journey, the house brand for Chewy, uses Pea Protein, Peas, and Pea Fiber.

Blue Buffalo Wilderness uses Pea Protein, which is listed as high as third position, as well as Peas and Pea Fiber.

Crave uses Pea Protein and Split Peas, again listed as high as third position.

Taste of the Wild uses Peas (second in the ingredient list for at least one formulation) and Pea Protein.

Dr. Elsey’s CleanProtein, which I feed Beckett as very small part of a diet that’s mostly wet food, uses dried chickpeas in either seventh or eighth position, with the exception of the chicken flavor, which has no pulses at all, or honestly any discernible source of starch, which is a bit weird and makes me wonder if it’s a label fuck-up. They claim that 90% of the protein comes from animal sources, but a) there’s no practical way of verifying that, and b) that says absolutely nothing about their starches. Going forward, I’m gonna feed Beckett only the chicken flavor if I can possibly help it. To be clear: I’m only comfortable feeding this to Beckett because, again, the vast majority of his food comes from wet food that’s largely free of pulses.

Look, I could go on, but it’s really clear at this point that pet food manufacturers swapped out one source of starch for another to make their kibble, potentially with disastrous results. In my last blog post I was like, oh man, I think I was wrong about dry food sucking for cats. You know what? I retract that. Dry food still sucks for cats, and grain-free dry food is potentially dangerous because so much of it depends on pulses to make the kibble, well, kibble-y.

Wet Food Still Sucks Less, More News at 11

Now, what about wet food? No surprise here: it’s much, MUCH easier to find formulations that are free of pulses, because structural integrity isn’t a concern. My quick and extremely unscientific survey shows me that pate-style foods are somewhat less likely to contain pulses than the minced/bits styles—I discovered that the Wellness Minced and Gravies formulations, which I feed to my cats on a rotating basis (about 20% of their diet), contain dried ground peas. Ugh. Once I finish up what I have, I’m gonna either ratchet it down to 10% or drop it entirely.

Beware the Potato?

Foods high in potato have been implicated in the DCM cases for dogs, but it’s unclear what effect, if any, they have on cats. I’m curious to see whether there’s some kind of connection. Nothing I’m feeding contains any significant quantity of potato, so the question is moot for me, but it is an important component for several grain-free dry food formulations.

Keep Calm and Feed Your Cats Sensibly

Why are vets banging on about switching cats to diets containing grain instead of focusing on a different and, in my opinion, better guideline, which is “avoid feeding cats pulses”? Because it’s a way easier message to sell, even if it’s incomplete at best and incorrect at worst.

Look, I get why they’re doing it; many people don’t know what pulses are, and saying “feed grain-based food” is way easier than giving cat caretakers a list that says “no soy, peas, lentils, beans, or chickpeas.” And for real: good luck finding grain-free dry that doesn’t contain any of those things. I have found exactly one, and it’s expensive.

It’s also difficult to talk to people, especially people without science literacy, about things like confounding factors, and uncertainty, and the limits of extrapolating research largely conducted on dogs to cats—but it’s also on vets to engage at a more detailed level with customers who are more interested in digging deeper into the science.

So what are some sensible approaches to feeding your cats, given this information?

  • If you’re only feeding grain-free dry, seriously think about switching to something else, unless your grain-free dry contains no pulses.
  • If you’re feeding a mix of dry and wet grain-free foods, check your ingredient lists for pulses and weed out as much as you can.
  • If you’re feeding a home-made diet, whether cooked or raw, please, for the love of God, make sure that you’re following a reputable recipe, or, if you’re going off-road, please crunch the numbers on what you’re making. The USDA National Nutrient Database exists and is your friend, though you’ll have to find bone-in data separately if you’re feeding that. Supplement with taurine pills if you need to.
  • As always: feed as wide a variety a diet as you can at all stand, with as much wet food as possible. I’m on the very far edge of feeding a wide variety of food; about 40% of my cats’ diet is home-made raw, and the remaining 60% is rotated between four different brands, with three to four different flavors within those brands. It’s a bit nuts! But look, pet food manufacturers fuck up and cut corners all the time; I’m counting on the fact that they won’t all fuck up at the same time, on all of their flavors.

Most of all, don’t freak out if you find that you’ve been feeding your cats food containing pulses. There are so many different factors here, from your cat’s biology to how the ingredients were processed to how big a portion the pulses are as an overall portion of the diet. This is not an acute emergency; assuming your cat doesn’t congenitally have DCM, this is, by and large, a problem caused by chronic malnutrition and which is honestly extremely addressable with diet and supplementation, assuming no health crisis is nigh. I, for one, am not especially worried about my cats. Once my old food runs out, I’m going to make a few small tweaks. Don’t make any rash decisions!

And as always: when in doubt, listen to your vet, not some stranger on the Internet, no matter how strong their opinions may be. I’m frustrated with mine right now, but hopefully yours is willing to talk to you reasonably and in detail about what’s going on.

New Year, New Kitten—and Some Thoughts on Dry Food

So the boyfriend and I did a thing whereby we paid a ridiculous sum of money for a purebred baby cat who wouldn’t make me sneeze (vs. Callisto, who is one of those magical one-in-a-hundred cats who are naturally low in Fel-D1 oh my god I got so lucky with her), and we couldn’t be more in love with this ridiculous floof. Dear terribly neglected cat blog, please meet Beckett, the nonsense floof who stole our hearts and a not-insignificant number of crinkly foil balls.

And with the nonsense floof came dry food, because that’s what the breeder raised him on. High-quality, grain-free dry, but, y’know, dry.

I’m not a cat food purist by any means. No food is infinitely worse than low-quality food, and I have kick-started the appetites of sick and dying cats with Fancy Feast  many a time and have not regretted a moment of it.  But I have balked at feeding any dry food ever since my initial terrible experiences in the early 2000s. Yet here I was with a kitten who got occasional bits of wet food as treats but who was used to largely eating kibble, and who was reluctant to move straightaway to a high-moisture diet.

So I did what I usually do, which was research the hell out of the high-quality, high-protein dry foods on the market, and I finally settled on a few criteria:

  • No less than 66% fat and protein content on a dry matter basis, based on the Guaranteed Analysis numbers. For the average dry food with less than 10% moisture, that means at least 60% combined fat and protein. Anything below that is a non-starter for me and what I’m willing to feed my cats.
  • Grain-free, which honestly is a necessity given my first criteria, because of how starch-dense grains are.
  • The first five ingredients should be meat or animal fats—exceptions made for brands that list only one or two animal ingredients and one source of starch, and that still meet the Guaranteed Analysis numbers.
  • A reasonably good reputation—no recall scandals in the past five years, and generally well-regarded and well-reviewed.

I finally settled on these dry foods to feed Beckett as I transitioned him to a high-moisture only diet, all of them contingent on me being able to get samples (or cheap 12-ounce packets) from my local pet stores:


OK reputation, good ingredient list, and the guaranteed analysis numbers meet my requirements (40% protein, 20% fat, 10% moisture), plus they have super-convenient 12-oz. packages for $5 each.

Conclusion: I tried both the Six Fish and Cat & Kitten formulas, and Beckett cheerfully ate them most of the time, though he occasionally turned his nose up at the Six Fish for no reason I could discern. Fuckin’ kittens. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Petcurean Go! Fit + Free chicken, Turkey and Duck

OK reputation, ingredients looked great, and the guaranteed analysis numbers exceeded my requirements (46% protein, 18% fat, 10% moisture). Teeny kibbles, the likes of which I haven’t seen since Science Diet, and which the kitten pretty much swallows whole, with barely a perfunctory crunch

Conclusion: Beckett looooves this one. Loves. Part of the reason why he doesn’t chew this is because he’s too busy enthusiastically scarfing it down.

Wellness Core Original

Look, I know, Wellness isn’t the best these days, and they had not one, but two recalls in 2017, but their Core formulations seduced me with their numbers (45% protein, 18% fat, 10% moisture), and I’ve been feeding their canned food for as long as I’ve had cats, and their free samples are everywhere.  I know. I KNOW. Damn you, capitalism and your fiendish ability to cultivate consumer loyalty!

Conclusion: Hilariously, this is the food that Beckett is least excited about. He’ll maybe take a nibble, but I need to mix it in with other stuff to really get him to eat any significant amount.

Their wickedly expensive line of Signature Selects cans, on the other hand—he’ll inhale a couple of those flavors, especially the Skipjack Tuna and Salmon dinner.

Fuckin’. Kittens.

First Mate Pacific Ocean Fish Meal with Blueberries

It still irritates me that pet food companies advertise things like blueberries on their packaging, as if blueberries were a sensible or desirable thing to feed your cat. F’real, y’all, I’d be much more excited to see something like “Pacific Ocean Fish Meal with Egg Yolk”, but I’m probably not the average consumer.

That said, my local pet store loves, and I mean L O V E S First Mate, and push samples at me constantly, so I figured, what the hell, let’s give this a shot! The numbers meet my requirements (42% protein, 18% fat, 10% moisture), and their reputation seems fine.

Conclusion: Beckett likes this OK! This is the most OK food!

There were a couple more brands I didn’t try that met my requirements. I was especially intrigued by Evo, for example, which has the highest protein I’ve seen in a kibble (50% protein, 22% fat, 10% moisture), but I couldn’t find a reasonably small bag for me to try on Beckett. And I’m hoping to taper him off all dry food in the next month or so—he’s down to 1/8 cup per day now, and he’s growing fast and eating more and more wet food (home-made raw and canned) all the time.

But here’s the thing that pleasantly surprised me: dry food has come a long way. Hell, even Purina has a grain-free line out, and even though the ingredients and numbers don’t look especially great, it blows the numbers for the other grocery store brands out of the water.  Beckett doesn’t even have the signature dry food poops I remember from days of yore from my own cats and from volunteering at the Humane Society—the ones you can smell from a whole floor away.

The low moisture content of dry food will prevent me from ever feeding it as the sole ration for any cat I’m the caretaker for, plus too much dry food gives Callisto the runs (which I confirmed this time around when I was a leetle bit too generous with the treats, driven by her I’m-devastated-because-I’m-not-getting-the-tasty-kitten-kibble expression). However, they suck a whole lot less than they used to, and I’ll probably continue to dole out kibble as occasional snacks even after Beckett is completely switched over to wet.

Aw hell, why even pretend I’m here to talk about cat food any more? Here, have some photos of my adorable hypoallergenic fuzzbutt, with bonus adorable boyfriend.

Farewell, Old Friend

Death is inevitable, of course, and in the case of my beloved old lady, it didn’t come as a surprise, not really. She’d gotten creakier, and skinnier, and greasier, and tireder, little by little, year by year, even though her bloodwork tested normal during her regular checkups. When the vet handed us the dual diagnosis of hyperthyroidism and chronic renal failure in August, it confirmed my worst fears.

The downhill slide accelerated rapidly after that. She lasted longer than Eric did, partly because she actually allowed us to administer subcutaneous fluids, and partly because she had significantly more kidney function left, even at the end. I’m still amazed when I think of the Great Orange Bastard and how muscular and hale he was to his last breath; that kid sure loved his food, which helped mask the fact that his kidneys were more hole than kidney for the last couple of years of his short life. The old lady, on the other hand, was never a glutton; by the time she passed, I could feel every rib and vertebra under her loosened coat.

I did learn some lessons from Eric, chief among them the virtue of letting go before every scrap of hope is lost. The knowledge that I’d left Eric in the hospital, where he died terrified and alone, surrounded by strangers, abandoned by the person he loved most, has haunted me all these years. On October 1, I made sure the old lady was cocooned in blankets and love and whispers of what a good cat she was, had always been, and she purred herself to sleep like she had thousands of times before.

That awkward moment when you realize that feeding a raw diet makes you happy about some strange things.

And the FedEx man knocked, and lo, verily, were there not only 36 pounds of still-frozen ground raw rabbit in the styrofoam-lined box, there were also two gallon-sized freezer bags filled with tiny dead newborn rabbits. And there was much rejoicing in the land. Apartment. Apartment-land.

No, seriously, I’m so happy to get my hands on those popsicles. And my cats will be, too, in a couple days. Those suckers are hard to get ahold of!

In conclusion: Wholefoods4pets is seriously the best, and I weep for you if you haven’t been able to get on their customer list.

Love and Accommodation

It occurred to me today that accommodation is a two-way street with cats, probably more often than we credit them for. I was home sick today, and re-reading Naomi Novik’s In His Majesty’s Service at the dining room table, when Callisto jumped up to say hi and get some pets. I scritched her into a happy cat puddle in no time, and spent several blissful minutes reading and giving her forehead and cheek pets. After a while, though, she became restless, got up, and walked to the edge of the table, looking ready to jump off. I, however, wasn’t quite ready to give up my fluffy buddy petting time yet. (Fluffy buddy petting time is almost certainly the title of a porn video somewhere. Bet you a dollar.)

Anyway, I made a plaintive complainy noise that sounded kind of like “Marr!”

She immediately turned around and looked at me.

“Marr!” I said again, and petted the spot on the table where she’d been lying just a few moments before.

And she came back, laid back down, and submitted to a couple more minutes of scritches, though she got more and more and more restless, evidenced by her tail (whip-whip-whip-whip-whip) and her increasingly aggressive nibbles on my fingers as I petted her. And then she plain couldn’t take it any more: she jumped up, made a grumbly noise at me, and leapt off the table. But it struck me then that Callisto, for many moments, put up with an activity that wasn’t particularly rewarding for her in response to nothing more than me making nonsense sounds and gesticulating at her.

I’m not saying that my cats don’t ignore me when it suits them. (Most creatures do—humans are most certainly not exempt.) I’m amazed at how two very different species can find ways to express affection that are intelligible to each other, and I think people who talk about how cats do things solely when it suits them either:

  • Don’t know cats very well;
  • Have dicks for their cat companions;
  • Haven’t been paying very close attention to how their cats accommodate them in their own feline way; or
  • Are falling prey to confirmation bias.

Or some delicious combination.

Cats: more caring than they get credit for! (Admittedly a low bar to clear, at least as far as pop culture is concerned.)

One last swift kick to this dead horse…

…and then hopefully we’ll move on?

The one article that has gotten the most attention on this website is my critique of Renafood and why it’s (if you’ll pardon mon français) utter horseshit. Renafood supporters will periodically poke in and sing its praises, claiming their cats are doing fantastically after starting Renafood.

I want to make something really clear here: to all those people, I’m really, really happy to hear that your cats are doing well. I’m shaking my pom poms and cheering their fuzzy butts on. May they live long and prosper, and snuzzle you when you need it most, and knock your keys under the couch, and drool on your boobs because they’re so happy, and bring you their little felt octopus for you to throw so they can run after it and then promptly bat it under the oven, and freak out for no discernible reason in the middle of the damn night so you scream a little and then feel embarrassed because dude, it was just your cat being a spaz per usual. Kick that CRF in the ass.

All those heart-warming stories of how Renafood has worked wonders, however, are inevitably accompanied by the story of how the caretakers have improved the diet in some way. Switching from dry to wet is an immense improvement. Switching from those terrible low-protein, completely unpalatable kidney formulas to something the cat will actually enjoy eating is an even bigger improvement. Prolonged fasting will screw a cat with CRF up but good, because it sets up a horrible feedback loop: the cat feels nauseated and ill from CRF, then is given unpalatable low-protein dry food, so he’ll avoid eating it, and then his body starts breaking down his muscle mass to feed the unrelenting protein engine that keeps feline bodies running, and he’ll feel even more ill and eat even less because it’s a really stressful process that releases some truly nasty by-products into the bloodstream that his wrecked kidneys are incapable of dealing with. So on. So forth. Phosphorus restriction and a high-quality wet diet—or more importantly, a high-quality diet that your CRF cat is willing to eat on a consistent basis, period—will manage his condition better than just about anything; if you’re giving him subcutaneous fluids, even better. But first and foremost is to keep the cat eating. A cat who ain’t eating is a dead cat.

What I’m trying to say here is: a massive diet improvement is what’s making your cats’ lives better. And good on you for making that switch. The fact that you’re making the switch concurrent with or in addition to using Renafood speaks volumes. The bloodwork numbers don’t lie, but I think the credit for the improvements lie with a source other than a pill that (and let me be explicit here) can’t actually work the way the manufacturer claims it works because it makes no scientific sense whatsoever.

If somebody has a cat with kidney disease and uses Renafood to treat it but hasn’t made any other modifications to the diet prior to starting Renafood wants to speak up about how using Renafood miraculously improved kitteh’s bloodwork numbers, I’d love to hear it. Until then: I love hearing how your cats are doing well. I’m completely unconvinced that Renafood is doing anything. Instead, I’m applauding your diet management skills and the obvious love you’re showering on your companions.

Does the Internet need another rant on declawing?


So my very good friend J has a declawed cat, whom he’d adopted AFTER the procedure had been done. Sebastian is gorrrrrrrgeous—he’s 16 pounds of pure leonine muscle,  and he’s kind of a slut. (I like my women the way I like my cats? So many directions you can take with this opening. Like I did with your mom. OH HO HO HO.) Seriously, now. Sebastian is one of my favorite cats. He’ll come pin you down with his beautiful furry bod (and Sebastian has a LOT of fur and a LOT of bod) and roll over for tummy rubs, then let loose the tiniest, squeakiest of purrs. You can pet Sebastian everywhere and mess with him six ways to Sunday—you can fondle his armpits, spank his butt, yank a bit on his tail, grab his hind paws, pick him up and snorgle his ruff and his forehead, and he takes it all and loves it, just like a good little subby boy should. But he does not like having his front paws touched. He doesn’t bite or strike out or anything. He flinches, looks kind of hurt, and then huffs off.

He’s not a young cat—he’s about five or six years old—and the procedure was done as a kitten. It says a lot that the declawing still discomforts him after all these years.

J and I have talked about the declawing a bit, and J’s opinion is that declawing is generally wrong and not something you should do lightly, but Sebastian is such a big cat that declawing may have been justified because if he hit, say, a frail, older person or a little kid with a paw with claws out, that person would be in for a world of hurt. Some cats, according to J, don’t know their own strength, so for the safety of the family, declawing some cats for that reason is OK.

Now, I want y’all to keep in mind that J is a great cat owner, and that if it had been up to him, Sebastian almost definitely would never have been declawed. He loves Sebastian more than just about anything, and Sebastian is one of the most important priorities in his life. They’re best buddies. That still doesn’t change the fact that I think J’s justification for declawing is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, and is in fact one of the greatest fallacies people have used to make declawing OK.

Declawing done for non-medical reasons, with a few exceptions, is almost always done because:

1) The owner can’t be arsed to train the cat properly on appropriate claw usage, claw clipping and other non-surgical answers to living and playing with a miniature predator with many sharp bits; furthermore, they oftentimes don’t know how to JUST LET THE DAMN CAT BE WHEN IT DOESN’T WANT TO BE MESSED WITH, and they don’t know how to train their kids to do the same;

2) The owner has misconceptions about the trainability of cats and really doesn’t believe that a cat can be trained in appropriate claw usage (plus all those bits about not knowing how to read cat body language and when to leave a cat be); and/or

3) The owner has no idea what a traumatic surgery declawing is—the vet didn’t educate her on what the procedure entails, or she didn’t bother to research it, or she figured, because of the term, that it’s really just removing claws as opposed to multiple amputations. Most people still don’t know, for example, that declawing affects the way a cat moves: cats put their weight on the tips of their paws. The analogy anti-declawers love to use is to compare declawing with amputating our fingers off at the tips, but it’s more severe than that, because we don’t use our fingers as weight-bearers, while cats do. A better comparison would be severing the heels from our feet and having to adjust to walking with crippled Achilles tendons and a lifetime of tiptoeing. We also don’t use the tips of our fingers as an essential way to build our back muscles—cats claw not only to mark territory and not only because it feels good, but because it gives them a really good stretch and full-body work-out. These two reasons are why most declawed cats walk with that weird, characteristic hunch as they get older: not only do their muscles have to compensate in weird ways for their new, completely unnatural gait, they experience some muscle atrophy from being unable to adequately exercise certain parts of their back.

But my stance on declawing is ultimately one based on a moral foundation (and that’s leaving aside all of the well-documented evidence that declawing often causes more problems than it solves for both family and cat): if you want to take a meat-eating animal with a high prey drive and a multitude of pointy bits into your home, then your responsibility is to provide that living thing with the best care you can, to the best ability you can. That means putting up with inconveniences and making a commitment to training the cat properly, as well as accepting the fact that if you can’t or won’t train the cat properly, then you need to live with the consequences and SUCK IT UP. For example: I’ve been half-assed in training Callisto about clawing the couch, and completely non-assed in teaching any of my cats about jumping on counters or tables because I’m just not bothered enough about the issue. This means I’ll have a less-than-perfect couch (easily solved by buying a sturdy couch cover, which, besides protecting the couch from claws, also helps protect it from cat hair oh god the cat hair), and I’ll occasionally have to chase down a piece of chocolate, keys, a D20 or other small, smackable thing I’ve left on the table that the cats decided were a perfect toy. (If I’d wanted perfect furniture, pristine counter surfaces and a life free of having to crawl around looking for yet another thing knocked under the couch or the butcher block, I would’ve bought an aquarium and a bunch of cichlids, instead of sharing my life with a bunch of meowing, pooping, clawing, biting predators who take very opportunity to cover me with love, drool and cat hair in equal measure.) I’m still in the process of teaching Callisto not to freak out and claw and bite when I accidentally touch her in a place she doesn’t like, which is a longer process that I’m really invested in seeing through because she’s a bit rough with her warning bites and because she’s a friggin’ diva with a quick temper and a flair for melodrama.

Ultimately, these cat problems are all communication issues. The solutions all have to do with learning how to communicate with the cat. It’s a bit tricky, because I don’t speak Cat particularly well, and all I have are a series of cryptic commands and reinforcements to the cat for good behavior and occasional punishments for bad, but it can be done. And during the training period, to help deal with the occasional fits of asshole behavior from Callisto, I clip her claws. (If you want to get all fancy, you can even use the vinyl nail caps.) The solution is almost never going to be “take away an essential part of a cat that is in fact one of the essences of cat-ness just so I can avoid X or the eventuality of X.” And that’s why I disagree so strongly with J. Yes, a kid can get smacked by a cat giving a warning swipe with its claws, and by God it’ll hurt if the cat is strong and has aimed well. It’s not the end of the world. Teach the cat not to use her claws, and even more importantly, teach the kid how to read the cat and treat her with respect. Some people act as if declawing is the only solution to protect their furniture and their kids, but hey, guess what: if you have a quick-tempered cat who’s fast with the claws, if you remove the claws, you’re going to end up with a quick-tempered cat with chronic pain who’s going to be fast with the teeth.  How’s that for an awesome trade-off?

Think about it this way: let’s say I have a kid. This hypothetical kid has inherited his mother’s terrible depth perception and non-existent hand-eye coordination, AND he’s huge, with a penchant for temper tantrums. He’s a friggin’ bull in a friggin’ china shop; all my glassware and tchotchkes are laid to waste at the terrifying scourge of his knees and elbows. Which solution should I choose?

1) Patiently teach him how to move more slowly and carefully over time—to be aware of his size and strength, and that he should be more mindful about where and how he moves his body—and that temper tantrums aren’t a productive way to deal with issues.

2) Cut some tendons on his arms so he has limited arm mobility, while leaving him with enough function to perform most everyday things.

Option 2 is a non-option for me, just as declawing is a non-option. Don’t solve communication issues with surgery. It’s just plain nonsensical.

Renafood Redux, or: The Reply Comment that Ate the Blog

Given the relative obscurity of this cat blog and the fact that I update it once every never, I was really surprised to see a notification pop in my e-mail that somebody had left a comment on my Renafood post. A very long comment. From a vet working for Standard Process, the manufacturer of Renafood. I started replying to the comment, and suddenly realized that I’d written more than 1,300 words of reply. So: time for a new blog post! One about substantive issues, even, instead of pictures of fluffy kittens. I’m going to quote him verbatim in this post, so don’t feel like you need to run over to my Renafood post to read everything he wrote.

Dr. Cameron wrote:

I have been a practicing veterinarian since 1982, and I have used Standard Process supplements in animals (and my own family) for the past 20 years. I am now employed by Standard Process as a technical support veterinarian. I help veterinarians integrate nutrition into their clinical practices. I would like to respond to this post.

The author of the above post expresses skepticism on the value of using herbs, botanicals (plants) and glandular materials to support compromised organs (in this case, his/her cat’s kidneys). He/she lists multiple points of concern.

1. The author does questions the quality control of the ingredients in Renafood (or supplements in general). I would invite him to view a video of how supplements are made at Standard Process on our website ( Standard Process Inc. produces all supplements under the same stringent regulations used in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals. We are inspected by the FDA, USDA and other regulatory organizations multiple times per year. Each supplement we produce is tested by our in-house laboratory up to six times before it is released to the public. Quality control is taken very seriously at Standard Process Inc.

My response:
Thank you for taking the time to respond to my post. Regarding the quality of your supplements: since I’m unable to inspect your factory, and given that you’re an interested party, I’ll take your word that your products do, in fact, contain what they do, unlike the majority of companies (who also make substantially similar claims regarding quality control).

Dr. Cameron wrote:

2. You don’t believe that herbal detoxification is possible. I would be happy to provide you with references of how herbs and foods can affect detoxification mechanisms in the body. After 28 years of practice and years of clinical experience with these products, I can attest to their value. The FDA does not allow supplement companies to make any claims on their products in relation to specific diseases, so will not be doing so. The fact is that most chronic disease have been linked to nutritional deficiencies, so providing quality nutrition to compromised cells can improve their ability to function.

My response:
If you are willing to point me to some peer-reviewed literature regarding a) the biochemistry behind herbal detoxification and b) the actual efficacy of herbal detoxification, I’d love to read it. I’ve tried for years, and the lack of good evidence eventually led me to my skeptical stance today. I would also like to point out that this statement:

The fact is that most chronic disease have been linked to nutritional deficiencies, so providing quality nutrition to compromised cells can improve their ability to function.

Has nothing to do with detoxification; malnutrition is separate and different from detox. Somebody suffering from scurvy needs vitamin C, not an herbal cleanse devoid of vitamin C. Furthermore, while accepting the relatively uncontroversial assertion that some chronic diseases are linked to nutritional deficiencies or other bad dietary practices, it doesn’t necessarily follow that taking commercial vitamin or glandular supplements will cure or correct the conditions. (Diabetes mellitus comes to mind; so do certain types of liver cirrhosis and gout.)

Dr. Cameron wrote:

3. Cell determinants. As I mentioned, we are severely restricted by the FDA as to what we can say about our ingredients, so the information is vague and difficult to get a clear picture.

My response:
I would first like to begin by disagreeing that the FDA restricts what you can say about how your ingredients work. The FDA regulates the health and structure/function claims a supplement company can make about its products, i.e., what the products’ health benefits are. As far as I know, there is no law or regulation that restricts the dissemination of truthful scientific information explaining the biological or chemical pathways in which particular compounds work. Most of the most stringent regulations directly relate to labels in particular; as far as I know, detailed information sheets aren’t “labels”. In fact, please refer to Section 403B of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act:

(a) IN GENERAL.—A publication, including an article, a chapter in a book, or an official abstract of a peer-reviewed scientific publication that appears in an article and was prepared by the author or the editors of the publication, which is reprinted in its entirety, shall not be defined as labeling when used in connection with the sale of a dietary supplement to consumers when it—
(1) is not false or misleading;
(2) does not promote a particular manufacturer or brand of a dietary supplement;
(3) is displayed or presented, or is displayed or presented with other such items on the same subject matter, so as to present a balanced view of the available scientific information on a dietary supplement;
(4) if displayed in an establishment, is physically separate from the dietary supplements; and
(5) does not have appended to it any information by sticker or any other method.

(b) APPLICATION.—Subsection (a) shall not apply to or restrict a retailer or wholesaler of dietary supplements in any way whatsoever in the sale of books or other publications as a part of the business of such retailer or wholesaler.

Dr. Cameron wrote:

For more information on how protomorphogens, cell determinants, or glandular tissues can be of therapeutic value, look at the more recent subject of Oral Tolerance Therapy. OTT is touted as a ‘new and promising’ therapy for a number of diseases, using cell extracts from various glands to treat specific glandular diseases. This can help explain how eating some kidney can help a compromised kidney. This is what the catalog is talking about when supplying cell determinants.

My response:
From a quick check, Oral Tolerance Therapy seems to be a therapy related to autoimmune diseases, especially T-cell mediated disorders. To grossly oversimplify: the idea is to feed somebody with an autoimmune disorder (say, irritable bowel disease or rheumatoid arthritis) extracts from the relevant tissues to help reduce the immune system’s hyperresponsiveness and therefore reduce the attendant inflammation. However, even if it were proven to work consistently (and I think the science is still kind of uncertain on that), and assuming for the moment that protomorphogens work in the same way OTT does, most incidences of chronic feline kidney disease, as far as I know, are not due to autoimmune disorders. For example: my cat Eric’s polycystic kidney disease in particular had nothing to do with his immune system and everything to do with the fact that he’d inherited an autosomal dominant gene from one of his parents for PKD. The majority of feline kidney disease is, as far as I know, idiopathic. Additionally, the mechanism by which Oral Tolerance Therapy works also seems completely different from what is suggested in the Standard Process literature about protomorphogens. OTT works by desensitizing the immune system so it doesn’t attack the body’s own tissues. I can’t speak on how protomorphogens work, since the information sheet was confusing and opaque, but the sheet seems to claim that protomorphogens affect cell division directly, and to target specific cells or tissues in specific organs. If I’m wrong about this, I’m certainly open to being shown where and how.

Dr. Cameron wrote:

Your not understanding what cell determinants are does not qualify you to say they do not exist or cannot be of clinical value. But I will agree that the writing could be more precise.

My response:
If I’m wrong about this, then I’d love to be educated on the fact—in fact, I would love to have a primer on just exactly what protomorphogens are and how they work. I’ve sent a copy of the Standard Process fact sheet to biochemist friends of mine, and they’ve come right out and said that the “mineral template” idea is nonsensical and not how cell determinants work; they also pointed out that substances that could have the sort of dramatic effect on cells claimed by Standard Process would be along the lines of hormones, mutagens and teratogens, and almost definitely not qualify as a mere supplement—it would be regulated as a drug by the FDA. It doesn’t help that “protomorphogen” seems to be a trademarked term of art, so searching science journal databases doesn’t turn up anything, and Googling merely turns up information sheets and promotional materials written by Standard Process or by sites selling Standard Process supplements.

Dr. Cameron wrote:

4. Dr. Royal Lee spent his life fighting the FDA, and yes, he was brought up before them several times. He was an outspoken critic of the adulteration of foods that came into common practice starting in the 1920’s (bleaching of flour, high-heat processing of foods, processing of foods to increase shelf life, the addition of sugar to so many foods, etc.) He constantly wrote letters to the FDA and other industry leaders pointing out the negative health effects these foods were having. As a dentist, he saw oral pathology due to nutritional deficiencies. This is how he came to start Standard Process Inc. – using quality food sources to replace the trace nutrients that were being lost in the food supply. The FDA and others took offense at his criticism and did go after him. Some of his claims (back in the 1930’s and 1940’s) were that these processed foods would lead to increased obesity, heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Are we seeing any of these conditions today? Are they increasing in frequency? Do we eat a lot of processed foods? Do our animals? As veterinarians, we are seeing the same increase in the same diseases in our pets as in humans. Be sure you check other sources besides QuackBusters.

My response:
I think it’s misleading to imply that Dr. Lee was prosecuted because he spoke out against processed foods and refined sugars. He made specific health and medical claims about his supplements and the FDA cracked down on him, and their statements about Dr. Lee being the “largest publisher of unreliable and false nutritional information in the world” concern the false medical claims on his products. Whether or not he’d drawn attention by speaking out against refined foods and existing food processing methods is beside the point; he was guilty of medical fraud because of the various claims he made regarding the efficacy of his supplements for treating various acute and chronic diseases and disorders. If you’re looking for a source beyond Quackwatch, perhaps this particular Notice of Judgment from the FDA regarding Dr. Lee’s products will be more satisfactory. (This is merely the first I found of many; if you go to the Notices of Judgment archive and search for “Royal Lee,” many more hits come up.) Here are the diseases that Dr. Lee claimed various supplements cured, which I’ve excerpted from the bottom of page 2 and on through page 3 of the Notice:

(1) pneumonia, tuberculosis, influenza, colds, whooping cough, measles, and mumps

(2) puerperal sepsis, infection of ear, infections of genito-urinary tract, infections of mucous tract, infections of gastro-intestinal tract, infection of respiratory tract, infections of sinuses, focal infections, and infectious diseases

(3) high blood pressure, low blood pressure, overweight, and underweight

(4) arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure, aortic aneurism, aortic insufficiency, valve leakage, coronary occlusion, coronary thrombosis, or dementia

(5) arthritis, hemorrhagic conditions of the urine, albuminuria, heart disorders, menstrual and ovarian disorders, Bright’s disease, leg ulcers, anemia, wasting of muscles, paralysis, muscular weakness, chronic diseases, amenorrhea, colitis, cystitis, children’s diseases, women’s diseases, liver disorders, dysmenorrhea, eczema, gall-bladder disease, gastritis, eye disorders, and cardiovascular disturbances

(6) acne, acute or chronic alcoholism, angina pectoris, Addison’s disease, adrenal hypertrophy, agranulocytosis, apoplectic sequellae, atrophy of glands or muscles, achlorhydric anemias, backward children, burns, cataracts, chlorosis, chorea, diabetes mellitus, epilepsy, toxic goiter, hyperthyroidism, hyperglycemia, hypertension, hypotension, asthma, hay fever, hyperemesis of pregnancy, sexual impotency, insanity due to endocrine failure, menopause disorders, migraine, menstrual dysfunction, paralysis agitans, phlebitis, poliomyelitis, paralytic sequellae, pancreatic dysfunction, pernicious anemia, nephritis, ideopathic [sic] ovarian disorders, prostate enlargement, peptic ulcers, sclerosis, rheumatic fever and varicose veins

(7) atrophy of organs and glands (testes, liver, spleen, thyroid, pituitary and salivary), infections and degenerations of eyes, physical weakness, nervousness, insomnia, gland swelling in general, renal calculi, bronchitis, endocrinopathies of childhood, nervous indigestion, neurasthenia, disorders of pregnancy, sterility, hypogalactia, retarded growth, loss of hair, fatty infiltration and degeneration of the liver, symptoms of nerve degeneration, Paget’s dermatosis, gastro-enteritis, infantile gastro-intestinal disorders, glycosuria, malnutrition, sprue, low resistance, kidney and bladder disorders, renal dysfunction, formation of stones (calculi), excessive growth of lymphoid tissue, lympathic gland enlargement, loss of weight and vigor, low vitality, stunted growth, emaciation, enlargement of liver, kidney and spleen, acidosis, and [prevention of] carcinoma

The substances to which these claims were attached? Various vitamin and mineral supplements (including A, C, B-complexes) that included various plant and animal extracts, and Catalyn (mostly milk sugar and various wheat extracts, with other plant materials and some “glandular extracts”). I think the list speaks for itself. If still not convinced, I’m certainly happy to dig through more old FDA paperwork and show what exactly the FDA’s beefs were with Dr. Lee’s products and the sorts of medical claims he made about his vitamin and food supplements.

Dr. Cameron wrote:

You make many judgements without much background information. This is the negative side of internet freedom, because people reading your biased opinion will take it as fact. This is unfortunate.

I would be happy to discuss this with you if you would like more information.

Tom Cameron, DVM 800-848-5061

My response:
I’m not a biologist nor a chemist, but I’m trained in the scientific method, and I’m a skeptic and a critical thinker. I’m open to being educated regarding protomorphogens; I’ll admit that the paucity of literature on this topic makes it somewhat suspect in my eyes, but again, my research was hampered by the fact that protomorphogen is not a scientific term but a trademarked term of art, and the Standard Process sheet was not at all clear. I am more than happy to receive information regarding protomorphogens and the way Renafood is supposed to work. I would prefer links to publicly-available documents so that any readers can read exactly what I’m reading as well and draw their own conclusions, but if that’s not feasible, then I would appreciate it if you would e-mail me more information at my address (my username is misshepeshu—I’m giving my e-mail address this way to confound spambots).

Addendum to the last post

So in my last post, I described Callisto’s periodic assplosions as “random.” This is a completely false characterization. They’re not random at all. They’re directly traceable to one cause: the fact that she exhibits Labrador retriever-like tendencies to eat anything and everything that comes across her way. This has included items like curry, pieces of tissue paper and (most alarmingly) kale braised in onion. The most recent escapade: half of a chicken breast fried with copious amounts of garlic powder. My boyfriend and I are much better about keeping food off the tables and counters now, but we screwed up last night.

The results have been predictable.

Kittens, man. I’ve forgotten how they inspire both love and a desire to throttle.