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The Magician

We have a feral male who we call “The Magician”. Every time we bring him a plate of food, when we next check back he has made it disappear. This is common for true feral cats – those with out any human care takers feeding them. When food is put down in front of them they eat it.

Insulated carrier to keep the Magician warm.

He is also the first cat we had who knows what to do with a chicken neck. These were recommended to us as a way to keep our resident cat’s teeth clean. They have whole bones and chewing up the bones helps clean the teeth. Our residents don’t know what to do with them but the magician does – he makes them disappear. Another sign that he has probably been catching his own food.

Cats who live outside develop a thicker coat for cold weather. They will loose the coat if they are inside for too long so I moved him out to the garage. Gave him a well insulated carrier to snuggle in and a shelf with a view out to our back yard. For the first several days I think he mainly stayed in the carrier but recently I’ve seen him on the shelf. Today he goes to a barn home.

Clean cage in the garage


Magician enjoying the view

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Cat Food

What to feed your cat is a confusing topic. A search on the web showed a wide range of opinions. Talk to one vet and you get one opinion. Talk to another and you get a different opinion, each with some sound reasons behind them. What is a cat owner to do? Here’s what we have learned navigating this question.

The experts we most trust say:

Cats are obligate carnivores (depend solely on the nutrients found in animal flesh) so should eat protein, mainly wet, preferably raw, from a variety of sources. Vegetables and grains are not part of cat diet.

Here is what we understand this to mean.


Grains have no food value for cats. Some, particularly corn, are often a source of food allergies. These are present because they are cheaper than meat products and their only function is to lower the cost of the product. Grain free food is preferred.

Vegetables are also added to cat food. I understand these are also fillers and provide little to no additional food value.

Lots of other things are added or used. All The Best Pet Care has a description of some of the least desirable.

Consumption of fish should be limited. Seafood does not have the right protein balance for cats so feeding mainly fish is a problem over the long term. Cats are more likely to be allergic to seafood.

Luna was over grooming, possibly due to food allergy. One common wisdom was to switch her away from the common proteins such as chicken and turkey to things like duck and venison. Our natural vet, however, thought protein would be the least likely cause of food allergy and that other things like grains and vegetables should be completely eliminated first.

Wet vs Dry

Wet food is better for cats. Period. If you can afford to feed your cat wet only, and are going to be home every ten hours to feed your cat, then there is no reason to include dry kibble into their diets at all. The ingredients are generally closer to a proper diet and it provides the moisture cat’s need. Cat’s don’t have a strong thirst drive and should derive much of their moisture from the food they eat. A cat’s body is designed to absorb moisture through food. Dry food does not provide this and they may not drink enough water to compensate, leading to dehydration.   The only advantage of dry food is to the owner in lower cost and convenience.

There is no health benefit to feeding your cat a dry kibble. The age-old claim that it ‘cleans’ or ‘brushes teeth’ is largely a myth, fabricated by kibble manufacturers.

Pet kibble is meat cereal. The bulk of the food is usually a protein meal and a plant starch (sugar) of some sort, accompanied by all kinds of buyer-friendly (but ultimately unnecessary) ingredients like fruits and vegetables. Common starches include Corn Gluten Meal, Wheat Gluten, Potato Starch and Tapioca. The starches (which are the binding agents) are sugars (Polysaccharides). Because the food is largely composed of these sugars, dry food leads to tooth decay, diabetes and a multitude of long-term health problems.

Free Feeding vs Fixed Feeding Times

We feed two meals a day at fixed times. I believe most of our cats were previously used to free feeding or more frequent meals and this showed in an unwillingness to finish the whole meal at once and begging between meals. After several months they have all adjusted to the regular feeding times. With fixed feeding times it is easier to serve the correct quantity.

Cooked vs Raw

We have started feeding our cats raw food. This is slightly less convenient than cooked canned food and slightly more expensive than the high quality canned food we feed them. It is unquestionably closer to their natural food source and our cats unquestionably prefer raw over cooked food. Tom does not like the smell of cooked cat foods and finds that raw foods, by contrast, have very little oder. There are lots of claims as to the health benefit of raw foods. We believe many of them, but don’t think the decision is as clear cut as the pro-raw food sites state.

There are a couple reasons to not feed raw food. One study showed commercial raw foods had more bacteria in them than commercial canned. Additionally, raw food may contain Toxoplasmosis, a parasite that lives in cats. Cats mainly get it through eating raw foods, including rodents they may hunt outside. This parasite also affects humans, causing birth defects amount other things. Not feeding raw foods eliminates one pathway for Toxoplasmosis. Humans get Toxoplasmosis through handling cat litter.

The counter to those arguments is that cat’s digestion can handle additional bacteria – it is not a problem. We do, however, have to take more care in handling raw foods to limit bacterial growth. And, one should always take care when cleaning the litter box. Pregnant women should let some other family member tend the litter box. There are other pathways for toxoplasmosis, such as gardening with bare hands.

Variety vs Single Food

Variety is better. This helps cats get nutrients from a variety of sources, keeps food interesting, and prevents them from becoming fixated on one taste.

We have been told that switching food upsets a cat’s digestion and the usual recommendation is to switch slowly over 7 days. Mostly we have not found this to be necessary – particularly when switching between same category such as canned food to canned food. Now that they are used to raw foods we switch and mix in raw and canned with no adverse effect (well, occasional adverse effect). It seems that only when introducing a significantly different type of food, such as raw foods, is a gradual transition necessary.

Simple vs Complex

Some foods are very complex – long ingredient list. Our trusted experts recommend simpler foods – fewer ingredients. Such complex foods may make sense if that was the one food you were going to feed your cat. We think that getting complete nutrition from a variety of simple sources over several meals is better. Since cats are obligate carnivores they should not need much variety.


See my later post about quantity.


Here’s a table of the daily cost of some food options. I assumed a cat eats 5oz per day. I took the price from stores in my neighbor hood for a reasonably bulk purchase (e.g. a case). I did not add sales tax or subtract any discounts. Your actual cost will be slightly different but the relative costs are about right.

Food Cost
Wellness (case of 12) $0.93
Before Grain (case of 24) $1.16
Filaday (Case of 12) $0.78
Darwin’s (Standard mix of chicken and turkey) $1.23
Nature’s Balance 3lb bag of medallions $1.46
Nature’s Balance 2lb tube $1.09
Primal chicken 2lb tube $0.86
Primal turkey 2lb tube $1.02
Rad Cat Chicken (24oz tub) $2.50
Friskies 12oz can $0.50

My conclusion is that raw foods are not much more expensive than equivalent quality canned foods, especially if you are willing to use the more bulk packaging.

For now we are feeding our cat’s mostly Darwin’s, a Northwest company that delivers free in Seattle and Portland and ships to other places. We mix it up with some Natural Pet Pantry, Primal, and Before Grain when we don’t happen to have thawed raw food.
We were feeding Natural Balance as well but our cat’s no longer like it.

Informative Links

All the Best pet stores has an informative web site, including nutrition information in PDF form.

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Yesterday Luna regurgitated her breakfast. It is not all that uncommon for one of our cats to vomit, though there is usually an identifiable reason such as a hair ball, quick change in food, or they ate too much kitty grass. This was not due to any of those so we took note and gave her some more food. A while later she vomited that. We gave her an hour or two, then some more food. This time there was some blood in the vomit so Marie took her to our vet. Now $200 wiser, we thought we’d share what we learned.

Cats vomit – it is part of the cat lifestyle. Maybe they ate something inappropriate or their food just didn’t settle. While something to note, one or two instances of vomiting may not be cause for concern. You should wait 4 maybe 6 hours to let their digestion settle and feed them again. If there is any doubt about the freshness of the food, get fresh food. If the second feeding does not stay down, wait a while longer and try again. Because the way cats vomit is so violent by the third or fourth time there may be some blood in the vomit. This is cause for increased concern but maybe not a vet visit yet.

Here are some signs that you should get your cat to the vet:

  • Blood in first vomit
  • Green color in vomit
  • Unable to keep any food down for past 24 hours
  • Signs of dehydration
  • Low energy or other signs of illness
  • Frequent vomiting. More than once a month with out cause – be sure to ask your vet about it. More than once a week – go to your vet sooner than later.

Our vet examined Luna for any signs of illness. Particularly for indication she may have swallowed something bad. Seeing none he sent us home with some easy to digest food (Royal Canin i/d) and a few anti-nausia pills. Luna didn’t eat anything that evening. This morning, though she acted hungry she had no interest in the “i/d” canned food. She normally eats raw food, which she likes quite a bit. I put just a little raw on top of the canned and that got her going.


Weight Log

When we first got Nelson we puzzled: how much and how often should we feed him. Turned out that I could not find a simple answer so I started collecting data. This came in the form of a log of their weight.

(Marie has joked that our weights should also be on there. I think that would be fine, provided we also had someone who determined the optimal food for us to eat then served it to us in the optimal portions and did the dishes.)

Our answer of how much and how often is two meals a day, each about 2.5 – 3.0 oz of canned food and very few treats.

We’ve since transitioned to mainly raw food. Several sources have told us that cat’s are unlikely to become overweight on raw food and that some of Nelson’s aggression may come from restricted diet so we have had a very free hand with Nelson and Jojo’s quantities. Looks like they are gaining weight and I’m not sure I believe that cat’s will self regulate. Maybe depends on how heavy you think a cat should be.

To get our cat’s to this point required several transitions. The largest was from free feeding to two meals a day. Luna and Nelson complained about this extensively. I found it a little difficult to deny them food. The weight log showing rising weights kept my confidence that their intake had to be regulated and that we were probably doing the right thing. We also followed some guidance from our vets about an appropriate weight for each cat.

The spike of weight in early April indicates the importance of actually measuring the quantities. After measuring for a month we got a little sloppy and thought we could eyeball it. The quantities are too small to accurately eyeball. The difference between feeding 2.5 oz per meal and 3 oz does not look dramatic but does have big effect over months. So we went back to measuring the quantities.

Jojo was an interesting transition. I believe he was used to grazing on kibbles in his previous house. By the time he joined our household two meals a day was well established. Jojo’s problem was that he could not stay focused on the food when it was available. He kept walking away. If we reminded him he would eat some more but often would not finish. After a 20-30 minutes we would take it away. Since he was physically robust (even verging on rotund) I didn’t worry (much) about some of the very small meals he was getting. The log showed a slow and necessary drop in his weight. As he reached a more appropriate weight he learned to finish his meals. Now (as in many other areas) he shows the most appropriate attitude toward food: good appetite but not overly focused.

The spike in Luna’s weight since September indicates the effect of treats. We’ve started to give more treats to encourage good behavior between Nelson and Jojo. We also learned that it is good to feed treats after a play session because that completes the simulated hunt with the satisfaction of eating the prey. As to why it is just Luna’s weight that went I’m, well, I think we may have had an especially open hand with her treats. The bad news for her is that it is time to scale back enough to get her onto a slow weight loss track again. She’s a little butterball right now.

Some cats are fussy eaters so the two meal a day regime may not work for them. However, for most cat (and dogs) overfeeding is far more common. The PAWS vet is strict about cat weight. Any cat with even some extra belly fat is noted as “slightly obese”. This is applied to about half the cats at PAWS. I think we project our food issues onto our pets and find it difficult to restrict their diet. I know I found it difficult. Keeping the weight log has provided an objective measure.

At vets I’ve seen a lot of posters about the problems with overweight cats. There seems to be a big push to prevent over feeding. Nestle Purina publishes a body condition chart which helps you judge your cat’s weight. That said, I think there may be some debate yet as to what is a healthy weight for a cat.

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