In this episode of It’s a Dog’s Life with Angela Ardolino, Dr. Jean Hofve shares her tips for ways to holistically care for cats. Hofve is a holistic veterinarian and author with more than 20 years’ experience in integrative veterinary medicine. She has a passion for feline health and nutrition and has intensively studied and researched pet nutrition and the pet food industry. Hofve is an advisor to AAFCO, the organization that sets standards for pet food production. She is also the founder Little Big Cat and Spirit Essences (now owned and operated by Jackson Galaxy called Jackson Galaxy Solutions), which makes flower essence remedies for many animal health and behavior problems. Her first book, The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care: An Illustrated Handbook, co-authored with nutritionist Dr. Celeste Yarnall, won a 2010 Certificate of Excellence as well as the 2010 Muse Medallion Award for best book from the Cat Writers’ Association.
Pet ownership comes with a variety of decisions. For example, it can be daunting to find the right diet and pet food for your dog or cat, especially when you consider that there have been several recalls on pet food recently, many brands of which were approved by the FDA. While raw and freeze-dried food options are optimal, as a pet parent it can be difficult to follow all of the changes and dietary recommendations. However, Hofve and Ardolino have broken down some of the most important things to consider when choosing your pet’s diet and helps to guide pet parents through some of the more tough questions.
What should pets eat?
With so many brands of pet food on the market, it can be difficult to know where to start or what food is actually healthy for your pet. Freeze-dried or raw diets are best for both dogs and cats. Once you have gotten your dog or cat on a stable diet, variety is key.
“A real simple rule of thumb: feed variety,”
“A real simple rule of thumb: feed variety,” says Hofve. “Don’t get stuck on one brand or one flavor of one brand. Your pet will adjust to the variety. Look for enough meat or meat meal protein [in pet food]. Once they’re accustomed to the variety, they’ll do great.”
One thing cat owners often don’t know is that the worst canned food is better than the best kibble for cats because the moisture and protein are so crucial to them. Once the cat is on canned food, you can get them to a better cat food and can work on adding supplements and flower essences to help them to transition from one food to another.
“The biggest mistake that cat-owners are making is feeding dry food (kibble),” says Hofve. “In my book, a professor I worked with called dry food diabetes in a bag. It is the source of so many problems. If you have a cat with skin, kidney, bladder, or a number of other issues, get them off the kibble. Switch them to a raw diet.”
“Dry food is a death sentence for cats, period,” says Hofve.
What has been going on in the pet food industry?
Recently, the FDA prematurely announced that pet food companies were causing cardiomyopathy by using legumes and potatoes in pet food. The reasoning was that the foods lacked enough taurine, without which can cause heart issues as well as blindness. This was a similar issue the FDA found in the past in cat food, but what they failed to take into consideration is the difference between cats and dogs.
Taurine, or 2-aminoethanesulfonic acid, is an organic compound that is widely found in animal tissue, which is necessary to keep pets healthy. Taurine is found in bile and the large intestine. Cats do not make their own taurine and must get it from meat. Most dog breeds make an adequate amount of taurine on their own to keep them healthy, but some smaller dog breeds or very large breeds have problems making enough.
“I don’t think [taurine content] is as big of a problem and I don’t that we should push the panic button yet, but I do blame the FDA for blaming these smaller boutique pet food brands,”
Dogs who do not make enough benefit from higher levels of meat than grains or legumes because taurine comes from meat. When you have decreased amount of meat proteins in the food and more legumes and grain than meat and meat product, you have a lower amount of total protein and taurine. For dogs with a disposition who are not able to make as much taurine as they need, taking meat away causes issues.
“In the 1980’s, cats were going blind because of the lack of taurine from eating Hill’s Science Diet – now every cat food on the market is required to have added taurine because of research conducted by scientists at UC Davis,” says Hofve. “In fact, cats cannot produce their own taurine because it comes from meat they eat. And, wet cat food contains more taurine than dry food, so the dry food had to change.”
Now, in dog foods, the FDA has placed blame on lower amounts of taurine – a mistake which Hofve feels does not address the real problems. In fact, The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) does not require taurine be added in food for dogs and unless it is added to a product, it does not need to be listed on pet food labels.
“I don’t think [taurine content] is as big of a problem and I don’t that we should push the panic button yet, but I do blame the FDA for blaming these smaller boutique pet food brands,” says Hofve. “I did a survey of the 19 actual cases reported on the internet, and of the 19 different dogs being fed grain-free food, 15 of those dogs were being fed Meyers, Purina, or Champion. I have been disappointed in those company’s responses to [the issues]. They said ‘oh not us!’ and then changed their formulas.”
While Hofve is knowledgeable about dogs and pet food of all kinds, cats are her passion.
“Cats are often seen as second-class citizens,” says Hofve. “If you have a dog with a behavioral issue, you might find a behaviorist or other forms of help. But if you have a cat, you keep the cat until you get sick of it and then get rid of the cat. People are so uneducated about cats and everyone writes about dogs… As a result, cats are resource poor.”
Thankfully, education about cats is on the rise as more states pass legislation to prevent inhumane treatment of cats including bans on declawing cats. Hofve, who recently rescued a cat has also become an advocate for preventing people from declawing their cats as well.
“Don’t ever declaw a cat,” says Hofve. “Perry Christmas, my rescue cat who was on the streets for many months, was declawed and he weighed 4 and-a-half pounds because he lived in the wild with no front claws. He was emaciated because he was missing a third of his toes!”
Does CBD help cats?
“I would recommend CBD to my friends with pets,” says Hofve. “Hemp oil provides alpha linolenic acid… There are lots of fatty acids in CBD which can do a lot for the skin and coat.”
Cats often show behavioral issues differently from dogs and can benefit from CBD oil for those issues. For example, cats display anxiety differently from dogs and may become more aggressive when anxious, whereas a dog may pace or pant. CBD Dog Health’s CALM tincture for cats can help keep your cat relaxed and at ease.