Roberta Donaldson, aka The Millennial Cat Mom, is on the show today talking about all things cat! She gives us her best tips on how to introduce new foods, how cats can benefit from raw food, and much more.
Amanda: If you could please give the listeners a quick little introduction of who you are, and how you got started blogging about cat nutrition and wellness.
Roberta: I have a degree in Zoology, Conservation Biology, and Environmental Studies, and after I graduated while trying to find a job in my field, I worked at a small natural pet food store in my hometown. I live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, go Packers. I started part-time and eventually moved up to be the assistant manager, working full time and I just have one cat, Loki the Kitty King, who is a six-year-old Seal Point Albino Siamese, but it wasn’t until I started working at the store that I became exposed to the cat food industry, and as I’m sure you know, working at an actual food store, you have to know your stuff. So, especially when your staff is so small and your product base is so large, you need to know not only what is different about natural products, but why they’re worth the money, the effort, and all that stuff.
I learned as much as I could about every brand, the ingredients, the manufacturing process as I could. Obviously, the more I learned about the pet food industry, the more important the job became to me, not only because of the [inaudible 00:02:36] details, but some of the deceptions of marketing that spreads to consumers, I specifically tried to focus on cat nutrition because cat parents seem to have some of the most difficult times when it comes to this stuff. So, it’s our job as pet parents to be as aware as we can we when look at the shelves when it comes to our animal’s food because they can’t go to the grocery store, you know. They don’t have a say, so it’s on our behalf that we do that for them. We have to provide to them what nature and evolution intended, which is biologically appropriate nutrition.
I created Millennial Cat Mom because I wanted to appeal to young people out there who might have some questions about natural animal wellness and to give them the resources to take back control of their pet’s life. I think our generation has a lot of power at its fingertips and it’s questioning big industries like the pet food industry, the animal agriculture, oil, and gas industries. I want to try and be an example to young people that you don’t have to break the bank, spend all your money, stay up all night to feed a well balanced, healthy diet.
Amanda: Yeah, I think that’s an awesome message and a great goal, and I think you’re definitely achieving that. So, let’s kind of, in going with that, let’s talk about cat nutrition because I, owning a natural pet food store, I kind of see two sides of the industry. I feel like, for me, I have my two cats, and I love them to pieces, and I treat them like royalty, but I do feel sometimes cats can be, and I want to hear your opinion on this, do you find that they can be a bit of, maybe an overlooked pet? Cause for me, I’ll sometimes have people, and not all people, this is definitely a generalization, but I sometimes have people coming in, and they will buy the best of the best food that they can afford for their dogs, but then for their cats sometimes, they’re choosing to buy grocery store kibble.
So, and before you answer this question, I do just want to do a quick disclaimer for anyone listening. Anyone who listens to the podcast regularly knows that I am not a fan of shaming people, I’m absolutely not trying to do this. I totally understand that for some people, grocery store kibble is the best that they can afford right now. That’s totally okay. I’m just an advocate of, as long as you’re doing the best that you can, and you’re educating yourself, and you are just doing the best that you can, that’s all that matters. So, I’m not trying to throw shade at anyone, but I do see a discrepancy between the way people feed their dogs and the way they feed their cats sometimes. So I want to talk about that because I’m sure you have your opinion about this as well.
Roberta: Yes, like I cannot relate to this more, and I think that that disclaimer that you said is really, really important, especially when you’re working at a natural pet food store, you have so many different people that come ask. Whatever that you can afford, like if you are doing your best, is enough but I definitely felt that working in my store. I think it comes down to like a couple of things. I feel almost like this weird stigma surrounding cats and cat nutrition, like they’re somehow not as important as dogs, mainly because they’re so small and relatively cheaper, comparatively. So, since they’re so low maintenance, I think, and this is a complete generalization, that a lot of people kind of almost disregard their needs. Cats are desert animals and can survive under many stresses, so they don’t show symptoms of pain and discomfort usually. Therefore, most owners don’t think anything is necessarily wrong until it gets bad.
So, another reason I think this could be is that cats are creatures of habit and they can get addicted, and quote, sensitive tummies from types of food. So, I saw that instead of addressing the issue, a lot of people just keep on feeding it because it’s working or they aren’t throwing up anymore, or it’s, you know it’s convenient to them to just keep feeding the same thing, or it’s an inconvenience to them to do that transition or deal with the consequences since they are so small and they aren’t that much of a financial burden in comparison to, let’s say a big, you know 70 pound dog. I think they can be easily overlooked, and it’s unfortunate, but I do think times are changing.
I think a lot of people are kind of taking a second look at why these things are happening. I’m very passionate about cats specifically, because dogs … I mean there’s a lot of reasons out there for dogs and dogs have a lot more leniency in their nutritional requirements than cats do, so you know they can eat fresh fruits and vegetables. You know, they can eat these other sources of food, but the cats, being a carnivore, they really only need certain biological requirements, and I think once you know that, and you kind of base everything off of that, it’s really scary to see that we have the pet food industry kind of pushing almost the complete opposite of that. I think cats specifically, should not be overlooked, not saying that any animals should be, but I think cats specifically are given their need for fresh raw meat, meat, bone, organ, is really important and it’s really sad honestly. I think about a lot, especially when you’re working in the pet food industry, like if you’re working every day in it, talking to people, like it can be pretty disheartening.
Amanda: Yeah. Yeah I know, I agree and that kind of flows into our next question really well. So, let’s talk a little bit. I’d like you to explain why what we feed our cats is so important and then if you could also touch on the importance of moisture in their diet because I think that’s one that is super overlooked in feeding our cats. So, let’s talk about that.
Roberta: Yeah. So, I think that what we feed our cats is the most important aspect of being a pet parent. Like you said earlier, what you put in the bowl matters. It’s what they eat every single day. It’s like, I could go across the street and get a snack, they can’t. Everything in that bowl is their life. Cats are obligate carnivores. They’re not scavenging carnivores, they’re not omnivores, they’re definitely not herbivores. This means that they must have a diet primarily of fresh meat, bone, and organ. They have different biological requirements than dogs that haven’t been addressed in the mainstream pet food industry. So, being an obligate carnivore, cats have evolved eating food that is 70% moisture or above, considering a small rodent, birds, et cetera, little mice. So, their strife is very low, meaning they don’t seek out water to drink unless they absolutely have to. They get their moisture from their food, so you can see how eating dry food that has a maximum moisture content of 12% versus 70%, naturally can be a problem right off the bat. And unless they can get their moisture from that food, they’re going to be chronically dehydrated, which can cause so many problems. It’s one of the biggest issues facing house cats today in my opinion. This is really important because proper hydration means overall health and can help prevent urinary tract issues, upper respiratory infections, IBD, kidney disease, hairballs, all these things.
Amanda: So, I’d like to get your opinion in talking about that. Clarify for people when they see cat foods that are marketed towards hairball control, or UTI crystal formulas, or indoor cat formulas. Clarify why you can’t maybe base what you’re feeding on those marketing claims.
Roberta: Yeah. So, that stresses me a lot when it comes to all this deceptive marketing, especially when it comes to dry food because cats … usually those dry foods are really, really, really high in carbohydrates. Any dry food is going to have carbohydrates in it. They need something to bind the kibble into those little balls, so carbohydrates are usually thought of as energy food, but cats utilize protein more than those needs, unlike humans, instead of that. They have a very limited ability to digest carbohydrates. Of the excess carbohydrates from dry food cause obesity, which is running rampant today in household cats, but it’s finding like the hairball one, specifically gets me. Because one of the reasons why your cat will throw up a hairball, there’s a couple of reasons, but the main one is because they don’t have enough moisture in their body to not only digest the hair that they ingest. Cats should be able to digest meat, bone, organ, hair, nail, pretty much anything that they eat from their prey. So, they shouldn’t be having an issue digesting their own hair, but when it comes down to not having enough moisture in their body, they not only can digest it as easily, but they can’t throw it up as easily. So, it’s very stressful on their bodies when you don’t have the lubrication to throw that hairball back up.
Amanda: Do you have any tips for helping transition picky cats to raw, or even just helping them try a new food, because we all know the older a cat is, some are harder it can be to convince them to try something new, because they just think automatically you’re trying to poison them. Like that is the look I get. Foster cats [crosstalk 00:11:58] new food and they’re like, “No, what is this?”.
Roberta: Oh my God, yeah, that’s so true, and I want to say, and I want to say before we even get into it, I always mention to people the importance of imprinting. So, kittens imprint on their food when they’re very, very young, so although they grow up fast, their parents imprint onto them what they should recognize as food. So, whether it be a mouse, a bird, you know a little bug, whatever. So, when they’re exposed to only one thing when they’re little, so I mean like one type of kibble or one protein, like just fish or just chicken, they’re not predisposed to recognize other things like food when they get older. So, I think a lot of people find their cats are not overjoyed to try new things when they get older, and I think a lot of people get frustrated because you know, when you put it down, you’re like, “Okay, this is cat food. Why doesn’t my cat want to eat the cat food?”. But I think it’s important to just keep in mind that they might not be even recognizing this as food. They might not be recognizing this as safe.
So, I think that’s something really important that we have to have a little bit empathy towards how they’re raised and how they’re behavior effects a lot of things in there later on, but there are so many tips for transitioning. Some are really easy. Some are for more stubborn kitties, but a lot of them are really easy to do. So, like if you’re starting a kibble dry diet, immediately I would start with a regimented schedule, and then I would also make sure you’re doing portions. So, I’d make sure you measure to the bag about the portions that you need and then make sure you’re not pre-feeding, make sure you have it on schedules, and then they will be hungry, especially if you are doing pre-feeding. Don’t starve them for no longer than 24 hours. You definitely don’t want to be restricting food for your cat. Dogs can do the intermittent fasting, but cats should not be fasting at any time.
There are cats that you can put raw out in front of them, and they’ll eat it, and they will not throw up, and they will be fine.
Amanda: That’s what mine did. I put it down day one, he ate it, it was all raw.
Roberta: So lucky. That is amazing, and that’s great, but there are a lot of people that don’t have that issue. So, I think what I did, I was on a pretty low-grade kibble, and then the next thing I did is I transitioned into a high grade, like human grade, kibble. I think it was something along like Orijen or Acana, that line kibble, and that went without a problem. He was already used to the texture and the dryness of the kibble, and then I started doing some human grade wet food. So, he usually never had a problem with eating wet food. If your cat does have a problem eating wet, which I think is one of the biggest hurdles when it comes to cats, an easy thing to do is to put some of the wet food right next to their kibble. Not in the same bowl, maybe in like a plate next to it, so that when they are eating their kibble, they’re smelling that wet food or that raw food while they’re eating. So, that’s something that you could try.
Also, texture is really important for cats. The top of their mouth, their top palette is extremely sensitive to texture. So, whatever they put in their mouth, they either recognize it as a texture they know, or they don’t. So, getting over that, you could crush up whatever kibble you’re using into almost like a powder or even a coarse powder, and coat the wet food or the raw food, sprinkle it on top, so that when they take a bite the first thing that’s hitting that palette is that familiar texture.
Amanda: Oh yeah, that makes sense.
Roberta: Another big one would be temperature. So, when trying raw food, cats are sensitive to temperature, so if you wanted to try to get them interested in wet food or in raw food, you could try heating it up a bit, not in the microwave. Do not put your raw food or your canned food in the microwave, but you could put it in small Ziploc baggie in like a bowl of warm water, not hot water, for about like five minutes, just enough to make it warmer than room temperature and then you could set that out and see if they will eat that. So, there are a bunch of different ways that you can try and get them a little more interested, different proteins. Loki’s obsessed with rabbit. If your cat doesn’t like chicken, try turkey, try duck, try you know, pork. There are so many options out there for you, just don’t get discouraged if they don’t like something, there are so many other things to try and not even just protein, but the brand. Like if they’re doing commercial, you could get rabbit in many different brands depending on where you live.
Amanda: Yeah, let’s talk about, for the people who are maybe feeding kibble right now, what are some things they can add on? I mean my biggest tip would be wet food, but I’m curious you know, for the people who are like, “You know what, kibble is a reality for me right now. I need to feed some kibble.” What are some things you would recommend regarding adding to their food to improve that for their cat?
Roberta: Yeah, so that is a really good question. My mom has two older cats. She is actually doing this right now and that we’ve been adding, honestly, the smallest things and we’ve seen such an improvement. Especially with older cats, compromised cats, if you can get even like a small treat of a fresh food, whether it just be a freeze-dried raw freeze-dried every day, a couple times a day, every other day, that’s like a great place to start.
Another thing I would do, be trying to add some probiotics and then also some digestive enzymes. So, those are two big things that I think anyone can do and you can pretty much find those two things at any natural pet food store you go to, and if they don’t have it, I’m sure they can find a way to get you some. The digestive enzymes are really important I think for a cat, a kibble diet because a lot of those enzymes aren’t being produced in cats when they’re fed a certain type of diet. Especially of the ones I have, I think it has Amylase, Lipase, and Protease, so the digestion of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Those are really important when you’re feeding a kibble diet because it’s so high in carbohydrates, it puts a lot of stress on the pancreas which makes enzymes. When you put such high stress on your enzyme making organ, it’s hard to produce all of them, therefore you need to get some from food, but if you’re not getting them from food, then it’s a good idea to supplement that.
So, adding a digestive enzyme is really going to help them be able to digest and get the nutrients from that food a lot easier, put a lot less stress on some of their other organs. So, I think the digestive enzymes, the probiotics is always good to support good gut health. You really need to have a strong immune system if you are going to be eating a kibble based food and then another thing I would probably do is a high-quality fish oil supplement. Currently, I do a sardine, anchovy and hemp seed oil supplement. That one is really easy to do, you keep it in the fridge and then you just do like a pump on the food. So, that and adding like a scoop of the probiotics and a scoop of digestive enzymes would be a really good way to pump up that kibble a little bit.
Amanda: Awesome, that’s great advice. Thanks. So, I ask this question to everybody who comes on the show for the first time and I’d love to hear what you have to say about it. So, if you could give pet parents, probably specifically kitty pet parents around the world, just one piece of advice, what would it be?
Roberta: I would say to be patient. Cats can be difficult and it takes a lot of time. Every animal is different but it can be done. Like my mom’s cat, Saucy, is 18 years old and she started eating a little bit of raw in her food now and she hasn’t thrown up in about two weeks. She’s thrown up almost every day. So yeah, I would also say get in a habit to read the labels and don’t get distracted. The shiny labels, and bags, and fancy jargon are confusing and they are distracting but if you stick to your guns, you read the ingredient list, you’re being patient, you can take charge of your pet’s health and let them live their best life.
I think we have a responsibility as pet owners to respect the biological needs of our animals and support their longevity, and their vitality. So, let’s just say be patient, try a bunch of different things. I have a really weirdly un-picky Siamese, which is weird to say, but I got through it and he was already a full grown cat. We got an 18-year-old cat, halfway eating raw after eating Friskies and Science Diet her whole life. So, I think everyone can do it and live up to what you can do. I am drowning in student loans and I am trying my best, but I know that there are people out there that can also try as best as they can. A little bit goes a long way and I don’t want people to be discouraged that they can’t do raw. A little bit really does make a difference.
Amanda: I think that’s amazing advice. Thank you for that. So, where is the best place for people to follow your work or to get in touch with you if they have any questions?
Roberta: So, you can go on Loki’s Instagram. It’s @Lokithekittyking and then can also go on my blog, which is millennialcatmom.com. So, I usually will blog about once a week, once every other week. It’s just getting started, so feel free to catch up on Loki’s Blog for updates and stuff.
Amanda: Perfect. Yeah, thank you. I’ll have all that linked in the show notes as well. So, we’ll have to do it again sometime, cause talking through all this stuff in the interview, I just have even more questions. I want to hear your thoughts. We’ll have to do it again for sure.
Roberta: Yes, there’s so much to talk about with cats. Like honestly, they’re so different than any other house animal, it’s so interesting.
Amanda: It’s true. Well, thank you so much for being on the show today Roberta. I will talk to you again very soon, I’m sure.
Roberta: Thank you so much! I’m so happy to be here!
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