My oldest cat, Pippi, was diagnosed with feline diabetes in October. With regular veterinarian visits, diligent monitoring of the sugar levels in her urine, and a twice-daily insulin routine, we were able to coax it into remission within three weeks.
Now that she has been successfully weaned off the insulin, Pippi’s sugar levels are being kept in check with what my veterinarian candidly refers to as the Catkins diet, strictly consisting of low-carb and protein-rich wet food. My spry and healthy kitten, Nora, maintains a primarily dry food diet. Consequently, feeding times in our home have become a sort of circus act of luring, separating, tricking, and juggling.
I have had cats for most of my life, and I have had Pippi for eight of her 14 years. My cats have always had readily available dry food and a spoonful of wet food once a day. The wet food was always more of a treat than a meal, and as such I was inconsistent with timing. Sometimes I gave it for breakfast, sometimes for dinner; it didn’t much matter, since dry food was the bulk of their diets.
With a dry food diet, it’s easy to make sure the bowl is full before I leave the house, and I never have to think about being home by a certain time or worry that they haven’t eaten enough — it’s just there and they will eat it when and if they are hungry. So Pippi’s new wet-food-only diet, which requires me to be home at the same time twice per day, was hard to adjust to.
I spent the first couple of weeks worrying that neither of my cats were eating enough. Pippi is easily distracted and often walks away before finishing her meal. Unlike dry food, wet food is a hard adjustment for a cat who likes to nibble throughout the day. Wet food won’t stay fresh forever.
Tossing out uneaten food was frustrating, not only because I knew she wasn’t eating as much as she should be, but also because wet food is expensive and I am living on a widely-varying freelancing salary. After a few days of this, I started to sit with her while she eats. When she gets distracted I nudge the bowl toward her, reminding her that it’s dinnertime. I usually do this three or four times per meal before the bowl has been licked clean.
Pippi seems to get more easily bored with wet food flavors than she ever was with dry food. She will eat one flavor happily for a week or so, then reject it. I’ve had to keep several flavors on deck and in rotation to keep her happy and well-fed. It’s labor intensive, sure, but my sweet girl having a full belly is all that matters.
Ironically, Nora’s diet has caused me more stress than Pippi’s. Even though Nora’s diet has remained the same, Pippi’s health issues have demanded some changes. Since Pippi can’t eat dry food at all, Nora’s food can only be out when I am monitoring. Pippi wants to eat the dry food, and she will seek it out if it’s around. Knowing that it will make her sick, it’s always in the back of my mind.
Because Nora is still a kitten, I worry about whether the sporadic access to food will allow her to grow into a healthy and active adult. These fears seem to be a bit ridiculous, as Nora is as active as ever, is growing at the speed of lightning, and weighs as much as a small bowling ball. Working from home has helped me keep Nora’s eating routine as normal as possible.
Pippi prefers solitude and privacy, but Nora spends the bulk of her day wherever I am. That means that while Pippi is napping on the bed or couch, Nora is with me in my office, where she has access to food for most of the day, in a place I am able to monitor. She eats when she is hungry, and the overprotective cat-mama in me has to trust in her instincts, and trust that she is eating as much as she needs to thrive. So far, so good.
Pippi and Nora have been on separate diets for several months now. When I leave my house, I find myself panicking about whether I left the dry food out, the same way others panic about whether they left the oven on. I am feeling more confident in my abilities to maintain this lifestyle, although occasionally I mess up and leave Nora’s food where Pippi can get it. After Pippi gets a few chomps in, I notice and take it away.
These incidents always leave me feeling so defeated, guilty, and incompetent — not only for giving Pippi access to food she can’t have, but also for taking away the dry food that she wants so badly. I am constantly reminding myself that it’s OK to mess up; a few bites won’t hurt her. The important thing is that I’m trying, and that every morning I wake up striving to do anything and everything I can to keep my ladies safe, happy, and healthy.
Photo: Closeup of cats eating by Shutterstock.com.
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