As a longtime cat parent and journalist who has written extensively about feline health and wellness, I have learned quite a lot about natural approaches to ensuring that my kitties live long, happy, healthy lives.

The majority of my cats have lived to ripe old ages, with one — Jenny — making it to 20. That’s equal to age 96 in human years.

On the downside, before I became educated about proper cat care, I made a lot of mistakes that diminished the quality of my cats’ lives, and even cost one his life at a young age.

I did learn from my mistakes, often the hard way. And you can, too, by following the guidelines below.

1. I feed my cats natural grain-free wet foods

Cats are obligate carnivores in that they exclusively need meat protein to survive. Although they have been domesticated for thousands of years, house cats’ dietary needs have not changed from those of their ancestors’, and they mirror their wild cousins’ requirements.

Many feline nutrition experts insist that cats should not consume grains, ever. Because cats are not biologically predisposed to effectively synthesizing grains, this can lead to the over production of insulin, which, over time, can result in diabetes in cats. In addition, grain-based diets can cause obesity and inflammation in cats, which can lead to such ailments as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), as well as hyperthyroidism and kidney disease, among other health issues.

Furthermore, many cat nutrition experts insist that kitties should not consume any types of starches in the form of potatoes, peas, and rice, for example. The real diehard purists — notably Dr. Lisa Pierson DVM, a well-known advocate of raw feeding for cats — are adamantly against giving cats dry foods in any form, ever. These experts are of the mind that dry cat foods, or kibble, are too low in moisture, too high in carbohydrates, and tend to contain higher amounts of plant as opposed to meat proteins, which can be harmful to cats’ health.

As cats are descended from desert creatures, they are not inclined to seek water. This is another reason why feeding felines wet foods is crucial to their health. This is why I primarily feed my cats Lily and Murphy grain-free canned foods such as Dave’s, supplemented with healthy people foods as treats, including roasted chicken, saut├®ed beef, and canned salmon or tuna. I only give them high-quality, grain-free natural dry foods such as Fromm, Orijen, or Acana, sparingly.

As a result, my cats are at their ideal weights, have gorgeous coats and are active, happy, and healthy.

2. I avoid over-vaccinating my cats

This is an extremely painful subject for me, because I lost my five-year-old cat, Omar, who was the love of my life, to a vaccine-associated sarcoma (VAS) in 2013. I had been taking him to a vet who not only used the three-year as opposed to one-year rabies vaccine, which is far safer for cats, she also insisted on vaccinating him for distemper on an annual basis.

As a result, Omar suffered from IBD and ongoing seizures, then ultimately VAS, a deadly cancerous tumor that develops at an injection site. I learned a very sad lesson the hard way, and now employ particular caution when having my cats vaccinated. I have decided to restrict their distemper vaccines to kitten shots, and opt for the one-year as opposed to the three-year rabies shots.

For more information about this, you may refer to Dr. Pierson’s website, and Dr. Jean Hofve, another prominent veterinarian who is a proponent of holistic pet care.

3. I use natural cat litter

Cat litter can have a direct impact on feline health. Because their bodies come into very close contact with this, they can potentially inhale any toxic chemicals that litters may contain, and they can they lick their paws after using the litter box. So I have long used such natural, plant-based products as Cedarific and Feline Pine.

I avoid any litters that contain harsh synthetic chemicals or fragrances, as well as clumping litters, like the plague, because these can cause health problems in cats.

I start by sprinkling some pure baking soda at the bottom of a clean litter box, I always remove solid waste immediately, and I change the litter regularly, to avoid the buildup of bacteria and odors.

4. I take a natural approach to my cats’ health and wellness

Following my unfortunate experiences with Omar, I resolved to seek the services of an integrative vet who practices a combination of traditional Western, holistic, homeopathic, and Eastern alternative medicine. Not only are such vets less inclined to over-vaccinate and overmedicate pets, they tend to have a lot more tools at their disposal that can complement and expedite the effects of traditional treatments, including acupuncture and chiropractic care, Reiki, knowledge of herbal medicine, cat dietary requirements, and more.

I also keep an arsenal of natural remedies in the house, including:

  • Coconut oil
  • Colloidal silver (a natural antibiotic and anti-bacterial)
  • L-Glutamine (a natural anti-inflammatory)
  • L-Lysine (an immune system booster)
  • Pureed canned pumpkin (added to wet food for occasional mild diarrhea or constipation).

I even cured my Murphy of rodent ulcer using natural remedies. You can find more info about coconut oil, pumpkin, and other natural home remedies for kitties in this Catster article by Louise Hung.

5. I keep my cats indoors, yet active

It’s common knowledge that cats who live indoors have a much higher life expectancy than those who are allowed to roam freely outside. Outdoor cats are far more likely to succumb to being struck by vehicles and be exposed to diseases such as feline leukemia, as well as toxins and harsh weather. Also, they face the risks of being stolen or abused.

That’s why I keep my Murphy and Lily indoors at all times. On the downside, indoor cats often don’t get enough exercise and can get bored. So I provide them with plenty of toys and encourage them to play, to help keep them occupied and in tiptop shape.

Do you have any natural tips for cat care? Let us know in the comments!

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About the author: Alissa Wolf is an award-winning journalist and lifelong animal lover who lives near Atlantic City, N.J. with her cats, the dashingly handsome Murphy — the proud owner of a vast collection of bow ties — and Lily, an occasional feline fashion model. She writes about a variety of pet topics on her blog Critter Corner. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.