Cat food and other lessons

I took Aria to the vet this morning, which requires a PhD-level subterfuge to corral her into her carrier. I brought the carrier up from the basement last night so that when she saw it and freaked out, there would be plenty of time for her calm back down. Then this morning, I thought I had closed all of the doors to Aria's favorite hiding places so that if she made a run for it, I could retrieve her with relative ease. She did end up under my bed, and secured herself to the carpet in a move that could be summarized as "Attack of the Velcro Kitty." Since neither treats, toys, tuna, or catnip can lure her out in this state, I wedged myself under the bed and gently "persuaded" her claws to transfer their death grip from the carpet to my arm. In she went, and I drove off to the vet's with a frustrated feline yowling in a sonorous baritone that probably would have gained her acceptance into the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

The poor dear has a cavity in one of her teeth and is going back on Wednesday to have it pulled. She got two vaccines--on in each butt cheek--so Aria has a sore hiney. The vet asked me what Aria ate every day, the brand of wet and dry food, her treats, and how much she eats of each. Aria had gained a little weight in the past year, although I had to up her steroid dose with my move back to the Midwest as it amped up her dermatitis which no doubt caused some of it. The vet gave me some suggestions about her food intake that would help keep Her Royal Fuzziness at optimum health.

Instead of feeding her mainly dry food and supplementing with wet food, she told me to try the other way around (i.e., feed mainly the wet food and only a little bit of the dry, plus the treats she can weasel out of my dad with profound ease). None of this struck me as so interesting that I needed to blog about it. However, what the vet said next was what really lodged itself in my brain.

Wet food is higher-calorie the dry food, so it sounds kind of counter-intuitive that cats will better regulate their weight on higher-calorie wet food. But the wet food is high fat and high protein, while the dry food has a higher percentage of carbs. Cats don't usually eat much in the way of carbohydrates when they're in the wild, so they better metabolise the fats and the proteins and stay healthier.

The geeky side of the crazy cat lady in me thought of this study looking at the relationship between anorexia recovery and dietary energy density and variety. The study found what my fantabulous dietitian has been telling me all these years: eat a wide variety of foods and make sure you eat enough protein and fat!! Like Tina's wonderful experiment, adequate fat and protein intake is important for humans and cats alike.

I worry a lot about feeding Aria because I don't want to project my own food issues onto her, or go completely in the other direction because I fear the thought of someone going without food. It has made me much more sympathetic towards the issues mothers with eating issues (past or present) face in feeding their children. I know that right now, I'm not good at judging how much I need to be eating. I leave that to my dietitian and my parents because, like I said, I don't know. So if I'm not confident in feeding myself, how can I be confident in feeding my (fur)child? Which is why I think research like Nurture at UNC Chapel Hill's ED Program is so important. Hopefully it will give women the knowledge and confidence they need to make good decisions for themselves and their children.

Besides my copious packages of Ensure Plus that I pick up at the grocery store now, I guess I'll have to add some more tuna for Aria.

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Bron said...

One of the many things I love about cats is that they are supremely content with their body regardless of its size.

As someone else who (still) shares some of your aversion to fats, it still feels a bit weird to deliberately eat a high fat food. But there is definitely something about the 'mouth feel' of food with some fat in it that makes it feel more satisfying than reduced fat foods, and means that in general you don't need as much to feel satiated.

I hope you're OK. I'll be interested to see how Aria reacts to her change in diet (is she a typical cat who goes crazy for one kind of food until the point when you buy in a huge supply and then refuses to touch it again? :-))

Kim said...

Watching my cats eat is the most fascinating thing. Hope she does ok with the food change!

Lissy said...

i agree with your doctor. net,net -- real food is so much more satisfying. sometimes, i can enjoy a comfortable portion of "what everyone else is eating". but sometimes, i have that carbs beget carbs, fat begets fat thing. something like pizza is always hard.

ahhh. it drives me crazy. hope your cat has a MUCH easier time. may she AND YOU be well.

Anonymous said...

That nurture program sounds fantastic. It must be so, so hard for women with children to reconcile having a disordered relationship with food while being a positive role model...

On the topic of cats, I love how normal an eater my cat is! My cat is an epitome of eating when hungry and stopping when full and eating whatever tastes good (heh, including table scraps he's not "supposed" to have -- but that's an issue of cleanliness and boundaries, lol). My only gripe is that, as you pointed out, many commercial foods available aren't what's best for cats because their ingredients don't mimic how cats have evolutionarily fed themselves in the wild.

Carrie Arnold said...

I have been feeding her almost exclusively tuna because of her sore tooth (which will come out tomorrow- poor thing!). She is the best intuitive eater. She turns up her nose at many of the "gourmet" type cat foods with no problem, but loves gravies and sauces. Aria never used to eat treats, either, until I found the Pounce crunchy catnip flavored treats. Don't skip the 'nip!

Gaining Back My Life said...

Ah, I have to chuckle at the way we are hyper-conscious of projecting our eds on our pets!

Carrie Arnold said...

I KNOW! But the little dear is so much like me that I'm getting a taste of what it's like to live with me!

Cera said...

Never written here before, but read sometimes.

However, as I have developed normalized eating patterns and striven for healthy and non-obsessive body image, I have unfortunately projected my ED onto my dog.

She is a very healthy weight for a golden retriever (though most are overweight and people tell me she is under weight), however some days I look at her and I fear she has picked up too much weight. I start to panic and obsess about it and discuss it with everyone, analyze her intake/output ratio. Then I drag her to the vet to put her on a scale and her weight hasn't changed an ounce.

Alternatively, when I am gearing up to go to my grandparents who are very vocal about their judgments of my weight, I will look at her while packing and start to cry because all of the sudden she is skin and bones emaciated. Then I need to repeat the same routine to receive assurance that she is, once again fine.

Yes, its unhealthy (but I am maintaining, 'in recovery' and don't have the constant obsessions about myself anymore). The fortunate thing is that as a golden retriever, food is her number one love and no matter how much I project that doesn't change.

Thanks for sharing. I enjoy your blog.

Stephanie Zerwas said...

Hi Carrie! Thanks so much for including Nurture in your post. Just wanted to let your readers know that we're recruiting participants for our first support groups right now. If you know anyone in the Raleigh/Durham region who might like to participate, drop us an email. I'd be very happy to discuss the study some more. You can reach me at

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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