When my adorable orange tabby kitten, Pumpkin, came to me from the shelter, he arrived with a little bit of a problem: diarrhea.
The rescue agency had tested him for parasites and infections, but the tests came back negative. Since he seemed healthy otherwise, they thought the problem would resolve soon on its own. I was advised to try him on cat food made from turkey, which is supposed to be easier on a cat’s digestive tract.
A couple weeks passed and there was no improvement. I took him off the turkey cat food and put him on fresh, cooked chicken with rice. He devoured it but it gave him terrible gas.
Next, I tried cooked chicken without rice. He still loved it and was easier to be around, but again, there was no improvement.
He was getting bigger but not filling out and he didn’t have as much energy as a kitten his age would typically have. There was clearly something really wrong.
Endless vet visits, but little improvement
I took him to my vet and she began another round of lab tests. The tests still came back negative but the vet advised a course of antibiotics anyway, just in case anything was lurking in his system that the test wasn’t catching.
He took the antibiotics but the problem persisted.
The vet suggested that we try to rule out food allergies. For a few weeks Pumpkin ate very expensive hypoallergenic cat food made from duck and green peas. He really loved it. But the diarrhea continued.
Even though my little kitten always ate plenty, he was actually slowly starving to death before my eyes. His coat was dull and he was still not gaining weight.
After racking up vet bills of more than $400 without success, it seemed like we were coming closer to the diagnosis that I was fearing: pancreatic insufficiency.
Although the cause isn’t really known, pancreatic insufficiency results in the pancreas failing to produce sufficient amounts of enzymes necessary for proper digestion. As a result, the food passes through the digestive tract without being completely digested so that all the nutrients can be absorbed into the system. Some cats will outgrow this problem; others will just die.
Around Christmas time my vet went on vacation for a couple weeks. Because I didn’t want to have to bring a new vet up to date on all that had been done so far, I just kept Pumpkin on a special prescription diet for cats with digestive problems and hoped for the best. He began to show some slight improvement — the diarrhea lessened and I thought we had turned the corner on the situation. But after a few more weeks, he had become lethargic and was really just skin and bones.
He really was starving to death.
I was about to bring him back to the vet when I decided to do one more Internet search to see if I could find any helpful information.
I am not a veterinarian and I would never advise someone to forego taking their sick pet to a vet. But when all else fails and your pet is dying, sometimes you have to look elsewhere for guidance.
I happened to come across a web site advocating a raw food diet for cats and dogs. It advised feeding cats something similar to what they would eat in the wild (and what their digestive systems are really designed for). In the wild cats eat birds and mice, so the suggested alternatives were raw chicken, turkey, or rabbit.
Since Pumpkin hadn’t improved when I’d fed him cooked chicken, I was doubtful that the raw version would work any better, but in desperation I bought a couple chicken breasts and minced them up. He ate every bit I gave him and within about 24 hours he had perked up noticeably.
Within 48 hours the diarrhea began to taper off and his coat was noticeably softer and healthier looking. I kept feeding him raw minced chicken and within about ten days, the diarrhea stopped completely.
By the end of the month, Pumpkin was no longer skin and bones and lethargic. He was growing and filling out and had more than enough energy to keep up with my other cat.
I kept him on the raw chicken diet until he was well past the one-year-old mark. The result was that he grew lean and strong with a beautiful, shiny coat. He really became the healthiest looking cat you can imagine.
Pumpkin probably would have preferred that I keep feeding him chicken, but I did have concerns about salmonella and other parasites. So, once he seemed healthy enough, I weaned him off the raw chicken and onto a healthful commercial diet. He adapted to the change well and never had digestive problems again.
I’m still not sure why the raw chicken works. It’s possible that it contains enzymes necessary for digestion that are destroyed when the chicken is cooked. I only wish I’d discovered this solution before I’d spent hundreds of dollars at the vet’s!