For many cat owners, holistic cat care is the preferred way to care for their beloved furry friend. Holistic veterinarian Dr. Jean Hofve offers advice about alternative health options for cats and what cat owners can do to provide a nutritionally balanced diet to keep their pets happy and healthy.
About Dr. Jean Hofve and Holistic Cat Care
Dr. Jean Hofve has been in veterinary medicine since 1994 after graduating from Colorado State University in Fort Collins and receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. After five years of full time practice, Dr. Hofve went part time and pursued a career as a sought-after writer, speaker and consultant in the area of pet health.
Dr. Hofve has also served as Editor-in-Chief for the Journal of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, has written hundreds of articles and is currently serving as president of the Rocky Mountain Holistic Veterinary Association.
About Holistic Veterinarians
According to Dr. Hofve, any vet can be a holistic veterinarian. The term "holistic" means that when considering a case, a vet takes into consideration the totality of the cat. This means not only its current symptoms, but also its history, lifestyle, personality, social environment and diet along with its physical health.
She goes on to say that the public mainly sees holistic veterinarians as those who use holistic treatments such as acupuncture, herbs, homeopathy, flower essences, Reiki and so forth. These may be used instead of or along with conventional medicine.
"I prefer the term 'integrative' to describe the type of practice that incorporates many different tools including conventional and holistic therapies." says Dr. Hofve.
Holistic Cat Care Interview
LTK: What are the benefits of holistic medicine?
Dr. Hofve: The benefits of the vet "thinking holistically" are that the individual cat gets much better attention, and the guardian receives advice and education that will improve the cat's life overall. For instance, the guardian of an indoor cat would learn about environmental enrichment to keep the cat healthy mentally, as well as diet advice to support the cat's physical well-being.
Incorporating holistic therapies allows for a much broader range of treatment options, many of which are less invasive and harsh than conventional medicine. Many "alternative" modalities work with the body, unlike conventional medicines, which typically work against it; "anti"-biotic, "anti"-inflammatory, "anti"-anxiety, etc. Conventional medicine that focuses on removing or suppressing symptoms is typically less successful, in the long term, than holistic modalities that also address the underlying causes of those symptoms. For instance, you can make a cat stop itching by giving steroid drugs, but steroids do nothing to change or heal the allergy that caused the itching in the first place. A holistic vet would use other therapies that help resolve the underlying problem as well as treating symptoms.
LTK: What holistic methods do you use?
Dr. Hofve: I am trained in homeopathy and homotoxicology (an offshoot of homeopathy that uses low-dose combination remedies). I use a lot of flower essences, and started my own line of flower essence remedies for animals in 1995 (Spirit Essences), now run by my business partner, Jackson Galaxy. Flower essences have very gentle, subtle effects and are especially well-suited to cats because of their exquisite sensitivity to energy. I am a Reiki Master; Reiki is great because it can be given hands-on or at a distance. Other energetic therapies I use include EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), and Tellington TTouch.
LTK: Can people safely use holistic methods on their own cats?
Dr. Hofve: Absolutely! Many holistic modalities are easy to learn and apply to your own pets! While complex systems like constitutional homeopathy, chiropractic and Traditional Chinese Medicine are best left to experts, guardians can readily learn the basics of Reiki, EFT, homeopathic first aid, TTouch, massage, color therapy and flower essences, and use them to great effect on their cats.
Your Cat and Nutrition
LTK: What role does nutrition play in cat health?
Dr. Hofve: Nutrition is everything. Without excellent nutrition the body cannot maintain itself properly, or heal itself when necessary. It really is the foundation of health. You can throw every kind of treatment at an illness, but without the right "groceries", full healing is impossible.
Cats have very specific nutritional needs, but once you understand what those are they aren't difficult to fulfill.
LTK: Which types of vitamins and nutrients do all cats need?
Dr. Hofve: All cats need a balanced basic diet based on meat, which contains amino acids such as arginine and taurine that are essential to survival.
Beyond that, I recommend two basic types of nutritional support that all cats need, regardless of their basic diet: digestive support and immune support.
For digestive support, I recommend digestive enzymes and probiotics. Digestive enzymes relieve some of the burden on the pancreas, a very sensitive little organ, and help the cat obtain the maximum nutritional benefit from her food. Probiotics maintain balance in the normal bacterial population of the gut. This is extremely important for good overall health.
For immune support, I recommend Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. Omega-3s are more crucial than most people understand. Even homemade food using organic meat is still deficient in Omega 3s because food-producing animals in North America are fed so much grain. This skews the natural ratio of essential fatty acids to the pro-inflammatory Omega-6 side. Omega 3s are found in every cell of the body, but are especially important for skin, immune system and nervous system health. Along with antioxidants, they help regulate inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation is a major cause of degenerative diseases such as arthritis, asthma, urinary problems, kidney disease and cancer. Antioxidants work best in combination rather than as single supplements.
Cats are notoriously difficult to supplement, and they tend to be suspicious of anything added to their food. If you could only add one supplement to your cat's diet, I'd recommend Omega-3s. Personally, I use and recommend Nordic Naturals Omega 3 products because I know them to be safe, fresh and potent. I use their cod liver oil when making food for my four cats.
LTK: Do cats' nutritional needs change as they age?
Dr. Hofve: You'd think so, wouldn't you - based on the pet food companies' segmentalization of cat food into kitten, adult, mature adult, senior and who knows what else? However, in the wild, cats eat the same food - their natural prey - from the time they're weaned until the day they die.
It was only when we humans started manufacturing cat food that we ran into trouble. The pet food standards only recognize two life stages: growth (kittens and pregnant or nursing cats) and adult. Everything else is marketing. If you're feeding commercial cat food, I recommend using foods intended for "all life stages". These meet the standards for growth with higher protein and fat. This is better for all cats than the higher carbs and fiber found in foods made for older cats.
LTK: Can cat owners make their own nutritionally complete cat food?
Dr. Hofve: You betcha! It does take education, effort and dedication to get it right. Most recipes and "cookbooks" are not correctly balanced. Many people get the idea that meat is all a cat needs. This is a very dangerous myth, and too many cats have suffered the consequences of an unbalanced, all-meat diet.
The goal of a homemade diet is to mimic the cat's natural prey; that is, we want to "make a better mouse". A mouse contains bones, glands, blood and other non-meat components that supply vitamins and minerals not found in meat alone. While the basis of a healthy homemade diet is meat, appropriate supplements must be provided as well.
There are two basic ways to approach a homemade diet: either make it entirely from scratch, including all needed supplements, or use a "complete" supplement or kit intended to create a balanced food when added to meat. Examples include Celestial Pets (created by the co-author of my new book, Dr. Celeste Yarnall), TC Instincts, and Sojo's.
LTK: What else would you like people to know about cats?
Dr. Hofve: I wish people would understand how detrimental to health dry cat food is. No matter how high-quality or grain-free the ingredients are, dry food is always heavily processed and very dehydrating. This puts a tremendous burden on the cat's digestive system and kidneys.
I would be ecstatic if every cat guardian fed more wet food - whether canned, homemade, or (best of all) raw. I do advocate raw feeding, although it's not right for every cat; it's best to work with a holistic vet to fine-tune the perfect diet for your particular cat.
More About Dr. Hofve
LTK: Can you discuss the book you are writing?
Dr. Hofve: It's an update of Celeste Yarnall's 1995 book, Natural Cat Care. I started out as an advisor, but am now more of a co-author with Dr. Yarnall, a nutritionist who has raised 11 generations of Tonkinese cats with raw food and holistic health care.
It will be a sumptuously illustrated book, yet seriously content-dense. It will cover every aspect of holistic cat care with a special emphasis on nutrition. It will be published by Quarry Books in October 2009. Keep an eye on Dr. Yarnall's website, Celestial Pets, for updates.
LTK: What about your own website?
Dr. Hofve: I'd like to point out my informative website, Little Big Cat, that features a free article library containing 90 articles on feline health, nutrition and behavior, including how-to and other articles on flower essences and EFT.
There is also a guide to create a holistic first aid kit for your cat at Holistic First Aid.