Thursday, February 25, 2010

Review: The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care, by Celeste Yarnall and Jean Hofve

Celeste Yarnall and Jean Hofve want to change your mind. In their bold new book, The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care, they challenge our notions about the appropriate care and feeding of our cats, and make a persuasive argument that most of us are doing it wrong.

Is there a cat person among us who has not lost a cherished feline friend to cancer, chronic renal failure, diabetes, leukemia, thyroid problems, or other ravaging diseases? When bad things happen to our cats, we fight the good fight and support them with drugs, prescription diets, surgical procedures, and love, but we may not have dared to ask the question: how could we have prevented this?

In The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care, authors Yarnall and Hofve affirm not only that most chronic diseases can be prevented, they also tell us how. And they offer health-affirming prescriptions which, if we follow them, will enhance our cats' daily happiness quotient, and add many years to their lives.

It all begins with feeding. With a Ph.D. in Nutrition, Ms. Yarnall is an ardent advocate of a carefully formulated raw food diet, but, as she takes care to emphasize, it's not enough just to feed your cat raw meat and think you're giving him all he needs:

"It's vital to remember that cats cannot live on meat alone. There are many case histories of unfortunate cats who suffered and died from being fed only meat (or fish or liver). As an example, there is virtually no calcium in meat. A cat fed on a meat-only diet must satisfy its calcium requirement by stealing from its own bones, and ultimately can fracture a leg just walking across a room."

One of the things I didn't know until I read The Complete Guide is that, contrary to what we've been led to believe, most fish is bad for cats. Yarnall and Hofve posit that "the fish used in canned pet foods usually includes bones and are high in phosphorus and magnesium, which can be an issue in cats with a history of urinary tract disorders or kidney disease." And, even more alarmingly, "there is a known link between the feeding of fish-based canned cat foods and the development of hyperthyroidism in older cats."

The book has an excellent guide to "anti-aging supplements," and, equally important, a list of commonly used foods, ingredients, and other substances that are highly toxic to cats. Ms. Yarnall and Dr. Hofve recommend that you look for products that carry the National Animal Supplement Council seal.

And that's just the beginning. It's not just what a cat ingests in the form of food that will shape his future, it's how he copes with stress. It's here that Yarnall and Hofve are at their best, with innovative tools and techniques to ease anxiety and boost our cats' immune systems. They advocate incorporating play therapy, massage, TTouch, Reiki, the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), flower essences, and even telepathy into your cat's routine. If you're thinking that you can't do any of those things because you don't know how, don't worry. The authors will show you.

While The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care breaks with many commonly held assumptions of conventional veterinarians, it does invite the reader to have a reasoned conversation with her own practitioner, armed with facts, rather than rhetoric. Perhaps the most controversial section of the book deals with the topic of vaccinations. Citing studies by researchers Ron Schultz and Tom R. Phillips, the authors contend that not only is there no solid evidence justifying annual vaccinations, but that they actually do more harm than good. Indeed, there are studies that suggest "a causal relationship between the panleukopenia vaccine and the development of CRF (chronic renal failure)." And there is little debate about the causative role of the rabies and feline leukemia vaccines in the development of "malignant, fatal tumors called fibrosarcomas."

What no one can question, though, is the recurring theme that runs throughout this revolutionary volume: it's critical that everything we do for, to, or with our cats, is done with love. At first blush, that sounds like a cliche, but there is actually scientific support for the idea that we shouldn't be feeding our cats (or ourselves) when we are unbalanced, upset, or in the wrong frame of mind:

"I recommend that you do not feed your cat (or eat your own meals) when he or you are stressed. Acute stress releases adrenaline, which shuts down the digestive system. When anxiety accompanies a meal, your food cannot be properly digested, so nutrients can't get into your cells and function properly. This can compromise the immune system, making you vulnerable to infection and degenerative disease. All of our digestive functions work best when conditions are pleasurable. It's a double-edged sword for you, the caretaker of your family and pets."

How many times have you ever rushed home from work and, still in a harried state from your commute, literally thrown down the food for your cat (or dog, for that matter!)? I know I have. But after reading The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care, I won't do that anymore. My animals' lives might depend on it.


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