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Mangiare Crudo in Italia (Raw Fed in Italy)

Updated: Saturday, June 01, 2019 05:14 PM
Published: Friday, January 08, 2010 12:53 PM
Written by Wendy Humphreys

"Mangiare Crudo in Italia" means "Raw Fed in Italy." I'm British and living in Italy. I've been here for four years, having moved with my Italian husband to escape the English climate. I make precious metal jewelry in a gorgeous workshop under the eaves upstairs, and do the odd translation from Italian into English. That's my proper job. My obsession however, is feeding cats properly. When we moved here, I had two cats, the elderly English statesman, Tarka, and my little Portuguese princess, Misi. Although we moved to Italy from the UK, I had previously lived in Portugal. Tarka moved out there with me and we acquired Misi once we got there. After several years back in the UK, we all moved out to Italy. Tarka was already 16 years old when we moved, but in good health. He started going downhill after about a year and was diagnosed with the beginnings of renal insufficiency. He was put on a diet of Hill's® renal dry food, which I later supplemented with the wet pouches. Misi was also put on this food under the recommendation of our vet at that time. Sometime after, Tarka developed what seemed to be a respiratory infection, but later turned out to be a nasal tumour. He almost died over Christmas of 2007, but somehow managed to soldier on long enough to see his 19th birthday in March. He died shortly thereafter. It takes a jolt like this to make you start asking questions.

Although Tarka ultimately died from the tumour, I wondered why do so many cats succumb to renal failure, and why is it seen as the norm? Cats can die from all kinds of age-related illness, as can people, but why so often is it their kidneys that let them down? This marked the beginning of a furious chapter of research concerning the feline diet. Little by little the windows began to open for me and I wondered how I could have been so stupid. How, in the name of logic, could a dry diet be remotely healthy for a cat suffering from renal insufficiency? For that matter, how can any dry diet ever be healthy for a cat that takes most of its moisture from its food? It was beginning to make sense to me why so many cats suffer from renal failures that lead to their demise. Delving deeper, I realised that most commercial diets bear absolutely no relation to what cats should properly be eating. I began to see that the only way I could healthily feed my remaining feline would be to prepare her food myself using fresh meat, as nature intended.

This wasn't something I entered into lightly. It wasn't until a month after Tarka had died, and after much reading, that I felt ready to try it out on Misi. I'd decided on a frankenprey diet – basically all the bits of an animal like meat, bone and organs, that then make up a hypothetical whole one. Before trying it out on Misi, I took her to the vet for a teeth clean and checkup. She's fortunate in that the only tooth she had missing is a canine that was knocked out in a coming together with a car some years ago. The vet informed me she had one cracked carnassial, but it didn't seem to be troubling her. I knew I'd have to be careful with the size of meat chunks and bone I gave her, however. She also had a blood test on this occasion and it came back being in the early stages of renal insufficiency. It was time to change.

I transitioned her in March of 2008. She took to her new diet straight away, even the bone which she loved from the start. She currently eats chunks of rabbit (bone in and boneless with kidney and liver), quail, poussin (Cornish game hen), turkey, turkey heart and ostrich. She had a blood and urine test in March this year and they came back as completely normal.

In February, I was adopted by a 3-month-old kitten. He turned up in the garden one evening and was still there miaowing in the morning. There is a feral cat colony at the bottom of our road and we feel he came up from there. There is a kindly lady who feeds the local cat colonies, so he wasn't entirely unused to people. In fact he was very affectionate right from the start. There aren't a lot of street cats in this part of Italy, and those that do exist are regularly rounded up and sterilised so they don't get out of hand. Our new kitten is called Bruno. Although he is mostly white, he is at least a first cross, if not a full-blooded Turkish Van cat. He is the naughtiest but most fun-loving cat I've ever owned! I raw-fed him from day one, initially feeding him smallish chunks. Again, I encountered no problems at all. He now eats huge chunks like whole rabbit limbs, half a quail, ribs, backbones, the lot. I prepare and freeze the meat in advance and pack it into boxes that will feed them for 2 days. Misi, weighing in at about 4.3kg (just under 9.5 pounds) eats between 250-300g (8.8 - 10.5 ounces) of food over a 2 day period. Bruno weighs a bit more and he eats around 300g (10.5 ounces) of food over a 2 day period. Whereas Misi eats ostrich, Bruno eats horse meat. Otherwise they eat the same meats. I occasionally supplement with palatable taurine tablets when they're not eating heart, and Bruno loves omega-3 fish oil capsules from time to time. His teeth are strong and sparkly white and he growls at Misi if she gets too close to him while he's eating. Misi, at 16, just oozes good health. She still has marvelous muscle tone and a glorious shiny coat.

Fortunately, here in Italy the pet food manufacturers haven't yet got their claws into vets' practices to the extent they have in the UK and US, so there is less of a vested interest in vets foisting kibble and the like on owners. Prescription diets are available in supermarkets, unlike in the UK where these products are only available at veterinary practices. Vets here are more inclined to let owners just get on with it; if they see a healthy animal in front of them, they assume the owner is feeding it properly. My own vet just gives a wry smile and says, "Hmmm, you don't feed your cats kibble, do you?" when she thinks about offering a little sample packet of Hill's® to take home and try.

Although I wouldn't say raw-feeding is common over here, you hear the same scare stories as anywhere concerning salmonella, parasites and the like. I know of two people who raw feed. Our plumber absolutely swears by it, as does his mother who has a 23-year-old cat. Another friend of ours partially raw-fed their cat that died at the grand old age of 22. They love me at the local market where I get the rabbits for the cats. The guy who owns the stall wishes all owners were like me. Of course, it would be commercially good for him, but he also means it from a healthy-eating point of view.

Even he said to me, "But cats are carnivores, what else are they supposed to eat? Anyway, you'll save on vets' bills!" Apart from saving on vets' bills, I find I save a great deal on food by feeding them in this way. Contrary to popular opinion, it is much cheaper to buy fresh meat than to buy grain-free quality canned food. A fresh rabbit costs around €7 a kilo (around $10 for 2.2 pounds). I can buy enough food for both of them for about 4 weeks and it will cost somewhere in the region of €75 ($112). If I were to feed them canned food, it would cost around €168 ($250) and their teeth wouldn't be getting scrubbed clean every time they ate. Plus, assuming you buy from a trusted source, you know what you are buying with fresh meat. After the various pet food recalls, I think this is something owners are finding increasingly important.

Wendy Humpreys is an English expat with a passion for proper feline nutrition. She is the creator ofAlphabetti Spaghetti Design, a maker of handcrafted precious metal jewelery. Wendy and her husband live in Modena, Italy with their cats Misi and Bruno.