My love for cats runs deep. I’ve been known to try and talk a few into following me home when I’m walking in the neighborhood, hoping they “want” an owner. And I dream of having a hobby farm with a cat barn that holds a dozen of them. I’ve taken my passion into cat rescue and I foster orphaned neonatals though Bitty Kitty Brigade, bottle feeding kittens until they can eat on their own and are medically stable.
But it wasn’t always that way. I actually had “no time” for cats most of my life. I had grown up in a hunting family with black labs, and was taught that cats didn’t really have a purpose, nor personalities, and strange loners if anything.
Brian and I had been dating for 4 months and he was leaving for Fiji. But he had also committed to watching his sister’s cat while she was on vacation, forgetting about his own trip. He announced that I’d be watching Fiona, her black cat, for a week, and I threw a mini fit. “Brian, I hate cats. What would make you think that this a good idea? How is she going to know where to go to the bathroom? She’s going to scratch the furniture.”
7 days later I had fallen completely head over heels for Fiona, my new friend, who snuggled with me at night and stood at the edge of my desk and stared at me while I typed. And 10 days later we had Grace, the sweet and sassy diva who fills my heart with more joy than I ever thought possible. And 8 years later, we adopted Bleu. They’ve both been my best friends ever since.
I didn’t know much about being a cat mom, but figured it was proper to feed her once in the morning and at night. She’d wake us at 3am every morning, and assuming that was normal and she was hungry, I’d feed her a few kernels, hoping she’d go back to sleep. Instead, she’d bound from the bed and jump into our window blinds, a sound that will startle you from the inside out. Or scratch the carpet, stand on my stomach, and run laps in the hallway like a little black terror.
We resolved to the fact that for our sleep health and sanity, the only option was to put her away at night. We made the back bathroom her “bedroom”, with cat bed and litter box, and when we went to bed, so did she. And every night, for 6 years, when I’d close that door, I felt horrible, feeling like I was locking her up in solitary confinement.
This October we were at the vet and I mentioned the sleeping predicament, having never said anything about it before because I know many cats wake their owners. The first thing he asked about was her feeding schedule and the food. Knowing she was a stray, he explained:
In effect, feeding her only twice throughout the day was putting her into “never going to be fed again” mode. Her blood sugars were likely going and up and down, creating swings like that of a human (probably why around 4pm each day she’d start scratching things, getting into things she shouldn’t be, and even nagging at me). AND, even though I was feeding her high quality cat food, it hadn’t even crossed my mind that it was made of mostly grains, carbohydrates. Also just like a human, carbohydrates are part of meals, but need to be countered with protein and fat, for satiation and fullness.
These three factors in combination looked to be the reason for her (and our) sleep struggles.
So “operation Grace” began.
Step 1: spacing out her meals.
Step 2: finding a grain-free cat food.
Since my home is my studio, I could easily keep track of feeding her mini meals, 6x a day to start with. Being the “Consumer News” type of buyer that I am, I starting researching different cat food brands. I loved that all of Nulo’s premium cat food had unique ingredients like lentils, cod, mackerel, duck, turkey, and low glycemic carbohydrates like chickpeas, peas, and sweet potatoes. The high protein/healthy carbohydrate focus is key for energy throughout the day and stabilizing blood sugar. And it includes a patented probiotic (which I never thought I’d see in a pet food)! This helps support their immune system, improved nutrient absorption, and prevent growth of yeast organisms that may cause skin problems and ear infections.
I bought the Salmon and Lentil grain-free dry (because that’s what I like to eat), and the Turkey and Chicken wet cans, and got started. When I opened the bag, I could literally smell the difference (notes of the actual real food ingredients).
We went from feeding her 2x a day to 4-5x a day, and she had no problem switching food.
Each night she’d sleep a little longer, starting to understand her body was not hungry all the time, and that she was going to get fed. And at the same time, her afternoon mood swings went away because her blood sugars were stable. Within three weeks, she was all snuggles next to my feet every night, and finally rustling awake around 6:30am, which is the time I get up anyways. HOORAY!
She’s getting better sleep, eating food that helps her stay fit and healthy, and mentally I’m relieved she doesn’t have to be cooped up in a room by herself at night. What was something we thought would never change, turned into something that made a big difference in our little family’s dynamic. xo, from Amanda and Grace
photos by Annie D’Souza and myself