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Jill Goodfriend, Oakland
My Cat, the Compulsive Eater
Some cats eat to live, but my cat lives to eat. Her name is Mao ("cat" in Chinese) and her whole existence revolves around meals. She wolfs her food down as soon as she sees it, and then urps it five minutes later. Before discovering a cure for her compulsive eating habit, I was faced daily with piles of partially digested cat food in surprising locations around the house.
For months, I suspected there was either a mysterious ingredient in the cat food that was causing an allergic reaction or perhaps a carb addiction. Cat food is mostly made of corn — not exactly what cats were born to eat. After trial and error with many bags of gourmet, non-corn cat food, I concluded that the real cause was the speed of her eating. She was inhaling her food in sheer panic. Where was this anxiety coming from? A starvation experience from kittenhood? What had her first owners done to her?
A Tibetan Buddhist once told me that anxiety is the karma of animals, even well cared for pets. Although we humans believe pets have a life of ease, they are actually always suffering, anxious about food, laps for naps, or the next vacuum-cleaning session. Mao's anxious meows took on a whole new meaning for me: Hey, my bowl is empty! Come see! Wait, you're going out? You'll never come back! Follow me ... see my empty bowl!
Eventually, I figured out that she was swallowing her food without chewing. Her kibble was too small to require it. Eureka! I searched for dry food that was bigger, and found some cat food shaped more like stars than fish-tank pebbles. But my solution had only solved part of the problem. The bigger kibble had slowed her down a bit, but not enough to eliminate the over-eating.
Desperate, I went to Pet Food Express, where each one of the employees is a pet therapist-in-the-making, willing, almost excited, to listen to the angst of us pet owners. "I'm thinking some kind of a feeder?" I said, "Not the kind where the cat can access food anytime it wants; a timed thing." The PFE employee was stumped for a mere nanosecond before directing me to a large covered platter with five trays that rotated in timed intervals, revealing only one tray at a time. Wahoo! I set up five feeding times, coffee-maker style: 6 a.m., 10 a.m., 2 p.m., 6 p.m., and 10 p.m.
At 5:55 pm, I waited with Mao to see if it would turn. Both of us were nervous. At 6:01 p.m. the machine rotated with a slow grind. Mao jumped straight up into the air, aghast. But then she gingerly approached the machine. The food passed the sniff test and the crunching began.
Now, the sound of the rotating feeder is music to my kitty's ears. I can leave the house for hours at a time worry-free — as long as I remember to fill her feeder.
Heather Merriam, Berkeley
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