Updated: Dec 17, 2021
While I was born naturally with no drugs, I was raised like most people with vaccinations, pharmaceutical medications, huggies diapers, Mcdonald's and candy (don’t get me wrong we ate great, but like most parents, we were fed what we would eat). We fed the cats kibble, vaccinated them, gave them chemical flea and tick medications regularly and there was little concern for pollution, what was in our/their food, water or other common epigenetic stressors.
My natural journey started when I had graduated college. I started out with animal nutrition when I starCanine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health by Jean Dodds. d in nutrition and I had started raw feeding 4 years prior but it was not for the health benefits or because it was a species appropriate diet for my Bengal, Tayla. One day she decided to stop eating kibble so for several months with little luck we tried to find another food she would eat. I somehow came across a website by Lisa A. Pierson, a cat veterinarian who had developed a raw food diet. Out of reasonable options, I made the recipe and to my surprise Tayla loved it! I started feeding raw simply because she ate it (my opinion since has changed on the need for a raw diet). When I got two more kittens I started them on the pet food I represented. I believed in the company and what they provided. Of course after they got a taste of Tayla's food they wanted it to so I instantly switched them over to raw food as well.
With this job I ended up having a lot of down time so I started reading. The first book I picked up was Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health by Jean Dodds. The book talks about how the food we eat turns on and off genes affecting our companion’s bodily health and function. In college my degree went from a Biology Degree to a Psychobiology degree….essentially nature plus nurture, how these various factors alter our genes and development. So the dots began connecting, the catalyst that sent me down a crazy rabbit hole of information.
The following months, I soon found connections through reading books, studies, websites, individual accounts and other research with vaccinations, the pharmaceutical industry, the veterinary industry, the pet food industry which all had connections within the human industries as well. Light bulbs started going off and everything made so much sense.
While I could go on for days about natural rearing, this is more about my journey to find balance. The basics however are those that naturally rear are proactive with their companions health by being aware of what they are putting in, on and around it to prevent impairing the bodies natural defenses and immune system that can result in illness and disease. Its putting more trust back in the amazing things the body can and were designed to do.
The code of ethics among the Natural Rearing community includes the following:
It is important to know Natural Rearing does not mean breeders do not:
In no way is the goal to harm our own or anyone else’s cats or kittens.
I latched on to these principles especially in relation to my education, experiences, my studies and my research. But just as there are positives there are negatives as well. And they began to show a few years ago that made me start questioning things.
One of the hardest parts outside of myself and my cattery was the community. I met some really great people but overall the community was quite dogmatic. It was their way or no way (which really is all groups of people whether that be religion, politics, sports teams etc.), there was no exceptions to the practices just excuses if they weren't working. You had to just keep going, it would work out. Or so it seemed. Some said one thing but at home may do something different but wouldn’t entirely tell you the reality.
Of course I had fallen into that before, I’m still a raw food fanatic frankly lol but when I started to have some issues, I felt I could no longer reach out to my community for help, but I also couldn’t reach out to the conventional community either, that too was fairly dogmatic with accusations and degradation for a natural rearer's practices. My group became smaller to the select few who understood there is a balance, sometimes you can’t be all natural, sometimes you do need something more heavy duty.
There were three situations in particular that really made think, I felt I took things to far, put sole faith into other people and came to the realization 100% natural wasn’t entirely feasible anymore.
The first situation involved fleas. This was a losing battle. I was 14 years free with not a single flea, tick or parasite involving my cats. I prided myself on that. I never treated the cats because they didn’t have fleas, ticks or parasites. We combed regularly of course and we did regular and random fecals to detect parasites. To this day we still have never had parasites or ticks, but unfortunately someone else brought us fleas. We did EXTENSIVE research on the topic to figure out the best solutions for us which eventually resulted in our article The Ultimate Guide to Fleas : For Cats. Over this time we:
Several options worked. Flea Ex for example was great. It was all natural, inexpensive and works but while it killed fleas on contact even spraying the cats twice daily in prime suspected areas they still had them. A dip would have been great. The Wondercide worked but the primary ingredients were essential oils which can be toxic to cats and we did have a few reactions when we felt we needed to at least try it after being assured by the company it was safe. Now we only use it around the house after removing the cats and airing out the space for awhile. Our homemade remedy I came up with worked but it required to be done almost everyday to target the flea life cycle which imagine giving a bath to a whole cattery of cats and kittens by yourself.
So unfortunately, we still had them. It was infuriating, I felt like I was losing. I was thankful we were not suffering with a deadly illness or disease but finding a flea (most of the cats only had 1-3 fleas, we luckily were not infested) or seeing one of the cats scratch was extremely triggering. We had friends and other catteries use chemical flea and tick products with no luck (fleas have started to become immune to conventional treatments) and were in several Facebook groups that detailed the seizures, neurological issues, chemical burns and other very serious side effects their cats, dogs and other animals had from these products including death. I didn’t want my cats suffering from being itchy constantly but I didn’t want them suffering from life long issues or worse die.
I had so much anxiety about what to do and after internalizing this for years, I finally reached out to a few of my level minded Natural Rearing and semi natural friends.
“I think at this point you have exhausted pretty much every NR option you have...it may be that a blend of both worlds is necessary, with education and proper research of course. Its no different then how we treat ourselves. … But honestly, I think you've done an insane amount of due diligence to avoid flea and tick meds, and if that's your option left, you should do it without guilt”
I really needed that, someone to tell me I did everything in my power and for the sake of my cats and honestly more importantly my sanity, I needed to treat them. And so I did. I of course ran around the house every 2 minutes making sure no one was dead but the cats are ok, we only had one with some hair loss but luckily no severe chemical burns or other side effects as of now.
If you are wondering what the big deal is about traditional chemical flea and tick products because you never had a problem, take a look at our flea guide, there is definitely quite a lot to worry about, but sometimes you just have to nip something in the butt when it comes down to it.
The second case was a mom who shed some respiratory viruses. We didn’t realize at first. She sometimes had watery eyes but she was a seal lynx and they can be sensitive to light with their blue eyes and partial albinism genes. She never got sick and she was vaccinated before I got her when she was 3. But one thing she taught us is that being in heat, breeding, being pregnant and nursing can all be stressful and even if mom has a great immune system that can fight things around her it doesn’t mean her kittens who at times have absolutely no immune system will kick the same thing.
Her kittens always seemed to get some respiratory symptoms puffy eyes, snotty nose, sneezing etc but we would have no other sick cats or kittens, in fact the babies were isolated from other cats until 8 weeks and we weren’t going anywhere that would bring it back so the only logical thing was it had to be from mom.
Luckily the kittens always got over it with some good immune boosting which often included herbal supplements, natural antivirals, colloidal silver, colostrum, vitamin C etc.
One litter though this did not happen and sadly I lost two kittens. One did unfortunately have flat chested kitten syndrome so I’m sure that just complicated the situation. At one point I had to go away for the weekend and the people caring for the babies had trouble keeping up with the medications so obviously that all complicated the situation as well.
While I do not want to displace blame for what happened, I did put full faith in a member of the natural rearing community who had rescued and bred NR dogs for close to 30 years. They encouraged me to continuously keep trying things, "they’ll have a break through" they told me. I certainly had a part to play in depending on others so much when I was the one helping my kittens, but this is when I started questioning the community and their die hard beliefs .
It took a good deal of time to to figure out the right protocol but we finally found a good balance of natural and conventional supplements, cleaning protocols and treatments.
The last event was in the case of a kitten with seizures. We chose to treat naturally with full extract cannabis oil (FECO) which we have worked with successfully for many first aid situations on cuts, pain management after spay and neuters, relaxing and healing from a broken knee, controlling heat cycles, anxiety, over grooming and more. We didn’t want the kitten drugged up on pharmaceutical drugs potentially creating a poor quality of life and turning the kitten into a zombie.
In the beginning it was trial and error to find the right strains and dosage. This of course is normal, every cat and kitten is different just like humans. He became stable once we refined his protocol but after a few months it wasn’t working anymore. It started turning into a guessing game looking at schedules and notes to see why he was reacting different. We looked externally to his environment, cleaners and soaps I used, types of music I played etc. This of course would be a perfect time for a cat to talk but that was impossible. About 3 months in it seemed the kitten was having numerous seizures a week. After weeks of trying to figure out what the trigger was, what dosing needed to change, the kitten had a seizure that just wouldn’t end so we made the difficult decision to put him to sleep. He was suffering and after weeks wasn’t improving or stable anymore.
I didn’t have prior experience with seizures but I knew FECO could be used for an endless amount of illness, disease and disorders thanks to an awesome endocannabinoid system in almost all living things. It was never a question as to if I could use it but how. I worked closely with a FECO for companion animals guru pretty much 24/7 every day and so naturally I put a lot of faith in them. We talked regularly not only about protocols, changes, dosing, strains but the quality of life for this kitten. At the 1 month mark before the kitten’s passing I started feeling that gut feeling, you know the one I should have listened too. I considered first putting the kitten to sleep but then to try a pharmaceutical drug. I also hoped someone would tell me what to do. Like so many things while others may have experienced the same thing or you may have support, you are typically still alone in your situation. I should have listened to myself but I figured the guru knew better and by no means do I blame them but of course hindsight is 20/20.
These situations didn’t all happen at once. At times I was a brand new breeder trying to find my footing, other times I was further in my journey as a breeder with more experience and knowledge behind me. With each one I learned many lessons. I researched, I improved my protocols and I took extensive notes. Following this last experience though I definitely started REALLY questioning how far I was taking my NR and started to realize it was time to rebalance and set some better rules for myself.
All in all I still believe in the principles of natural rearing especially the scientific and personal side of it but I also learned there is a balance that must be achieved. If you don’t strive for that you will not only drive yourself nuts but your cats and kittens will also suffer. Every cat, kitten and human is different. They have their own circumstances and situations that must be evaluated and taken into consideration. Its about education not blindly following what society or professionals who often are taught by product representatives, but taking everything into consideration when caring for your cats and kittens the best you can.
Am I a bad breeder for trying to be as a natural as I can? Absolutely not. All my choices and protocols were and still are based on science (see all the cited references with pretty much every article or blog I have written). I was proactive, I was aware, I researched, I carefully planned, carefully executed, consulted my veterinarians, friends in the industry and other professionals. I made choices just like you do to hopefully do what is best for my cats and kittens. I sure as hell never want to allow my cats or kittens to suffer. If anything I am hyperaware and obsessive about their care and why I am doing things. Its all for a purpose, for a reason.