UPDATE: My dear Tony passed away in January 2015. In the last few months of his life, he suffered from diabetes and progressive liver failure. He lived a good long life, and I tried to manage his conditions with diet, but it reached a point when I just needed to feed him anything he would eat. I hope your cat lives well and healthy. I am updating this recipe with a few things I learned in the last couple of years.
My 15-year-old cat (Update 8/2014: Tony has just turned 18 years old!) has had kidney issues for a few years now. Over the last couple of years, I have managed it well by giving him homemade low-protein cat food made from recipes by established veterinary nutritionists, and under my vet's supervision. I choose not to buy the prescription canned food because of the numerous recalls that have plagued pet food in recent years, plus even though the food I make is expensive, it still costs less in the end than canned food, and I control the ingredients.
The process is time and labor intensive, but I use all parts of what I cook. I hope this is useful for you if you have an ailing cat as well. It may also be useful to you if you want to learn how to slow-cook chicken and use up all the parts of it.
DISCLAIMER: This is not meant to substitute for veterinary medical advice. It is a guide to how I prepare a recipe my vet recommended, along with other holistic wisdom I picked up along the way. Your mileage may vary, but please only proceed under medical supervision.
Step 1: Ingredients & Supplies
To make the food, you will need:
- Cooked chicken
- Brown rice (careful of the source, try not to get from Southern US)
- Salt substitute (potassium chloride)
- Calcium carbonate supplements
- Bone meal
- Multivitamins - I use these: Nu-Cat Senior
- Vitamin K
- A good blender
- Mortar & pestle
Optional but recommended:
Renal Essentials - Kidney Support for Cats
For an explanation of the recipe as well as others for both kidney issues and many others, you can read the book Home-Prepared Dog and Cat Diets, which is the top-recommended resource for this knowledge. My vet originally provided me with recipes from the previous edition, but I bought this edition and have been using it as my guide with my vet's approval.
Step 2: Prepare the Chicken Meat
I use chicken legs instead of chicken breasts because the dark meat has more nutrition, plus my cat was losing too much weight on the breasts; he needs more fat. I buy organic chicken legs from Trader Joe's, which makes them pretty affordable.
My method of cooking is to place the chicken legs in a steamer in a crock pot and cook on low heat. I've found that this tends to keep more of the nutrients in the food. The strainer lets the fat drip down too.
Once the legs are cooked and cooled somewhat, I peel the skin and remove the meat and gristle from the bones. I don't throw anything away. The meat gets put in a bowl. Some might be used today, the rest saved for another day.
If I drop anything, my clean-up crew is right there taking care of it for me!
Since I live so far from Trader Joe's, I only make a trip about once a month. So I buy several packages at once. I may use one package fresh and freeze the rest. I freeze them by wrapping each one in plastic wrap and storing them in a freezer zipper bag.
Step 3: Prepare Other Ingredients
Once the chicken has been taken out of the strainer, I pour the fat into a container to use in the recipe.
The peeled skin gets dehydrated for a few hours and used later. (The dehydrated gristle makes good dog treats if used sparingly.) I dehydrate them to make them keep longer.
I put the bones back in the crock pot with the remains of the drippings, add water, and let cook for several hours to make a broth, also for the recipe.
Brown rice* should be cooked somewhere along the way. I like to cook mine in my rice cooker, often with broth left from the previous chicken batch.
Once the broth is complete, I take the bones out and dehydrate them. When they are dry, I use a mortar and pestle to pound them into smaller pieces, then use a blender to make bone meal. I am also saving other bones to burn and then use in my garden as a source of phosphorus.
Step 4: Mixing: First Steps
I have found that unless I really blend the rice thoroughly with the food, my cat will find a way to leave lots of bits of rice over. One way to make this happen, if you don't have a Vitamix blender is to let the rice soak for a while (especially if you have cooked and refrigerated it) and then blend it in liquid, either broth or water, until it makes a nice blended mush.
Since I am making a double batch this time, I use 1-1/3 cup of cooked rice. The recipe calls for 2/3 cup per batch.
Warning: If you are going to take this on, you will need a good blender. My affordable workhorse, after I burned through a Magic Bullet and a Cuisinart blender, is a Ninja Master Prep blender set. It works well, though I still long for a Vitamix.*
Next I crush up the crushable supplements in my mortar and pestle.
Update 3/2012: I picked up a refurbished Blendtec last fall - you know, the kind that Starbucks uses to make their blended drinks. Best $180 I've spent in ages. Now I don't bother with the mortar and pestle, but pulse a few times with the Blendtec to grind the supplements, and then let it blend for a while. The result is smooth, creamy, and totally edible, according to Tony. He has gained weight and improved health-wise in the last few months; his latest test results showed some kidney function improvement. Yay!
I picked up this old postal scale at a yard sale for $5. Great investment. This allows me to see how many ounces I am measuring for the recipe. This recipe calls for 3 oz of chicken per batch, and I'm making a double batch, so 6 oz.
The first scale photo shows that I zero the scale with the empty container on it first.
Step 5: Mixing: Next Steps
Once the chicken and rice are blended, I add:
- 5 tsp of fat per batch. The recipe suggests canola oil, but cats digest animal fat more easily, so I use my chicken fat, unless I run out. To help my cat retain weight, I also throw some extra pieces of fatty dehydrated skin in there. In response to certain commenters who suggest corn oil, by all means do your own research and work with nutritionists. I have heard from a number of people that cats don't digest vegetable oil well, and I have concerns about rapeseed (canola) oil and won't use it myself.
- 1/4 tsp potassium chloride salt substitute per batch
- 1/8 tsp salt per batch
- 1/4 tsp bone meal powder per batch
- 1/8 tsp calcium carbonate/baking soda per batch
- Vitamins & renal supplements according to bottle directions per batch*
- Taurine, 1000 mg per 1/4 tsp: 1/4 tsp per batch
- Vitamin K, 100 mcg per tablet: 1 tablet per batch
*One portion makes about two meals for my cat; your mileage may vary.
Why is the final blended food greenish? For a while I tried adding Very Green to his food, and I thought I saw some improvement in energy, eye clarity, and a reduction in urination. His tests improved, too. Then at the last checkup, his kidney values were worse again, so I took this addition out. I may add it back in again, though, since he seems to be getting worse since I stopped it (more urination, more fur loss, throwing up some).
Food-making time is an exciting event for the furry members of my home. It always draws an audience.
Step 6: Experimental Additive
Since my cat was losing weight, I observed him carefully, and I noticed that he would go two to three days without pooping. In that time, as he became more constipated, he would eat less; then as soon as he eliminated, he would eat a lot. So I decided to try an additive: chia seeds. These amazing little seeds are a super food that contains lots of Omega 3's (also recommended by my vet) and tons of fiber, as well as helping with hydration, which my cat really needs. I gave him maybe 1/2 tsp per food bowl. (I drink a teaspoon of these every morning myself in orange juice, along with a teaspoon of Very Green.)
Sure enough, before too long, he started becoming more regular and having a better appetite. He did not lose weight in the last six months, which is amazing given the extent of his kidney failure. I haven't been able to find any research on the use of chia in cats, but I told my vet, and he okayed it.
Update: I have since stopped the chia seeds and added Slippery Elm powder, okayed by my vet, to help remedy constipation. This really helps too.
I used to add a few pieces of holistic kibble on top or mixed in. The reason for this is that my cat lived on kibble his whole life prior to this kidney failure. I did not know that cats are desert animals accustomed to getting most of their liquid from their food, and that I was damaging his health by feeding him kibble. Therefore, he became conditioned to thinking "food" means "kibble," so it wasn't really feeding time for him unless he heard the sound of the kibble box. Then he happily devoured his whole meal. Now he happily consumes his kibble-free meals.
Feel free to ask questions, and I will modify this article if I've left anything out.