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Author Topic: Book review:Your Cat: Simple New Secrets to a Longer, Stronger Life  (Read 4344 times)
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alek0
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« on: August 22, 2007, 07:42:01 PM »

I finished reading it last night, and I decided to post my comments here. I have to say I am not impressed, and I expected something better. I was really looking forward to it, and disappointment might be partly to blame for a bit harsh review that will follow. On the good side, she is not recommending things which may be harmful. On the bad side, there isn't really that much there besides "dry food is bad" and "yearly vaccinations for everything are bad". 

 I agree with the content, but I was hoping for a bit more substance to it. The information is on a very introductory level, and I am sure that many of us who have researched the issues of nutrition and vaccination will not find much new information there. I also expected more detailed information on feline nutrition and it simply isn't there. For more precise nutrition requirements if I could get my cats to eat homemade instead of canned commercial frankly I think Strombeck is better, although his book is more difficult to read and his recipes contain too much grain and I disagree on ethoxyquin. But at least he is discussing vitamin and mineral requirements in detail, while Hodgkins simply says she is using commercial raw (Feline Pride) with commercial supplements and that's that more or less.

The main problem I have with it is referencing. The book is mostly referencing various websites, most of which I am familiar with, and I expected a bit more. There are no scientific references cited, so the whole book comes to basically "argument by expert opinion" and "I raised three generations of healthy occicats and I am a practicing vet" which I don't find particularly convincing. She does mention one study against raw diet, which didn't add taurine which is perfectly valid criticism. There are many studies she does not mention. Which is probably because access to al those journals is expensive, and also probably because she is not a scientist anymore. She published a total of 4 publications in her career, last one in 1989. I am not saying that all published studies are good. There is junk being published in peer reviewed journals, and many studies which are not independently funded may have questionable conclusions. Even studies which are independently funded sometimes may not be able to give all the data. It happened to me once that in order to purchase a chemical for research purpose I had to sign an agreement that I will not publish any comparisons of that one with other similar products which may indicate that theirs is not the best. In my opinion, that sort fo thing should be illegal, but unfortunately this isn't so. Published studies should be critically evaluated, but they are better evidence than a few stories of cats which miracoulosly recovered on X diet.

This does not mean that she is wrong, it simply means her presentation leaves a lot to be desired. I would feel better with studies backing this up, but I don't need studies to tell me that Science Diet is crap, it is enough to look at the label. However, if I want my vet to be on the same page with regards to nutrition in case my cats develop health problems in the future, I need stronger arguments to back me up. I was hoping that this book would provide such arguments. Instead, it provides personal opinion and anectodal evidence.

The main argument she presents is evolutionary argument. However, I don't find evolutionary argument all that convincing. Evolution does not work to optimize lifespan of an individual, it works to optimize survival of a species. From evolutionary point of view, it does not matter at all if you keel over and drop dead after your peak reproductive years if you produced enough offspring, it probably increases the chance of survival of offspring if parents are not around for too long to compete for the same resources. On the other hand, I would like to extend lifespan of my cats for as long as possible. Unfortunately, there don't seem to be reliable answers how to do that and I'll just have to keep searching and try to find my own way.

Second argument are little stories about cats which had diabetes, urinary tract problems etc. which recovered when dry food was eliminated. I believe that cats' health could improve signifiantly when their diet is improved. However, that kind of approach triggers all sort of scepticism alarms in my mind, because that is exact same approach used by quacks. Kumpi-ism uses this same approach, all sort of problems magically disappeared after feeding Kumpi. Complete quacks advocating weird and dangerous things (see for example The Road to Immunity: How To Survive and Thrive in a Toxic World ) use the same approach. I am not saying that she is a quack. I think she is right. But this kind of presentation is not going to be convincing to anybody who has had some scientific training, because this type of presentation is used by people who have no evidence to back them up. This I find truly sad, because there is evidence for what she is saying. For example, in Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice
Volume 36, Issue 6, November 2006, Pages 1297-1306 it is clearly stated that the best results for management of diabetes are achieved with low carbohydrate and canned foods.

Another problem I have with this is that although any homemade diet should be certainly better than quite a few commercial dry foods on the market, I do not believe that they are a magical cure. There is no such thing as magical cure for anything. Studies on urine analysis of feral cats reveal that quite a few had a bit higher urine pH (I am actually sorry I read that study, because the bastards killed the cats which was totally unnecessary), so pH is not going to magically normalize just by feeding "natural diet in the wild". Feral cats also have dental problems, so those are also not going to disappear no matter how much we try to emulate composition of a mouse I homemade diets.

I am not saying that I don't believe that commercial dry foods should not be preferred choice for feline diet. What I am saying is that I am disappointed because I hoped for more specific information and I hoped for something that might help convince other professionals. This book is perfect gift for friends who don't want to spend time and effort looking at a number of different websites to find information (because huge chunk of the info in the book can be found on the web), or who are not familiar with some basic nutrition issues (how to read labels, how is dry food produced etc.). Those who already know all that stuff are not going to benefit much from this book. If you want to try to convince someone to change their mind, it will work better than for example Anitra Fraziers "new natural cat" which is too "new agey", but it falls short of being convincing to veterinary care professionals. Or scientists in other fields for that matter, because we have been trained that expert opinions are not evidence.

The reason why that bothers me is that personally I think we will see a big change in pet nutrition only after large number of vets take a stand against pet food industry promoting inadequate diets. The reason why I believe this is that majority of people have trouble going against professional advice on medical and veterinary issues. I used to be like that until I once followed my doctor's advice against my better judgement and it almost killed me. Since then I always do my homework before going to see a doc or before vet's appointment for my cats. But I have to say that although I have no trouble confronting my doctor on non-evidence based advice or not observing nonsensical recommendations, it is a lot more difficult for my cats. At leats my current vet is not using emotional blackmail that previous one always tried (i.e. "If you want what is best for your cat, you'll do X"). And going against that is awfully hard even when I know I am right, not to mention how hard it would be if I wasn't absolutely certain.

How many people are feeding Science Diet or Royal Canin or Purina at recommendation of their vets and are convinced that they are providing best care for their pet becuase vet said so? Until we can change the nutrition eductaion of vets, until we can change that view that dry is best and canned food is "like pizza" we will not see any big changes of common attitudes in pet nutrition. The reason why I am disappointed with Hodgkins' book is that  had high hopes that it would bring us closer to the goal that it would be widely accepted that feeding Hill's crap is not the best choice for our pets. Unfortunately, I don't think that this book will do much on that front, although it may be a good introduction to the problems with pet food for people who don;t know much about it.

Btw, one other little detail which bothered me - when she discussed urinar tract problems she sort of glossed over addition of urine acidifiers to dry food and the fact that the pendulum may be swinging in the other direction and the oxalate stones are now as common as struvite. I think this issue is quite significant and it deserves a lot more attention. Especially for people who supplement with dry, in that case it is quite easy to go in the other direction and it is important to know that too acidic urine is just as bad, if not worse, than too alkaline urine.
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Nabiya
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« Reply #1 on: August 22, 2007, 08:00:31 PM »


I am not saying that I don't believe that commercial dry foods should not be preferred choice for feline diet. What I am saying is that I am disappointed because I hoped for more specific information and I hoped for something that might help convince other professionals. This book is perfect gift for friends who don't want to spend time and effort looking at a number of different websites to find information (because huge chunk of the info in the book can be found on the web), or who are not familiar with some basic nutrition issues (how to read labels, how is dry food produced etc.). Those who already know all that stuff are not going to benefit much from this book. If you want to try to convince someone to change their mind, it will work better than for example Anitra Fraziers "new natural cat" which is too "new agey", but it falls short of being convincing to veterinary care professionals. Or scientists in other fields for that matter, because we have been trained that expert opinions are not evidence.

Hi alek0, I had a friend of mine copy several of the chapters in Dr. Hodgkins book and I also found a lot of it on the Internet, so I have a pretty good understanding of the book.  I thought exactly the same thing, I was looking for more substance and scientific data and was disappointed in how elementary it was.  I ended up deciding not to purchase it although I had waited for it to come out because I had heard so much about it.  However, the friend of mine that did purchase it has two new cats and she found it to be extremely beneficial to her because she's really a newbie at being a pet parent.  In fact, she's overwhelmed at what she needs to know and do especially of late.  She has admitted she had no idea of the total responsibility she now has for two other lives when she first got one cat, then the second a year later.

This makes me think that all books have a purpose and fortunately we're at the stage where we need the advanced degree education on pet parenting but others are still in their early learning stages.  So the book was a good fit for her, but obviously not for us.  There are probably others here on Itchmo that are new parents though and should see what other professionals are recommending to add to and help with the raising their fur kids.
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lesliek
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« Reply #2 on: August 23, 2007, 05:44:38 PM »

AlecO- Try Dr Pitcairn's book "Complete Guide to Natural Health For Dogs & Cats", it's much easier to read than Strombeck's. Also has a lot of natural & holistic remedies. Still heavy on the grain though.
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alek0
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« Reply #3 on: August 23, 2007, 06:46:17 PM »

I have Pitcairn's, and it is heavy on the grain too and if I remember correctly he recommends garlic which I do not really agree with. Personally I prefer Strombeck's book over Pitcairn's, since apart from the amount of grains recommended I don't find anything questionable in Strombeck's book, it is quantitative and specific. I also remember I didn't like that Pitcairn had a title "Taurine (optional)" since I don't think it is optional unless some high taurine content food is added (like clams in Strombeck's book), for vit. A he recommends supplementation while it is much easier and better to give some freeze dried liver instead, and also recipes are very non-specific, pinch of this and pinch of that (including yeast which he never mentions might be problematic for some animals).
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lesliek
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« Reply #4 on: August 24, 2007, 12:37:30 PM »

AlecO- I agree,some of the things in both books are iffy.I have both also. I have learned from both of them,but prefer to add the taurine & vitamins by using food instead of vitamin pills.Strombeck has a much bigger selection of diets for specific health problems & Pitcairn has more holistic remedies.I really think when we start homecooking or feeding raw we should read both.
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jenny
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« Reply #5 on: August 24, 2007, 07:13:40 PM »

I agree - I'm not overly impressed.  It is interesting but if you have already done some research yourself you probably won't learn a lot new. 

On a couple of subjects - IBD and vaccines for example - her coverage is very poor and overly simplistic.  Her discussion on IBD centers on IBD as a food allergy and the profile does not match my IBD cat at all.  I am also not jumping on the 'raw is the cure' bandwagon.  Not saying raw doesn't work for some people....But in watching an IBD forum I see many people try to switch their cats over to raw and many times it seems like they are putting their cats through torture to do something simply because someone told them that natural and raw is better.  Her coverage of vaccines also leaves much out.  It covers the various illnesses very well but as is usual with the discussions of evil vaccines, it does not weigh the options of intranasal vaccines or the newer Meriel PureVax vaccines. I have yet to see a discussion of vaccines that really looks at all the options - they only stress that the injection form can be bad.

As for dry food being bad....When the pet food recalls started I did research on food for my cats.  They were overweight and I figured it was time to do something about it.  The research I did online convinced me early on that dry food can be bad.  So, I made the switch for two of my three cats (my IBD cat is 50/50)  So, for me at least, I didn't get anything new from her book.

You mention that she cites various web pages - well, at least a few of them are not valid anymore.  I also agree that the nutrional analysis could have been more in depth.  She does endorse a few foods - a specific raw food and a specific food for IBD cats.  Those endorsements actually surprised me - especially in the light that she didn't endorse any other foods, including the canned food that meets her criteria.  There is only one meat with vitamins/minerals canned food that I know of.  There are other options that maybe do contain some suspicious ingredients (Wellness for example) and she makes them all sound awful....but then she endorses peas and ___ foods for IBD cats.  So, which is it - veggies are all bad, or in moderation are OK?  And are they sometimes added as replacements for the chemical nutrients that would need to be used otherwise.   I would think that her book would confuse someone that didn't do some of their own research and label analysis.

Not having a diabetic cat, and knowing that is one of her specialties, that area did intrigue me a little.  And I also found her coverage on CRF interesting.  I too would prefer the idea of still feeding my cats the best food for them and using binders or egg whites to reduce the phosphorous.

As with the other things I have read over the past few months, I need more than one vet or expert weighing in on a particular subject.  I would weigh her recommendations against any available scientific research as well as what seems to make sense for my cat.  I also don't jump to do everything my vet says is good - although I do think I have an excellent vet.

I too would have enjoyed a book that covered things in more detail. The format too is bothersome.  I have to jump to three different sections to read about nutrition for my cat because she has layed out chapters based on the age of the cat.  Other topics are also layed out that way.

Overall the book may be good for people new to feline health and nutrition, but I think in some areas it may also confuse those same people and lead them to make bad decisions. 
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kaffe
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« Reply #6 on: August 25, 2007, 04:49:19 PM »

Thank You Alek0 for your comprehensive review and also Jenny for your valuable input.  I feel your dissappointment over Dr. Hodgkins new book.  I too was waiting and looking forward to its publication.  I have no doubt that it will help pet guardians who are just starting to wake up on the importance of pet nutrition for the health and longevity of their companion animals; but by the sound of it, the book does NOT tell us much that we don't know already (by "us" I mean most of the Itchmo readers who have and are doing their own research on pet over-all wellness). I was really HOPING that this book will go into detail on various whole foods, vitamins, minerals and supplements - what these are for, what they do vis-a-vis metabolism, which act together; symptoms of deficiencies or overdose, etc.  Ay yay yay... I have started a chart on this very topic and it looks like I will have to do all that digging up myself. 

So Stombeck's book is better, ah?  I don't mind "heavy reading."  I am seriously thinking of taking a pet or rather feline nutrition course myself.  If there was one you can do onlie I'll be enrolled tomorrow.
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