My kitty, Penelope, is the best cat I've ever had. (That's her, above. And below! I love taking pictures of her and posting them on #catsofinstagram.) She's been my very faithful companion for almost 12 years—she finds me when I cry and snuggles in my lap while I drip tears on her fur, sleeps in the crook of my elbow at night, always comes when I call her name, and has the softest grey fur, which she keeps meticulously clean.

I rescued her when she was just 8 weeks old and when I saw her on Petfinder, it was love at first sight. She has lived in Connecticut, accompanied me to Vermont for long stays, and now lives out in Oregon (she's a great traveller, for a cat). She has seen me through a breakup, three years of dating, and into my new relationship. She means a lot to me. 

So when she got sick a couple years ago (warning, it's a bit graphic ahead!), I was worried; she was using the litter box 4-5 times a day (and sometimes not making it all the way there) and let's say, what should have been solid, was liquid—all over the stairs, around her litter box, and once on the couch. It was disgusting. I took her to the vet and after running numerous tests, it was determined that she had the cat version of IBS. Like the same disease in humans, it ebbs and flows in terms of severity. So she'd be OK for a few weeks, and then have explosive diarrheah for a week straight.

It got to be that I would come home on days away from home and spend an hour cleaning up cat poop. It was awful, and while I was happy she didn't have cancer, which has similar symptoms, I was increasingly frustrated at, well, poop everywhere. (The inside of the litter box looked like a bomb had gone off in it—she was still using it when she could make it fast enough.) 

I tried her on 5 different all-natural nonallergenic foods, all of which were terribly expensive; I tried medications (including increasingly strong doses of steroids that the vet suggested); I took her back to the vet numerous times, desperate for help, which they couldn't give. And still, the liquid cat excrement continued, cyclically. After about a year, Penelope then contracted a cat cold virus that she never ended up kicking, so she was sneezing and coughing, with huge gobs of mucus expressed everywhere. I'll never forget the day she was sneezing so much that she pooped on the floor mid-sneeze. She looked at me with an extremely embarassed look (cat parents will know what I mean) and fled the room. I had to run after her because I had to give her rear-end a bath—again. And wipe her nose and face. 

Through it all, Penelope had a great attitude. She was still loving and playful and was, thankfully, still eating well. Finally, when I moved out to Oregon, I consulted a holistic vet, who gave her a catupuncture session after the lengthy consultation, and suggested I make her food from scratch. For a month I resisted, because as a vegetarian, I had no interest in buying and cooking meat. But Penelope was dropping weight, and starting to sleep more—it was obvious she wasn't getting enough nutrition from her very pricy, all-natural, no by-products/no allergens cat food, which was just flowing right through her. Her cold was as bad as ever, and she was down to 7 pounds. 

Finally, I did it. I went online and found a solid cat food recipe from a vet (you have to be a little careful of what you are feeding them and get the proportions right, but it's not hard). I bought 2 pounds of local, organic chicken thighs, and boiled them up with half a sweet potato, some chicken livers, a few sprigs of parsley, some omega-3 supplements and some iodized salt. (I also included two small cloves of garlic for a week's worth of food; garlic can be toxic for cats, but in low quantities it can assist their immune system, according to some vets.) After cooking, I threw it all in a blender and then fed her a big bowl of what I call "cat soup." And that's all she ate (yes, she loved it!) for a couple days. 

In three days her IBS symptoms resolved. I couldn't believe it was the food, after all I had tried, but kept going, convinced I was going to wake up again and find cat poop everywhere. Then a week went by. Then two. After close to $2,000 in vet bills and medications, and almost 2 years of almost constant cat-poop cleaning, she was fine. Within two weeks (shortly after I made the second batch of cat soup) she stopped sneezing and her cold cleared up. 

In the two months since, she has gained two very-needed pounds, and is much more lively and playful—the IBS hasn't returned. I'm continuing to make her food, and while I don't love cooking for my cat (especially dealing with raw chicken), the difference in her health is amazing, and totally worth it. And like many people who have started cooking for their cats, she has very minimal poops these days—probably 1/4 of what she produced when whe was healthy—that's how much filler is in even the expensive cat foods. The cost? About $50 a month, which is how much a bag of her fancy cat food used to cost. 

So if your cat has a digestive health issue that you can't seem to solve, try cooking up a batch of cat soup, and see if it makes a difference; I think it definitely saved Penelope's life. 

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Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

How I saved my cat's life by cooking for her
It was a long, hard road to health, but I finally cured my cat's seemingly intractable IBS.