Vinnie arrived, newly castrated, and looking uncomfortable and stiff.   It was the day of his operation and it made sense to only make one journey to move him.  He hissed as I opened his carrier and he lay straight on the vet bedding with his ears flat.  His eyes were wide, and he just wanted to be left alone.  He was quiet and wobbly, likely from the general anaesthetic I thought.  Tomorrow would be a new day and he could start to decompress.    

A Street Cat named Vinnie

Vinnie was around 14 to 16 years old; a guestimate from the vet.  He had been a street cat, but we were unsure how long for.  His hair was coming out in clumps, and he had dry, flaky skin.  His eyes looked tired and I wondered what they had seen.  Most cats when they arrive in a new location are unsettled, so they rarely eat.  But Vinnie meowed and nudged my leg when I went in with his food.  He wolfed it down like he didn’t know when his next meal would be.  This was likely a learned behaviour ~ one I hoped he would soon lose.  

Hungry cat!

The next morning, Vinnie again herded me when I went to clean his litter; he was ready for his breakfast.  He wobbled again.  Due to his age, it could well have still been the aftermath of the anaesthetic, but also with his age, I wondered if there was skeletal degeneration too.  His hair was still coming out in clumps, but he wasn’t trusting me enough to be able to brush it.  

Fosterer’s dilemma – what’s best for the cat?

With any foster, I face a difficult decision.  Having seen the health benefits with my own cats after switching to a fresh food diet, I instinctively want to swap the fosters too.  But this is unfair.  A fosterer’s purpose is to rehabilitate if needed and support any animal on their journey to their new home.  I have no idea who their new owner will be, and what their views on nutrition will be.  It’s unfair to make a switch to a diet, and then under stressful circumstances, the cat is again switched to a different diet when they get to their new home.   So, I look at commercially prepared foods and make a decision to the best of my ability.  

Wet food with herbs & botanicals

I opted for a wet food for Vinnie.  His teeth weren’t brilliant, and the moisture content of the food would only serve to benefit him over a dry food.  The food I chose had added herbs and botanicals, including the following, some of which I go into more detail below:

  • Nettle
  • Aniseed
  • Cleavers
  • Seaweed
  • Alfalfa
  • Milk thistle
  • Dandelion
  • Burdock root  


Nettle is one of nature’s best nutraceuticals. It is delicious, nutritious and rich with goodies!⁠⠀100g of dried nettle contains up to:

  • 30.4g protein⁠⠀
  • 2,970mg calcium⠀
  • 680mg phosphorus⁠⠀
  • 32.2mg iron⠀
  • 650mg magnesium ⁠⠀
  • 20.2g beta-carotene⁠⠀
  • 3,450mg potassium⁠⠀
  • Vitamins A, C, D and B ⁠complex   ⁠

As an aside, nettle leaf tea is also a nourishing coat rinse and can help relieve itchy skin. Humans have also found, after taking the dried preparation, their allergic rhinitis symptoms improve!  It has been thought to reduce inflammation in the body.


Dandelion is one of the most complete foods on the planet. Who knew? A one-cup serving can provide as much as 2000IU of Vitamin A, which is one and a half times the RDA for human adults! ⁠⁠It also contains Vitamins C, K, D and B Complex, along with Iron, Manganese, Phosphorus and is a rich supply of Potassium.⁠  Dandelion is often used as a diuretic, it stimulates the liver and can support digestive health. ⁠

Milk thistle 

An important herb for liver ailments, milk thistle contains flavonolignans, essential oils, bitter principles, and mucilage.  Silymarin, milk thistle’s primary active ingredient, stabilises liver cell membranes and stimulates protein synthesis whilst also accelerating cell regeneration in liver cells.  There are also studies that suggest milk thistle may help to treat scaly skin conditions.  

Essential fatty acids

Countless studies have demonstrated the benefits of adding essential fatty acids to the diet to support skin health.  For this reason, I also added a fish oil to Vinnie’s diet.  There is also evidence that supplementing fatty acids benefits cases of arthritis.    

Treasure hunting!

Very soon, Vinnie became more confident in his environment and was herding me for food when I went into his room.  He even started meowing and purring.  His purr was one of the oddest purrs I’ve ever heard.  He was still quite stiff, taking his time to get up from his bed; so, given his love of food, every day, we had a treasure hunt.  This started just in his room, to encourage him to move a little more.  Before long he was exploring the corridor in the cattery, which only served to help increase muscle mass and strength.  Vinnie was particularly bony when he arrived and lacking significant muscle mass.  As the weeks went on, Vinnie would lift his front paws onto the activity centre and explore vertically as well as horizontally. 

And even a brush!

Vinnie also became more trusting of me, he even started to allow me to brush him.  I noticed significant improvements in his coat and his dry, flaky skin was disappearing.

Home adaptations

Vinnie loved his daily treasure hunt and palatable wet food with added fatty acids.  He even started skidding in his excitement when he was herding me for food ~ he walked into the wall a few times too, paying more attention to the food bowl than to where he was running.  So, I had to sprinkle some air-dried treats on the floor whilst I was prepping his food, to avoid his accidents and I strategically placed some rugs so he wasn’t likely to skid if he suddenly had a burst of energy.  

A new home

I explained all of these behaviours to Vinnie’s potential new owners.  They were a young couple who selflessly wanted to offer a home to an older cat, to live out the rest of their years in peace.  They fell in love with him immediately.  They were due to view four other cats that day, but had decided straightaway that Vinnie was their boy.

I had Vinnie for a couple of weeks after that day, to organise his move to his new home.  He just went from strength to strength during this time.  

The cat I waved goodbye to, was a million miles away from the one I welcomed.  His coat was thick and glossy, his skin was clear and strong.  He still had his odd wobble but loved his daily treasure hunt.  His eyes were full of stories, but were now a little brighter.  Vinnie had spent just over two months with me, but my heart will keep a piece of him forever.  I am thankful to have been in a position to support him and his health, in what will be the best years of his life. 

Lisa Hannaby is a former Lecturer in Health and Social Care who spent nearly a decade in the human domain. A psychology graduate (amongst other degrees), she has retained her registration with the British Psychological Society. Her special interests were biological, social and cognitive psychology; understanding the link between nutrition and mood; reward systems in the brain and how we (along with our family members) fit into the world. Lisa decided to swap humans for animals; qualifying as a dog groomer and setting up her own business. A home boarding business soon followed, along with a cattery. Seeing the issues faced by many pets on her client list, Lisa became fascinated again with how nutrition could affect behaviour, mood and health but for cats and dogs and so, Raw Nutrition at The Retreat was born. Lisa has freelanced on nutrition, grooming and behaviour for a number of years, as seen in Edition Dog, Edition Cat Magazine and The Gundog Journal. She is currently studying towards her MSc in Human Nutrition with some post-graduate biochemistry for good measure! 

Lisa Hannaby BA (Hons), PGDip, PGCE, MA, MBPsS
Raw Nutrition at The Retreat

Article for reference on Omega 3

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The veterinary Surgeon’s Act 1966 restricts the treatment of animals (usually other than your own*) by anyone other than a qualified vet. Always consult a veterinary surgeon if you are concerned about your animal’s health. *For full details visit the RCVS website