FOOD & TREATS

Raw Diet for Cats: Is It Safe?

cat looking at raw meat
Martha Harvey
Written by Martha Harvey

‘You are what you eat’ is an adage used to caution people to watch what they eat. Besides humans, what gets into the stomach of your pet should also be a point of consideration. Cats happen to have sensitive tummies and what they eat can mean the difference between a healthy and sickly kitty. With that in mind, the decision on whether or not to go with a raw diet for cats is important.

Raw cat food can be homemade or sourced from your local pet store. Raw food is usually good, especially for fur babies who can’t tolerate kibble and canned foods. In our research, however, we have established that a lack of regulation in terms of quality can lead to contamination or deficiency in nutrients.

If you are set on raw food, we have prepared everything you need to know. Besides letting you in on the pros and cons of a raw diet, we have also compiled recipes and instructions on how to feed your cat, including the amount and frequency. In this article, we delve further into details that can help you achieve not only the optimum nutritional value in raw meat diet for cats but also ensure that the food is prepared in a clean and healthy way for your pet.

The Pros of a Raw Diet for Cats

cat and raw fish

In recent times, animal nutritionists and scientists alike have heightened awareness on the risks of uncooked food. The focus has been primarily on meat which is believed to be potentially laden with disease-causing organisms.

This has, however, done little to stop the renewed interest in feeding pets raw foods. So, where does the truth lie? Is a raw diet good or bad for your pet?

Proponents argue that raw food closely resembles what domestic cats would be feeding on if they lived in the wild. In their natural habitat, wild cats eat birds, mice, fish, snakes, insects—basically anything that they can hunt and get their mouths on.

The fact that wild food is unprocessed makes the proponents equate raw diet to a cat’s ‘natural’ diet. Here are the arguments for providing your cat with a raw diet:

#1: Availability

There are now trusted brands which make quality raw food for cats. These are packed foods made from high-quality organ tissue and therefore contain the various amino acids that a cat’s body needs.

#2: Lack of Carbohydrates

Felines are obligate carnivores—this is a fancy way of saying that their diet is primarily meat, by necessity. For energy and nutrients requirement, your cat needs to eat food which is made from animal tissue.

The manufacturers of raw cat foods are aware of this fact. Hence their brands exclude unnecessary food groups in their formulation.

Of importance is the exclusion of carbohydrates. These are complex sugars that a feline’s anatomy is not adapted to digesting. Food containing carbohydrates have been linked to diabetes and infections in the urinary tract.

In male cats, starchy food has also been identified as a cause of plugged urethras.

#3: Raw Diet is Recommended for Health Issues

healthy and happy cat

It’s not uncommon to hear vets recommending raw foods to curb eating disorders in cats. This is especially common in felines with food sensitivities.

If your cat walks away from kibble, you may find that he finds a freeze-dried diet more appealing. Your vet may also advise adding warm water to the food so as to raise its temperature to that of a live mouse.

Cats with poor eyesight also benefit from high levels of taurine, an amino acid found in raw meat which is a major building block for proteins. Deficiency in taurine can cause central retinal degradation (CRD), an eye disease which can lead to complete blindness.

Raw diet also helps in preventing heart failure in cats. Taurine is essential in ensuring that your cat’s heart remains healthy. This it does by ensuring that the organ does not enlarge, which can inhibit blood circulation through the body.

The teeth also benefit from a raw diet. When your cat is gnawing on bones, his teeth get sharper, and loose food bits get easily dislodged. This is a perfect scenario of how cats in the wild keep their teeth healthy.

#4: Improved Appearance

Raw food is rich in fatty acids. These are food blocks that keep the body warm by providing thermal insulation. They are also responsible for keeping your kitty’s fur smooth and silky.

#5: More Energy

energetic cat

The energy that allows your cat to move up and down while keeping up with you has to come from somewhere; that’s the food he takes.

Raw food provides vast amounts of proteins which help in reserving energy in the body. Proteins are also responsible for expelling excess energy, which keeps your cat toned.

See Also: How Many Calories Should a Cat Eat

The Cons of a Raw Diet for Cats

Although raw food comes with health benefits, it has also been blamed for some health issues. Most of this stems from a lack of proper regulation on what is contained in raw pet food, especially the commercial ones.

Among the main culprit in the formulation is a corn-based protein which is not only hard to digest but also unnecessary in a cat’s diet. For more insight on this, here is a look at the disadvantages of feeding your cat a raw diet, with an emphasis on commercial raw food:

#1: Bacteria

sick cat

Scientific studies on raw food for pets have found most to contain disease-causing bacteria. The common harmful organism found in these foods is Escherichia coli, which is also simply known as E. coli.

This is a bacterium found abundantly in food and the lower intestines of animals. When cats eat meat tainted with the bacteria, they can suffer from diarrhea, urinary tract infections, and pneumonia.

Raw diet has also been associated salmonella, a harmful bacterium found in poultry, beef, and pork. The organism finds its way into these animals from the consumption of contaminated fruits, vegetables, and water. Among the effects of salmonella infection in cats include fever, diarrhea, skin diseases, abnormal heart rate, and swollen lymph nodes.

These infections present a bigger danger since they can be transmitted from cats to their owners (zoonotic disease transmission). Your infected cat can also be asymptomatic, meaning he can be walking around spreading the bacteria without outwardly showing a single sign of infection.

#2: Parasites

Apart from bacteria, raw meat can also be contaminated with disease-causing parasites. The parasite that is of concern is Toxoplasma gondii, which causes toxoplasmosis.

The infection can cause a host of symptoms including leukopenia (low white blood cells count), tremors, seizures, abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, and lethargy.

#3: Time Consuming

Raw food comes with a lot of preparation. To ensure that it remains fresh, the food which is mainly meat has to be prepared soon after it’s bought. It has to be handled in a clean environment, which could mean keeping flies away.

Food safety also calls for refrigeration and throwing away any leftovers. In a nutshell, a raw diet could be an additional hassle in your busy life.

#4: Nutritional Deficiency

raw diet for a cat

A chunk of meat can be delicious to your furry friend, but that does not necessarily mean that he is feeding on a healthy diet. While his tummy can be full, he could be missing essential nutrients due to the diet choice. This is in contrast to processed commercial food which is formulated with all the nutrients necessary for a healthy kitty.

You could say that with the right guidelines, raw food can be well balanced, but feline nutrition can be very complicated. Simply put, preparing the right raw diet requires trial and error approaches which can lead to nutritional deficiency if botched.

#5: Hazardous

A raw diet could have bones or hard lumps of meat or cartilage. This could prove hard to chew on or even swallow. It’s not uncommon to see bloody gullets plaguing cats who rely on meaty bones for their diet. Most of these hazards stem from splinters of bones that get lodged in the digestive tract.

#6: Wasteful

As noted above, raw food has to be thrown out occasionally. This is because it does not last long due to degradation from insects and the elements. This can lead to a lot of wastage, especially if your cat is a picky eater.

Waste can also result from your cat’s refusal to eat raw food. This is seen in older cats who are already used to kibble or wet processed food; if they are not convinced of the new diet, they can actually end up starving as you throw away pounds of raw meat.

Raw Food Recipes for Cats

raw food for cat

Raw diet basically means feeding your cat what is called a BARF diet, an acronym which stands for “bones and raw food” or “biologically appropriate raw foods”.

Raw food can be fed to cats as it is or ground for ease of chewing. To ensure that the food meets feline nutritional requirements, different types of uncooked portions are mixed together. These can be found in pet stores in the frozen food section. The industry has seen considerable expansion in recent years, with manufacturers having branded freezers in most stores.

Commercial raw food comes in different forms including tubs, nuggets, patties, chubs or tubs. The packaging ranges from a pound to a few pounds, making it ideal for you to buy the amount your cat(s) need.

In the store, the shelf life can be longer, which would call for supplements and preservatives. This usually drives most people to prepare the food in the comfort of their homes.

That said, it’s trickier for homemade food to meet the right formulations for proteins, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids (taurine and arginine). With that in mind, it’s not impossible to prepare nutritionally balanced raw food for your cat at home.

Here is a look at two raw food diet for cats recipes:

#1: BARF Meal Recipe

fish oil

A common raw meal is one made from poultry, offal, and vegetables. The meal can also be enriched with fish oil for fatty acids (eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids) and eggs for protein and amino acids.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. boneless poultry (from drumsticks, wings, breasts etc.)

  • 1.5 lbs. offal (lungs, gizzard, livers, hearts, etc.)

  • 0.75 lb. vegetables

  • 1 egg

  • 1 tablespoon of fish oil

Preparations:

  • Using a knife or another apparatus, strip the meat from the bones. You can also have a butcher help you with this, to ensure that the bones are stripped clean.

  • Use a grater to chop the vegetables into small portions. A vegetable processor can also be handy in this.

  • Mix the meat, vegetables, and egg together while adding the fish oil to ensure consistency.

The meal’s nutritional value can be further enriched by adding feline-friendly supplements. The decision should, however, be made after you have consulted a vet or animal nutritionist.

Ground bone can also be added for energy and fats. Caution should be taken not to add seasoning, which is a common step in recipes meant for human consumptions.

#2: Raw Bone Recipe

muscle meat with bones

A cat who enjoys chewing on bones will definitely appreciate a meal with a bone or two. Instead of throwing a meaty bone to your cat and leaving it to him to extract the meat, there are other ingredients that you can add to make the meal more nutritious.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs. muscle meat with bones

  • 1 raw beef heart

  • 3 chicken livers

  • 2 cups of water

  • 4 egg yolks

  • 4 vitamin-B complex capsules

Preparations:

  • Remove the skin from the meat, while leaving about half of it attached.

  • Cut the meat into small chunks—nickel-sized pieces will do.

  • Grind the liver, heart, skin, and meaty bones.

  • Stir the ground meat/bone mixture for consistency and refrigerate.

  • Mix the supplements into the 2 cups of water to make a slurry.

  • The final step is to mix the meat chunks, supplement slurry, and the ground meat and bones.

  • Divide the meals into small portions (depending on the number of your cats), and freeze.

To feed your cat, remove a frozen portion and let it thaw. Thawing can be accelerated by immersing the zippie bag or container in warm water. As earlier stated, cats like their meal in the ‘mouse body temperature’ range, hence the water should be warm, not hot.

The meal should not be microwaved since that will amount to cooking it. It should also not be left unused for 48 hours after thawing; raw food will go bad after this long without freezing. Additionally, you should sprinkle a little of salmon oil in every subsequent feeding session.

How to Feed your Cat: Amount and Frequency

raw diet

Cats, just like other animals, feed depending on their body weight. For felines, this is about 2%- 3% of the body weight. This translates to a quarter-pound or less with the range varying with breed size and individual kitty.

Kittens are picky eaters. Hence they may not spend a lot of time feeding. This calls for small portions of fresh raw food spread throughout the day. Remove a sizable portion from the freezer and let it thaw. Then divide it into small portions and serve it at least 4 times in the day.

Adult and mature cats will do with two meals per day. Their portions should be considerably larger compared to the kitten’s. If your kitty is a good feeder, you can feed him a big meal only once a day.

Some cats can develop preferences for certain meats after they start feeding on a raw diet. This is mostly seen in cats who are avid hunters. You should, therefore, introduce him to different ingredients, say offal and meaty bones, separately. After you have pinned down what he likes, ensure that his meal consists of large portions of it.

That is, not to say that he should feed on his favorites only. Mix small portions of the other ingredients into his main meal. This will acclimatize him to different raw foods for an eventual wholesome meal.

Any unconsumed food should be thrown out or refrigerated to be used the following day. After 48 hours (after thawing), throw any leftover away, no matter how fresh it looks or smells.

Fresh and raw food does not mean that your cat won’t need to drink water. Ensure that a bowl of clean water is available for your cat all day. This will ensure that your fur baby stays hydrated throughout the day.

Tips on Raw Food Diet Safety

using gloves when cooking

Eliminating all risks that come with raw foods may not be possible. However, there are steps that you can take to protect your kitty. These are safety precautions that you can take during preparation and feeding times.

Below are tips that will give you a place to start in ensuring that you serve a healthy and safe meal:

  • Clean the preparation area thoroughly. You can clean the surfaces with bleach or other liquid sanitizers.

  • Always wear clean gloves when touching, cutting, or mixing the different ingredients.

  • Keep the food frozen whenever it’s not in use.

  • Source the meat from reputable butchers or well-known brands.

  • Keep the feeding area clean by sanitizing it. The same goes for the feeding bowls.

Wrap Up

cat eating raw food

Various professional associations have opposed the practice of keeping cats on raw dies. Such include the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Animal Hospital Association, and Centers for Disease Control among others.

The concerns have not, however, stopped people from feeding their cats raw foods, especially meaty treats. And it is true that raw food comes with its own share of benefits.

If you fall into this category, then you need to ensure that you are well aware of all the pros and cons pertaining to the diet plus what it takes to ensure the safety and health of your cat. The above information covers that and much more in detail.

Does your cat prefer certain types of meat to others? How did you introduce him to the diet? What challenges have you had and how do you go about with the preparation? We would like to hear this plus any other insights that you might have on the subject. Talk to us in the comment section below.

Next, check out our article on DIY cat treats for more information on how to keep your cat well-fed and happy.

About the author
Martha Harvey
Martha Harvey

Martha Harvey is a skilled veterinarian and a member of American Veterinary Medical Association from Greeley, Colorado. She has 20 years experience of working in Animal Hospital. Martha loves all of her patients, but her favorite one is the Russian Blue cat Stitch, who lives with her.

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