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Homemade Food For Cats: Consider Your Recipe!

Jun 14, 2014 · Updated May 23, 2015 ·
  1. Anne
    Google “homemade cat food” and you will get almost 33 million results. There are recipes galore, YouTube videos, and many strong opinions on the subject. Our vets often discourage us from making cat food ourselves, and articles often indicate that it is difficult, that it requires a lot of work, that we have to use a lot of ingredients and supplements – and we’re left feeling like we need to be rocket scientists to feed our cats unless we buy commercially prepared food.
    Of course it requires care and learning. But it doesn't require a Ph.D., as there are nutritionally balanced recipes and approaches already formulated that we can use. We do not need to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. We just need to learn how to choose a recipe wisely, based on an understanding of our cat's needs and factoring in the source of the recipe: is it a vet? A veterinary nutritionist? Has the recipe been analyzed? Or is this some random person on the internet with no particular knowledge about feline nutrition?

    In the wild, cats eat small prey animals. Modeling homemade cat food after what they naturally eat results in a diet that many people find to be surprising in just how close to meeting the AAFCO or FEDIAF definitions of “balanced and complete” it is.

    It actually takes very little supplementation to create a homemade nutritionally balanced diet when proper ingredients in the correct proportions are used. As cats are obligate carnivores, it really shouldn't come as any surprise that diets created from animal-based ingredients in the proper quantities and proportions needs little supplementation to meet their nutritional needs. This has been demonstrated by TheCatSite member, mschauer, who has taken great care in developing a program to analyze diets using the USDA National Nutrient Database and comparing the results to AAFCO and FEDIAF feeding guidelines. Links to nutritionally balanced raw and cooked recipes (and analyses) are provided in the Raw & Home Cooked Cat Food forum.

    But there are limitations to this type of computer analysis, as discussed in a thread about balancing homemade recipes in the Nutrition Forum:
    • Nutrient data are averages. The actual nutrient values of the ingredients we use at home may not match the data in the USDA National Nutrient Database.
    • A true and accurate nutritional profile of a diet can only be determined by laboratory analysis. These are very expensive, on the order of several thousand dollars.
    The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is the U.S. agency that provides feeding guidelines for pets. The European Union regulatory body is the European Pet Food Industry Federation (FEDIAF).

    However, a study conducted by UC Davis researchers evaluating recipes for home-prepared dog foods found that when comparing computer-based analysis with laboratory analysis, the data supported the concept that computer-based analysis is, in fact, a reliable method for analyzing recipes. Thus utilizing the USDA database to ensure homemade recipes meet AAFCO and/or FEDIAF nutritional recommendations does afford confidence we are providing a nutritionally balanced diet to our pets.

    Is the AAFCO the bar we need to meet?

    This same UC Davis study also found that “very few of 200 recipes analyzed provided all of the essential nutrients in amounts adequate for meeting established canine health standards,” even though many of the diets are designed by veterinarians. How can this be?

    AAFCO and FEDIAF base their daily nutrient guidelines on the recommendations in the Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats (2006). These recommendations have a rather wide safety margin built into them, in acknowledgement of the many factors that impact availability of nutrients to each individual pet. To provide just one example, extruded diets (dry kibble) are not as easily digested as raw or cooked foods. Yet nutrient guidelines must ensure that every diet can meet the needs of our pets, no matter what form of diet is fed.

    When feeding a minimally-processed, fresh diet with human-quality ingredients, some people designing recipes use these nutritional guidelines as a starting point, not an endpoint, given their knowledge of the nutritional needs of cats combined with their ability to evaluate the recipes against the agencies' daily nutrient recommendations and the built-in safety margins.

    While pet parents considering a homemade diet may be disillusioned with the quality of ingredient options in commercially available food, cats eating food based on current AAFCO/FEDIAF nutrient guidelines (along with a high percentage of cats being kept indoors and being provided proper vet care) are living into their teens and 20's. Thus these guidelines should be considered an important tool in developing a homemade diet, even if they are not a perfect science. We admittedly don’t know if the recommendations, as they exist, provide the ideal long-term (lifelong) nutrition for our cats. But they are the best guidelines we currently have, and as such, should not be dismissed.

    If you are considering feeding raw or are just beginning to feed raw, please be aware that trying to formulate a nutritionally balanced diet on your own is not easy. There is a steep learning curve. It makes much more sense to evaluate existing recipes, considering the source and depth of discussion by the author on the nutritional adequacy of the recipe - because there are many published recipes that are deficient. Using a recipe that is not nutritionally balanced will harm your cat. If you need help evaluating a recipe, please start a thread in the Raw & Home Cooked Nutrition forum asking for assistance.

    Written by Laurie Goldstein
    Pictures by Furmonster Mom and Beth Laubenthal

    Laurie Goldstein is a CFA Charterholder. In addition to her work as an equity analyst, she applies her research skill to all things cat, focusing on nutrition and advocacy for feral cat management via trap-neuter-return (TNR) and educational research on cat predation. Learn more about feral cats on her website http://www.StrayPetAdvocacy.org.

    Comments? Leave them using the form below. Questions? Please use the cat forums for those!

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