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Raw Feeding Cats: Types Of Raw Diets & Feeding Options

Jun 7, 2014 · Updated May 23, 2015 · ·
  1. Anne
    There was a time when "raw feeding" meant "homemade." That is no longer the case.

    Some call it a fad, others consider the growing trend in feeding fresh, minimally processed food to be the result of consumer education and awareness. With the advent of commercially available frozen and freeze-dried foods, raw feeding cats is now accessible to those who prefer the convenience of “buy and serve.”

    If you prefer to purchase your own meat or meat and organs, supplement “premixes” are also available in many countries. In the U.S., there is even an online service where you can order prey model raw style frozen raw delivered direct to your door, which is meat, bone and organs properly portioned into ready-to-serve meals based on the serving size needed for your cat! Here, we review the various options and the advantages (and disadvantages) of each.

    Commercial Raw

    Types of commercial raw include -

    1. Frozen

    Typically in urban and suburban areas of a growing number of countries, frozen raw foods can be purchased locally, often at boutique or “holistic” pet food stores.
    • Nationally available brands - In the U.S. and Canada, there are national brands gaining traction and becoming increasingly available other than via ordering online.
    • Local providers - There are also local providers of “homemade” raw foods springing up.
    Whether a national brand or a local provider’s product, please take the time to understand if the product purchased is “balanced and complete” as per national regulatory agencies, or if the food is meant to be used as a base for completing yourself via supplementation, or if it is meant to be used in a feeding rotation.

    Many foods are sold as appropriate for dogs OR cats. If the fruits and vegetables that are often included in these foods are limited to 5% of the product, and the food is supplemented with at least taurine, there should be no problem including this food in your cat’s diet.

    With the growing popularity of frozen raw foods, some pet supercenters, such as PetCo and Pet Valu, now have freezers to offer these foods. Feeding frozen raw foods is typically as simple as removing what you’ll need to feed the next day from the freezer, and storing those portions in the fridge to thaw and feed.

    2. Freeze-dried

    Many frozen raw food manufacturers offer the same foods in a freeze-dried format. Freeze-drying retains the nutritional content of the foods virtually intact. These foods are meant to be rehydrated. Storage is easy, no extra freezer space required. Just measure the portion, add water, give it a few minutes to be absorbed into the food, and serve.

    3. HPP-Treated Frozen or freeze-dried

    Several companies (as of the writing of this article, May 2014, these include Stella & Chewy’s, Nature’s Variety, and Primal Poultry products) apply a process called “High Pressure Pasteurization” to the food before packaging. This is a type of pasteurization that applies pressure, not heat, to destroy pathogens. Many pet parents are concerned about the safety of raw feeding. We address these concerns in “Feeding Raw: Is it Safe,” but for those with lingering concern, raw foods treated with high pressure pasteurization are available in both the frozen and freeze-dried formats.

    4. Supplement “Pre-mixes”

    Would you like to feed raw, but you want the ability to customize the proteins? Or purchase meat in bulk to save money? Using a premix might be a cost-effective option for you. You can choose your premix based on whether or not you want to include liver (and kidney is always a healthy addition); whether you prefer to provide bone-in meals (or ground meat and bone), or if you want to provide just the meat. We include links to many of the available supplements in our Raw Feeding Resources thread in the Raw & Home-Cooked Cat Food forum. Using a premix takes the guesswork out of providing a food that is nutritionally complete, and you decide whether to provide the food in chunks, bites, or ground.

    Homemade Foods

    There are two basic homemade food options: ground or “prey model raw” (PMR) (also sometimes referred to in the forums as “frankenprey”).

    Ground Raw

    If you cannot take the time to follow a recipe that is nutritionally balanced, please do not feed homemade ground food. Examples of nutritionally balanced homemade cat foods are recipes developed by Dr. Lisa Pierson of Catinfo.org, (who prefers her recipe is referred to as “homemade,” not “raw,” as she recommends searing the meat, leaving the inside raw), Anne Jablonsky of Catnutrition.org, Michelle Bernard (the author of Raising Cats Naturally) or the raw recipes developed by TCS member, mschauer. These recipes are not difficult or complicated. But please beware: your cat will be healthier if you provide commercially produced foods as opposed to an unbalanced fresh diet. This point cannot be over-emphasized.

    Ground food has the advantage of being a complete food at every meal. You don’t need to worry about your cat eating liver, kidney, eggs, or the correct amount of bone: each ingredient is already present in every bite. You can make large batches and freeze the food in meal-sized portions, it is easy to thaw and serve. The downside is that it has the up-front cost of a grinder that can manage bone if you plan to feed a traditional ground raw diet (though the cost savings versus mid-range canned food can result in a pay-back of six to nine months), and supplements must be provided to account for potential nutrient loss due to oxidation given the very large surface area created by the grinding. A final disadvantage of ground food is that your kitty does not get the dental benefit of chomping bone.

    Prey Model Raw

    If you are not going to take the time to understand and calculate the proper proportions for feeding the components of the prey model, please feed a commercially prepared and nutritionally balanced food. Prey model raw is based on feeding a diet that is modeled on the natural prey of the cat. As summarized by TCS member, mschauer, “people who don’t attempt to adhere to the AAFCO recommendations instead base their diet on the observed natural diet of a cat. That is, the diet of a cat in the wild would consist of small animals it captures. So these people reason that a diet composed of meat, bone and organs and some supplements should adequately satisfy the needs of a cat without the need to get into the nitty gritty of exactly what the nutritional composition of the diet is.”

    Prey Model Raw feeding will be covered in a separate article, but the principles are very much like the recommendations for human nutrition. We are told “No single food can supply all the nutrients in the amounts you need.” We aren't told to nutritionally balance our food at every meal, it is balanced over time. We don’t know every nutrient we need in what amount in our diets, we are told simply to eat fresh, whole foods, and to eat the proper number of servings from each food group daily. This is the same principle as feeding prey model raw, only the “food groups” are the components of cats’ prey: muscle meat, bone, and secreting organs. Eggs, small oily fish, crickets, or other items are included to account for the parts of prey animals we don’t feed when using the prey model. The primary benefit of prey model raw over other forms of raw feeding is the mental and dental benefit of including whole, fresh bone the kitties must crush and chomp. Prey model raw is uncomplicated, and it retains the complete nutritional profile of the food without loss of nutrients to oxidation, but it does take thought and proper measuring to feed it right. Tools to help are found in the Raw Feeding Resources thread on the forums of TheCatSite.com and CatCentric.org.

    Whole Prey

    There is no simpler diet than feeding whole prey. Frozen animals, appropriate prey for cats, are thawed and fed in their entirety. Mice, rabbit, quail, chicks, live crickets – all of these are appropriate nourishing food for domestic cats. The most difficult aspect of this style of feeding for most is sourcing. Ordering online can be prohibitively expensive. Cats not raised on this diet may not take to eating the food (not recognizing it as food), even if you cut the prey into smaller pieces. Not recognizing raw meat and organ as food is not uncommon in older cats when transitioning to raw, but the inclusion of fur, heads and feet seems to present an even larger hurdle for some cats.


    Easy to Use Easy to Balance Dental Benefits Control over Ingredients and Quality Easy to Source Competitive on cost vs. canned*
    Commercial Raw **
    Commercial Supplement + Meat *** Proteins only ****
    Homemade Ground
    Prey Model Raw
    Whole Prey

    * Compared to mid-range and high-end. Please see How Much Does it Cost to Feed My Cat? Or I *can* afford to feed commercial raw!

    ** Depends on location

    *** Depends on whether you use chunks or ground meat, and/or whether you provide bone-in meals or use a powdered/ground alternative to bone

    **** If premixed supplements are available in your country

    There may be great debate within the raw feeding community about which style is “best,” but ultimately, what works for your cat and your lifestyle is what’s best for you. Between the ease of commercial and the control of homemade, raw feeders today have such an extensive array of selections to choose from, no matter your time, financial or logistical resources, there’s likely a raw food option that will fit your lifestyle.

    Written by Laurie Goldstein
    Images of homemade raw by the3cats 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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  1. roguethecat
    whole prey costs:
    Without a sale going on, most online providers have mice at around (says my calculator) 0.02 $ per g, so the equivalent of a 5.5 oz can would be 3 $. Adult rats are about 0.006 $/g, so 5.5 oz would be 0.9$ (this is without shipping, but so is the can). The shipping will be on dry ice to your front door... just saying :)
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