Feeding a homemade raw diet, or any homemade diet for that matter, means you are responsible for providing complete and balanced nutrition for your cat. As many TCS members can tell you (given half a chance, they will!), it doesn't have to be complicated, as long as you follow the right recipes or the prey model raw guidelines. Click here for an in-depth article about choosing the right ground recipe (including links to suggested recipe resources). Prey Model Raw feeding will be discussed in a separate article.
Please note, the supplements included in ground raw recipes are not optional. They provide critical nutrition to account for
Even with the best of recipes, you need good ingredients to get the perfect dish. The same is true for home prepared raw cat food. Let us go over the main components of homemade raw cat food and see what you have to look for.
- Nutrients potentially not provided by the food sources in the recipe and
- Nutrients that may be impacted by oxidation due to grinding or freezer storage
What Meat Do I Use?
In the wild, cats aren't hunting cows, pigs, sheep or deer, yet as opportunistic feeders, feral cats will eat a meal of any of these if they encounter an already dead animal. Cats also aren't naturally big bird eaters. Cats are rodent specialists, but for most of us, mouse isn't going to be on the menu. So what do we use?
Anything we eat and can source! Ideally we want a meat that is hormone-free, antibiotic-free, and “pastured” or free-range. But almost any human quality meat and organ provides an excellent source of nutrition for your cat. There are a few considerations to be aware of:
Type of meat
Poultry, and not surprisingly, rabbit, do seem to be better tolerated by kitties out of our human-sourced protein options, so these are often a good place to start for your slow transitions to raw. Red meats (other than venison) typically have more fat than poultry and rabbit and provide a higher fat profile than our indoor kitties (usually) need for energy. So it is best to include these in rotation rather than providing them as a sole-source diet.
Including a rotation of different proteins – both muscle meat and organs – is always a good idea, due to the different nutritional profiles of each. In fact, within protein categories, each different cut of meat will have a different nutritional profile. Dark meats (heart, thigh, shoulder) are more nutrient dense and higher in taurine, for instance, than lighter muscle meats.
“Organic,” “Naturally-raised” and similar labels
The rules and requirements for raising organic meat animals are clearly defined, but the standards for meat animals deemed “Naturally Raised” are more flexible. They are voluntary standards that are not enforced. “Naturally raised” does not necessarily mean “pastured,” which is what most consumers expect. The voluntary standard is intended only to mean that the meat has been minimally processed, does not contain artificial flavor, coloring or chemicals, and the animals were not given growth hormones or antibiotics to boost growth rates.
Pastured, grass-fed (and finished) grazing animals and pastured poultry have different nutritional profiles than animals raised in factory farmed conditions. One of the main differences in grazing animals is a favorable fat profile that is higher in anti-inflammatory omega 3s. If you can afford pastured, grass-fed and finished meat, it is healthier for your cat (and you!).
If you can afford antibiotic-free, hormone-free meats, these are preferable, but not a requirement.
Do not purchase enhanced meats. This means (at a minimum) the meat has been soaked in a salt solution, and will provide too much sodium. Labels often do not clearly identify the meat as having been enhanced. The only way to know for sure is to check the sodium content. In the U.S. one serving of meat is defined as 4 ounces. If one serving of 4 ounces has more than 100mg of sodium, the product is enhanced, and is not suitable to feed your cat. Any meat product can be enhanced, but it is a practice most notably found in poultry meats (particularly turkey breast and duck) and in pork.
Do not purchase already ground meat. Commercial grinding increases the chance of bacterial contamination, and grinding exponentially increases the surface area of the meat, leading to a more rapid rate of oxidation and potential nutrient loss – and it can sit out on display for days. Unless the ground meat was flash-frozen and intended for use as a raw pet food, it is best to grind your own at home.
Bones or Bone Alternatives
Bones are an important source of calcium and many other minerals. Bone or bone alternatives are always included in balanced raw food recipes and prey model raw style feeding. Read more about bone and bone alternatives in raw cat food here.
Organs are a vital component of any raw recipe. Though a small portion of the overall diet, they provide critical nutrition. Secreting organs such as liver and kidney are very nutrient-dense and provide levels of needed nutrients not found in muscle meat. Many people have difficulty sourcing organs other than liver, so most recipes call for only liver, though the addition of a second secreting organ greatly enhances the nutritional value of the food. Varying the protein source of the liver in different batches of food will provide a wider variety of nutrients to your cats, as the livers of each animal have different micronutrient and mineral profiles. If all you can source is chicken liver, never fear, that will be sufficient.
Some recipes recommend you utilize the same animal protein and organs in the recipe. I am not familiar with the reason for this practice – other than the potential importance of providing single-source protein meals for cats with inflammatory bowel disease, prior protein allergies (though many raw feeders report their pets aren't allergic to the proteins when fed raw), or for pets with generally sensitive gastrointestinal systems. For most cats, variety within a meal is healthy and enjoyable.
Taurine is not defined as an essential amino acid in humans, but it is in the cat. Cats must have taurine in their diets to prevent heart failure and blindness. Taurine is concentrated in electrically active tissues such as the heart, brain, eyes, and dark meat muscles. As processing impacts taurine (even just grinding), if the ground recipe you are evaluating does not contain taurine as a supplement, you are putting your cat at serious (potentially fatal) risk. If feeding PMR, include hearts and dark meats to ensure sufficient taurine for your kitties.
Eggs are an important source of choline, vitamin D, and healthy omega 3 fatty acids. If a recipe you are evaluating does not contain at least egg yolks, please do not consider using it. Some recipes call for whole eggs, many call for just the yolks. Some people are concerned about providing egg whites due to their familiarity with the issue of avidin, a strong biotin-binding nutrient in egg whites when fed raw. Egg yolks, however, are high in biotin. Fed together (whites and yolks), your cat is not at risk for biotin deficiency. If you are using egg whites to increase protein values and lower phosphorus in a balanced recipe for your cat with kidney disease, then egg whites should be cooked prior to inclusion in the food.
The nutritional difference between eggs of organically-raised, pastured chickens and battery-raised egg laying chickens is stark and evidenced by the deep orange color and size of the yolk relative to the egg in the first, and the small, pale yellow yolks of the latter. If you cannot source locally-raised, organically fed, pastured chicken eggs, purchase the “Omega” eggs sold in many supermarkets if that is an option in your location. Fed a special feed that increases the healthy fat profile of the yolks, these egg yolks will provide a superior source of nutrition to your cat than traditionally fed chicken eggs.
By Laurie Goldstein (Picture by 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.
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