When thinking about what sort of diet you want to feed your cat you should consider the natural history of cats. If you look at ancestral cats and how they naturally lived before being domesticated it’s enough to convince anyone that raw food makes healthy cat food.
Cats, if left in their natural habit, will automatically hunt for food. They will hunt anything from rodents to small birds. This means that they would be eating raw meat alone and no carbohydrates-based ingredients.
What is a Raw Diet for Cats?
In 1993, Dr. Ian Billinghurst came up with a book titled ‘Give Your Dog a Bone’. This is where the current and trendy terminology ‘Biologically Appropriate Raw-Food and Bones-and Raw Food (also known as BARF)’ came from. BARF is basically a diet that replicates what current domestic cats or dogs would eat if they were in the wild. Cats have sharp incisors and canines which are biologically meant for handling fresh raw meat. They also have sharp claws which are designed to be able to hunt down and kill their prey.
The other factor that brought about the idea of raw food for domestic cats is the shortcomings of commercial cat food. Most makers of cat food came up with foods lacking in proper nutritional value. Most consisted of corn-based proteins and amino acids which are not good for a cat’s digestive system.
Under the BARF guidelines your cat’s diet would therefore consist mainly of fully un-cooked meat, bones, and organ meat of animals. There are additional ingredients you can add which we will discuss below.
Is a Raw Diet For Cats Safe?
We have seen above that the raw diet for cats tends to replicate the natural food of the cat had it been left in the wildness. So, to an extent, we can say it’s safe. However, there are other factors you need to consider. A good example is a study carried out in the year 2012 by the FDA (The Food- and Drug Administration Agency)-Centre for Veterinary-Medicine (CVM). Their study showed that after analyzing many raw food samples there is a strong likelihood of contamination by disease-causing bacteria. It turned out that giving your cat raw food has some risks including exposure to pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella which are life-threatening. Further studies have since shown that although those bacteria are present in the raw diet, they will not harm cats. So the research is a little contradictory. However, there are precautions you can take to ensure the safe handling of raw food:
- Prepare the food in a clean and contained environment and make sure you wipe down the surfaces before and after use.
- Wear gloves when handling raw meat.
- Buy meat from a reputable source.
- Package and freeze the meat as soon as you buy it.
- Feed your cat in an area that is easy to clean. We suggest either on tiles or floor boards rather than carpet.
- Clean your cat’s food bowl after every meal.
Another concern surrounds the cat’s ability to digest the raw meal. Cats, unlike human beings, will digest raw food more efficiently due to their shorter and highly acidic digestive tracts. Almost all the bacteria will pass through their digestive system without any problems.
How to Make Healthy Cat Food
When following the BARF principles, it is quite easy to make your cat’s food yourself. One of the biggest mistakes cat owners can make is that they don’t ensure their cats meal is balanced and contains all the vitamins/minerals they need. A lot of people just feed all meat and bones but don’t consider the calories in that meal or the carbohydrate, protein and fat content. A little bit more care needs to be taken to make sure your cat gets all the nutrients it needs.
The first thing you may want to do is get your cat examined by a veterinarian before you start feeding it with raw food. A lot of vets may recommend not eating raw food but make your desire known to them and have an honest conversation.
If transitioning from dry cat food it is advised to slowly swap out the kibble for raw food. Swapping them one day from a full kibble meal to the next day having a full raw meal can upset your cat’s stomach and could make them unwell. Start by reducing the kibble amount and adding in a bit of fresh meat. Over the next month slowly take away more kibble and add in more fresh meat and bones.
The amount of raw food to give your cat depends on the weight and size of your cat. A general rule for adult cats is to feed them between 2-4% of their ideal body weight. For an inactive or older cat 2% might be more suitable where as for a younger cat or one that is very active then they may need 4%. When starting your cat off with raw food start with 3% and see how they go.
When it comes to ingredients it all depends on what you have access to. Recommended staple ingredients are:
- Raw muscle meat (good sources include poultry, rabbits and fish)
- Raw organ meat
- Raw bones (ground)
- Additional supplements (get advice from your vet)
There are also companies out there who sell packaged food that follows the raw food principles if you do not have the time to prepare your own.
Packaging and storing are important steps.
Ensure you package your portions into clean and manageable containers or freezer packs and store in a clean freezer. You can label them according to meat types and date.
A raw diet is a big benefit to your cat as it eliminates the fibres, sugars, starches, and milk products from manufactured cat food. Sugar and starch are especially unhealthy for the cat as they can cause inflammation, diabetes, arthritis, obesity, and urinary problems. Preparing kibble foods involves heating thus removing the taurine compound which is highly essential for the cat’s heart good health. This compound is found in plenty in meat organs like the heart in the raw diet making it healthy cat food.