Food. We build our days and our lives around it. Food has a magical (and tasty!) ability to sustain and nourish life. However, these days with the demand for food so high, quality is starting to go out the window. Consumers everywhere are turning to natural, organic, non-GMO diets to avoid unsavory chemicals and preservatives. With the upswing of healthy diets has come a new era of holistic eating: raw food diets. Not only are people everywhere enjoying this inventive healthy lifestyle, but they are turning to a raw diet for their pets as well. But what exactly is a raw foods diet? Well, we are going to tell you everything you need to know about raw cat food.
What is a “Raw Diet”?
Interestingly enough, people have consumed foods based on the raw foods diet dating as far back as the 1800s. However, a raw foods diet has recently skyrocketed in popularity. In terms of humans, a raw food diet is almost always vegan – meaning no meat or dairy of any kind. Most notably, food is not to be cooked over 118°F. With this mindset, it is believed that cooking food at excessive heat strips it of natural enzymes and nutrients.
Furthermore, all raw food is free of pesticides, processing, and pasteurization. A true raw food diet typically consists of nuts, seeds, grains, fruits, and vegetables. However, some raw food eaters will include raw eggs. Even fewer raw eaters may consume certain raw fish or meats.
Raw Diet for Cats
On the other hand, a raw diet for cats is a little different. The same principles apply regarding minimal heat application and using non-processed foods. However, a raw feline diet is built around uncooked muscular animal meat, bones, and organs. There is even an appetizing little acronym for a cats raw diet, “BARF”. Which stands for “Biologically-Appropriate Raw Food” or “Bones And Raw Food”. That is to say, cats have a unique biology making their bodies more suited for consuming raw meats, specifically.
In order to meet your cat’s daily nutritional needs, a raw food diet has to be carefully curated. Fortunately, there are a number of reputable brands focusing on creating healthy, well-balanced raw cat food. Particularly devoted feline parents may even opt to make a homemade raw diet. More on that later.
Pros of a Raw Diet
Consider the domesticated cat’s wild cousin, the cheetah (or any jungle cat for that matter). Much like your feline friend, these so-called “big cats” are natural born hunters. It is safe to say, no one in the jungle is cooking a lion’s wild-caught zebra meat into a fancy chef-prepared dinner. With this in mind, cats bodies are naturally built for consuming uncooked meat, and they benefit from eating a variety of parts of said meat. In addition to mimicking the diet of their pro-hunter ancestors, a raw food diet has several other benefits in store for your favorite fur pal.
Healthy Skin and a Shiny Coat
A balanced raw foods diet is full of essential fatty acids like omega-3 fish oils. These vital fatty acids promote a shiny, soft coat all year road. Better yet, a balanced intake of fatty acids helps reduce shedding in cats. Not only does less shedding make your black clothes look better than ever, but it will also reduce your cat’s number of possible hairballs. That is what we call a win-win!
Healthier Teeth and Mouths
Have you ever tried to brush a cat’s teeth? Well, not every cat is as jazzed about the experience as this cat. In fact, most cat owners are left dodging bites and left with little to no success. Interestingly enough, the meaty bones sometimes included in a raw diet act as a natural toothbrush for cats. Not only does this help clean your cat’s teeth, but it promotes healthy gums and a stronger jaw. You can also kiss smelly cat breathe goodbye!
A feline gastrointestinal tract is far more acidic than that of a human. This means that cats are designed to efficiently process a meat-heavy diet. Standard store-bought cat food tends to include a number of heavy grains. These complex carbohydrates are actually harder for a cat to digest than meat. Furthermore, these unnecessary grains and the wear they cause on a cat’s digestive system have been known to cause medical problems later in life.
Have you ever noticed how much cats sleep? In fact, house cats typically sleep up to twenty hours a day. Even when they are awake domesticated cats are often quite lethargic and lazy. While sleep is completely necessary for a long and healthy life, cats also need healthy physical activity daily. As previously mentioned, commercial cat food is overrun with unnecessary grains. While carbs produce energy in humans, protein is the primary feline fuel source. A high-quality, protein-rich raw diet will significantly improve your cat’s daily energy levels. So get your feather sticks and laser pointers ready, because your cat is going to be more playful than ever!
Less Poop (in a healthy way!)
While pooping is a vital part of the digestion process, a healthy cat should really only need to poop about once a day. When your cat is eating a well-balanced diet, their bodies will absorb and use as much of their food’s nutrients as possible inside of the body. For example, using food to produce energy and promoting healthy organ function. So if your cat is taking a few too many trips to the litter box, a raw foods diet may help he or she get the nutrients they need. Better yet, felines on raw food diets tend to produce odorless excrement.
Admittedly, fat cats with dragging tummies are adorable. However, feline obesity is no laughing matter. Over 50% of domestic cats in America are overweight. That is pure insanity! Fortunately, a well-balanced raw foods diet can help your fat cat get back down to a healthy weight.
Cats tend to overeat standard dry foods because they are trying to make up for the lack of nutrients in the food. With a fully formed nutritional raw foods meal, cat’s will feel full and satisfied for longer. Combined with the increase in energy from the high levels of protein, your cat is sure to be lean in no time.
Good for Cats with Preexisting Health Issues
A raw food diet has been proven to work “miracles” on both humans and cat’s suffering from a range of diseases or ailments. In fact, countless cancer patients claim a raw foods diet has been a vital addition to their cancer treatment. In terms of feline health, raw foods diets have been known to aid in the treatment of:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Kidney disease
- Urinary tract infections (UTI’s)
- Urinary crystals
- Hyper-thyroid disease
While a raw foods diet can help alleviate and prevent symptoms of the aforementioned conditions, it is not intended as the only treatment. If your cat is suffering from any of the above ailments, consult your vet about if a raw food diet is best for your cat, and what else they may need to be treated.
Check with your Vet First
It is important to note, contrary to humans, cat’s with cancer or other immuno-compromising diseases should stay away from raw foods diets. As you will soon find out in the cons section, a raw food diet can introduce unhealthy bacteria such as salmonella. While this is more likely in homemade raw food, in the case of cats with weakened immune systems, it is best to stay away from raw foods.
Additionally, as with any new food, supplement, or medication, it is vital to consult your vet before administration or introduction. This is especially important for a cat suffering from preexisting conditions. To reiterate, check with your vet about if a raw foods diet is right for your pet’s unique needs.
Cons of a Raw Diet
Naturally, with every hero, there is always a villain. While a raw food diet can work wonders for your cat, there are some risks associated. However, most of the downsides listed below are speaking more to cat owners who elect to make their own raw food. Either way, it is good to be fully informed about the risks vs. rewards of any new health plan.
Possible Bacteria Contamination
You are likely familiar with the fact that eating raw or undercooked chicken can sometimes lead to a bacteria-induced salmonella infection. Similarly, raw beef has been known to transmit the unsavory bacteria e-coli. Since you are not to cook food in a raw diet, there is no heat application to kill these harmful bacterias. Therefore, when feeding your cat a homemade raw diet, it is absolutely essential to only use the freshest, organic meat. If you make enough to feed your cat for several weeks, immediately freeze the meal-sized portions they are not eating that day.
We will detail safe handling tips for both commercial and homemade raw cat foods later in this article.
Clearly, feeding your cat contaminated raw food can cause infection in your cat. But did you know, it can actually cause you and your family to get sick as well? When working with raw meats, extreme care must be given to prevent cross-contamination. Unsavory bacteria from bad food can manifest on food dishes, prep surfaces, sinks, feces, and on the mouth of your cat. A typically precious kitty kiss could actually give you or your family a bacterial infection if your cat has eaten contaminated food.
If you live in a home with anybody who has a delicate immune system (such as children, the elderly, or sick individuals), a raw cat diet of any kind may not be the best option.
Tricky to Introduce to your Cat
As always, any change in diet should be a slow transition. This gives your cat’s body time to adapt and reduces the risk of an allergic reaction. Cats are notoriously picky eaters, and it can, and often does, take some time and patience to get them acclimated to a raw diet.
Added Time and Expense
If you have ever perused the organic section at your local market, you are familiar with the price tag that comes along with hormone/pesticide/preservative free food. Namely, you are going to need to budget more at the beginning. It may take a few swings before you find the purr-fect mix of nutrition with a taste to your cats liking.
Furthermore, should you opt to make your cats raw food at home, you should be prepared for the incredibly time-consuming process. As previously mentioned, bacteria can be a major concern when it comes to raw food. The safe-handling process is a lengthy dance of cleaning, prep, and cleaning again. Fortunately, if you decide to try out commercial raw foods, you can save yourself a lot of time!
Getting Down and Dirty
Be honest with yourself, do you get squeamish watching medical shows or gutting the turkey at Thanksgiving? If you answered yes, you may want to stick to commercial food. Preparing raw cat food at home requires handling your fair share of organs and raw meat. If you can’t stand the lack of heat, stay out of the kitchen. Do you get it? Because you don’t cook raw food!
The Nutritional Balancing Act
A healthy cat requires a meticulously crafted balance of protein, vitamins, fatty acids, and more. That is to say, when it comes to crafting a homemade raw diet, it can be tough striking the perfect balance. Ideally, you should consult your holistic vet about your cat’s unique needs. This will help you best assess what vitamins and supplements to include in their diet.
Fortunately, many pre-made raw options take the guesswork out of it for you, offering nutritionally complete raw food options. Furthermore, you can even choose to have small raw portions as more of a “treat” for your cat. Simply using a small amount of raw food to supplement their current diet.
Essential Elements of a Cat’s Diet
No matter what kind of food you choose for your beloved cat, it is important to know what your cat’s diet needs. A well-balanced feline diet is composed of:
- Protein (either from meat or fish)
- Amino Acids
- Essential Fatty Acids
Cat’s are distinctly carnivorous. Meaning, they must eat meat to survive. A balanced cat’s diet is entirely built on protein, moisture-rich foods, and necessary vitamins. That is to say, as tasty as they are, carbohydrates (such as corn and rice), are actually not essential to a cat’s diet. To enumerate, feline’s are not build to tolerate carbs. However, carbohydrates are appropriate in small amounts and can be helpful for producing energy. Furthermore, if you have opted for a homemade raw diet, utilizing certain carbs can help reduce the cost of ingredients.
Homemade Cat Food – Raw Style
The particularly devoted pet parent may choose the most hands-on approach to a raw diet: homemade. If you choose this route, be sure consult your vet regarding your selection of ingredients, to ensure your feline friend is getting all the nutrients needed. Furthermore, remember to only use the freshest of ingredients and take extreme care in preparing homemade raw meals.
Homemade Raw Food – Safe Handling Practices
As previously established, making raw food at home comes with a built-in set of possible risks. While there is no sure-fire way to eliminate all risks, there are certainly best practices you can put into effect. You should adhere to the following rules when preparing, feeding, and cleaning up any and all raw cat food.
- Always wear gloves when handling any raw meat or organs
- Use only the freshest, organically grown and fed protein sources
- Prepare food in a small, contained area in your kitchen. Clean and sanitize thoroughly before and after preparing raw food. Bleach is the most effective cleaning method of killing strong bacteria like salmonella. Dilute the bleach one part bleach to thirty-two parts water. If bleach is too harsh for your environmental likings, there are a number of eco-friendly cleaning solutions available.
- Make sure your cat eats on a hard, easy to clean surface (i.e. no carpet or blankets nearby)
- Sanitize food bowls and surrounding area immediately after your cat finishes eating (with the above cleaning method)
- Resist the urge to give your kitty “kisses” after he or she consumes raw food
- Dish out portioned meals during preparation and freeze them immediately
- If your cat’s raw diet is to include any bones, be sure they are ground up thoroughly to prevent gastrointestinal distress
If you follow the above guidelines to the letter, your cat should be able to enjoy homemade raw food safely. Once you have talked to your vet about your cat’s unique nutritional needs, you can find countless recipes online based on the ingredients you need.
Commercial Raw Cat Food
Fortunately, with the growing popularity of a raw feline diet, there are a number of well-made commercial raw cat foods on the market. Notably, these companies are producing higher quality raw cat food than ever. Better still, commercial raw cat food tends to contain more organ mean than home-prepared raw diets. The added organ meat provides a wider range of beneficial amino acids.
The common dry cat foods lining your local store’s shelves are full of added carbohydrates and complex sugars. These unnecessary ingredients have been known to cause obesity, diabetes, and urinary tract infections.
As previously stated, a well-balanced feline diet requires little to no carbohydrates. Commercially produced raw food diets include just that. These pre-made raw meals are high in protein, and contain hardly any carbs (if any at all).
Frozen vs. Freeze Dried Raw Cat Food
If you have started looking into commercially made raw cat food, you have likely noticed they are either frozen or freeze dried. So what is the difference?
Frozen Cat Food
First of all, depending on the brand, the nutritional value is typically the same in both freeze-dried and frozen raw food. Namely, frozen food must be kept in the freezer until it is about to be eaten. When you are ready to feed your cat, simply transfer a few nuggets to the fridge for a few hours to thaw out. Note that you cannot (or rather, should not) heat the frozen nuggets. Therefore, you need to allow the time to thaw safely in the fridge. A good rule of thumb is putting your cat’s daily dose of raw food in the fridge to thaw the night before.
Furthermore, care should be taken when feeding raw food whether it is homemade or not. Primal Pet Foods, a leading brand in raw cat and dog food has a wonderful safe handling guide.
Freeze-Dried Raw Cat Food
Interestingly enough, raw cat food that has been freeze-dried can be kept at room temperature. This makes it much easier to prepare in a pinch, all you have to do is rehydrate the nuggets before serving! If time permits, it is recommended that you heat water to 102 degrees when rehydrating freeze-dried food. This temperature is acceptable in raw food standards, and it mimics the body temperature of a mouse a cat might catch in the “wild”. Better yet, some experts claim that cats favor freeze-dried raw food over frozen raw food.
Raw Cat Food – The Bottom Line
Naturally, as a pet parent, you have hundreds of choices when it comes to your cat’s diet. While a raw food diet promises several appealing benefits, it comes with a small set of risks as well. Fortunately, you can cut your risks by choosing a carefully curated commercial raw cat food. No matter what food you choose for your beloved cat, be sure to consult your veterinarian first. With your cat’s history in mind, your vet can help make sure your cat is getting the well-balanced diet he or she deserves.