Before we switched our cats to a raw food diet we did a lot of research to understand whether raw meat is safe for cats to eat. We wanted to be sure it was safe for our cats to eat raw food, but also to fully understand the risks for us and know how to handle raw foods for our cats safely.
Why vets say a raw food diet for cats is not safe
Many veterinarians advise against feeding a raw food diet because of safety fears or lack of knowledge about raw cat food diets. They often talk about the dangers of raw food for cats and of seeing feline patients who are malnourished as a result of being fed a raw food diet. The problem isn’t with the raw food diet, it’s often because cat owners aren’t well-informed enough to ensure their cat’s diet is nutritionally balanced.
At the same time, there isn’t the same amount of research into raw food diets for cats as there is into commercial pet food brands. Backed by research, veterinarians are therefore more likely to trust and recommend commercial pet foods, which can make it difficult to know what is best for your cat.
No scientific studies have shown benefits of raw diets. Their appeal is based on word of mouth, testimonials and perceived benefits.Dr. Lisa M. Freeman, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University.
Veterinarians themselves have also told me, that their veterinary degree did not include comprehensive training in cat nutrition. If your vet has not undertaken further specialised study in pet nutrition, there may a knowledge gap. Your vet may not be aware of the value of nutritionally balanced raw food diets for cats.
Why we tried a raw diet against veterinary advice
Charlie developed inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) as a kitten. We consulted with multiple vets and tried everything they recommended, but he remained very sick with a poor quality of life. No one recommended a raw food diet to us, and some of the vets we spoke to warned us against it. We discovered raw feeding for cats through our own research. We were determined to get Charlie back on track to good health, and switching to a homemade raw food diet with quality ingredients was our last hope. Thankfully, it worked and today he is happy and healthy with no signs of inflammatory bowel disease. Since switching to a raw food diet almost 10 years ago, Charlie has only had one IBD flare up triggered after an unrelated and routine specialist exam in a veterinary teaching hospital.
So, just because your vet doesn’t agree with feeding raw, doesn’t mean you should abandon the idea. But, it is important to be aware of the potential safety concerns – bacteria, parasites, bones and nutritional deficiencies – so that you can take the necessary precautions and prepare your cat’s raw meals safely.
Remember, you don’t have to prepare raw food from scratch; there are many good quality pre-packaged commercial raw cat foods available, or meal completers such as EZComplete for you to choose from which are balanced with the nutrients and minerals your cat needs.
Understanding safety concerns when feeding raw
Risk of bacteria
Salmonella and e-coli are usually the biggest concerns when it comes to bacteria. You can minimise the risk by learning how to safely handle raw food for cats and by purchasing raw meat only from reputable sources. Essentially, you should take the same food safety precautions when handling raw meat for cats, as you do when preparing it for humans.
It is also important to note that cats have extremely efficient and very acidic digestive systems. They evolved from hunting and eating small prey animals so their digestive systems tolerate raw meat very well. This means a protein meal usually takes a short 12 hours to pass through – this doesn’t give bacteria any time to take hold and become a problem.
Parasites in raw meat
You’ve probably heard that toxoplasmosis (from venison, pork and lamb) and trichinosis (from pork and game animals) can be present in raw meats. That’s true, but they’re usually killed or inactivated by freezing.
Intestinal parasites such as roundworm, hookworm or tapeworm are also cited as a safety concern when feeding raw to cats. They aren’t generally an issue either, unless you feed the guts of prey animals to your cat.
Are bones okay?
Some owners worry about whether raw bones are safe for their cats to eat. Remember though, in the wild a cat will eat the entire prey animal (e.g. mouse or bird), raw bones and all. Cats can chew and digest small raw bones with no problems, and bones actually contain beneficial nutrients including calcium. Just make sure that bones are small enough so that they don’t become a potential choking or obstruction hazard.
Cooked bones on the other hand, can cause problems and should never be fed to your cat. They become brittle during cooking, which mean they’re likely to splinter once swallowed and may cause internal damage. You don’t want to run that risk.
Risk of nutritional deficiencies
A raw diet is a ‘natural’ diet, but it’s up to you to make sure your cat is getting the appropriate nutrients. Commercial raw food will be nutritionally balanced so it may be an easier option for some people.
If you plan to feed a homemade raw food diet, do your research, follow a recipe from a trusted source e.g. a holistic vet who specialises in raw food nutrition, and take the time to get the balance right. Feeding raw might seem complicated at first, but once you get into a routine it’ll become second nature.
–> We recommend this homemade Raw Cat Food Recipe. It’s what we feed our cats!
How to safety feed raw to your cats
Follow these safety tips to prevent any bacterial risk when handling and storing raw meat and preparing raw cat food.
Buy meat from a reputable source
Make sure the raw meat you use comes from a reputable source and is as fresh as possible. We recommend buying raw meat from supermarkets, butchers (retail and wholesale), online meat retailers, and local farmer’s markets.
Grind raw meat yourself
If you’re feeding ground meat rather than chunks of meat, make sure your grind it yourself to reduce the risk of bacteria. Ground meat has more surface area to attract bacteria and other nasties. You don’t know where or for how long it’s been sitting around unless you grind it yourself.
We use a heavy duty grinder which is also strong enough to grind small, soft bones such as chicken frames if you are using a raw cat food recipe that includes bone.
How to handle raw meat safely
When you’re removing raw meat from the packaging be careful not to splash any of the raw meat juices to other food surfaces. Wear disposable latex gloves when handling raw meat to minimise risk of cross contamination to other surfaces.
You should also wash your hands thoroughly (for at least 20-30 seconds) after handling raw meat, raw cat food or anything (bowls, surfaces etc.) that come in contact with raw meat.
Disinfect all surfaces
Wash chopping boards, surfaces, knives and bowls that have come into contact with the raw meat or raw cat food with hot soapy water and then in disinfectant to make sure there are no germs. A mix of 1 tablespoon bleach to 4 cups water is an effective disinfectant. Alternatively, you can run used items through the dishwasher.
Store and thaw raw meat safely
The best way to store raw meat is to freeze it before you’re ready to use it. Keep raw meat well wrapped and separate from other foods in the freezer.
Thaw frozen raw meat properly, by defrosting it slowly in the fridge. Never try to speed up thawing times by leaving frozen meat out at room temperature on the kitchen counter or kitchen sink, or in the microwave.
Storing cat food leftovers
If you cat doesn’t eat their entire raw food meal in one sitting, immediately cover the leftovers and place them in the fridge or dispose of them safely. We freeze raw food leftovers separately in our freezer and dispose of them on rubbish day.
Don’t use plastic bowls
Serve raw food to your pets in stainless steel or glass bowls rather than plastic, which can harbour bacteria and are the main cause of feline chin acne.
We hope that knowing how to handle raw meat for cats safely will give you the confidence to prepare raw food for your cat. We have been feeding our cats a raw diet for almost 10 years, and would not have done so if we didn’t believe raw meat is safe for cats to eat!