Many veterinarians are hesitant to recommend a raw food diet because of safety fears, and are more likely to trust and recommend commercial pet foods, which can make it difficult to know what is best for your cat or dog.
This doesn’t mean you should abandon the idea of raw feeding but it’s important to be aware of the potential safety concerns – essentially bacteria, parasites, bones and nutritional deficiencies – so that you can take the necessary precautions and prepare your cat’s raw food safely.
Remember too, you don’t have to prepare raw food from scratch; there are many good quality pre-packaged commercial raw food options available for you to choose from.
Safety Concerns of a Raw Food Diet for Cats
Salmonella and e-coli are usually the biggest concerns when it comes to bacteria, but you can minimise the risk by following safe meat handling procedures and purchasing raw meat only from reputable sources. Cats also have extremely efficient and very acidic digestive systems, which means that 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.
Toxoplasmosis (more often from venison, pork and lamb) and trichinosis (from pork and game animals) can be present in raw meats, 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, but aren’t generally an issue as we don’t feed the guts of prey animals to pets.
Some owners worry about whether raw bones are safe for their cats to eat, but 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 many 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 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.
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 raw food diet made from scratch, 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.
Safe Handling Procedures for Raw Meat
- Make sure the raw meat you use comes from a reputable source and is as fresh as possible.
- If you’re feeding ground meat, be sure to grind it yourself to reduce the risk of bacteria. Ground meat has more surface area to attract bacteria and other nasties, and you don’t know where or for how long it’s been sitting around unless you grind it yourself.
- Handle raw meat safely. This means taking sensible precautions like washing your hands after handling raw meat or anything (bowls, surfaces etc.) that has come in contact with raw meat.
- Wash chopping boards, surfaces, knives and bowls with hot soapy water followed by 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 raw meat safely. Freezing until you’re ready to use it is the best way to store raw food, and make sure any raw meat is kept well wrapped and separated 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 or microwaving it.
- Raw food should be served to your pets in stainless steel or glass rather than plastic bowls, which can harbour bacteria.
Do you feed your cat a raw food diet? What measures have you taken to overcome any initial safety concerns about feeding raw?
Top image: US Department of Agriculture via Flickr