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Are you thinking about switching your cat to raw food? As more cat owners discover raw food diets, it’s important to understand the pros and cons so you can make the best decision about what to feed your cat.
Raw food diet for cats – should you feed raw?
There are so many food options available for cats today, it’s often hard to know what’s best. Sometimes the more choices you have, the more confusing it becomes.
Should you stick with traditional commercial pet foods? For example, the kibble (cat biscuits) or canned foods often recommended by veterinarians. Or, should you explore a raw food diet?
There are many raw food options available:
- homemade raw using fresh meat and prepared at home
- a raw meal completer (where you add meat and water)
- commercial raw (fresh or frozen)
- dehydrated raw food (which you just add water to)
- freeze dried raw (which are great as treats).
Personally, we believe a raw food diet is the best option for cats. Cats are natural hunters and obligate carnivores. Feeding biologically appropriate raw food (BARF) is the closest to what they’d actually eat in the wild.
Keep reading to discover the pros and cons of a raw food diet for cats, as we delve into the benefits and potential risks of feeding your cat raw.
Pros of a raw food diet for cats
Raw feeding is a natural way to feed your cats, to ensure they live a long, happy and healthy life. Here are some of the known benefits:
Cats are obligate carnivores with acidic digestive systems that are designed to efficiently process a meat-based diet. Raw meat protein digests more slowly and efficiently so raw diets are more satisfying for cats at meal times. If you have a greedy cat who constantly wants to eat, you may find this changes when you feed raw meat. Your cat won’t beg for food or cat treats so often, because they are not as hungry.
Helps food sensitivities
Cats who have food sensitivities or gastrointestinal problems such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) also do well on raw food. A raw diet is much less allergenic than highly processed commercial cat foods especially dry food which often contains fillers, carbohydrates and grains. Switching to raw food helps to rebalance and calm an overloaded immune system so their gut can start to heal.
Smaller, less smelly poop
If your cat is getting the perfect balance of nutrition, their body utilises almost all of it. That means, they won’t need to poop as much to eliminate waste. Raw fed cats not only poop less often, their stools are smaller, drier and firmer too. The added bonus is their poop hardly smells at all – so cleaning the litter box is a much more pleasant task.
Healthier skin and coat
Your cat’s skin will benefit from the fatty acids found in a raw food diet and their coat is likely to become softer and shinier. Raw feeding can also reduce the amount of fur they shed and in turn reduce hairballs.
If you cat has skin allergies – itching, or dry flaky skin you can also expect these health issues to improve on a quality, balanced raw diet.
The high-quality protein and functional fats that your cat gets from raw meat will provide much more energy than commercial pet food. This enhances your cat’s overall wellbeing and quality of life. If you have a cat who usually sleeps on the sofa all day, don’t be surprised if they suddenly become more active and want to play. Our raw fed cats are entering their senior years and still very active.
Better teeth and dental health
The action of chewing meat or small raw meaty bones acts like a toothbrush. So, a cat eating raw foods will typically have stronger jaws, cleaner teeth and healthier gums. The added bonus for cat parents who like to kiss their cats is no more ‘stinky’ cat breath!
Fewer urinary problems
Raw food diets have a high moisture content of around 70% which is similar to the prey (e.g. a mouse) they’d hunt and eat in the wild. Cats’ bodies are designed to get the moisture they need from their diet. Unlike dogs, they don’t drink a lot of water. That’s why cats who eat a dry kibble diet are often dehydrated. A raw diet ensures cats stay adequately hydrated and reduces the risk of urinary diseases such as cystitis, urinary tract infections, bladder stones or crystals, and kidney disease.
Cons of raw food diet for cats
When cat parents tell me they’re reluctant to transition their cat to a raw food diet, they have legitimate fears and concerns. We’ve discussed the pros, which we believe far outweigh the cons of a raw food diet for cats but to provide a balanced view, let’s look at some of the potential downsides and why veterinarians often advise against feeding raw to pets.
Fear of harmful bacteria like salmonella
One of the biggest concerns with feeding cats raw is the risk of bacteria such as salmonella, e-coli and listeria. Veterinarians often mention the risk of cross-contamination of bacteria to humans when preparing raw meat as well as the risk to pet health when cats are fed a raw diet.
You can minimise this potential risk by following safe meat handling procedures and only purchasing human grade raw meat from reputable sources. If you don’t think you’re going to use the raw food straight away, freeze it in meal-sized portions.
Remember too, cats have highly efficient and acidic digestive systems designed to process a raw meat based diet. Food passes through their system quickly (in around 12 hours), reducing the risk of harmful bacteria taking hold.
Perceived high costs of raw diet
A raw meat diet can be expensive, especially in the beginning when you’re trying out different raw options to see what your cat likes and doesn’t like, or are testing different suppliers of commercial raw food. But it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to feed your cat raw.
You can save money by buying meat in bulk and taking advantage of discounts and heavily reduced markdown prices before the meat expiry dates. If you choose to feed a homemade raw recipe you will need to purchase a meat grinder. You may need some other kitchen equipment too, if you don’t already have it. This is an investment in the long-term health of your cat and will soon pay off.
We purchased the Kenwood Pro 2000 Excel Food Mincer almost 10 years ago and it has more than paid for itself with the dollars we’ve saved feeding our cats a homemade raw diet. The Kenwood Pro 200 Excel meat grinder can handle various raw meats and is powerful enough to grind small, soft bones such as chicken frames.
To dispel the myth about raw cat food being expensive, we calculated the cost of raw feeding using the homemade raw cat food recipe we feed our cats.
Handling raw meat and organs
Fear of handing raw meat can be a major factor in decision making when it comes to feeding your cat a raw food diet. Some people, especially those who don’t eat meat themselves don’t like the idea of handling raw meat and offal.
If you really can’t get over the ‘icky factor’ of feeding raw, consider using a raw cat food meal completer such as EZComplete which includes organs. All you have to do is sprinkle it over your cat’s raw meat and add water.
Difficult to introduce a raw food diet
We all know how finicky some cats can be with food. They have strict preferences for certain food textures and smells and turn their noses up at anything different. For these cats, transitioning to a raw meat diet can take a lot of time, energy and patience. I promise though, it is worth the effort if you can stick with it.
All cats are different in their transition to raw food. Two of our cats transitioned to raw food easily and almost immediately. It was a much slower process for Amber who took about 6 months to fully transition to a raw diet.
Hard to get the nutritional balance right
Ensuring your cat gets everything they need in a balanced raw diet can be challenging at first, but it gets easier. One of my initial concerns with preparing raw food for my cats was: “What if I make a mistake and don’t get the nutritional supplements right? Will I cause harm to my cats?”
My initial fears turned out to be unfounded. There are lots of online resources and groups to help you get it right and support you during the process. There are also options to ensure your cat’s raw food is nutritionally balanced. You can buy commercial raw food that is already nutritionally complete. Or, buy a meal completer where you just add raw meat and water. Alternatively, you can make a homemade raw recipe and add your own vitamin and mineral powders and supplements.
Switching your cat to a raw food diet is a personal choice. Whilst a raw diet is beneficial to your cat if you get it right, it can also be very time-consuming. If you’re still not sure that raw feeding is the right choice for you, or not sure how your cat will react – trial it. Start by adding small pieces of raw to your cat’s food at meal times and transition slowly.
We understand having fears or concerns when starting to feed your cat a raw food diet. Hopefully this article provides you with a balanced view of the pros and cons of a raw food diets for cats so you can make an informed decision!
Gail Maida says
My cat had IBS, he has been on a raw diet supplemented with dry food purchased at the pet store. It took three months to get his system on track and now he has a great coat and is actually grooming himself, no more clumps. (ps I had to have him shaved due to the fact with having IBS he would not groom)
Rosa @ Cat Lady Confidential says
I must confess that I never thought about trying a raw food diet for my cat. Fortunately he has never had health issues and, on the other hand, raw feeding isn’t practical on a busy daily routine. But this is great information and if it helps with certain health conditions it’s an option to consider.
frank M says
I agree, Right now I have an 18 y/o cat without any medical problems. Lab works from the vet are always in the normal range. He gets can pet food, but the one I use is organic with no grain and no by products, and no GMO and made with pure meats and made in america with only american products.. I really see no reason to switch to a raw diet with my busy schedule and increase the chance of adding e-coli or salmonella to their system.
Jean Dion says
Nicely done! I love the pros and cons approach.
I am a raw feeder for my dogs, but I have a pack of picky cats that absolutely will NOT eat raw. My oldest cat complied for awhile, but in time, he was much more likely to bury the food than he was to eat it. Super frustrating. So we’re back to cooked foods. I’m sad, too, as I really liked the way his coat looked on raw.
Rama's Mama says
We are big believers in raw feeding as well. We have NO fleas, great teeth and breath, less poo, less smelly poo and their overall condition is much improved over kibble feeding. The less poo is a great bonus as we have several large dogs here. 😉
I think that raw diets are wonderful. I have heard so many people tell me about the incredible benefits they received from going raw. It is something I would love to be able to do for my cats. Unfortunately, with my finances the way they are, I have to skip meals to feed the cats a lot of times. That being said, I don’t think I would be able to provide the raw diet consistently. Hopefully we’ll get things straightened out in the future.
Piranha Banana says
Interesting post – usually one sees info on raw food diets for dogs, first I’ve seen for a cat. As for me, most therapy dogs are not allowed to be on a raw food diet. This is because we work with people with low immune systems (children, seniors, cancer patients, etc.) and a raw food diet can cause medical problems.
Sometimes Cats Herd You says
We’re getting some commercial raw now with mixed acceptance levels between us. The one cat who will probably benefit most is most reluctant to eat it, so we aren’t sure how the experiment will turn out, but it really does make sense that we eat the kind of food our bodies are made for.
The Swiss Cats says
Great post ! Mum is very interested, but she misses time, and is afraid of not getting the nutritional balance right. Like Summer’s mom, she’s very picky about our canned food. Purrs
Cathy Armato says
I’ve always been afraid of a raw diet, mostly because of my fear of bacteria. Even in our home with people food I’m like a lunatic cleaning up wherever raw meats has touched! Very interesting information though!
warning – comment from a raw feeder 😉
I did a cost comparison a little while ago of raw vs commercial and raw wins out pretty much all of the time, except maybe the cheapest biggest bag of dry cat food you can get at the grocery store. Yes, there is the initial investment, but it is very much worth it.
not to mention the fewer vet visits because my cats are in better overall health. The reduced shedding, even the vets comment on it as my cats don’t stress shed like conventional cats do, and the reduced litter box waste (both in volume and in odor – so I use less litter and no need for odor control)
As for getting it nutritionally balanced, we humans have been doing that for ourselves for a millennium, why should balancing food for another species be that hard?? it isn’t. people just want to scare you into sticking with commercial foods..
speaking of being scared.. ecoli and salmonella isn’t an issue for a cat. their digestive tracts are shorter and more acidic so there is little chance for the bacteria to colonize and cause a problem. Even when human food is contaminated, it is rarely the healthy humans that have a problem, but the old and infirm and the young. Our bodies are equipped to handle these things. Yes, there are super bugs that cause more problems than others, but those are usually ones that were attempted to be killed with antibiotics or with cooking and the job wasn’t successful so the bacteria adapted. There have been far more animals sickened on commercial pet food then on raw… and even if you want to look at just the number of issues vs the numbers contaminated – since raw feeding is still not that common – there have been far more recalls on commercial food than on raw.
You are totally right about the some cats won’t eat it though, but that is feline nature.. and as for not wanting to handle raw meat.. yup, that was a huge hurdle for me, but my cats are worth it 🙂
Christy Paws says
Great post. If you make your own raw from chicken, it can actually be much less expensive than commercial canned food. Mom has been making our raw food for years and we love it.
Kitty Cat Chronicles says
GREAT article! I fed my cats a raw diet for a couple of years, and it made a world of difference for Sophie, who has food allergies and chronic URIs. I was doing a combination of homemade and commercial ground. The cats loved it, and I had absolutely no trouble introducing them to it – they took right to it! But then we moved, and with everything going on to prepare for the move I had to put a hold on the raw diet because I didn’t have time to prepare it. I had every intention of switching back once we got settled, but here we are a year later and I haven’t done it. SHAME ON ME! I really need to get back on it.
I have often thought about a raw diet but I have so many cats, I don’t think we could afford it. Also, the majority of the cats live outside and they do catch their own raw food every now and then.. I like them to catch their own since then it is very fresh for them. I know myself, when I freeze food, it doesn’t taste nearly as well as before freezing. But great post.
Although my human doesn’t feed us raw, she is very picky about our canned-food only diet (premium, no grain, no carrageenan), and she is considering supplementing it with raw as a treat.