The raw food industry for cats and dogs has seen tremendous growth in recent years. As obligate carnivores, cats will thrive on a complete and balanced raw diet. However, feeding your cat a raw diet requires careful preparation. As such, many experts advised against it. While the health claims of a raw diet ring true, the safety concerns of feeding cats raw food are valid too.
What is a raw diet?
The term “Raw Diet” is a broad term. A raw diet for cats includes animal protein (muscle meat), organs, and bones, and these ingredients are not processed using heat. The diet is uncooked but can be freeze-dried or dehydrated (low heat dehydration). Freeze-dried cat food is considered a raw diet.
Why feed raw?
Felines are obligate carnivores. This means they must eat animal products to thrive. Cats can tolerate carbohydrates but only in small amounts and they have little need for carbohydrates. In the wild, cats hunt and eat other small creatures like rodents, birds, fish, insects, and even reptiles. You may have observed your feline kid hunting reptiles or insects at home. That’s a natural cat instinct. They are natural-born hunters.
Cats will devour their prey whole – muscle meat, organs, bones, skin, and other animal parts. Supporters of raw food diets advocate for a biologically-appropriate diet that closely mimics what a cat would eat in the wild – a raw, whole prey diet. The idea is to feed the domestic cat a diet that is like what their wild counterpart would eat.
A carefully prepared raw diet has many health benefits. Cat parents who have been feeding their feline kids a raw diet have seen tremendous improvements in their kids’ skin, coats, and teeth. Some paw parents have cited less smelly cat poop and better weight management with their obese cats.
We do not doubt these health claims but for a raw diet to work well, it is of utmost importance that the diet is nutritionally complete, balanced, and safely prepared.
Unlike their wild counterparts, our feline friends at home do not hunt for food. They depend on us to feed them. So, it is up to us to provide them with the best raw cat food.
The risks of feeding raw
The risk of cross-contamination
Feeding raw food to your cat does come with some risks as raw food may contain pathogens like Salmonella and E. coli. The good news is that your cat has a shorter and more acidic digestive tract. As such, many of these dangerous pathogens will pass through a cat’s digestion without causing any issues unless your cat is suffering from certain immune-mediated diseases. If that is the case, then a cooked diet is recommended.
Perhaps, the greatest risk of feeding and handling raw meat comes down to cross-contamination. Feeding your cat a raw food diet can expose you and your family to dangerous pathogens.
These pathogens can remain on kitchen surfaces where the raw diet has been prepared if these surfaces are not properly cleaned. These pathogens can reside on your cat’s food bowl, in the cat’s faecal matter, and even on your cat’s mouth and face. If you have young children, an elderly, or an immune-compromised family member at home, care must be taken should you decide to feed your cat a raw food diet. The risk of cross-contamination is real and can lead to serious life-threatening infections.
Risk of feeding incomplete and nutritionally imbalanced raw diets
Making a complete and balanced homemade raw diet is not that simple. Throwing a piece of raw meat in the bowl for your cat does not make that a healthy, balanced raw diet. Over time, an incomplete diet can lead to serious health problems for your cat.
In the wild, the cat will eat numerous animal parts including meat, bones, organs, skin, fur, feathers, and other internal parts. Many of these parts are not available for purchase in our standard supermarket. To put together a raw cat diet that provides adequate nutrition requires careful ingredient planning.
Some cat parents will choose to consult a veterinary nutritionist with raw diet experience or download online recipes designed by qualified professionals. Others may choose to go with commercial raw diets that are designed to be nutritionally complete and balanced. If you feel strongly about feeding your cat a raw food diet but do not have the experience or kitchen equipment to do so, getting a commercial raw diet may be the best way forward.
Commercial raw diets
True raw diet supporters often consider commercial raw diets inferior to those prepared at home. Whichever route you choose – home-prepared or commercially prepared, assess your current capability and the risks involved. Both options are good. Both involve feeding your cat a fresh, natural diet as opposed to a highly processed kibble diet.
Commercial raw diets are usually frozen or freeze-dried to reduce pathogens. Here, we have listed some of our best-selling frozen raw diets for cats:
A frozen raw diet can pose a challenge for some cat parents. You’ll require freezer storage space and it’s messier to handle than freeze-dried raw cat food. Freeze-dried cat food is easier to feed and washing up is a breeze compared to cleaning up raw meat. For freeze-dried cat food, all you need to do is just scoop and feed, exactly like how you would feed a dry cat food.
Finally, do not overlook the quality of cat treats that you give to your feline kids. Poor quality cat treats are full of artificial flavouring and colouring. The good news is, that freeze-dried raw cat treats are readily available and there are plenty of options available in the market. Consider switching to a healthier cat treat, especially one that has the goodness of raw nutrition.
Cats are obligate carnivores and the high protein, high moisture raw food diet, when done right, may be more important for cats than it is for dogs. Though the raw food diet has many health benefits for cats, care must be taken to avoid cross-contamination especially if you have young children or family members with poor immune health.
Katherine is a Pet Nutrition Specialist and GDP’s Pet Wellness Advisor. She is committed to helping pet owners make informed dietary and lifestyle choices in nurturing healthy pets. Katherine is also a practicing Nutritional Therapist (human nutrition) and has been helping hundreds of clients to heal naturally with nutrients.