For a long time my cats were eating a dry food diet. After I started Playful Kitty, I began learning a lot about cats and how their bodies really work. Revelations about the nutritional needs of my cats lead me to changing them over to a wet food diet. It took forever to switch them over, but the results have been amazing! It seems that the next logical step towards a fresh, species appropriate diet would be a raw food diet.

Title Image Credit: Vorstius via Flickr

What is a raw food diet?

Debate About the Raw Food Diet for Cats - Napo with the rabbit in the tree

Photo Credit: Tambako The Jaguar via Flickr

A raw food diet is one that uses uncooked meats, organs, and bones. Supplements may also be added to make up for any nutrient short comings in a particular animal protein. Sometimes pieces of meat are fed to the pet whole and other times they are ground up or cut up into smaller pieces. It seems that most people that feed a raw food diet to their cats grind up the ingredients. It is believed that giving a cat a diet made of the things it was designed to consume can bring about optimal health and wellness as well as relief from many diseases.

The idea behind a raw food diet is to bring the cat’s diet closer to the cat’s natural diet.  Commercial pet food has only been around for a little over 100 years and dry pets foods (as we know them) have only been in existence since the 1950’s. Before specific pet foods were made for cats, they hunted mice, birds, insects, lizards, and other small prey. When that prey was caught, it would be eaten while the kill was still fresh and as a whole ( meat, organs, bones, hair, feathers, etc).

Important Note: As with any medical or nutritional issue, you should always talk to your veterinarian if you have concerns about your cat’s diet. This post is not a substitute for professional veterinary advice.

The Opposition Weighs In

Not everyone believes that feeding pets a raw food diet is a great idea. Some strong opponents include the FDA and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). This, of course, means that most conventional veterinarians who follow the recommendations of the AVMA are opposed as well. There are 2 main reasons why these organizations do not recommend feeding any pet a raw food diet:

Debate about the raw food diet for cats - Salmonella Bacteria

Salmonella bacteria invading an immune cell. Photo Credit: NIAID

  1. Potential for illness due to food-borne pathogens such as Salmonella.
    As most people know, uncooked meats are potentially contaminated with bacteria that can make people and pets sick. The FDA recommends that all meats be cooked at temperatures high enough to kill potential food-borne pathogens.
  2. Potential for raw food diets to be nutritionally unbalanced.
    A piece of meat in and of itself is not a nutritionally balanced meal for a cat. Cats also need a set of vitamins and minerals that would normally be consumed when ingesting the prey whole. Balance of the nutrients is very important too. Nutrition for cats can be a very complicated subject and not all cat owners are willing to take the time to do the necessary research. While this objection is aimed mostly at cat owners who choose to make their own cat food at home, they say that some commercially prepared raw food diets have been found to be unbalanced too.

These organizations recommend that you either only use commercial wet or dry cat foods or that you get a recipe for a homemade cooked food diet from your veterinarian or a licensed feline nutritionist. A few websites run by veterinary nutritionists that could be used for reference in making these cooked homemade diets include Balance It® and PetDiets.com.

Advocates of a raw food diet for cats respond

Advocates for raw food diets are mostly holistic veterinarians and concerned pet owners. Many of these people have grown weary of traditional commercial pet foods because of recalls, species inappropriate ingredients, confusing/misleading labeling, and the use of rancid and diseased ingredients.

How do advocates respond to the objections to a raw food diet?

Debate about the raw food diet for cats- "Rrrrr"

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  1. Cats are not as sensitive to food-borne pathogens (like Salmonella) as we are.
    Cats eat uncooked food all of the time in the wild – they were made to do that. That is not to say that they can’t get salmonella or other food poisoning, but they have some unique physical adaptations that help them to resist it better than we do. A cat’s digestive tract is far shorter than a human’s digestive tract. Bacteria have a lot less time to multiply and become a problem.
  2. Food-borne pathogens are exist dry pet foods too.
    Despite a claim by the FDA that no bacteria were found in dry pet foods in their study between 2010 and 2012, there are 13 dry pet food recalls listed on their website due to salmonella contamination during that time period. Every year a number of dry pet food are recalled due to salmonella or listeria concerns. A current example was the February 2015 recall on Nutrisca Chicken and Chick Pea Recipe Dry Dog Food. Usually in cases where pet foods are recalled for Salmonella, it is the humans that got sick and not the pets. The best way to prevent yourself from contracting Salmonella is to wash your hands after handling any pet food and certainly before you eat.
  3. A holistic veterinarian can guide you to a well-balanced raw food diet that addresses the needs of your particular cat.
    You don’t have to try and guess what should go into your cat’s raw food diet because there are proven recipes out there. Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats  (affiliate link) by Beth Taylor and Karen Shaw Becker, DVM is full of tips and recipes for making a balanced raw food diet for your cat or dog. There are other veterinarians that have authored these recipe books as well. However, these recipes must be followed exactly. Any changes that need to be made should be addressed with your holistic veterinarian. Diets can be tailored to address any life stage or medical problems your cat is facing. Some commercially prepared raw food diets may be appropriate for your cat as well.
  4. Cooking meats compromises the integrity of the nutrients.
    When a meat is cooked or processed, it looses some of the nutrients it had when it was raw. Supplements can be added to make up for the loss, but getting the balance back to what it was in nature is very difficult.

What are your concerns about your cat’s food?

Resources & Digging Deeper

 Raw or Undercooked Animal-Source Protein in Cat and Dog Diets – AVMA

Get the Facts! Raw Pet Food Diets can be Dangerous to You and Your Pet – FDA

BARF – A Diet for Cats – petMD

Raw, Home Cooked, or Packaged Food: Which Is Best For My Pet? – Holistic Veterinary Center

Just What is a Raw Meat Diet, Anyway? – Feline Nutrition Foundation

Homemade Diets and Commercial Raw Meat Products – CatInfo.org

New FDA Warning Nothing Short of Miraculous, Considering the Facts – Mercola Healthy Pets

The Biggest Myths About Raw Food (And Why They’re Mostly Nonsense) – Mercola Healthy Pets