Everything You Need to Know About Feeding Your Cat a Raw Diet
Everyone wants to eat healthier these days and include more natural and organic foods in their diet. So it’s not surprising that an increasing number of cat owners have been transitioning to raw food diets in an effort to feed their feline friends a more natural and organic food. But are raw diets really good for your cat?
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
Did you know that FirstVet offers video calls with experienced vets? You can get a consultation within 30 minutes by downloading the FirstVet app for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play.
Cat Nutritional Needs
Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that the majority of their diet is made up of protein from meat. Meat proteins also provide cats with essential amino acids like taurine and arginine. Carbohydrates supply limited nutritional value to a cat and should only make up a small percentage of the diet. Cats also have an inherently low thirst drive and frequently do not consume as much water as they need to keep their bodies optimally hydrated.
Benefits of a Raw Diet
Supporters of raw diets say that they help to prevent and treat the following diseases: diabetes, arthritis, urinary tract problems, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, and chronic skin and ear issues.
Diabetes is an imbalance of blood sugar and insulin, and can possibly result from a diet that is too high in carbohydrates. Raw diet fans claim that commercial dry cat food uses a much higher percentage of carbs and plant-based proteins than cats require because they are cheaper than meat proteins. An excess of carbohydrates can also contribute to obesity, inflammation, and arthritis.
Urinary tract problems can be reduced and possibly prevented with appropriate water intake. In the wild, a cat would be eating a meat/organ-based diet, which is made up of about 70% water.
Supporters of a raw diet say that because their cats are consuming water with their food, it is healthier than a dry food diet that is less than 10% water.
Inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, and chronic skin/ear issues can all have an allergic component. Since raw diets often have fewer ingredients than commercial dry cat food, raw food enthusiasts believe that food allergies are significantly lessened.
Danger of Bacterial Contamination
The American Veterinary Medical Association has taken the official stance of discouraging the feeding of raw or undercooked animal proteins because they may contain potentially deadly pathogens that can make your pet sick and be transmitted to humans. A 2006 study of raw food diets was published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association. It looked at 20 commercially available raw diets and found that 59.6% contained E. coli and 7.1% contained Salmonella.
Cats eating a raw diet are also more likely to spread contagious bacteria in their feces, which can be transmitted to humans. This can cause illness in people who are vulnerable to infection, including children, the elderly, and those with a weak immune system.
Danger of Unbalanced Nutrition
A balanced raw diet includes flesh, organs, bone or ground bone, and a small amount of vegetation. But the ingredient balance is very delicate and incredibly important. Homemade raw diet recipes should be formulated by a veterinary nutritionist to avoid the following problems:
While meat must be the primary component of the diet, there is not enough calcium in meat alone. Therefore, bone or ground bone is necessary to provide a proper calcium-to-phosphorus ratio.
Liver is a commonly used ingredient in many raw diets. However, too much liver can lead to hypervitaminosis A, a condition where too much vitamin A causes anorexia, weight loss, and lameness.
Taurine is an amino acid that is added to commercial dry cat food. In the 1980s, it was found that taurine deficiency in cats causes blindness and heart problems. In a raw diet, a cat gets its taurine from the meat protein, but different types of meat contain vastly different levels of taurine.
An article published in 2003 in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery found 10 cases of feline pansteatitis, or inflammation of fatty tissue, as a direct result of improperly balanced raw diets.
Time and Money
Feeding your cat a raw diet is an expensive and time-consuming business. Meticulous care is required in the handling, preparation, and sanitation of the raw ingredients. If a commercial raw diet is used, the food must be properly stored and allowed the appropriate time to defrost or rehydrate. All bowls and utensils must be washed carefully after each feeding. Additionally, the cost of a raw food diet is about $2-3/day per cat. This is significantly more expensive than commercial dry cat food, and also pricier than most commercial canned foods.
The bottom line is, you should always discuss your cat’s diet with your veterinarian. While numerous studies are showing the dangers and health issues associated with feeding a raw diet, the majority of the information touting the benefits is survey-based.
Still have questions?
Schedule a video consult with one of our vets to discuss if a raw diet is the right choice for your cat.