Winston, my black and white male cats has been diagnosed with a serious heart condition. As a result of this I have been trying to improve his diet as much as possible. I searched and read several articles on cat nutrition. I discovered that this is a very contentious subject with many opinions and research that supports feeding both the current pet food available commercially OR variations of a Raw Food diet, plus any variations. Some articles are written by woefully malinformed authors, others are a difficult read for a layman (even a well informed one). Some articles are written by non-objective authors who have a vested interest in promoting their views and usually their products. It's a jungle out there!!
There has been a number of cases where commercial cat food has been found to be contaminated with any number of undesirable ingredients and bacteria. The most striking example was the melamine contamination of ingredients by unscrupulous suppliers in China. This resulted in reputable companies producing and selling contaminated food. This points to a basic problem of our supply chain. No single company unless it is very large, can supervise all aspects of the preparation of their ingredients.
A further problem associated with commercial pet food is the necessity of the producers to cover costs of transport, administration, selling etc. on top of the cost of the ingredients. Ingredients have to be chosen not only for their food value but also with an eye to profitability. There is no doubt that very good research has been done by the commercial pet food industry and that, at least in the higher end food, the product offered is both palatable and adequately nutritious, NOT necessarily optimally nutritious however.
Here are a couple of articles I found useful Wikipedia. They refer to formal research done on this subject, and Lisa A. Pierson, DVM. I used her recipe for my first batch. She has an informative page and is a good reference.
This is by no means a complete list of the arguments pro and con but they are the ones most often found.
The arguments listed against the Raw Meat feeding are serious. Anyone contemplating feeding this diet needs to pay attention. Salmonella and e-coli are serious nasty little bugs and will make your pet sick.These bacteria are present and often have contaminated the meat before you get to it. It is outside your control and you can only choose good suppliers.Freezing does not eliminate the problem. Salmonella is found on 16% of all chickens (according to US Gov. report as quoted in Wikipedia article cited above. )
It goes without saying that only high quality fresh meat should be fed raw. Lisa Pierson Doctor in Vet. Medicine suggests partially cooking the meat before using it in order to reduce any surface bacteria. Any raw meat should be handled with clean hands, clean instruments and tools and surfaces, and refrigerated and thawed carefully.
Handling raw meat for your pets should be done as carefully as for human consumption.
There are many parasites which infect cats and can be transmitted through infected raw meat. Fortunately, MOST, but not all, are destroyed by freezing. There have been many studies done on this subject because it also is relevant to human diet. Think of sushi and undercooked pork or venison. For the most part freezing your meat for a couple of weeks at -20F will kill most parasites. Note though that few home freezers go as low as this. Anyone choosing to feed raw meat should be aware that there is an increased risk particularly if wild meat is offered. Lately there has been some research suggesting that a low level of parasitic infection is not as damaging as previously believed but nevertheless you should be on the lookout for it if you feed a raw meat diet to your cat.
Sloppy approximate formulation of home made raw meat cat food can result in seriously deficient food. Many Claims have been made that our current farming practices have reduced the micronutrient content of food. This underlines the beneficial effects of adding supplements. Anyone attempting to feed raw meat would be wise to supplement the mixture with extra vitamins and in particular with Taurine, an amino acid which has been shown to be essential to cat nutrition and which has been deficient in many experimental diets with disastrous results.
Doing the math regarding home made food versus top quality commercial cat food is an interesting exercise. When I did my sums the home made food was less expensive than what I was feeding my cats using commercial foods. If you include labour the cost goes up quite a lot particularly if you only make small batches. The cost of the supplements (taurine, fish oil, vit A, E, and B complex) is quite high when you buy the big containers, but is surprisingly small for each serving. In fact the supplements are almost negligible in cost over time. They will last for a lot of batches.
If you are sloppy and are not willing to consistently work at a high level of cleanliness and accurately measure your supplements then DON'T make your own food. You are taking a high risk.
However if you are careful, chose your ingredients intelligently, and maintain high standards of food preparation throughout, then you will almost certainly end up with a better product than you can buy.
Cats must eat meat. That's why they are called obligate carnivore. They do not digest vegetables and grains very efficienly. (see the wikipedia article for sources and studies). That is the greatest argument against dry food which have high proportions of grains. Proponents of raw meat diet argue that cats have evolved to eat meat in the form of small animals and fish and do best when that's what's in their diet. Many argue that not only should the food be all meat but argue that the whole animal should be fed including skin, hair and feathers. Bones are of course included. Most advocate small animals such as chickens or small fowl, rabbits and fish. A whole industry supplies frozen mice and ground rabbit to cater to the raw food demand.
It is ridiculous to argue that commercial cat food is bad for your cat when generations of cats have done quite well with the quality rations offered. The question is always "could they do better?" There are countless testimonials of problem cats miraculously getting better on a raw food diet and this is consistent with the fact that cats digest vegetable source nutrition less efficiently than animal source. Any sensitive cat who has a bit more trouble or is a bit less efficient with grains and vegetables would do better with a meat diet. Likewise older animals who do not have such robust digestion might do better on an all meat diet. The question in this case will be is it better to feed raw meat potentially contaminated with low levels of bacteria or feed a safer but less nutritious canned diet to a potentially sensitive old cat that might have poor immunity?
The argument goes further and suggest that there might be some as of yet un-identified nutrient that is present in raw food but gets destroyed by processing and cooking. It is possible since we keep identifying new and wonderful properties of food every week. No one can claim that we know everything there is to know about cat nutrition!!
This argument in my opinion is the most convincing and merits serious consideration. Carefully formulating, selecting, and processing your food gives great confidence in its quality. There are no mysterious ingredients, no chance of mislabeling, no unscrupulous addition of second rate material or sabotage by a disgruntled employee. You have control of what goes in and how it is prepared and how long it is kept in storage.
Feeding of Raw food in particular large chunks with bones is said to help keep cat teeth clean. There are arguments and research both way with no clear winner. It is certainly no worse than feeding canned food and kibble. Some suppliers claim great benefit from cats crunching kibble but my cats tend to lightly crunch and swallow mostly whole. Brushing your cat's teeth is probably most effective. Having some harder food to eat is likely good for jaw and teeth. I simply could not get any real opinion from my research.
After doing my research and considering the alternatives, I tried a batch of raw meat cat food. Or more accurately a partially cooked batch. I carefully selected chicken legs and liver plus chicken hearts. I put together my supplements, dug up my grinder and cleaned it then dipped it in boiling water. I cleaned my chopping board washed my hands and went to it.
I used the recipe presented by Lisa Pearson (see above)
The chicken legs I get are fatty and poorly presented but very inexpensive and have been very fresh. I always buy freshly packaged chicken. I had frozen them as soon as I got them home as well as the liver and hearts. These were also carefully selected with an eye to quality and packing date. I always sniff everything I buy and so I gave everything the sniff test. I use this chicken often and have found it a good product.
My freezer is cold and after 3 weeks I was confident that any parasite that was going to be killed by cold would be dead.
Everything was thawed carefully. I removed big chunks of fat from the chicken but left skin and bones. I boiled the liver because I never trust raw liver. I've found too many things in liver when I was a lab technician at the Ontario Veterinary College Parasitology dept. a million years ago. That's my paranoia. I also lightly boiled the chicken legs and hearts to kill any bacteria on the surface of the meat. I cut the meat in manageable chunks and prepared my supplements in enough filtered water to process.
I expected the grinding to be difficult but the bones went through quite easily and did not make long splinters. Instead they got sliced in small chunks that were not sharp. My grinder has quite small openings so the bones were in small sizes between one eight and less than one quarter inch in diameter.
The recipe calls for 2 eggs. The whites were cooked, the yellows were raw. It also calls for vitamins A, E, B complex, Salmon oil, and Taurine as well as light iodized salt. I added all this mixed and called the crew over for a tasting. The general feeling was that this was not bad. The cats gave it a cautious approval. I suspect that there will be some argument about reducing the kibble consumed but I'm prepared to do this gradually.
Jenny, Tilley and Johan have a taste and give it a generally positive review. The rest of the guys also ate their serving.
I am prepared to try this for a few weeks/months depending on how the cats take to it. I plan to make larger batches than the 3 pounds I made. I also plan to try rabbit which is readily available in my neighbourhood.
I have some good news and some bad news to report. Although the cats will taste and eat a small amount they will NOT eat a bowl full of the stuff! Fussy little b_____ds.
I have taken to giving them small quantities mixed in with the Friskies they get in tiny amounts as a treat. I think it's hard to beat that flavour. I also have been distributing small quantities throughout the day. Some cats like it more than others. Surprisingly they like the taste of the powdered taurine. I am also removing the Kibble for long periods and feeding in between. When I wash my dishes I have dozens of little cat dishes.
The good news is that my pukey cats are not as pukey with increased meat in their diet. This is a very encouraging sign. I'm hoping they will get used to the change in diet and will eventually accept a raw diet or at least a much more raw diet.
The cats are no longer on the raw meat diet. They simply refused to get used to it. Some had no problem but the ones I most wanted to change, in particular Winston, refused to eat it even when quite hungry. The outside ferals on the other side absolutely loved it and were not happy when I stopped feeding raw meat. I still regularly serve a plate of partially cooked chicken heart and liver and that goes over well, as an occasional treat.
This web site reflects my personal ideas and doesn't represent anyone else's point of view. In particular I AM NOT AN EXPERT IN CAT NUTRITION. I am an informed amateur who has tried to get a balanced view and who is cautiously trying out this diet.
If you plan to try this out, do your research first and don't believe everything you read. People make pretty amazing claims that are not substantiated. Check out the 2 references I have included. I think they are both reliable.