Why Feed Raw?
Why is a Raw Diet Best for Cats?
Cats are considered obligate carnivores, which means they MUST eat meat to survive. Their digestive systems are designed to eat meat and the majority of their diet should consist of meat. Cats have a short and acidic digestive tract and can quickly and efficiently process species appropriate food (meat) in approximately 12 hours, which gives any potential bacteria very little time to proliferate enough to cause any harm. While cats can easily digest meat, carbohydrates, on the other hand, are hard for them to process since they only have one enzyme capable of processing them. Kibble is VERY high in carbohydrates; typically 30%-40% and sometimes even higher! Raw meat diets are naturally very low in carbohydrates (around 5%), which make them ideal for cats. In addition, when meat is cooked, the high heat used (especially in kibble), causes many vitamins, minerals and amino acids to be lost in the process. Due to the extreme nutrient loss in cooking meat, these vitamins, minerals and amino acids must be added back into the kibble to create a “complete and balanced” food. However, these things are not added back in their natural food form; they are added as synthetic supplements, which are not nearly as easily absorbed into a cat’s body as the vitamin that occurs naturally in muscle and organ meat. So basically, although you may feel like you’re feeding your cat a “complete and balanced” kibble, in reality, your cat is not receiving nearly as many nutrients as it would if it were to be eating a raw diet, where all of the vitamins, minerals, and amino acids are provided in their natural forms.
To simplify things, take a look at the list of ingredients on the back of a bag of dry cat food; ingredients are listed in order of predominance. How many ingredients are in the food? Where is meat on the list, and what quality is that meat? Why are there so many things that most of us cannot pronounce added to our cats’ food? Now take a look at the ingredient list for a package of raw cat food – raw cat food is typically sold either frozen or freeze dried (if freeze dried, you should add water or a small amount of raw goat milk to rehydrate since cats need more moisture). You should see meat, ground bones (not a calcium substitute), organ meat (not synthetic nutrients), a limited number of fruits/vegetables/oils and a couple natural supplements. That comparison alone should tell you which option is far superior for your cat. I know raw food can be more expensive than kibble; however, my philosophy is that you can pay now for better health and longevity, or pay later in vet bills. Feeding your cat a high quality food, the best you can afford, will pay off in the long run – and you’ll have a happier, healthier cat.
What are the Benefits of a Raw Diet, Specifically for Cats?
There are many benefits to feeding cats a raw diet; most involve improving the health and longevity of your cat, and some end up being a benefit to you as a pet parent! Here are some of the main benefits to feeding your cat a raw diet:
Weight Control: Many cats are overweight; sometimes it’s due to “free-feeding” (leaving a full bowl of kibble out at all times) and other times they are simply over-fed at meal time. Raw fed cats tend to maintain a healthy weight because they don’t need to consume as much food if they were eating kibble. Raw food has no fillers and is full of easily absorbed nutrients, so cats are not constantly over eating to make up for a lack of critical nutrients. In addition, raw fed cats tend to have more energy, which means they will be more active and burn more calories.
Urinary Health: Raw food typically consists of about 70% moisture. Compare that to a kibble, which is approximately 10% moisture. Feeding kibble, which is high in carbohydrates and low in moisture, causes alkaline urine and chronic dehydration in cats, which can lead to urinary tract inflammation and issues. This is one reason I’ve never understood why cats with urinary issues are put on a prescription dry food. Cats need moisture in their food for optimal urinary health.
Dental Health: Cats that eat kibble tend to develop plaque and gum disease due to the high level of carbohydrates in the food. Raw food is low in carbohydrates so does not cause these issues. An even better addition to your cat’s raw diet is incorporating raw meaty bones (RMBs) such as chicken necks, which act like a toothbrush, cleaning your cat’s teeth naturally.
Less Shedding and Hairballs: The essential fatty acids that naturally occur in a raw diet will make your cat’s coat softer, silkier, and will also reduce shedding since your cat is getting these critical unsaturated fatty acids in its food.
Less Poop (and not as stinky!): This one may be the best for pet parents! When cats are fed a high quality, species appropriate diet of raw meat, they are able to absorb more of the nutrients in their food. There are no fillers in a raw diet, so your cat uses what it eats and there is very little waste. Most raw fed cats poop a lot less (sometimes not even every day!) and when they do, it has less of an order – which is a HUGE benefit to all cat owners.
Common Fears About a Raw Diet
Most dry food/kibble is produced by a handful of very large companies, who in recent years have discovered how much money is to be made in the pet food industry – and therefore are slowly buying up the smaller companies. When this happens the quality almost always goes down in order to maximize profits. In addition, due to all of the numerous recent recalls of dry food (euthanasia drugs found in pet food, salmonella, elevated levels of vitamins), more pet parents are starting to question what their pets are eating and therefore are making the switch to raw/homemade diets. The big companies are realizing this and feeling threatened, so they have started to attack raw companies and diets. They use scare tactics to prevent people from switching to a healthier food. They claim raw diets are not “complete and balanced”. If you choose to feed a commercial raw food, found at most high-end pet food stores, the food is complete and balanced, so there is no need to worry. They also try to scare people away from raw by saying you will contaminate your home by feeding your pets raw meat. Do you ever cook raw meat at home? Use the same precautions. As long as you wash your hands after handling the meat and wash the bowls/surfaces your pet eats on that’s all you need to do. My dogs have been on a 100% raw diet for almost 12 years and I have never had an issue.
As an aside, most veterinarians are given very little education on nutrition, and therefore are not comfortable with raw diets; many are against raw diets altogether simply because they do not know much about them. You are your cat’s health advocate and should feed what you are most comfortable with; do your own research and make your own decision. Do not get pushed into feeding something based on scare tactics or lack of knowledge. I have come to “agree to disagree” with one of our vets regarding our dogs’ raw diets. They are not on board but due to the fact that our dogs are doing so well on a raw diet it’s hard for them to argue against it.
How to Transition Your Cat to a Raw Diet
When you make the decision to transition your cat to a raw diet, you can do it as fast or slow as you’d like. It will take some time for your cat’s gut to become acidic enough to properly digest raw food, so in the beginning your cat may have loose stools. This is normal and is part of the transition process. Some people like to “rip off the bandaid” and make a quick switch, while others like to ease their cats into a raw diet. It’s a personal choice and depends on your cat and what you are most comfortable with doing for your pet.
One easy way to incorporate some raw meat into your cat’s diet is to feed freeze dried meat treats (they can either be fed dry or rehydrated with water). Pure Primal has a variety of proteins (duck, rabbit, turkey, venison, beef, goat, lamb), and I have found that the turkey heart chips, rabbit treats and duck heart training treats are most popular with my cat clients.
DISCLAIMER: This material has been written for educational purposes only. It should not be regarded as veterinary medical advice. I am not a veterinarian. Please consult with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine or a holistic veterinarian before applying what you learn from this website.