People want to feed a diet closer to what cats would naturally eat or a minimally processed, this makes raw diets getting more and more popular.
The raw feeding community is quite large, with a lot of different philosophies so it can be quite confusing when you get started. In this article, the Little Carnivore will answer some commonly asked questions to get a better understanding of raw feeding.
What is a raw diet?
As its name indicates, raw diets mainly contain raw and natural ingredients such as meat. There are different ways to feed a raw diet but, commonly, the diet will contain meat, raw meaty bones, organs, fish, and supplements to make sure that the diet is complete and balanced.
Another alternative is to feed meat with a supplement called “meal completer” that will provide all the nutrients to make a balanced diet, as meat alone isn’t enough to provide all the nutrients a cat needs.
Finally, a rarer type of raw feeding is the practice of feeding whole prey to cats, like day-old chicks or mice. Note that this shouldn’t be confused with feeding live animals!
A raw diet can be homemade or premade (also called a commercial raw diet) and each has its advantages and inconveniences, as we will see in the next paragraph.
The homemade or premade raw diet, and what is the difference
The advantage of a homemade diet is that it can be entirely tailored to your cat’s needs. As you are preparing the diet yourself, you know 100% of what you are feeding and you can choose the best quality ingredients if you want to do so. However, it will be up to you to ensure that the diet you are feeding is complete and balanced.
The drawback is–unsurprisingly–that you will have to prepare the diet yourself, which will require some time.
As commercial diets are already prepared, they are more convenient. However, this will come at a cost as premade raw is often much more expensive than a homemade raw diet.
Mia (@outdoorbengal) eats a premade commercial raw diet, as I don't have time to cook it myself. We buy Darwin's and we are extremely happy with the brand and the quality of their meals.
As for kibbles and wet food, you need to make sure that the company you are buying from is trustworthy. The premade raw diet should be balanced and complete according to AAFCO or FEDIAF nutritional standards. Premades labeled as “80/10/10” or Prey Model aren’t considered balanced.
Finally, because premade raw food is generally in the shape of ground meat, it has increased bacterial risks compared to chunks of meat. It also doesn’t provide oral health benefits the same way raw meaty bones can, as explained below.
How to get started with a homemade diet?
The easiest path is to get a recipe from a feline nutritionist: that way you are sure to feed a diet adapted to the needs of your cat. Be careful with free recipes you can find around the web as the huge majority aren’t balanced and may be harmful to your cat.
Of course, you can also formulate the diet for your cat by yourself. This, however, will require doing some research and learning about feline nutrition. A common approach is to try to recreate a prey a cat would eat in the wild using meat, organs, and bones. This type of diet is called a Prey Model Raw and it generally follows the following ratio: 84% meat, 6% bones, and 10% organs. However, the ratios aren’t enough to provide a balanced diet: they can only be used as a base to which you will need to add fish and supplements to fulfill the nutritional requirements of your cats.
Why feed a raw diet to your cat?
A well-studied benefit of raw diets is their increased digestibility: with raw diets, cats assimilate almost all the nutrients they eat. In practice, this means that your cats will have smaller stools, with less odor! You will definitely be able to see (and smell!) the improvements in the litterbox.
A common argument against popular raw diets is that they don’t have any benefits over kibbles. However, there are now several studies showing the benefits of raw diets.
Raw diets also have non-nutritive benefits, especially when feeding raw meaty bones or whole prey which can provide mental enrichment to the cats. Eating raw meaty bones has also proven to be beneficial for oral health.
Like wet food, raw diets contain a high percentage of moisture meaning that cats eating raw have a higher water intake. This is especially important to help prevent urinary tract diseases such as urinary stones or infections.
Finally, there are still many areas of research in which early studies are showing potential benefits of raw diets such as on gut health, anti-inflammatory effects, and enhancement of immunity.
Why are vets often against raw feeding?
When something goes wrong with a homemade diet, vets are the first ones to see the consequences. A common example is people feeding exclusively raw meat to their cats. This type of diet is deficient in many nutrients and especially calcium. This can have serious consequences on the health of the cat and could lead to death in kittens.
Additionally, you need to be cautious about good hygiene practices when handling raw meat as it could otherwise increase the risks of contamination in your household.
Because of this, many vets are wary of raw diets, and it’s understandable when it’s done incorrectly. However, not all vets are against raw feeding. For example, the Raw Feeding
Veterinary Society regroups vets and vet nurses to promote responsible raw feeding.
When done right, the benefits are visible, but when done wrong, the raw diet can lead to:
Nutritional Imbalances: Veterinarians have reported cases where homemade raw diets lacked essential nutrients, such as calcium, vitamins, or taurine. Insufficient intake of these vital elements can lead to deficiencies and health issues in cats.
Bacterial Contamination: Raw meat carries a higher risk of bacterial contamination, such as Salmonella or E. coli. Veterinarians have encountered cases where cats consuming raw diets suffered from bacterial infections, leading to severe gastrointestinal problems.
Parasite Infections: Feeding raw meat increases the chances of parasite transmission to cats. In most cases, healthy cats are capable of fighting off the infection on their own, and their immune systems can prevent the parasite from causing illness.
Digestive Upset: Transitioning cats abruptly to a raw diet can cause digestive disturbances, including diarrhea or vomiting. Some cats may have difficulty adjusting to the different compositions and textures of raw food.
I know that the above might seem discouraging, so The Little Carnivore has a comprehensive list of the advantages of raw feeding as well as sources in this article.
How much does it cost?
Generally, the most expensive option will be a premade raw, followed by a raw diet using a meal completer and the cheapest option is a fully homemade diet.
The cost of a raw diet for cats can vary depending on several factors, including the type of raw diet (homemade or premade), the quality of ingredients, and the region. Here's a breakdown of the average costs for raw diets in the US:
Homemade Raw Diet:
- Initial Setup: Transitioning to a homemade raw diet may require some initial investment in equipment like a meat grinder, storage containers, and kitchen utensils. This cost can range from $50 to $200 or more, depending on the quality of the equipment chosen.
- Ingredients: The cost of ingredients for a homemade raw diet can vary widely based on the quality and sourcing of meats, organs, bones, and supplements. On average, it can range from $2 to $5 per pound of food. This estimate includes the cost of meat, organs, bones, vegetables (if included), and supplements like taurine or fish oil.
Premade Raw Diet:
- Commercial Options: There are various commercially available premade raw diets for cats, which can be convenient but relatively more expensive compared to homemade options. The cost typically ranges from $5 to $10 per pound of food, depending on the brand, quality, and specific ingredients.
- Frozen vs. Freeze-Dried: Some premade raw diets come in frozen form, while others are freeze-dried. Frozen options are generally less expensive per pound compared to freeze-dried alternatives, which undergo additional processing.
There isn’t a universal answer regarding the cost of raw diets! It’s difficult to give you a price range as it will vary a lot depending on where you live, but it will often be cheaper than high-end wet food.
On top of that, it’s often possible to find good deals by buying meat in bulk or by finding a local farmer.
How do I transition my cat to a raw diet?
The transition, for many cat owners, is the most difficult part when starting a raw diet. In fact, cats are neophobic, meaning that they are afraid of new food. Because of that, cats will very often refuse to eat raw food when first presented, especially if they haven’t been used to a wide variety of food.
That’s why a progressive transition, starting by a few grams and progressively increasing the quantity of raw meat, is best for picky cats. There are also many tricks that you can use to make it easier for your cat such as topping the raw meat with things that your cat likes to eat like treats.
It’s also important to introduce any new ingredients progressively to make sure that the gut flora of your cat gets used to the new ingredients.
Can kittens eat raw food?
Kittens, after weaning, can be fed a raw diet. However, as they are growing, they are more susceptible to nutrient deficiencies and their nutrient requirements are higher than the ones of adult cats. For these reasons, it’s especially important that kittens get a balanced and complete diet. So, if you have never fed raw before, I would highly recommend that you get some help if you want to feed a homemade raw diet to your kitten.
To summarize, there are many ways to feed your cats a raw diet, depending on the time and budget you have available. Complete and balanced raw diets have proven health benefits. However, when done incorrectly, raw diets can have harmful effects on your cat’s health. That’s why if you can’t dedicate enough time to learning about feline nutrition, the best way to feed a homemade diet is to get help from a feline nutritionist.
Author: Coline Doebelin, feline nutritionist at The Little Carnivore.
Co-Author: Albert Colo, content manager at OutdoorBengal
Note from Albert & Mia
I started feeding a raw diet to Mia when I learned that she was having digestion problems. After a little over a week, her digestion problems were gone, her stools went back to normal and she regained energy.
I share our experience in this video:
Stay Wild, Stay Safe, and we'll see you outdoors!
Albert & Mia