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Complete Guide To Raw Cat Food

Want to learn more about raw cat food?

Some sources report that raw cat food improves digestion and boosts energy.

However, there are risks associated with raw cat food and homemade recipes online.

In this article, I’ll take a deep dive into raw cat food and help you learn more about whether this food is best for your cat.

Complete Guide To Raw Cat Food

My name is Derrick, and I write for Simply Cat Care.

My goal with this website is to help cat owners learn more about taking care of their cats

I am not a veterinarian and I recommend seeking the advice of a vet for any further questions.

In this article, I’ll cover some frequently asked questions on raw cat food and help you with things to look for when buying cat food.

Here is what will be in this article.

Let’s get into the article.

What Should I Look For In Raw Cat Food?

Thinking about giving your cat some raw cat food?

This type of food offers potential benefits to digestion and energy levels.

However, some claims are anecdotal and not supported with evidence.

If you are looking at a raw cat food service online, it’s important to know what your cat needs.

I’ll guide you through what to look for in this section.

What Nutrients Does My Cat Need?

Protein

Cats need a high protein diet for muscle strength and energy.

The constituent of protein is amino acids.  Amino acids form bone, hair, skin, teeth, muscles, and other organs.

When given a low protein diet, cats do not have the ability to downregulate the loss of protein. A cat’s diet needs to be at least 16% protein by energy to prevent muscle loss.

Cats also prefer a high protein diet. A low protein diet may result in food rejection.

Of the 20 amino acids, 10 are ‘essential amino acids. 

These essential amino acids are high in the following animal-based foods:

  • Fish
  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Turkey
  • Eggs
  • Lamb

Most commercial raw food will provide more than enough protein.

Look for food high in animal food sources to make sure your cat is getting enough essential amino acids.

Some senior cats may experience worse protein digestion. It’s important to ensure a senior cat gets a high protein diet to compensate for digestive changes.

Bottom Line: Look for a high protein raw cat food (up to 50% on a dry matter basis) from an animal-based food source to maintain muscle

Fat

Fat provides a cat three important functions:

  • Energy
  • Palatability (taste)
  • Absorption of fat-soluble vitamins

Cats also need the essential fatty acid arachidonic acid (AA) in their diet. Unlike humans, cats can’t convert linoleic acid (plant-based fat) into AA.

AA helps with healing and recovery from inflammation processes. 

Cats need omega 3 fatty acids from eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Omega 3 helps regulate inflammatory processes and improve validation and immune system function.

Cats have a limited ability to convert plant-based omega 3 fatty acids (α-linolenic acid) into essential fatty acids.

When given a choice, cats prefer a moderate-fat diet (25%) over a low-fat diet (10% energy intake). Animal fats like tallow are the tastiest fat sources for cats.

Fats provide the most calories per gram than any other macronutrient.

Senior cats benefit from a higher fat intake to combat weight loss.

Bottom Line: Cats need a moderate-fat diet (25-40% of total energy intake) for energy, taste, and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

Carbohydrate

Cat’s do not have a requirement for carbohydrates in their diet.

Carbohydrates refer to:

  • Starches (polysaccharides)
  • Sugars (disaccharides and monosaccharides). 

Common carbohydrate foods include:

  • Grains
  • Potatoes
  • Legumes
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables (e.g. corn).

Carbohydrate digestion starts in the mouth using the enzyme salivary amylase. The problem is cats have very little salivary amylase.

Cats also have fewer disaccharidases (sugar digesting enzymes) to digest carbohydrates. Even if cats have a high carbohydrate diet, these enzymes don’t increase to help with digestion

On top of this, cats don’t have taste receptors for sweetness.

Whilst cats can digest some carbohydrates, an excess may lead to diarrhea and flatulence. A low carbohydrate cat food may help reduce diarrhea.

Cats are able to tolerate a small number of carbohydrates in the diet, but not higher amounts. This is because they have a limited amount of enzyme activity to digest this nutrient.

When given a choice, cats prefer lower carbohydrate diets.

Bottom Line: Cats don’t need carbohydrates in the diet. Opt for food with 10% or fewer calories from carbohydrates for easier digestion.

Moisture

Cats are prone to not drinking enough water.

Eating a lot of dry foods can limit the amount of water in a cat’s diet

If not given access to eating wet foods and meat, a cat does not drink enough water. This can lead to dehydration and kidney problems.

In the wild cats eat small prey which is 70-85% water by weight.

Most raw cat food choices are freeze-dried. These options tend to contain less moisture (about 10%) and need rehydration.

Bottom Line: Moisture is important for urinary and kidney health. Canned wet food with 75-85% moisture is a beneficial choice for hydration.

Micronutrients

Micronutrients include:

  • Vitamins
  • Minerals

There are at least 25 recognized micronutrients needed in the diet for health. These nutrients provide a wide array of functions ranging from metabolism to structure.

An unbalanced diet may lead to deficiencies of micronutrients.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) defines nutrient recommendations for pets.

Many pet food manufacturers follow the AAFCO nutrient guidelines. “AAFCO approved for all life stages” is a label used to recognize nutritional adequacy.

The FDA does not regulate nutrition per se, but safety. Misleading labeling results in recalls.

If getting your cat food delivered raw elsewhere, look for food with a range of parts including organs and pulverized bones.

Without ‘head to tail’ nutrition, cats are prone to nutrient deficiencies.

Bottom Line: Look for the AAFCO nutritional sign of adequacy on the label of pet food. This indicates that your cat’s food is a balanced food source for health.

What Ingredients Should I Look For In Raw Cat Food?

Cats benefit from a wide variety of animal-based foods.

Beneficial food sources include:

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Salmon
  • Whitefish
  • Beef
  • Venison
  • Lamb
  • Liver
  • Kidney
  • Bones (pulverised)

Cats are neophilic in food choice. That means they like variety with their meat choices, and don’t tend to enjoy the same food every meal.

It’s important to purchase a variety of meats to prevent flavor fatigue.

Paradoxically, a brand new food results in pushback at first.

Research suggests cats fear new foods (this is called neophobia). This means you need to introduce new foods gradually.

Bottom Line: Look for a wide variety of meats with added organs and bones to provide complete nutrition to your cat. Variety prevents boredom.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I Switch To Using Raw Cat Food?

When you introduce new tastes and textures into your cat’s diet you may get rejection (called neophobia).

The solution is through repeated exposures.

This helps your cat a chance to warm up to the food and grow to enjoy it.

This is why it’s important to cycle in new food slowly:

  • Start by adding a small amount of new food into the usual diet
  • Increase the amount of 1-2 weeks
  • Transition to 100% of the new food once your cat is accepting it

If you’re using the raw cat food as a freeze-dried topper, start slow with smaller amounts.

Bottom Line: Gradually introduce a new food over 1-2 weeks for best results.

What Are The Health Benefits of Raw Cat Food?

Most of the benefits of raw cat food are anecdotal in evidence.

Anecdotal benefits include:

  • Improved taste and palatability
  • Cleaner teeth
  • Shinier coats
  • Improved energy
  • Less behavioral problems
  • Reduced allergies

Raw food contains enzymes lost through the cooking process. It’s plausible that raw cat food improves digestion and absorption of nutrients and why the benefits occur.

Heating protein may result in the formation of cross-linked proteins called heterocyclic amines. In experimental conditions, heterocyclic amines may result in cancer in large amounts.

Most heated commercial cat foods contain very small amounts of these molecules. There’s not enough evidence that these levels increase the risk of cancer.

Still, it is possible raw cat food may offer more protection in the long run.

Bottom Line: Many benefits of raw cat food are anecdotal and include improved energy and fewer allergies.

Should I Provide Water When Feeding My Raw Cat Food?

Always provide water to cats.

If not given access to eating wet foods and meat, a cat does not drink enough water.

Canned food contains more moisture which is beneficial for your cat’s hydration needs, but freeze-dried foods or kibble are low in moisture. 

Give your cat at least 5-10 ounces of water to drink a day.

A wide and shallow bowl reduces whisker fatigue to help improve water intake.

Check out my best water bowl choices to help improve eating and drinking.

Bottom Line: Always have fresh water available for your cat.

How Much Raw Cat Food Should I Feed My Cat?

The amount of food you need depends on your cat’s energy needs.

An online calculator helps you find out your cat’s food needs.

The main thing that affects your cat’s food needs is their weight.

The higher your cat’s weight the more they burn on average.

However, your cat’s needs are also affected by other things such as:

  • Age
  • Activity
  • Desexing
  • Type of food
  • Pregnancy

The amount of raw cat food is dependant on how much of the diet is raw. If you’re using 20% raw food, then 20% of the total energy needs come from raw foods, for example.

Check out my article on how much to feed your cat for more.

Bottom Line: Use an online calculator to find out how much to feed your cat.

Do you expect me to calculate my own food needs?

What Is A Cat’s Ideal Weight?

A cat should be neither too thin nor too fat.

If a cat has too much body fat, they have a higher risk of diabetes and other health issues.

They also have a higher risk of illness if they are too skinny.

Use the Body Condition Score chart to check your cat’s weight.

The goal is to get your cat’s weight in the middle of the score chart for best health outcomes.

Bottom Line: Use a body condition score chart to find out whether your cat is at a healthy weight.

What Are The Risks Of Raw Cat Food?

There are a few risks of raw cat food including:

  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Nutrient toxicity (excess vitamins or minerals)
  • Infections
  • Obstruction from bones

Salmonella is a pathogen that contaminates 21-44% of chicken found in retail locations in North America.

Infection may cause illness and also infect immunocompromised people. This includes the young, elderly, pregnant, or lactating.

Large bone fragments may obstruct or perforate the gastrointestinal system. Pulverized (ground) bones and/or eggshells are a better option for calcium.

An imbalance of meat food sources leads to nutrient deficiencies or excess.

Too much liver can lead to hypervitaminosis A since the liver is high in Vitamin A. Symptoms of hypervitaminosis A include nausea, loss of appetite, and vomiting.

Nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism (NSH) is common if the phosphate to calcium ratio is too high. Phosphate is high in muscle meat and grains.

An ‘all meat’ diet without added calcium sources (e.g. ground bones and/or eggshells) leads to NSH and results in confusion, depression, and bone abnormalities.

Bottom Line: Be aware of the risks of raw cat food by reading the above section.

Is Raw Cat Food A Good Choice?

Raw cat food may be a good choice if prepared carefully.

Many homemade raw cat food recipes don’t cut it for nutrition and safety.

Speak with your vet to learn more about raw cat food and talk about whether raw food is right for your cat.

Some cats may benefit from raw cat food more than others. Cats with poor appetite and weight loss may find raw cat food more appetizing, for instance.

Bottom Line: Most online homemade raw cat food recipes aren’t safe to consume or nutritionally balanced. Speak with a vet to learn more about raw cat food right for your cat.

Can I Make My Own Homemade Raw Cat Food?

I don’t recommend it.

Many recipes online are not well designed for a cat’s nutritional needs.

In an evaluation study, 113 out of 114 gave vague instructions and 46 don’t provide any feeding directions.

Eight of the 114 homemade cat food recipes found online contained toxic ingredients such as garlic, leeks, and onions. 

Many foods must not be fed to cats as they lack the liver enzymes to process them.

Another problem is the inclusion of non-ground bones in many recipes.

This is a problem because large (especially cooked) bone pieces increase the risk of getting stuck in the gastrointestinal system.

Many online homemade cat food recipes fall short of nutrient recommendations. 

A lack of thiamine in some recipes may result in impaired cardiovascular system function and death.

Young cats fed homemade diets without calcium develop neurological problems, impaired movement, and in extreme cases, euthanization.

Evaluation of homemade recipes found low levels of other micronutrients and high levels of phosphate which make many recipes inappropriate for cats with kidney disease.

Read my guide on homemade cat food to learn more about this topic.

Bottom Line: I don’t recommend homemade cat food as it is hard to design raw homemade cat food to meet nutritional needs.

Do Cats Live Longer On A Raw Cat Food Diet?

There’s no evidence to suggest increased longevity on a raw cat food diet.

The best way to improve your cat’s lifespan is to secure them on your premises. Cats are territorial and often fall victim to road trauma accidents.

Giving your cat a nutritionally balanced diet may help prevent disease.

Check out my guide to optimizing your cat’s diet to learn more.

Bottom Line: There’s not enough evidence to suggest cats live longer on a raw cat food diet.

Do Vets Recommend Raw Cat Food?

Most professional medical institutions are against raw cat food.

This includes:

Concerns with contamination of uncooked meat and illness risk are the main reason raw cat food is not recommended.

Bottom Line: Most vets do not support the use of raw cat food due to the risk of infection.

What If My Cat Won’t Eat Raw Cat Food?

If your cat doesn’t enjoy raw cat food then use a commercial canned wet food instead.

Some cats need time to adjust to new foods due to neophobia (aversion to a new food).

If time doesn’t improve food preference, find a suitable alternative.

Check out my best cat food choices for picky eaters to learn more about alternatives.

Can I Give My Cat A Raw Vegan Diet?

No.

Cats are obligate carnivores and it’s impossible to get enough nutrients through plant-based diets.

The only way is through careful supplementation, but this is complex and may result in health problems.

One case report of a cat fed a vegan diet showed chronic urinary tract blockages. The diet contained a lot of cooked vegetables and plant-based foods.

Bottom Line: I don’t recommend a raw vegan diet for cats.

What Nutrients Should I Look For In Raw Cat Food?

Cats are obligate carnivores and thrive off a diet based on animal-based foods.

When analyzing the data on a wild cat’s typical dietary intake, scientists found the following intake compared to humans:

Diet Comparison of Cats vs Humans

CarbFatProtein
Wild prey based diet 1-230-6830-68
Commercial cat food diet15-3520-5030-40
Human diet553015
Human low carb diet205030
Inuit diet85042

Source: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00360-010-0528-0

In the research setting, cats given a choice of food to eat gravitate towards a lower carbohydrate diet.

Research finds that cats prefer a macronutrient sweet spot of 52% protein, 36%, and 12% carbohydrate.

This arrives at a dietary intake of 26g/day protein, 9g/day fat, and 8g/day of carbohydrate.

Bottom Line: Cats are obligate carnivores and prefer a high protein, moderate fat, low carbohydrate diet.

Conclusion: Raw Cat Food

In this article I talked about raw cat food and whether it’s good for cats.

Raw cat food might offer benefits to digestion and energy levels. This is due to the retention of nutrients and enzymes in the food.

There may be fewer heterocyclic amines in raw cat food, which may lower cancer risk. This isn’t proven with research.

The main risks of raw cat food are nutrient deficiencies, toxicities, and bacterial infection.

Bacterial contamination is common in a lot of raw types of meat found in retail. Homemade raw cat food recipes may be deficient in a variety of nutrients.

Check out my guide to freeze-dried cat food for a healthy alternative to raw cat foods.

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