Raw food diets for cats (and dogs) have increased in popularity in recent years. Since wild cats live on raw food, many people believe that’s the healthiest and most natural option for their domestic cats. This isn’t necessarily the case.
Ultimately, what you feed your cat is up to you, but it’s important to understand what a raw food diet is along with the risks and perceived benefits of feeding raw.
What is a Raw Food Diet for Cats?
A raw food diet (RFD) usually includes raw muscle meat, organ meat and ground bones. The most common meats included in raw cat foods are chicken, fish and eggs, but other meats may also be included. Although a raw food diet may seem to resemble the diet of a wild cat, it may not be appropriate for domestic cats, who often have a much longer life expectancy.
Does Raw Food Offer Any Benefits for Cats?
Many people believe raw chicken, fish and eggs have more protein and higher nutrient content and that the cooking process reduces those nutrients, but this isn’t true. Better digestibility is another perceived benefit of raw diets for cats. This has not been proven by any scientific studies, however. In fact, some cooking processes may even make certain foods more digestible and nutrients more available than they were raw. According to Purina veterinarian Dr. RuthAnn Lobos, “Cooking food at the proper temperature and pressure can actually make the proteins and starches more easily digestible. “Also, understanding how the cooking process works—by having food scientists on staff—helps us to know the process intimately. This is true for the vitamins and minerals in the diet as well, which ensures the finished product is precisely complete and balanced.”
Are Raw Food Diets Complete & Balanced?
When choosing a cat food, it’s essential to look for formulas that are complete and balanced. Although commercially prepared RFDs may be complete and balanced, the raw food you prepare at home probably won’t be. If you are considering feeding raw food, you’ll need to work closely with your veterinarian to ensure your cat is getting all the nutrients she needs through both her food and supplements. Otherwise, she’ll be at a higher risk of developing nutrient deficiencies, like thiamine, which can affect nerve, brain and metabolism function, says Dr. Lobos. Nutrient deficiencies can also affect bone health and development.
Are Raw Diets for Cats Safe?
In addition to the risk of nutrient deficiencies, raw diets pose other risks for cats. Any bones not completely ground up could cause intestinal blockages or even lacerations. Plus, raw foods are more likely to be contaminated with harmful bacteria like Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria. These foodborne pathogens can cause a variety of problems for cats, including diarrhea and vomiting. In severe cases, the results can be fatal. According to a study by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), these bacteria aren’t just a risk for your cat—they also pose a threat to you and your entire family. Your cat can spread the bacteria from her food either by grooming herself and then interacting with you or through her feces. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) have also spoken out about the risks RFDs pose. Although the FDA, CDC and AVMA all advise against feeding cats raw meat, they do offer advice for those who choose to feed a RFD to reduce the risk of illness. Some of the precautions you can take to reduce the spread of bacteria include using gloves when handling the raw food and thoroughly cleaning your prep surfaces. Because cats must groom and relieve themselves, you can’t eliminate the risk completely.
Should You Feed Your Cat a Raw Food Diet?
Along with the FDA, CDC and AVMA, Dr. Lobos doesn’t recommend raw food diets for cats due to the risks of nutrient deficiencies and illnesses, but what you feed your cat is ultimately a personal choice. If you choose a commercially prepared RFD, our experts recommend finding one formulated by a veterinary nutritionist. Also look for RFDs that have undergone feeding trials and meets World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) guidelines to ensure your cat gets all the nutrients she needs. We also urge you to work closely with your veterinarian to ensure your cat is getting all the nutrients she needs—through her RFD and any necessary supplements. Purina offers a plethora of complete and balanced cat food options to satisfy your cat’s need for high protein and your desire to feed a healthy and natural food.