Raw Diet for Cats

Raw Cat Diet

Have you ever thought about feeding your cat a raw food diet? It’s an option more and more cat owners are entertaining. But raw food diets are complex. Before you decide to start your cat on a raw food diet, it’s important to understand the facts and consider a few questions so you can keep your cat healthy.

Is a raw diet for cats ideal?

Cats’ ancestors and present-day cats are obligate carnivores. That means cats need to eat meat. So it is vital to incorporate protein-rich foods in your cat’s diet. Does that mean a raw food diet is the best way to feed protein? Not necessarily. 

Some claim that raw chicken, fish or eggs maintain a higher protein and nutrient content than when they are cooked and that feeding these raw foods to your cat imparts numerous health benefits. Two of the most commonly reported benefits include digestion and nutrition. But information on whether or not they do have benefits is largely anecdotal. 

Does a raw diet really have digestive benefits for cats?

One of the most foundational reasons cat owners feed a raw diet is digestibility. One prevalent thought is that raw foods are easier to digest than cooked. But cooking does not necessarily decrease digestibility or nutrient content. Cooking processes vary significantly, but some methods even result in food that is more digestible than it was when raw.

Does a raw diet truly have nutritional benefits for cats?

Another factor to consider before serving raw cat food is the balance of nutrients in each serving. A raw food diet for your cat can be complete and balanced, but it can be difficult to achieve. Diets created at home are less likely to meet your cat’s specific needs.** Feeding raw cat food for a prolonged period of time can lead to nutrient deficiencies.

What can help decrease the chance of nutrient deficiencies, if feeding raw food?

The effects of feeding foods that are not complete and balanced are significant but often cumulative, and, therefore, hard to identify. Common nutrient deficiencies include:

  • Taurine
  • Calcium
  • Thiamine

Make sure to tell your veterinarian if you plan to start your cat on a raw food diet. Her awareness allows her to monitor your cat for deficiencies and to identify problems if they occur.

Another way to prevent nutrient deficiencies is to choose a food that is complete and balanced. If you’re concerned a raw diet could cause problems for your cat, remember you don’t need to do it. Select food that fits all of your cat’s dietary needs, so she can be healthy and you can have more peace of mind.

Is a raw diet for cats safe?

Raw foods can introduce your cat to risks you may be unwilling to take. Apart from the choking hazards and increased chance of ingesting a bone, another major risk with raw food for cats is unseen. Letting your cat eat foods like raw chicken, raw fish or raw eggs can cause illness, since these foods may be contaminated with harmful bacteria, parasite, and protozoa. There are many bacteria that thrive in raw foods:

  • Salmonella
  • E.coli
  • Listeria
  • Campylobacter

These foodborne pathogens can cause a range of complications for cats ranging from diarrhea to fatality.

Is a raw diet for cats safe for the whole family?

It’s true that cats can be resilient even when fed contaminated raw food, but family members may not be as hardy. Your exposure to bacteria does not end after cleaning your food prep area. Bacteria your cat eats can live on in her mouth, and can be shed in her feces. So as she goes about her day—grooming herself and using her litter box-- you are exposed as well.  Petting and caring for her basic needs puts you in contact with the pathogens.*** That means when your cat begins a raw food diet, the health risks for every family member in your house increases too.  

Should I begin to feed my cat a raw food diet?

What you decide to feed your cat is a personal decision. Whether you opt to create a raw food diet for your cat at home, purchase a commercial raw cat food or buy prepared food, consider what is ideal and safe for your cat, your family and you before you do.

*list adapted from Purina Science Perspectives: Raw Food Diets; May 2017
**up to 80% of pets fed home prepared raw food diets have multiple nutrient deficiencies
***11% of vacuum cleaner waste in raw food diet households contained Salmonella, which was twice the level in non-raw food diet homes
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