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Why do it yourself?
If you've already visited the home page of this site, you have an idea of how it is that I came to feeding my cats a balanced, raw, grain-free, home-prepared diet. The short version goes like this: Simply nothing else worked to relieve one of of my cats from the misery associated with a chronic digestive disorder that left him with non-stop diarrhea. Seeing what a dramatic difference a species-appropriate diet made set me on a course to learn more about properly feeding cats. Eventually, I was inspired to craft an open letter to veterinary professionals laying out the case for more robust nutritional education of those we turn to for advice on caring for these magnificent creatures.
There are already plenty of books and web sites on the hows and whys of raw feeding cats, so I'm not going to reinvent the wheel. I highly recommend you invest in a copy of Michelle Bernard's book, "Raising Cats Naturally." It is my favorite book, by far, on the subject of raw feeding, and includes a wonderful detailed dissection of the individual components of a raw diet for cats.
Please also have a close look at what a passionate and common-sense veterinarian, Dr. Lisa Pierson, has to say on the how and why of raw feeding at her information-packed website. Both Michelle Bernard and Dr. Pierson use essentially the same recipe I've used for over a dozen years now, with superb results. I sometimes gently "tweak" the recipe to suit the needs of my own cats, but if you're new to raw feeding, I strongly urge you to follow a sound recipe to the letter until you feel comfortable with knowing what each ingredient is for and when it's safe to tinker with ingredients.
Here's the deal: To enjoy the greatest shot at good health, all animals should be fed the food that's most appropriate to their species. Squirrels, for example, eat nuts, seeds, grains, and fruit. That's what they were built to eat. Humpback whales are built to eat small shrimp-like organisms, plankton, and small fish. That's what mother designed the whales to derive nutrition from.
Cooking is the enemy of the nutrients and living enzymes that cats need to thrive. Small cats? They're designed to eat to other animals. And they're built to eat those animals raw. No, the cats living under our roof are hardly living in the wild, but biologically, they remain true carnivores. And their ideal diet would consist, for example, of freshly killed mice and small birds. Cats and their ancestors have been eating raw food for tens of millions of years.
They didn't get here eating meat-flavored cereal. Not hardly.
The introduction of dry cereals (kibble) and processed canned foods into the diet of domestic small cats is, evolutionarily speaking, a very recent event. And all one has to do is visit a veterinary clinic to see the waiting room filled with cats (and dogs) suffering from a variety of ailments - diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, mysterious skin allergies, urinary tract disorders, and obesity, just to name some - to begin to see the relationship between the health of these magnificent creatures and the fact that many of us feed them food that they were never meant to eat.
Dry foods and many canned foods are packed with ingredients that are wholly inappropriate for carnivores and contribute to disease. Plant matter, carbohydrates, vegetables, and fillers are not health-building ingredients for cats. A mouse, on the other hand, offers a perfect and complete nutrition package for a cat. Meat, bone, organs, Essential Fatty Acids, ample taurine, vitamins, and key minerals are all there in the mouse.
So why not try to 'build a mouse' and feed it to a cat?
There are lots of smart, wonderful, and yes - sane - people out there feeding raw food to their cats. Some are vets. I learned from many of them, vets and lay people alike, and continue to benefit from feedback on raw feeding from site visitors and from those I've come to trust on the issue. You can run an Internet search for "BARF" (the unfortunate acronym for "biologically appropriate raw food" or "bones and raw food") and you'll be overwhelmed with the sites, chat rooms, and egroups out there. Some are terrific. Some are not.
I strongly encourage you to think twice about any recipe that contains grains or vegetables or relies on plant-based sources to supply vitamins, minerals, amino acids, or other essentials. The range of passionate opinions on whether to feed raw - and how to feed it if you do - is vast. It's also sometimes snarky, personal, and downright weird. But any civil and informed debate about how to properly feed a cat and that advances our understanding of best practices is one that I welcome. Check them out, do your own reading, make up your own mind. My only advice is to remember the science concerning nutrition for carnivores and consider the wisdom of using any recipe that contains grains or vegetables or that relies on plant-based sources to supply vitamins, minerals, amino acids, or other essentials.
Cats, don't forget, derive nutrition from eating other animals, and cannot biologically derive the same nutritional benefits from plant based sources as humans do. Blueberries, whole grains, flax seed, kale, dandelion root, and other plant ingredients are perfectly lovely for humans. But we're not obligate carnivores. Our cats are.
They may be 'domesticated,' they may sleep indoors on fleece beds, they may wear sparkly rhinestone collars - but none of that has transformed their enzymatic pathways in a way that allows them to derive nutritional benefits from plants. Cats are carnivores. Period.
There is absolutely no need for "life stage" foods. Or for differently formulated foods for different breeds. The emergence of specialty "natural" foods to address the the "needs of different breeds" is a marketing gimmick that makes me giggle. That idea is right up there on the Absurd Scale with "indoor formula" cat foods. As one of my vet friends likes to say, "there are no 'kitten mice,' tartar control lizards' or 'senior cat crickets' in the wild." A kitten needs more food, not different food. A kitten needs meat, bone and organs. An adult cat needs meat, bone and organs. A senior cat needs meat, bone and organs.
If your vet has suggested that your cat needs to try a "novel protein" diet because of food allergies? May I just put in my two cents here? I wince a little at a quick diagnosis of a cat being 'allergic' to a certain kind of meat when they have diarrhea or vomiting and included with whatever the meat in their food is are all kinds of indigestible ingredients - it's rather like declaring that if you get a tummy ache after you've eaten bits of metal with your broccoli that you could be 'allergic' to the broccoli and so next time around, you should eat those bits of metal with carrot to see if you do better.
I'm no vet, but when I hear that the recommended treatment for an apparent cat 'food allergy' is to feed a 'novel protein' I really scratch my head. Why are we assuming it's the animal protein that's the culprit and not the other ingredients (plant matter) like corn or wheat or soy? It seems to me that looking first at those as the potential culprits, rater than the meat protein, makes more sense.
Relax About It - But Attend to the Details
Chill. Preparing your cat's food is not rocket science, but there are some important principles to which you should adhere. It's not wise to toy with the amounts of individual ingredients unless you've grounded yourself in the knowledge needed first. Some vitamins, for example, are water-soluble, which means if you use more than the recommended amount, you're not putting your cat at risk for toxicity. Other vitamins? It's possible to 'over-dose' your cat.
Some ingredients are a "polish" to the diet while others are not "supplements" at all, but are absolutely essential components that must be included in the ratios and amounts specified or you risk throwing your cat's diet dangerously off balance. Perhaps the most important thing to get right is the calcium-to-phosphorus ratio, which is most easily achieved by feeding whole carcasses. If you're preparing your own cat food and are not using real bone in the correct amounts, you cannot just skip adding a form of bioavailable calcium to the diet. An all-meat diet is frightfully unbalanced.
In other words, I suggest that you do not improvise unless you know what you're doing.
I've included some of my own suggestions for sourcing all your supplies and ingredients and a page of tips and shortcuts for making and serving food. Finally, there's a step-by-step pictorial on making the food. Oh, and a recipe or two too.
Be a Savvy Buyer
It's a good idea to visit the FAQ page if you're intrigued enough to consider doing this. There is plenty of information there on the issues that I find come up most often with people that are new to feeding raw: What about salmonella and avian flu and toxoplasmosis? Do I switch cold turkey? What if my cat won't eat it? How much do I feed and how often? What do I tell my vet who thinks I've gone off the deep end? How much will it cost?
It's not easy finding pre-made raw foods that are up to snuff, in my opinion, so I suggest that you do some homework on the formulation and quality of meat being used if you decide to leave the food-making to someone else. In recent years, when I'm having a "lazy week" and my supply is low and I want to lean on someone else for the food I feed my guys? I mix it up and head on over to my favorite local holistic pet supply store, PetSage, and grab a couple bags of The Furry Foodie raw food. Wilson and Sidney-Beans go wild for it - which offends me slightly since, well, I'd like to think they prefer the food we make for them over something bought from a store. The Ayrshire Farm folks seem to have a magic touch.
My suggestion is that you try to make sure that what you're buying is truly a species-appropriate formulation and not a diet designed for dogs, who have more flexible digestive tracts than cats and aren't quite as prone to have digestive disorders creep up if they're eating vegetables. There are also some other alternatives to making the food yourself explained in more detail on the FAQ page of this website.
I certainly don't have the corner on the only way of doing this right. The recipe and method I use is simply the one I've settled on that: I have faith in based on my research and experience; honors the carnivorous heritage of small cats; is something that a mere mortal with a busy life can accomplish; and is as close as I can come in my kitchen to reverse-engineering a mouse - The Perfect Cat Food.