Wednesday, November 4, 2009 4:05 PM

Should You Feed Your Cat a Raw Food Diet?

As the melamine-tainted pet food scandal was unfolding, I decided to forgo commercial cat food entirely and start preparing my cats' food at home. I read many, many books on the subject of feline nutrition, some of them veterinary texts. Basically, my choices boiled down to two: Raw food or cooked. After much research, I finally came up with the cooked diet my cats have been eating for the past 3 years. Before that, however, I tried raw food.

The biggest problem with the raw food is that my cats didn't like it. One problem is that there really isn't any "aroma" to it. Think about a cat eating its prey. There's the excitement and physical activity associated with the hunt. The prey definitely has its own smell, exciting the senses further. The flesh is warm and fresh. A much different scenario than a bowl of raw stuff being plopped down in front of you in the kitchen! Personally, I think a cat raised on raw food will accept it better than one who has not, but that's my opinion.

Another problem I had was the actual ingredients. In order to mimic the prey scenario, most texts proposed buying a whole bird and grinding it all up (bones and all) and then adding something like 20% vegetables and 10-20% carbohydrates (rice and/or grains). The grains have to be cooked, and the veggies are better off being blanched. You need a pretty brawny meat grinder to grind up a whole chicken! In lieu of that technique, you could buy already-ground poultry and add bone meal. Most bone meal is made from beef bones, though, and is contaminated with lead since bones tend to be the repository of ingested heavy metals. Alternately, you can use ground up eggshells (which I do).

The problem with buying ground poultry is that contamination can occur through this process. Almost all the meat that is recalled for this reason is ground up, and the machinery spreads the pathogens to each successive batch. Cats are more resistant to E. Coli and Salmonellae than we are, but you are still putting them and yourself at risk. Since you won't be cooking it, problem batches can become deadly very quickly. Even under normal circumstances, you must always freeze what you are not using, only leaving enough in the fridge for a day or two of feeding. If you forget to thaw it, well, you wind up cooking it, or the cats go hungry!

As you can see, a raw diet is about as much work as a cooked diet. If you are considering this change for your cats, I suggest doing lots and lots of research first. One book I found very helpful (and full of the cutest cat photos) is Whole Health for Happy Cats by Sandy Arora. You will need to consult more books than this, but this one is a good start.
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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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