We know from human nutrition that the less processed our foods are, the healthier they are for us. This is no different when it comes to feline nutrition. Cats are obligate carnivores and as such need animal-based proteins to thrive. They cannot get enough nutritional support from plant-based proteins such as grains and vegetables, because, unlike humans and dogs, they lack the specific enzyme that processes plant-based proteins metabolically.
Commercial pet foods are highly processed and most are too high in carbohydrates for cats, leading to all kinds of health problems. Dry food in particular can be the source of many of the degenerative diseases we see in cats, ranging from allergies to intestinal problems to diabetes and urinary tract issues. While a quality grain-free canned diet may be a better choice, the meat in those diets has to be cooked. Cooking degrades the nutrients, leading to loss of enzymes, vitamins and minerals. To make up for this, pet food manufacturers must add in supplements to make up for these losses. Supplementation is not always exact, and depending on the manufacturer, may be done with synthetic rather than natural supplements.
There are numerous benefits from feeding a raw diet to your cat, including improved digestion, reduced stool odor and volume, increased energy, ability to maintain ideal weight, better dental health, and better urinary tract health. With the numerous pet food recalls over the past several years, raw feeding has gained wider attention. Embraced for decades by holistically oriented pet parents and holistic veterinarians, it is becoming more mainstream as pet parents look for alternatives to feeding commercial pet foods. But many pet owners are still leery of the idea of feeding raw meat to their pets, and myths about raw feeding abound. This article will help sort through the myths and facts surrounding raw feeding.
Myth: Cats need dry food to keep their teeth clean.
Fact: Dry kibble does not clean your cat’s teeth. Most cats don’t chew their kibble long enough for any of the scraping action that is the theory behind this myth to kick in. Some pet food manufacturers offer a “dental diet” that is made up of larger than normal sized kibble to encourage chewing, but in my years at veterinary practices, I’ve seen many cats swallow even those larger size pieces whole. Additionally, dry food leaves a carbohydrate residue in the cat’s mouth that actually encourages growth of tartar and plaque.
Myth: It’s dangerous to feed raw meat because it contains bacteria.
Fact: Cats have highly acidic digestive tracts, which makes them pathogen resistant. Their digestive tracts are also much shorter than humans – food passes through their digestive system in about 12 hours, compared to two or three times as much for humans. This doesn’t give bacteria enough time to proliferate in their system. As long as you use safe handling procedures with raw meat, the risk to your cat is minimal. In fact, the emphasis on safe handling that you’ll hear from most proponents of raw feeding is for the humans in the household, not for the cat.
Caution: this applies to healthy cats. Bacterial resistance in cats with an already compromised immune system may be diminished.
Myth: Raw feeding is complicated and requires grinding of meat, bones and a lot of preparation time.
Fact: Raw feeding doesn’t have to be complicated. While some cat owners want to make their own raw foods, there are many companies that offer frozen raw food that is already nutritionally balanced. Two that I like are Feline’s Pride and Nature’s Variety. It really comes down to thaw and feed – no more effort than opening a can!
Myth: It’s dangerous to feed raw meet because it may contain parasites.
Fact: The companies I mentioned above, and I’m sure there are many others as well, source their meat from reputable farmers and test for pathogens and parasites. Of course, there is no way to be 100% sure, but then, neither is there a 100% guarantee that commercially prepared foods are going to be free of toxins, pathogens or other contamination, as the 2007 pet food recall showed us in such tragic proportions. Do your research and find out where the company you’re buying from sources their ingredients. Reputable manufacturers will be happy to answer your questions.
Myth: Raw diets are not complete and balanced.
Fact: That depends on the diet you choose to feed. Some raw diets are balanced and include proper levels of supplements, others will require adding a good vitamin and mineral supplement. The reality is that no one food can be nutritionally complete. True nutrition comes from a varied, whole foods diet. This is why it’s a good idea to mix and rotate different meats and maybe even different manufacturers.
The idea of raw feeding has initially been a big leap for me. For starters, I’m semi-vegetarian and don’t eat red meat or poultry, so I wasn’t crazy about having to handle raw meat, even if it was best for my cats. The twelve years I spent in the veterinary profession taught me a lot about animal health, but initially, not a lot about nutrition. Traditionally, veterinarians don’t receive a lot of training in nutrition, and what training they do receive in veterinary schools is funded by major pet food manufacturers. I was fortunate that I eventually worked with several holistically oriented vets, and I began studying feline nutrition on my own as well. Look for more articles on feline nutrition here on The Conscious Cat in the future. If you’d like to see something in particular addressed, leave a comment.
More resources for feeding raw food:
Feeding Your Cat – Know the Basics of Feline Nutrition – this site contains a wealth of information by veterinarian Lisa A. Pierson, DVM
Feline Nutrition Foundation – a site dedicated to educating cat guardians about the benefits of a raw diet
Photo by Kevin N. Murphy, Flickr Creative Commons