Feeding Raw: A Veterinarian’s View

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Guest post by Andrea Tasi, VMD

My name is Andrea Tasi, and my whole life revolves around cats and cat care. I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 1988 and was determined to go out into the world and help sick cats get better, and keep well cats well.

I have been in feline exclusive practice since 1991, first in Philadelphia and now in the Washington DC metropolitan area. I have watched cats become the most popular pet in our country, and been part of the evolution of feline specific veterinary medicine. Where cats were once “second class” citizens in the veterinary community, there is now an explosion of interest in feline medical care and increasing research into feline disease.

How Did I Become interested In Raw Food?

Despite my intentions to try to help cats stay healthy or regain their health, I began to see many cats with chronic problems that I could not “fix”. More and more of my feline patients were on one or more prescription drugs and/or diets to try to help them with the diseases I encountered day-to-day in feline practice: recurrent bladder (lower urinary) problems, obesity, diabetes, chronic vomiting and/or diarrhea, chronic constipation, asthma, skin and ear problems, to name a few. As I prescribed more and more drugs to try to help these cats, I ran into complications and side effects from the drugs themselves, or they often stopped working after awhile. Prescription diets served me no better: often the cats wouldn’t eat them and, even if they did, I did not see uniformly positive results.

One day, a client of mine who had a lovely old cat named Max, told me that she had switched Max’s diet to raw food and all his chronic skin and ear problems went away within several weeks. Poor Max had been on cortisone-type drugs and prescription diets (prescribed by me!) for years, to no avail. My interest was sparked! I began to read about cat nutrition and cat diets and talk to people (veterinarians and pet owners) who had been feeding raw foods. I was amazed at what I was hearing, so decided to try a raw diet with my (then) new kitten, Bug. I had adopted Bug as a sickly (actually near death) and underweight 6 month old. I watched him blossom on the raw food diet, gaining healthy muscle mass weight but not becoming fat, developing a beautiful coat and clearing many of his chronic health problems without the need of conventional drugs. I am convinced that his raw diet was the foundation for his wonderful recovery.

I now recommend raw diets to virtually all my clients, and have seen wonderful improvements in my patients’ health. I will never go back to recommending or using processed pet foods.

Why Not Just Use Dry and Canned Cat Foods?

Grain based dry foods are the worst possible thing to feed a cat. Carnivorous predators were designed to eat a meat/whole prey (bones, organs, etc) diet, simple as that! Grain-free dry foods, while perhaps a bit “better” than “regular” dry foods, are extremely high in calories and do not have the water content of a flesh-based diet. Many cats, when on a dry food diet, do not drink enough water to keep their bodies optimally hydrated.

Canned foods are better than dry, but all canned foods are high heat processed resulting in breakdown of many natural nutrients. These then need to be replaced with added supplements (all the chemical sounding ingredients on your canned food label tend to be these replaced nutrients). Many, but not all, canned foods also contain grain based ingredients, which can be triggers for a variety of health issues.

Are Raw Diets “Safe?”

There are a couple of ways to examine this question. First, we can ask ourselves if commercial pet food is safe? Numerous pet food recalls have occurred over the past few years and many pets have died from eating commercial pet foods contaminated with melamine and other toxins. Some pet food recalls have involved Salmonella found in dry food. Believing that mass produced foods are uniformly “safe” is a big leap of faith, in my opinion.

Second, we can look at the reality of how a cat’s anatomy and physiology were designed to eat and digest raw meat. Cats have a more acid stomach pH and a shorter gastrointestinal tract, making them less vulnerable to many types of food-borne bacteria. I remind my clients that cats lick their bottoms every day, and do just fine! Third, it is not difficult to create balanced diets that are safe from a nutritional perspective. Using a variety of recipes and meat sources is the best way to ensure that your cat gets all the nutrition she needs.

Isn’t It Very Complicated to Feed Raw Food?

 Feeding raw food can be simple! The easiest way to begin is to use pre-prepared frozen raw food diets such as Bravo, Aunt Jeni’s, Primal, and Feline’s Pride (to name a few). Making homemade food is not difficult either. The easiest way to begin is to use a powdered premix such as Instincts-TC™ that turns meat and liver in to a complete and balanced diet. One can then “graduate” to using recipes that require adding several supplement items like taurine, fatty acids, etc.
The most common problems my clients have is that they try to transition too fast, and that they forget to defrost food in advance so it is ready for feeding.

Why Do So Many Veterinarians Caution Against Raw Diets?

Veterinarians actually receive very little training in nutrition. In my 4 years of veterinary school, I had one class, one semester long, on nutrition. Most of this course focused on which prescription diet to recommend for which disease and why. For well pets, I was taught to recommend “Pick one dry food and stick with it.” A major pet food manufacturer supplied free pet food to veterinary students, and free prescription diets to the university’s veterinary hospital for use with hospitalized animals. Is it any wonder that most vets come out of school recommending that manufacturer’s products? We were cautioned that it was “complicated” and “risky” for owners to make their own pet food, and that raw meat was full of harmful bacteria and parasites and would sicken animals, and possibly their owners. As I began to become interested in raw foods and spoke with veterinarians who had been recommending them for years, I was happily surprised to find that raw-food related health problems were few and far between, but that the benefits were amazing!

What Cat Diseases May Be Helped With Raw Food Diets?

I have seen diabetes, asthma, lower urinary tract (bladder) problems, chronic vomiting and/or diarrhea (inflammatory bowel disease-type symptoms), skin and ear problems and other health issues either markedly improve or completely resolve when raw diets were introduced. Every cat will respond in their own way, but I now view real, fresh, raw food as the “best medicine” for many of my patients.

What Do I Feed My Own Cats?

I use a combination of homemade and pre-prepared frozen raw diets. When making homemade food I use several different recipes and vary my meat sources.  My youngest cats like pretty much anything I make, as they were raised on raw. Their favorite meat source is rabbit. My oldest cats love homemade food made with Instincts-TC powdered premix. This “all in one” powder, when mixed with meat and liver, makes a complete diet.

Who Should Not Use Raw Diets?

I recommend avoiding raw meat based diets for cats that are on immunosuppressive medications like chemotherapy drugs, or higher doses of cortisone-type drugs like prednisolone. I also recommend that if anyone in the cat’s household has a weakened immune system (HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy, immunosuppressive drugs, etc.) extra caution should be used or raw diets completely avoided. In these instances a homemade cooked diet would be an excellent substitute.
 

This article originally appeared on the Feline Nutrition Education Society website, and is re-posted here with permission. The Feline Nutrition Education Society is dedicated to providing thoroughly researched information on feline health and nutrition. If you care about cats and their health, please consider joining the society. Membership is free, and a growing membership base will help the organization spread the word about species-appropriate nutrition for cats.

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16 Comments on Feeding Raw: A Veterinarian’s View

  1. Candy S
    April 9, 2014 at 7:20 am (3 years ago)

    I have two cats who are feline leukemia positive and the other five are not (they are vaccinated yearly to protect them and so far the protection is working) so I know that I cannot feed them raw food unless they are separated. In addition to the cats, I also have a 14 year old dog, who rejected raw food.

    Any suggestions to feed this menagerie?

    Reply
  2. Lisa K @ CanAnybodyHearMe
    May 30, 2012 at 1:07 pm (5 years ago)

    Oooh I just saw your earlier post talking about Pre-made mixes that you can just combine with meat! That makes it so easy!! This is the link you provided:

    http://tcfeline.com/2011/04/06/prepare-tcfeline-plus/

    I’m totally ordering this stuff and going to at least start giving both a little raw + the dry to see what happens and if Ms. Luna’s tummy can handle it….

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 30, 2012 at 2:10 pm (5 years ago)

      Lisa, let me know how that works for Ms. Luna!

      Reply
  3. Deb
    May 30, 2012 at 12:53 pm (5 years ago)

    Why should cats on prednisone not eat raw diets?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 30, 2012 at 1:06 pm (5 years ago)

      Steroids suppress the immune system, Deb.

      Reply
      • Wendy
        August 12, 2015 at 3:27 pm (2 years ago)

        I wonder what is considered a high dose of prednisolone? My cat is on 5mg tablets 2 x daily.

        Reply
  4. James
    February 28, 2011 at 6:41 pm (6 years ago)

    Great article Ingrid. After reading it this morning, as well as doing some research over the last couple of months, I decided to go into my local specialty cat food store today and check out their raw food. I was very pleasantly surprised when it came to the price of a raw food diet. They had 1 pound tubs of Aunt Jeni’s (which was what one of the store employees suggested) for about $5.50 each. When compared to the cost of different high-end canned foods it was very comparable. The 1lb tub, according to it’s feeding instruction, would be enough for about 4 days worth of meals for a 10 pound cat. That came to about $1.38 a day. If you look at most canned foods, the servings a day is usually about 1 oz for every pound the cat weighs. For a 10lb cat that come to 2 cans a day. If you go buy that formula some of the high end cat foods would cost about $3.00 for 2 cans a day, and the cheaper stuff could be as low as $1.00 a day. This of course is if you go by the foods recommended serving size, which I’ve never done, as I feel it’s a little much for a cat to eat. I also like to feed a little variety of wet and grain-free dry food, so the cost per day, as well as the serving size per day, is much lower. All-in-all the raw food wasn’t nearly as expensive as I thought it would be (in fact it was fairly affordable,) and I picked up a couple of tubs to try out. We’ll see how it goes over with my little guy during dinner time tonight.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      February 28, 2011 at 8:19 pm (6 years ago)

      Thanks for providing this information, James! I agree that the recommended amounts to feed on commercial cat food are always too high. After all, these companies want to sell food – and you can’t blame them for that. One of the things I’ve found when I transitioned Allegra to raw food was that quantity wise, she ate less than she had when she was still eating grain-free canned, but wasn’t as hungry. I’m sure that is due to the higher protein content (and no carb fillers – even the best grain-free food still contains more carbs than cats really need).

      I’d love to hear what your little guy thinks about the raw food.

      Reply
      • James
        February 28, 2011 at 10:19 pm (6 years ago)

        Well, dinner time was a success!!!! I fed my guy a tablespoon of the raw food during my dinner as a treat, and then fed him another tablespoon with his normal canned food at his dinner time a few hours later, and he ate both helpings right up. I’m very happy, especially after the women at the food store told me that it took her 8 months to fully introduce raw food to her cats. She suggested that when I got home that I immediately start thawing out some of the raw stuff and give him some as a treat to see if he liked it. I did, and he did. She was saying that when she was starting out she could only give her cats a teaspoon at a time, otherwise they would reject the whole meal. She gradually increased the amount of raw, and over many months they finally accepted it fully. Looks like my guy has a head start. I’ll be slowly adding more raw meat to his diet, and hopefully within the next month or two he’ll be fully over.

        Reply
        • Ingrid
          March 1, 2011 at 6:57 am (6 years ago)

          That’s great news, James! Some cats take to the raw food readily, and it sounds like your little guy is one of them. It’s almost like they go “finally, the human figured out what I’m supposed to be eating!” 🙂

          Reply
  5. Marg
    February 28, 2011 at 12:56 pm (6 years ago)

    That was a super post about the raw foods. I would love to be ablet to give all my cats the raw food but I believe that it is very expensive to do. My theory is that if the kitties here are just getting something to eat, and have some shelter, they are better off than a homeless cat. And most of mine go outside and they get their own raw food.
    Also, doesn’t it take a lot of freezer space?? I think the raw food is the very best for the cats since that is what they eat if they are left to their own resources. I had a cat disappear for 3 months and she came back thin, but she was alive. Great post.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      February 28, 2011 at 3:39 pm (6 years ago)

      Marg, if you make your own food it can actually be fairly inexpensive to feed raw. One online retailer that I’m aware of who sells quality meet at reasonable prices is Hare Today: http://www.hare-today.com/ . I use prepared raw foods (I rotate between Primal and Nature’s Variety), so I don’t have any personal experience with them, but I’ve heard from raw feeders I trust that this is a good company. I suppose you’d need a certain amount of freezer space, depending on how many cats you have and how much food you want to have on hand at any one time.

      The other thing to take into consideration when feeding raw is that while your cost for food may be higher, you’ll probably save the money on veterinary bills in the long run since your cats are going to be healthier.

      Reply

3Pingbacks & Trackbacks on Feeding Raw: A Veterinarian’s View

  1. […] Cat guardians who are feeding raw diets usually find some pretty dramatic benefits even after just a few meals. For these cat parents, who witness anything from clearing up chronic skin conditions and diarrhea to improved hair coat and a stronger immune system, these benefits more than justify the perceived risk of feeding these diets – a risk that can be minimized by following simple common sense principles of basic food handling. […]

  2. […]   Book review: The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care by Celeste Yarnall and Jean Hofve, DVM   Feeding raw: a veterinarian’s view […]

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