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. You can find my recommendations here.  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.

FactReputable raw food producers 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.

Photo by Kevin N. Murphy, Flickr Creative Commons

46 Comments on Raw Food for Cats: Separating Myth from Fact

  1. Hi. I may have talked to you via fb message before about feeding raw. I have a skin allergy cat on 2.5 mgs of prednisolone per day. I am afraid of feeding raw do to pathogens affecting my husband and me. The cat’s immune system is compromised due to the pred as well. Her name is Darby. I wish someone would address handling raw food in extreme detail. When I did feed raw it was a nightmare of trying to clean every surface possible I touched. I also tried to store the raw food in the freezer separate from all other food. I disinfected the freezer door handle, the faucet handle, the counter, the dishes, the sink, the soap dispenser, etc. etc. I used bleach and bleach wet wipes. It was so awful to live like this I quit feeding raw. This was before the skin allergy surfaced. People have said they just use soap and water but never say in detail a routine that is thorough and efficient, not taking half an hour to clean up. They say they’ve never had a problem. I think they have been lucky. Years ago I cleaned our chicken waterer in the kitchen sink and never disinfected. (live in town now, no chickens). I understand if you don’t want to get into detail but if you do, great, and if not, at least I expressed my frustration over a method of feeding I do believe is right for cats, but hard for humans! Some humans, anyway. Thank you!

    • Julie, I’ve been feeding my cat, Winston, a raw diet for about 4 1/2 years. He’s 5 1/2 now, and I adopted him at about 6 months of age. He was my first cat, so I was ignorant as to what was best for him. I thought that a “quality” canned food and dry mixed in would be sufficient. He suffered constant loose stools, which didn’t allow his scent glands to express properly. It was a stinky experience for me, and I’m sure an uncomfortable one for him. I started reading about raw diets when doing some research on his ever-present diarrhea. I discovered a product which is a powdered supplement including dried and powdered bone, liver, taurine, and a slew of other things. Its safe for human consumption and really takes the guesswork out of it. Every couple of weeks I’m in the kitchen grinding and packaging a new batch of portions for him. But I don’t mind, as the strictly raw diet has changed him dramatically. After starting it, his intestinal problems went away instantly, and have never returned. Not even once. I typically do the entire process right next to the kitchen sink. I grind, mix, package in individual portions, then they all go the freezer, in a re-purposed ice tub. I make sure to was my hands before I touch the tub and open the freezer. I also instantly clean the grinder and utensils. Winston enjoys licking the bowl, and then it goes into the dishwasher. As far as I’m concerned, t doesn’t seem like any more of a health hazard than preparing a poultry-based meal for humans. And the benefits are quick and obvious. Your cat’s allergy problem may very well be alleviated by starting, and continuing a raw diet. I was skeptical and thought it would be a lot of hassle and expensive at first. But after getting used to the routine, and witnessing his instant transformation, I don’t think I’ll feed anything but raw to any future pet carnivores.

    • I do not know who the author of this article is, Debbie, so I’m hesitant to trust the information. I do agree that taurine supplementation is important when feeding a raw diet. I recommend supplementing with a good multi-vitamin and mineral mix when formulating your own raw food. The whole prey model can be a good way to feed raw if done properly.

  2. Ok, I’ll look into a suppliment. I had thought of confining them to our small bathroom. It would have the cleanist floor ever if I cleaned it after each cat’s meal! 🙂 But, I was probably unclear in my post. Each cat gets half of the organs. They cut up a whole chicken and put peices in containers for the freezer. They pull out two freezer containers put them in the fridge at bedtime. In the morning each cat gets a container of now thawed meet.
    If I wasn’t so squeemish about killing animals myself, I would feed our cats like most people feed their snakes, frozen or fresh mice and rats. I could even go so far as to breed organically fed, humanely raised, humanly killed small rodents in a cage at home (I’d kill them rather than let the cat be a cat and play with the little creatures first). The cats would have something fun to watch during the day and fresh, absolutely balanced, ideally evolved cat food at meal times.

  3. I just started feeding my 4 year and 5 year old cats raw food. Friends told me how they feed their cats and I’m doing the same.
    Cut up a whole chicken (with all the organs) into thigh size pieces and give it to them. They feed their cats once a day. The cats eat all the bones and bits except the largest part of the leg bone.
    I started by cutting up a leg piece of chicken with a large knife into 6 pieces, cutting through the bone. It’s going well except having to monitor them so they don’t drag the raw chicken allover the place.
    How are other people dealing with this last issue?

    • Debbie, I’m not comfortable with this approach to raw feeding. Even though the organ meat will provide taurine, I’m not sure that this diet is complete, especially since you can’t control which cats eat the organ meat. Cats must have taurine in their diets (and organ meat is a natural source of taurine). I would recommend supplementing with a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement.

      As for the issue of your cat’s dragging the raw meat all over your house: can you confine them to one room with a floor that’s easy to clean while they’re eating?

  4. Yes it was a bone from a roasted chicken. Gave it to him as it had quite a bit of meat on it. The larger one in the top hind quarter. He managed to bite/chew off only one the top corners before I took it away from him. He was quite fast about it.

    • Keep a close eye on him for the next couple of days, Daniela. Chances are that whatever he bit off will pass through his system just fine, but it’s better to be safe. If you notice any vomiting or signs of discomfort, take him to a veterinarian immediately.

  5. after reading the last two post i gave my cats the large hind quarter chicken bone. I though he would just eat the meat i had left on it, but less than five seconds he bit well into the bone and ate some off. While he quite loved it. now I am worried he might cause him problems.
    Don’t think I’ll offer him or any of my cats another bone.

    • Daniela, raw bones generally don’t cause problems, but I understand your concern. It’s the cooked bones that cause problems, because they splinter.

      However, feeding whole raw bones exceeds my comfort level, too, which is why I feed the prepared ground raw foods that have the bone ground in already.

  6. I have three cats and would like to feed them uncooked chicken wings and necks as well as raw meat chunks. I expect to eventually begin a raw food diet but I’m not ready yet.

    In the past I have supervised my cats when I’ve given them leftover cooked chicken and turkey bones with meat on them. One cat cannot figure out how to eat them but she licks them and likes them. Another cat (the mother of my other two) lived outside for at least a time prior to being rescued. She cleans the bones very effectively. However, I have a problem with how she eats because she drags the bones with meat off of her feeding mat and onto my floor rug so that they hold still easier while she gnaws on them. Obviously, that means I have to wash my rug. Here in Iowa I can’t feed her outside much of the year.

    What would I do if she drug her raw chicken bones with meat or raw meat chunks around the house?

    Has anyone observed this behavior before? I have looked at many raw-food-for-cats websites but have found no reference to this.

    I am concerned that despite careful food handling for my cats’ future raw food, they may drag their raw meat around my rather small house. What has been your experience?



    • I’ve only given raw chicken necks to Allegra and Ruby once, and they both dragged them all over the house – to enjoy in privacy, I guess! It exceeded my comfort level with repeating this, although it’s truly a great way to keep their teeth clean and healthy.

      That being said, I think it’s pretty normal behavior. They don’t do it with the raw food I feed at each meal, but that’s ground, so there are no large chunks of “prey” to deal with.

      I’m not sure whether your concern is primarily for your rugs (which I can totally understand) or for your cats’ safe consumption of the raw meat after it’s been dragged around the house. If it’s the latter, I wouldn’t worry too much about it as long as they consume the meat within about half an hour.

  7. Thanks for chiming in on the pet sitter issue, Renee. I still wouldn’t be comfortable with my pet sitter feeding raw while I’m gone, unless it’s someone who is familiar with feeding raw. I’m not worried about safe handling – my issue with having a pet sitter feed raw is that the food can’t be left out for more than half an hour, and if the cat doesn’t eat it all while the sitter is still there, that could be a problem.

    Bernadette, let us know what you decide to do.

  8. Renee–in my case it was both many years ago and many cats. Raw diets were very unusual and my cats didn’t like thawed food, so I manufactured it at each meal, cutting and grinding and mixing; for eight cats, this was no small task. Any of the pet sitters I knew–and I was also part-timing as a pet sitter then–didn’t object, but said they didn’t feel confident about feeding raw, partly because they didn’t know enough about the diet and handling raw food.

    Today it would be different when skilled pet sitters are much easier to find, and as professionals are often more knowledgeable than owners. Still, the friends I have with eight cats and three dogs all on a raw diet could not find a pet sitter who would undertake the task, not sure if it was the raw food or the number of animals, so they trained a friend who is also a vet tech to do the job. I was a little surprised they had to do this, and because I know I’ll be away at festivals for long days in the coming year I’ll have a pet sitter come for at least one meal, I’ve been considering what I’d do and beginning to ask around. I always give lots of instruction, but being matter of fact is very important. I’ll see what I come up with.


  9. Hi Bernadette-you bring up an interesting question regarding raw feeding and pet sitters. From my perspective as a cat sitter, it seems that a professional sitter would be charged with following the needs of the client and their cat regardless of what diet is fed. The concern that I share with most of my clients is that there be as little stress as possible in the absence of the human companions. It’s impossible to maintain an exact routine, but I feel that keeping to the accustomed diet (raw or not) and understanding favorite activities, toys, and general preferences all are equally important. I always recommend to my clients that they refrain from any diet changes just prior to travel if at all possible. Having to accommodate one’s sitter is fairly low on my list of items with which the client ought to be concerned.

    Having said all that, as a potential client I would be rather concerned with my sitter following through and using appropriate hygiene and food handling techniques in my own kitchen. I’d provide clearly written instructions for how you want these meals prepared in your home and ensure that disinfectant, proper disposal materials and gloves are available. I’d also have a simple general information sheet on raw feeding prepared for those who aren’t familiar or comfortable with the concept.

    I’d minimize the topic of raw feeding and keep it as matter of fact as possible (that goes for dealing with my employees, too). After all, many of us are already handling raw meats and veggies at home. It seems people forget that when they are reacting to the topic of feeding raw meats to pets.

    Hope this helps.

  10. Bernadette, thanks for sharing your experience with raw feeding. I haven’t explored making my own food – it still takes a bit of a leap for me to handle even the prepared frozen food.

    I can appreciate the concern about whether a pet sitter will do the raw feeding when you’re away, I did think about that quite a bit as I began switching Amber to raw. Amber currently gets one meal a day of a high-quality grain-free diet, and the second meal is all raw. I plan to eventually switch her to almost all raw, but will still occasionally feed canned food for some variety. I rarely travel, but when I do, I’ll probably just have my pet sitter feed canned – I know she wouldn’t be comfortable handling raw food. It would be interesting to hear any pet sitters who read this chime in on this aspect of raw feeding – I’d love to hear whether they accommodate client requests to do it, and how they handle it.

  11. Ingrid, thanks for laying things out so clearly. It is a big jump to make, but with the best education on a cat’s dietary needs, it’s not much different from cooking for yourself, and we trust ourselves to feed ourselves, don’t we? And I don’t eat canned food.

    I’ve gone back and forth with a raw diet since the late 80s, partly because I couldn’t afford, and they didn’t like, the frozen diets, and I wanted to use only organic meats to avoid the hormones and antibiotics. I’m feeding high-quality canned right now. Here are a few things I’ve tried.

    Until the late 90s, I couldn’t find a reputable source of organic meat, but the Amish around Pittsburgh tuned into the organic needs and we can now purchase chicken at farmer’s markets and even in some supermarkets, or I can drive an hour and buy it directly.

    In addition, I have friends who hunt. Wild turkey is pretty popular, and one white-tailed deer that has fed in protected state forest can go a long way toward feeding a household of cats, and they love it best of all, cut in little chunks or strips. You can even ask the processor to grind everything together.

    Friends of mine grind up everything themselves, bones, beaks and all. I chopped just the flesh, including organ meats, and added egg, bone meal and fish oil and put the mixing bowl in a larger bowl of hot water to warm the mix.

    When I first began the diet a local holistic vet suggested that I start to get their interest by adding a can of mackerel, slowly decreasing the amount added in each day until there was little or none to avoid the use of canned meat. This worked every time for me.

    Most of my cats have lived to be very old and came to suffer from old body ailments, and I will still make the raw diet for them or supplement with raw meat, and if anyone was ill I would do so then too. Peaches, 19, gets raw meat whenever I can as a treat by slivering from frozen raw meat and thawing/warming it in my fingers. I’m not sure when I will go back to this again because the other challenge is a pet sitter who will do the meal when I’m away.

    I hope that may help anyone else who may feel it’s overwhelming. It’s not.

  12. What many people do not realize is that the reasons that human beings began to cook food is not to get rid of parasites in meat, but to break down toxins in plants so that the plants could be edible.

    Since cats are obligate carnivores and don’t gain any nutritional value from plants, this isn’t an issue.

  13. I wouldn’t choose to use dehydrated raw food. I have to believe that it looses nutrients and especially enzymes in the dehydration process.

  14. I don’t know whether Nature’s Variety uses “human-grade” meat, Daniela. Given the known problems in the meat packing industry for meat for human consumption, I’m not sure that the term “human-grade” really tells you all that much about the quality of a product. I think there’s more to quality ingredients than just that one aspect.

  15. Ingrid, do you know if Nature’s Variety uses human-grade meat? They say they use “wholesome” and “natural” products, but nothing about human-grade. Maybe I should call them.

    I ask you that because I would like to try the brand that uses the highest-quality meat — human-grade. I have read so many books about the horribly low standards of cleanliness in the meat packing industry regarding human-grade meat, that I don’t even want to think about what comes with the meats for non-human animals…

  16. Irina
    Thanks so much for that information about just doing our own raw food here. I am certainly going to look into where to get the freshest food. I guess you can freeze it and use a little at a time. And it sounds like it would help even if you didn’t do it every day.

    Thanks so much for starting this raw feeding discussion. I sure have learned a lot. Everyone has some great ideas.

  17. Daniela, yes, I am still comfortable buying Nature’s Variety, despite the recall. They actually expanded the recall last night to include all raw frozen chicken products, regardless of best buy date, in an abundance of caution, because they’re changing their manufacturing process to one that uses high pressure pasteurization to increase the safety of their product.

    As I mentioned in the article above, there is no way to be 100% sure about any one food – but then, that applies to our entire food supply, not just to pet food!

  18. Ingrid, you are absolutely right. When I first tried feeding my cats raw food, I bought the commercial kind. I could not believe how expensive it was, even the girl at the store advised me to look into making my own. The thing is, my cats refused that type of food anyway. The pre-made commercial raw food is minced and I try to stay away from that because of the exposure of the meat. Also, I think chunks are better for the teeth and jaw.
    Great article! Thank you so much for dispelling the myths that stand in the way of properly caring for our companions.

  19. Irina, thanks for all the great info. My comment on feeding raw being more expensive than canned referred to the prepared diets, so I’m glad you chimed in with your experience of making your own raw food. I’ll look forward to reading your blog.

  20. Marg,

    feeding raw diet is not more expensive than feeding commercial food.
    I use the recipe on catnutrition.org. It comes up to under $20/month per cat. Figure out where you can get the freshest meat, hopefully organic, but not everyone can afford that…I buy whole chickens which is the cheapest. Then I buy whatever other type of meat I find at a good price for variety. I offer my cats pieces of beef or chicken liver, chicken hearts, chicken wing tips and ribs for the teeth, once or twice a week I offer them raw egg yolks or fish. I always make sure I handle everything with clean hands, I wash all their dishes right after they finish eating and I never leave out any raw food for more than 30 minutes.
    If I was to feed the cheapest canned food (I would NEVER feed kibble) it would cost me at .65$/day which comes up to the same. I save a lot of money on vet expenses!
    My cats are healthy, full of energy, they barely shed at all, their coat is shiny and their eyes bright!
    Feeding your cat a raw diet is the best for them, it’s what they have been eating for thousands of years. As long as there is variety it’s all good, don’t get discouraged.

  21. Elizabeth, for some kitties, the first time they’re offered raw food, it’s like they’re saying “finally! This is what we’re meant to eat!” 🙂 Others don’t take to it quite that easily.

  22. Marg, raw feeding is definitely more expensive than feeding canned or dry. You may save money in the long run since you’ll most likely need fewer vet visits. It’s certainly possible that some cats may have gotten sick from contaminated raw food, which is why it’s so important to know where and how a company sources its meat.

    Mason, I’m glad the article was helpful. Let me know how the diet changes for Little One and Gum Drop are going.

  23. I’d always heard that the dry feed was good for their teeth too. Thanks for the informative article. I’ll definitely make some changes in Little One and Gum Drop’s diet.

  24. That is so super information about raw meat food for cats. I like the fact that you went into all the myths. I do have a question which I don’t like to ask but I have a bunch of cats here so I have to think about expense. Is feeding the raw food expensive??? And do you know if any of the cats have become sick from the raw food??? A friend of mine tried feeding her dogs raw food and they all got really sick but it could be that she didn’t do it correctly. I do know that cats do eat things whole without much chewing. Great post, thanks

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