Updated: Sep 16, 2019
Feeding your cats a raw diet is excellent for their health and well being. As with any significant dietary change, it is important to transition your cat to raw slowly for their systems to adjust to the change.
Supplemental vitamins and nutrients must be applied carefully in raw diets and the consumption of some meats and bones can make cats sick or worse.
To administer a raw diet successfully, verify that the diet is vet approved then read and follow all instructions; most importantly ask questions. In our SNAC Sample Diet posts we will walk you through all the steps you need to stay healthy. Still wondering if the transition is right for your family? I wrote Raw Food: The Basics as an overview to raw diets and the health benefits over commercial foods for pet parents like you.
Optimal Nutritional Balance
Cats and dogs have different nutritional requirements. Dogs are Omnivores and adding fruits and vegetables is beneficial to their diets.
Cats are Carnivores!
Carnivores require more taurine which is an amino acid that is fundamental for maintaining healthy cats. Taurine effects everything from vision and hearing to heart and immune system functions. Unlike dogs, cats are unable to create taurine on their own and it must be acquired from the food they ingest. It is essential to provide an adequate amount of taurine in your cat’s raw diet.
Why is Taurine so Important for Cats?
Taurine consumption effects everything from vision and hearing to heart and immune system functions. Unlike dogs, cats are unable to create taurine on their own and it must be acquired from the food they ingest.
How much fat should be included?
Fat provides essential omega-fatty acids, which promote coat and skin health. It is also vital for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
All of these are provided with the SNAC diet and can be found in everyday foods and supplements.
Proteins found in muscle provide amino acids needed for the body to manufacture antibodies, enzymes, hormones, tissue regeneration and proper system balance.
Vitamin E must be eaten with saturated animal fat in order to be absorbed properly.
What is Arginine and where does it come from?
Arginine, also known as l-arginine, is an α-amino acid that is used in the biosynthesis of proteins. In the body, the amino acid arginine changes into nitric oxide (NO). Nitric oxide is a powerful neurotransmitter that helps blood vessels relax and also improves circulation.
In a raw diet, Arginine is present in raw meat and crucial to the manufacture of enzymes that the liver uses to remove toxins. Cats which eat a single meal that does not contain enough Arginine can cause a dangerous build up of ammonia causing drooling, vomiting and lethargy.
Safety and Meal Preparation
Transitioning your cat to a raw diet over time allows them to develop the digestive enzymes, good bacterium and higher stomach acid that allow wild cats to eat raw meat without the risk of disease such as salmonella.
What is a good transition timeline?
Transitions should be done slowly to give your cats system time to learn to work efficiently again after commercial foods. Commercial food is easy, yet unbalances your cats system by lowering stomach acid and natural good pre/probiotics which can cause health issues such as intestinal inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome, and diabetes. The timeline will be different for each cat depending on their life-stage, dietary needs and time on commercial food. If you are ready to make the switch read my article on what a good transition timeline looks like.
Cats systems are designed to absorb the most effectively from a raw diet – even water is absorbed from raw – still always provide fresh water.
Bones, are they safe?
Cats can consume most raw bones without any issue. Another reason to introduce your cats to their new raw diet slowly, so their digestive tract has the time to build up a natural higher stomach acid with balanced flora and enzymes. This process allows your cat to break down bones in their system similar to wild cats. Too little time to transition, too much calcium or too much bone in your raw diet can cause constipation and other health issues, such as an impaction requiring surgery.
Fecal impaction is a severe form of constipation that may require hospitalization and elaborate therapy, including manual removal of hardened fecal matter from your cats colon while they are under anesthesia.
The amount of bones in your raw diet can target specific dietary needs. With my Sustainable Nutritionally Accurate Carnivore Sample (SNAC) diet you use meats and supplements to control bone content, dietary needs and prep times. Supplements come in many varieties and are can be added to boneless ground meat without bone and ground bone grinds as well.
I have three sample diet recipes that you can use as foundation to your transition to raw, as well as information on where to buy raw foods and supplements for pet diets.
Grind @ Home - this recipe focuses on bone-in meats, requires a meat grinder at home to create custom grinds, but you get chew-able snacks and require fewer additional supplements, like calcium
Pre-Ground - this recipe is great for getting started with DIY raw, less prep time and does not require a meat grinder but will require additional calcium supplements
Balanced - this recipe is great for multi-pet houses and pets with renal issues it gives you more control over your bone content; plus chew-able snacks, great for dental care
What about bacteria and parasites
Cats have a very acidic stomach and these higher acid levels kill bacteria that would be harmful to humans.
As a pet parent you are more likely to get sick from contact with unwashed fruits and vegetables or eating your dinner. The actual risk of infection from your cat or contact with litter is minimal.
It is important to feed parasite free food and run routine fecal tests. Fecal tests are pretty easy, just drop your marked samples off at the vet. So far all of ours have been negative.
Pasteurized or fertilized eggs do not carry samonella infection and are a safe and nutritious treat for your furbabies.
The toxoplasmosis parasite, if found, is easy to treat with a few days of antibiotics. So far, the cats in my family have always tested negative.
To decrease risk, freeze meats for 72 hrs to kill eggs that carry toxoplasmosis so raw diets you prepare are safe to touch and eat.
The 72 hr freeze window kills most parasites not most bacteria. The safest way to purchase is to buy whole birds, rabbits, or cuts of beef.
Raw Pork can kill your pet
Using raw pork in your raw diet poses the largest risk to your pets. The almost undetectable disease trichinosis, also known as "pork worm", is only found in raw pork. I find that it is safer to simply cut pork out of our raw diet than to run the risk of this deadly disease.
Trichinosis (trichinosis or trichiniasis) is a parasitic disease caused by a roundworm (nematode) parasite called Trichinella spiralis. T. spiralis is also known as “pork worm” because in most cases infection is seen due to eating contaminate draw or under-cooked pork.
Clean, cut and balanced
Alright, let's cut right down to the bone now shall we? Sorry I just couldn't resist. In all seriousness, pay careful attention to how you prepare the different types of meats, bones, and supplements. Before we get started always make sure that your knifes are sharp and that you're cleaning your hands and working surfaces often.
If you are feeding your cats necks, make sure to cut them on the bias in ¼- ½ inch slices to prevent choking and to encourage chewing.
A bias cut is defined as cutting at an angle. The most popular angle to cut a piece of food is 45 degrees. The inch measurement indicates how thick each portion, or cut, should be.
As your cat becomes familiar with eating the slices and more importantly, chewing, start cutting the necks lengthwise. Remember, necks will add bone to your overall diet and should be considered carefully to avoid causing constipation issues for your cat.
Wait, I thought you said no vegetables?
This is true, there are no vegetables in a proper raw diet, especially the SNAC Diet. However, prey animals do eat seeds, vegetables and other plant matter. During the butchering process stomachs and intestines are removed and washed out completely. Although cats cannot break down or use plant mater, roughage (predigested plant matter) helps cats with intestinal regularity. Plus, the digestive enzymes and pre/probiotics that naturally occur to aid the digestion of prey are crucial for your cat in order to break down raw diets.
So we need to replace the nutritional value of the digestive enzymes, pre/probiotics and roughage in a proper raw diet. Pysllium husk mimics roughage and there are many digestive enzymes plus pre/probiotics available and mixes which can be added to homemade grinds both with or without bone.
When shopping for supplements, read carefully and make sure that you chose the right one for your diet. Some supplements are made to be added to ground boneless meat and some have very little calcium since they are made for raw grinds with bone.