Homemade cat food
June 27, 2014 1:00 PM   Subscribe

My neighbour would like to/needs to make her own catfood for her ageing cats. Details inside.

There are two cats, F & D.

They are both 17 and F is in excellent health. D is not; he is diabetic (and apparently largely insulin-resistant), half blind, overweight (7.8kg as of two days ago, down from a high of 10.22kg two years ago) and the vets have finally narrowed down his problems to pancreatitis due to either a tumour or cyst in/on the pancreas itself, or acromegaly.

Partly for financial reasons (cheaper per serving), and partly for health reasons (minimizing D's carb intake will help manage his diabetes), Neighbour would like to make her own catfood. Yes, we have looked online, but haven't found anything that meets all requirements. Specifically:

- relatively easy to obtain ingredients. (We know she will probably have to buy taurine, but that is available online I think?)

- suitable for a diabetic cat on strict calorie restriction; the ability to know there are X calories in Y amount would be hugely useful so both cats can be fed different quantities of the same food

- NON WOO. The problem we've been having in the search is a lack of actual scientific/researched data behind the various recipes posted online. On the rare occasions I've managed to find her recipes frpm an actual vet, there's nothing presented as research for how the recipe was developed, and usually words like 'holistic' and various other woo nonsense tend to appear on their sites.

Both cats are mainly on kibble, but both go bananas for wet food (D is currently on 1 seving/day of a special-for-diabetic-cats food plus his kibble), so there should be few if any adjustment problems.

tl;dr looking to make homemade catfood from a recipe with actual science behind it.

(I have read this; the complicating factor is the diabetes, so unfortunately not super helpful for her specific situation; the MSPCA link given as an answer might provide a fruitful avenue, so we'll check that out too.)

I will post pictures of the little monsters if I can get some.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering to Pets & Animals (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Sorry, meant to add re: the financial aspect. D is currently on a special kibble that makes him feel more full with smaller portions, and as mentioned special wet food. These are very expensive, let alone having to buy different food for F.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:05 PM on June 27, 2014

I have not used this recipe, but if I was going to make my own cat food I would try it. The vet has put a lot of research into cat nutrition and uses it for all her own cats. Maybe for cost nix the rabbit and just use the chicken or turkey.
posted by amileighs at 1:12 PM on June 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd just buy chicken innerds and feed the kitties those. I do this occasionally for my cats, but they are totally spoiled so I have to COOK for them! The nerve!

Here are recipes from a vet for homemade kitty food.

She's feeding her kitties rabbit (Naturally, I DO NOT approve,) and chicken and turkey thighs. Both of these are pretty cheap to get. I think she grinds everything with some eggs.

High protein is good for cats, it's their natural diet.

Hope this helps!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:13 PM on June 27, 2014

Response by poster: That's a recipe and page we've seen before. Unfortunately the recipe assumes perfect health in the cat, and may not be useful or good for a diabetic cat. However, she might be worth setting up a phone consultation with so I'll be bookmarking that, thank you.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:42 PM on June 27, 2014

Did she say to her vet "I cannot afford that food. What are my options?"

After years of free feeding dry food, my vet convinced me to go to wet food since one of our boys is a chubber and one has some kidney stuff already (he's a juvenile). Her take is that almost any wet food is probably better for your cat - especially one with weight or kidney issues since the higher water/lower carb content curbs consumption, dehydration/kidney and urinary tract issues.

My vet - who rocks! - does a really good job saying, "I recommend and sell Rx brand x. If that doesn't work for you, then brand y is available at pet stores and brand z is an inexpensive choice at the supermarket." You don't have to ask her for the low cost choice, her policy is to always give a range of choices. If your vet doesn't do that automatically, then prompt her for a low cost and readily available option.
posted by 26.2 at 2:47 PM on June 27, 2014

Diabetic cats, like diabetic people, need to be mindful of carbohydrates. In the world of cat food, carbohydrates show up in dry food, gravy, and additives like potato or rice.

For what it's worth, I didn't see anything on the page Ruthless Bunny linked that would present a problem in that area.
posted by gnomeloaf at 2:54 PM on June 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

NC University Vet College provides online consultations with veterinary specialist nutritionalists who can formulate a home prepared diets for animals with specific medical conditions.

You will need to pay, but the chances of finding a reasonable diet online that is suitable for a cat with multiple medical problems such as D is likely slim.
posted by NeatBeat at 5:26 PM on June 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hey fffm and neighbor!
I've been there and will tell you what I've learned.
With regard to the diabetes: Is the main reason why the vet believes it is diabetes because glucose levels are through the roof? And the insulin resistance is assumed because there is no or only very little change in those numbers between blood tests? The solution could be way simpler - check the ingredients list of your cat food. Many, many brands add sugar. It accumulates in the cat's body and insulin can help only so much if new excess sugar is consumed with each meal. Cats lack the enzyme (glucokinase) to break it down. If there is any sugar in the cat food, never feed it again.

Glucose levels can be high due to stress and inflammation too, so pancreatitis could be the culprit. Or the stress of daily insulin shots. I hope the vet made sure to check for other symptoms of diabetes before making that diagnosis. If it is diabetes, you could try pills. We've had good luck with Glibenclamide. I am not sure how much lit and case studies there really are, because this is a drug for humans. But it's something the wife-husband team of vets who treat my cats came up with. Generic versions of that drug are available and it is very affordable (maybe $5 for 100+ pills). My cat was around 7kg and would get half of a 1,75mg pill with each meal (I had to order it at the pharmacy, this low dose is not common, people usually need the stronger ones. But it exists). It's easy to crush the pills between two teaspoons and just mix it in with the wet food. It did lower the glucose levels, but not entirely, still a bit above normal range – we started out at 400+mg/dl though, so it was a success to bring it down. Glibenclamide has no taste as far as I know and the cat did not object. Giving Glibenclamide was way gentler on my cat than the daily insulin shots (we had Caninsulin, which is not the greatest for cats) which would freak her out a lot. (I know some cats don't care, maybe yours doesn't mind having blood glucose levels tested and insulin given on a daily basis...) Btw: you know how to use the glucometer on a cat, right? If you happen not to own one, they are really cheap - sometimes even free. Only the strips can get pricey, so pick a brand that has cheap strips or that fits generic strips. You probably know all that already though.

Now on to the food.
Listen, it might sound like preaching but it really is the truths. Feed wet food - it is so much better for cats. Many health problems in cats present because of a wrong diet of dry food. Kibble is not only about 7 times as calorie rich as wet food and insanely high in carbohydrates (I’ve seen some with 60 %!!!), it also only has between 5 and 10 % water. Cat food should contain around 75 % water, as their natural prey (small birds, mice etc.) has about 70% water. Canned food or meat is the way to go, as the thirst mechanism is underdeveloped in cats. In result, many cats that are fed a dry diet are chronically dehydrated.

I know cans and pouches of wet food can get expensive and there still are many crappy products on the marked that have too many carbs and unnecessary additives. Making pet food at home is great but does take some time - mostly in research. I've spent many hours reading and have experimented with several raw meat recipes. Since it’s food that is fit for human consumption it is fairly easy to add up calories. So, our aim is to feed a diet that is as close to a natural diet as possible. Although there is the idea that cats evolved to tolerate more carbs due to domesticity, first and foremost cats are carnivores and need meat. Carbs are okay in small quantities - the fiber actually helps with digestion in my experience. But cats don't need much of it, so this might be something you would have to experiment with. The thing is, if you feed only meat, it might take the cat two or more days before it feels the need to defecate / frequency might be bordering on constipation. Meat is what cats can utilize best, there is very little that is left. However, I prefer if my cats produce some output every day (their GI tract is short and most of my cats have pooped daily - I feel like this frequency allows me to monitor behavioral/digestion related changes closely).

When I make cat food I aim for no more than 5 % carbs and use grated carrots, pumpkin or zucchini. (While cats tolerate other veg, I avoid gas causing veg like peas etc.. I also never add cereals, pasta, rice, potatoes or other starchy foods and never add fruit – simply too much sugar. This is especially important for cats with elevated glucose levels. You might check out other fiber sources like Psyllium seeds or guar gum). Whatever recipe I have in front of me I think about the proportions of a mouse or a bird. Most is muscle meat, lots is bones, only a bit are innards, and even less is carbs (stomach and gut contents). Try to replicate that with meat and supplements. Most meat can be used and is safe for cats, only pork should be avoided due to tapeworms. So chicken, quail, turkey, duck, lamb, beef, veal, rabbit and other game meat are okay. Innards are a bit trickier, they are tempting because they are so cheap at the grocery store, but innards are nutritionally incomplete and can even be dangerous if fed excessively – especially liver!

I feed raw, but it is also fine to lightly sauté or cook the meat if you feel weird about handling raw meat so often. Personally, my cats are not big on fish (other than canned tuna in water brine) but yours might enjoy some salmon or other fresh fish. Because I never use fish in my self-made food, I add fish oil (regular capsules for human consumption). Taurine is by far not the only thing that needs to be added to home made cat food. There are supplement powders that can be added – I have mixed feeling about this. There is no super exact science regarding cat nutrition – hardly any ingredients list and percentage of those supplement powders matches another. Plus, some supplements are fine when fresh, but change smell and taste once frozen. I tend to make a big batch and freeze individual portions, so I have to be sure my cats like the food after it has thawed. Your cat might be less sensitive to that though.

So supplements.
I already mentioned taurine and fish oil. I also add a bunch of other things to prevent dietary deficiencies: Vitamin A, B-complex, D3, E, calcium (if there are no bones), copper, iron, iodine, manganese and zinc. You don’t have to add those substances separately, like already mentioned, there are supplement powders that you just mix in with the recipe. Alternatively, you can check which foods contain what nutrients and tinker with the recipe to hit everything. I have an Excel spreadsheet that calculates the amounts for me (so I type in the kind and amount of meat I have and it calculates which nutrients are missing).

Looks complicated? Yeah, it sort of is. That’s why I changed up my system. Commercial food tends to be rather nutrient rich, so if I feed 50 % homemade food and 50 % commercial food (max. 10% dry, for those occasional long days out or when sleeping in is preferred, 40 + % wet), I don’t need to add those supplements and veg to the meat and the cats still get everything they need. So nowadays I make sure to use all kinds of meat (nutrients differ depending on type of meat) and mostly just roughly chop up some meat and feed that. Then I feed canned food (also different brands and flavors in rotation) the same day. Additionally, I read every single label on commercial cat food (there are even differences between flavors of the same brand. And formulas can always change) and only buy stuff that is high in protein, has no sugar and no grains. If you want to give the homemade food a go, I feel like Dr. Lisa Pierson (as mentioned above via the catinfo links) has a good grip on diet for diabetic cats and her recommended recipe is sound.

It really is possible to improve the health of a diabetic cat with a changed diet. Here is a paper on that topic:Comparison of a low carbohydrate-low fiber diet and a moderate carbohydrate-high fiber diet in the management of feline diabetes mellitus and here is another Feline diabetes mellitus: low carbohydrates versus high fiber?

Okay, there’s so much more I could say and I’m sure I forgot some important facts, but I’m tired of typing and want to go cuddle with a cat. If you have any questions, I am happy to answer.
The bottom line is:
- only wet food is good food
- mostly high quality muscle meat
- no grains, starchy carbs and no sugar
posted by travelwithcats at 6:13 PM on June 27, 2014 [7 favorites]

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