Feeding My Cats Homemade Raw Meat Diet - Good Idea?
June 11, 2008 6:50 AM   Subscribe

I want to make my own homemade, raw meat (chicken and rabbit) cat food. My girlfriend thinks it's a bad idea. Almost everything I can find on the interwebs suggest that feeding a cat a BARF (biologically appropriate raw food) diet is healthy for the cat. This wiki suggests that there is no scientific evidence pointing to a clear resolution - in the references section there are some vets arguing one way or the other, but nothing concrete. Has anyone been there, done that, or have any other advice?

Following the advice and instructions of this vet, I'd like to grind up whole pieces of chicken, add the necessary supplements, and feed that mixture to my cats as a supplement to their dry food.

Girlfriend is pragmatic and a Ph.D. student in the sciences and is demanding solid research to support this idea. There is no solid research, so far as I can tell, but there are a lot of supplemental anecdotes by random people on the internet that swear by this diet. Also, online companies selling people raw food to feed to their cats.

I would love any suggestions people have of other, better recipes; advice on how to make homemade cat food; and ideas to convince the g/f to feed the kitties my super awesome Billysumday's special all-natural feline delite raw food diet.
posted by billysumday to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know about this topic in particular but "there is no evidence that..." could mean two different things. It might mean that studies have been done and failed to find any benefit, or it might mean that large-scale studies have not been done.
posted by winston at 7:14 AM on June 11, 2008

I considered this for my dogs, but I ultimately decided against it. Dogs are supposedly less susceptible to ecoli and salmonella because of their short intestinal tracts, but the risk of infection - both for the humans and pets in our house - was still too high for me. Also, many advocates of BARF say some pretty dubious things, like dogs used to live a lot longer than they do now, and that dogs are "meant" to eat raw meat like wolves are. I've read more convincing evidence that dogs have been living with humans for long enough that they are actually better adapted to cooked food. I don't know if the same is true for cats. Have you considered feeding your cat a cooked homemade diet? That might be a good compromise, assuming you take care to make it nutritionally complete. There is something strange about feeding dogs an exclusively dry diet their whole lives.

I know several people who feed their dogs raw and swear by it. And I do occasionally give my dogs raw marrow bones with thick walls, because they love them and they are good for their teeth. You could try raw, keeping a very close eye on your cat (and asking your vet, of course) and see how it goes. Also keep in mind that you need to be careful to provide the right vitamins and minerals - these are added to commercial dog food and should either be naturally available in your homemade diet or added.

In the end, your cat may make the decision for you. I offered raw food to one of my dogs once. She wouldn't touch it, and looked at me as if to say "Did you know this isn't cooked?"
posted by walla at 7:18 AM on June 11, 2008

Where I'm living, good meat (lamb, chicken, beef, etc.) is expensive, but my kitty lives almost entirely on chicken livers and is doing great. She's got thick, glossy fur, is way soft, and her eyes are nice and bright. I've noticed that her "litterbox leavings" aren't as frequent or as stinky as those from my "at-home" cats, who only want to live on kibble.

If you do decide to do it, see if you can find some of the pre-made frozen stuff first; I know I used to see this at Whole Foods back when I lived in San Francisco. In my experience, cats who have grown accustomed to eating kibble and other bulk/packaged foods react much the way walla's dog did; they'd occasionally grab a nip of raw chicken or beef, but if I tried to feed them a dish of non-kibble they'd just look at me with that "you expect me to eat this?" face. Current kitty I grabbed off the street when she was a baby, so she doesn't turn up her nose at raw organ meat :)
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 7:28 AM on June 11, 2008

I know if my cats were fed BARF, that's what i'd get a lot of: barf. All over the floor and on the furniture.

whenever my mother-in-law comes to visit she feeds are cats raw stuff and we spend the next 3 days cleaning up cat vomit.
posted by jrishel at 7:32 AM on June 11, 2008

are = our, doh.
posted by jrishel at 7:35 AM on June 11, 2008

In terms of convincing her, you could try asking her for evidence that suggests that factory packaged kibble that in no way resembles the sort of foods that cats will hunt for themselves is healthier for them (barring them accidentally eating a rabid bat or something). I mean, the need for evidence works both ways, right?
posted by jacquilynne at 7:50 AM on June 11, 2008

The problem with jacquilynne's argument is that there is good evidence that factory packaged food is healthy for them (based on a sample size of almost all the pet cats for many decades). So, even though there's a chance that raw might be better, there's also a chance that it's not just worse but a bad idea.
posted by winston at 8:18 AM on June 11, 2008

The cats back on our farm killed and ate rabbits, with no ill effects-- except for a very surprised look on my face when I first came across one :)
posted by Static Vagabond at 8:34 AM on June 11, 2008

I have both dogs and cats. The dogs have been fed prey model (often referred to as "raw") for more than two years now. It has been the best thing I've ever done for them, full stop. The cats are not fed prey model because two of the four are stubborn canned/dry food eatin' mofos who won't give them up for anything. (It may be time to attempt transitioning them again, though.) So I can only really speak to feeding dogs this diet, which may or may not be helpful. Feel free to MeFiMail me if you are interested in any details I may be able to offer.
RawFedCats.org and the Raw Cat yahoo group may be better resources for you, however.
posted by hecho de la basura at 8:51 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have no cat experience, but all four of my dogs have been on a raw diet since puppyhood. The vet constantly tells me how great they look, clean white teeth, beautiful coat, etc.
posted by moosedogtoo at 9:06 AM on June 11, 2008

I'm not a cat person, but there must somewhere be a site like this excellent one for dogs, which rates foods for nutrition.

After determining that we were are unable to buy any one of the 24 top rated, six-star dog foods on that list anywhere in Ireland, we opted to feed raw. Our vets routinely tell us our dog is in phenomenal shape and then recoil in horror when told she is fed raw. They will then go on to recommend one of the three star dog foods listed, telling us it's a premium, well balanced dog food. It isn't.

Unless you can find a holistic vet (which, frankly I could never be arsed to do; I'm not a very woo-woo person) you will be unlikely to find real veterinary support and approval for a BARF diet. We don't care; we're confident in the way we feed our dog and it really isn't up for discussion.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:15 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Anecdotally: My mom feeds her dog and cats a raw food diet with the support of both her regular vet and her holistic vet. (Yes, she has both. She's en route to becoming a crazy pet lady). They've been on it for years with no ill health effects, and possibly good ones, although of course there's no real way to correlate the uptick in their health with the raw food diet as opposed to any of the other jillion things going on in their lives.

Also, while it sounds like your girlfriend's concerns are mostly scientific, could another issue be the sheer amount of time/effort involved in preparing the raw food? If so, here's sort of a mid-step between commercial food and full-on homemade food. It's a supplement powder that you mix with raw ground meat and water, and maybe some liver powder, and you've got a complete cat diet. I've had one of my cats on it for about two years, after her health issues got so bad that she could not eat anything but baby food. She is crazy for it and has gotten so much healthier on it that my vet is completely astonished every time she sees her. And it's a lot less trouble to make than a completely raw diet.

You could consider that product or something like it as an intermediate step toward raw food.
posted by Stacey at 3:34 PM on June 11, 2008

Why not start with a commercially-prepared frozen raw food? There are many available, they are properly prepared and properly balanced, and are very easy to manage, they also remove most of the "ick" and "ew, salmonella!" aspects of raw feeding (which is NOT to say that you do not need to still wash hands and bowls, etc.).

There is no evidence that raw feeding is better than good-quality commercial kibble (just as there is no evidence that good-quality commercial kibble is better than the cheapest crap you can buy at the grocery store), to my knowledge there have been no long-term studies on it at all, only commercial prescription diets have been studied much, as far as I know (and some of them have ingredients that are the worst possible cheapo crap you can get). It's really a matter of what works for you and what works for your cat. Certainly, there have been cases of cats (and dogs) who have become ill, sometimes seriously, sometimes fatally, from eating raw food, there are also similar cases of pets who have become ill, sometimes seriously, sometimes fatally, from eating commercial kibble or canned food.

There are many raw feeding advocates who employ faulty logic or magical thinking, who think that raw food is a panacea and kibble is the tool of the devil. These people are idiots and/or crazy. Raw food works very well for some pets, not well at all for others, just like every other type of food.

You could start by supplementing a good-quality commercial kibble with prepared frozen raw or home-prepared (I do this with my dogs a lot of the time), or you could just switch up your cats' kibble to something better, like Evo, Wellness Core, or any of the other grain-free, raw-comparable kibbles which are available now. I believe strongly in rotating foods, no matter what I am feeding, and I think this holds true whether you feed commercial kibble or home-made raw, variety is healthy for most animals, and it can help you make sure your pet is getting what it needs over time.
posted by biscotti at 4:41 PM on June 11, 2008

In nature, cats eat all manner of raw meat. That's good enough for me.
posted by gjc at 5:38 PM on June 11, 2008

Here's a home-cooked (not raw) diet created by a real vet at a state-of-the-art animal hospital (both cat and dog recipes are available).

I feed my dog mostly high-quality kibble, but I'm starting to transition to a diet like this.
posted by nev at 6:46 PM on June 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I switched my cat to raw food at the age of 12. A natural food supermarket in my area grinds chicken or turkey muscle meat with necks and backs. I supplemented it with salmon oil.

He loved it the first time he got it. I noticed an immediate improvement in his coat and weight. He also seemed less greedy for food. I fed it to him until he started having trouble chewing it with his old teeth, then switched to canned.

As to concerns about E. coli etc.: the sources I read said that cats' digestive systems are short and highly acidic, which protects them against food poisoning. I didn't leave the food out for hours, either. I would generally leave it down for an hour or so, then pick it up and rinse out the bowl. Otherwise the leftovers got kind of disgusting.

Whether there's evidence or no, feeding obligate carnivores like cats a grain-based diet like kibble makes no sense when you think about it. No wonder so many cats get fat and diabetic.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:01 PM on June 11, 2008

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