catYou may have heard about the “raw diet” for humans, but did you also know that there is also a raw diet for cats? The guiding principle behind raw food for cats is that it more closely resembles the diet that your kitty would eat in the wild. However, like all cat foods, it has its advantages and disadvantages. Here’s what you need to know about raw cat food.

How is it different from other cat foods?

Traditionally, the ingredients in canned and kibble foods for cats have been cooked. This causes some loss of nutrients, which are then added back in order to meet AAFCO standards. Any cat food that doesn’t meet these standards is usually labeled for supplemental feeding only.

Therefore, the largest difference is that the ingredients are kept in their raw state. However, since most of these foods must be processed frozen, freeze-dried, or ground, they also suffer from nutrient degradation. Just like other wet and dry foods, they must be supplemented with certain nutrients in order to be a complete and healthful meal for your cat.

What is raw cat food made out of?

There are a large variety of raw cat foods. The kind of you see in the pet store are usually kept in the refrigerator to stay frozen. The main ingredients in these foods are typically the same as you’d see in other cat food, such as chicken, duck, turkey, pork, beef, venison, and fish. Similar raw foods come freeze-dried to keep them shelf stable.

Additionally, the term “raw cat food” can be used to describe feeding your cat whole meats. Under supervision, cats can eat certain raw meaty bones, such as chicken backs and goose necks. This is because in their uncooked form, small bones are edible for cats and are quite nutritious. Some pet parents also give their cats whole prey food, such as whole day old chicks and mice. Likewise, specialty shops and butchers can sell hearts, gizzards, livers, and heads that cats can eat.

What are the risks?

One of the biggests risks of feeding a raw diet to your cat is nutritional imbalance. While the raw cat food that is available at the pet store is usually supplemented to be a balanced diet, some pet parents choose to make their raw cat food at home. The appeal is that it can be made from meats that you don’t usually see in commercial cat foods, such as mouse, pheasant, bison, goat, and alpaca. The drawback is that these foods must be supplemented by the pet parent. Sometimes, the information available on how to do this is rather unclear, inconsistent, or difficult to find.

The second biggest drawback comes from improper food handling. Just like raw meat for humans, raw cat food carries the risk of certain pathogens that can make cats and people sick. As predators, cats have evolved with a digestive system that can handle most of the bacteria in their raw prey, but food that hasn’t been stored or handled properly can carry an increased risk for immune deficient cats and people. Safe food handling practices are a must for raw cat food.

What are the benefits?

Unfortunately, the jury is still out on whether or not raw cat foods are better than traditional wet or dry foods. That’s because there have been no peer reviewed, long term studies published on that subject. However, anecdotal evidence from pet parents claim overall improvements in their cats health, particularly oral and gastrointestinal health. According to the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, “Typically raw meats (but not other uncooked foods like grains or starches) are slightly more digestible than cooked meat.” When in doubt, always speak with your vet about the best diet for your cat.

Candace Elise Hoes is a pet sitter and blogger at Katie’s Kitty. She is a graduate of the MFA Writing Program at California College of the Arts.

Photo by alsen on Pixabay.