Cats, like dogs, are carnivores. However, there are some significant differences between cats and dogs that I would like to discuss.
First, cats must eat fresh food. Cats do not have the metabolic means to digest "ripe" food and get rid of any toxic byproducts; instead, they have evolved very specific taste and scent capabilities that would prevent them from eating anything that is not fresh. This, in part, is what accounts for the "pickiness" of cats. They are evolutionarily picky for good reason. When feeding a raw diet, this means that all of the cat's food must be fresh. Of course, it can be frozen first and then defrosted, but cats should not be fed any 'old' meat—save that for the dogs.
Second, it is strongly recommended that cats eat every day. It is not wise to fast a cat for more than 24 hours, and especially if the cat is overweight! Due to their unique metabolism, cats can suffer from 'hepatic lipidosis' if they do not receive adequate amounts of food. Thus, when switching a cat to a raw diet, one must be very careful that the cat eats something every day—even if that means mixing commercial food in with the raw food so the cat eats. For more information about hepatic lipidosis, please click here. The Mar Vista Vet site is purely informational and is not endorsed in any way by Rawfed.com.
Third, cats do not have the capability to create
taurine from methionine and cysteine, like dogs do. This means that a
cat must ingest sufficient taurine in order to meet its taurine
requirements. The excellent news is that taurine is found in virtually
all meats, especially beef heart. By feeding a cat a raw diet, the cat
should receive the best, most bioavailable form of taurine via its
food. There is one proviso: do not grind the food. Grinding increases
the surface area of the meat and thus exposes more of the "good stuff"
to the air. This results in oxidation of taurine and a resultant
decrease in overall taurine available to the cat. Additionally,
grinding creates the perfect environment for bacteria growth, and
bacteria also utilize the taurine in the meat, thereby further
decreasing the total amount of taurine available to your cat. Thus, if
you feed your cat a ground raw diet, it may not receive all the taurine
it needs to thrive, as is the case with a group of kittens fed whole,
ground raw rabbit in this study.
If you regularly feed ground raw to your cat (which I do not recommend
unless your cat absolutely will not or cannot eat bones), then it is
advisable that you supplement with taurine using either fresh beef
heart (unground) or a commercial taurine supplement.
FEEDING CATS RAW MEATY BONES
So how does one feed a cat a raw diet? Cats can eat the same raw foods a dog can eat, just in smaller portions and always fresh. They can eat game hens, chicken, quail, lamb, beef, pork, turkey, duck, fish, goat, venison, rabbit, mice, rats, eggs, and various organ meats. As with feeding dogs, you should try and re-create the whole prey your cat would be eating in the wild. If your cat is an avid hunter, then you may only just be supplementing with raw food occasionally. Some cats do not eat meat from animals that typically are not their prey, which may rule out beef, lamb, venison, and the like. However, this does not mean these meats should not be tried. On the contrary—some cats 'change their minds' about certain meats once they start eating fresh raw food. The trick is to keep offering it in various ways, even if that means mincing some of the beef in with some fish. Plus, since beef liver and beef heart (and kidney) are excellent sources of nutrients, I feel it is important that the cat learn to eat this. My own cat ate organs from cows before she would actually eat the meat from cows.
When you feed your cat, make sure the food is a) fresh, and b) warm. Most cats cannot tolerate frozen or cold food. The easiest way to defrost or warm up raw meaty bones is to place it in a ziploc bag and let it sit in a bowl of tepid/warm water for 10 minutes. Do not make the water so hot that it actually "cooks" the outside of the meat! NEVER put a raw meaty bone into the microwave to defrost it! I cannot emphasize this enough—NEVER PUT A RAW MEATY BONE IN THE MICROWAVE. Microwaves cook from the inside out, and will cook the bone while the rest of the meat is still cool to the touch. The cooked bone will then be brittle and splintery.
The easiest method I have found for preparing a cat's
food is to remove it from the freezer the previous night, let it sit
and defrost in the fridge overnight, and then warm it up in a bowl of
warm water before feeding. You may have to swap out the water in the
bowl a few times if the raw meaty bone is really frozen, but that is
easy to do. Just let the bowl and raw meaty bone sit next to or in the
sink and leave it for fifteen minutes while you go do something else.
Be advised, though, that some cats (like mine!) can be very impatient
and will jump up onto the sink, grab the ziploc bag, drag it to the
floor and rip it open to get to the meat inside.
AMOUNT AND FREQUENCY
Feed kittens several small meals over the course of the day. As the kitten matures, phase the food into two meals per day. You can either continue feeding your cat two meals a day, or switch it over to one meal per day. It depends on your cat and your preference. I alternate between feeding once a day and feeding twice a day; it depends on what I have available for the cat. Some days she will get a little beef heart and beef liver for breakfast, and then for dinner she will have her raw meaty bone. Most days, however, I just feed her in the evening.
Feed cats about 2-3% of their body weight. Since most cats are fairly small creatures compared to dogs, this may be 1/4-lb or less. I tend to think of my cat's food in terms of overall size—how much can she put into her little belly at a feeding? For my cat, the most she will get over the course of the day is one cornish game hen breast half with an attached wing. This is about an inch longer than my palm, and is enough to make her belly completely full and even a little distended. She will eat most of it in one sitting, and will then come back for the rest within the hour. I do not feed her this amount every day; after eating this much food she receives a smaller meal the next day—maybe a game hen leg-thigh, or a meal of beef heart and liver.
The best thing to do is to monitor your cat's body
shape and weight. If the cat starts looking a little too lean and
ribby, then up the amount of food. If the cat is looking too fat, then
decrease the amount of food. You will quickly gain an understanding of
just how much your cat needs to eat. Some cats will help you with this,
as they will only eat as much as they need at one sitting and will
leave any extra. If you have a cat like this, then great! Let the cat
tell you when it is full. If you have a glutton of a cat, then you will
have to monitor its intake.
WHERE TO FEED, AND OTHER LOGISTICS
You can feed your cat anywhere you like. You can feed in the kitchen, on top of the washer, in the bathroom, on the carpet, etc. You can feed the cat in a bowl, although my cat drags her raw meaty bone out of the bowl to eat it. My personal preference is to feed on a plastic placemat. The cat can then drag her food out of the bowl and eat it off the placemat. This keeps the floor from getting dirty (until she drags it off the placement...) and makes her meal place an easy spot to keep clean. The bowl is still useful to me; I use it to mix up an egg for her or to feed a little bit of canned fish every now and then. Sometimes my cat will use the bowl to her advantage when eating an awkward raw meaty bone. She will pull her food half-out of the bowl so that part of the raw meaty bone sticks up in the air, making it easy for her to eat it. Basically, where you feed, what you feed out of, and what you feed on are up to you and your cat.
Keep a dish of water handy for the cat. You will
probably notice that the cat drinks much less water than before; this
is normal, as the raw food contains much more water than dry food.
Also, cats evolved in an arid environment and usually do not drink a
whole lot of water. Nevertheless, keep a dish of water out and keep it
clean. Change the water daily for the cat.
SWITCHING CATS TO A RAW DIET
I highly recommend that anyone wishing to feed their cat a raw diet join the Yahoo! RawCat group. Be sure to also visit RawfedCats.org for some great information on feeding cats a raw diet.
Some cats can be notoriously hard to switch due to their picky nature and due to the extreme addictiveness of many commercial pet foods. Some older cats will choose commercial foods over raw food any day, even after being fed a raw diet for a while. They are considered "pet food junkies", if you will. They are addicted to the carbohydrates and additives, and after eating it for so long their bodies respond automatically to anything that smells like or resembles commercial food.
Kittens typically are much easier to switch than older cats. To switch a kitten, simply offer it a piece of boneless meat, such as chicken breast. Make sure the meat is slightly warmer than room temperature. Leave the food down for a while (although not more than an hour or so) so the kitten has a chance to investigate it, play with it, taste it, and then hopefully eat it. If the kitten will not eat the meat and you know it is hungry, try drizzling a little tuna juice over it. Most kittens will taste the food immediately and then eat it quickly.
Feed boneless meats for a few meals so the kitten gets used to eating the raw food. Then add an easy bone like a bone-in game hen breast half. The bottom portion of the bone is very flexible and should be readily edible. The upper portion of the bone is fairly hard and the kitten may not eat it, but at least it will experience the texture of bone. If the breast is very meaty, cut off a portion of the meat to feed for later so that the kitten does not fill up on meat and not get to the bone. If the kitten is very tiny you can try feeding a game hen wing; once the kitten has learned how to chew the bones, though, I would strongly recommend feeding the wing attached to a game hen breast so the kitten does not become "too bold" and tries to swallow the wing whole (I know this from experience!!). You can also try feeding chicken necks or wings as raw meaty bones for a kitten. The kitten may not be able to eat much of it and will thus need some supplemental 'meaty meals', but it should quickly get the hang of chomping on bones. Before you know it, your kitten will be disposing of raw meaty bones with ease! When this occurs, then you should feed pieces large enough for the kitten to really work at its meal.
Once the kitten is accustomed to eating raw food, be sure to start introducing organ meat. You can try feeding a little liver or heart by itself first; if the kitten refuses, drizzle it with tuna juice. If the kitten still refuses, then chop up the liver or heart and mix it up with a tiny amount of canned tuna. The kitten should readily eat this concoction. Over time, decrease the amount of tuna and increase the size of the organ meat chunks until the kitten can eat organ meat by itself. Your kitten may surprise you, too, and start liking organ meat all by itself. My cat went from hating liver and eating it only if it was disguised to eating it on its own by herself in the course of one day. This same pattern occurred when new meats were introduced.
Start introducing a variety of meats over the course of time so that your kitten becomes accustomed to variety. Cats seem to tolerate initial variety better than many dogs, although too many organ meats can make their stools a little loose. If you have been feeding chicken, introduce a little turkey breast or ground turkey (although phase out the ground meat if you can). Try some other organ meats like chicken hearts, chicken liver, beef heart, beef liver, beef kidney (choose one and introduce each one slowly and individually). Try pork meat next, and then maybe some beef or lamb (my cat has finally begun to eat lamb, although she will readily attack a beef rib that is as long as she is!). If you can get rabbit for a decent price, then try that too. You can always introduce new meats in their ground form first (and sometimes that is one of the only ways people can afford rabbit or venison), but try to move away from ground meat as quickly as possible. If you are feeling brave, you can try feeding whole mice or fur-on rabbit to your cat.
Switching older cats can be troublesome depending on the cat and how long it has been eating commercial food. There are several things you can try.
First, if your cat is a free-choice feeder, break that habit now. Have your cat eat two meals a day by offering food at specified times for only 15 minutes each time. Start with three times a day and then cut back to two. A cat on a regular schedule should be easier to switch.
See if your cat will eat little bits of raw chicken breast as a treat. If he does, this may indicate that you can just switch him 'cold turkey'—commercial food one day, raw chicken the next. If your cat goes for this, then great! Switch him in a similar manner as the kitten.
If your cat will eat pieces of raw meat as a treat but not as a meal, you may have to start feeding him one "meal" of raw meat treats and then one meal of commercial food later. As his taste and tolerance for raw food grows, increase the amount of raw meat he eats and decrease the amount of commercial food. Soon, just feed him raw meat at each meal, and then progress with feeding more raw foods in the manner detailed above for the kitten. Get that commercial food out of the house and away from his sense of smell as soon as possible, though. You can keep a can or two of tuna or salmon or mackeral on hand just in case he decides to 'go off' raw food; this way you can feed him something yummy while mixing raw food back into his diet. If he goes off raw food and does not have any other reason for doing so (i.e., is not sick, etc.), try cutting back to one meal per day. If he does not want the raw food the next time it is offered, try drizzling it with tuna juice. If he still does not want it, you may have to mix it up with a little tuna. If he still does not wish to eat and it has been 24 hours since his last meal, you may have to go buy a can of 'good quality' canned cat food, just so he will eat something. Mix the raw meat into it, though, so he is still receiving the texture and nutrition of the fresh food. Try to get him back on raw food as soon as possible. Sometimes all that is needed is a new protein source, too. The cat may tire of chicken and want something different. Thus, you could try a little pork meat to see if he eats it before purchasing canned cat food (think of the commercial food as a last resort).
What if your cat does not eat the raw meat at all? First, switch your cat to wet, canned food. Start by mixing a little of it in with his dry food, and then decrease the amount of dry food until the cat is eating only wet food. Then start mixing the wet food with raw food. Mix in some cut-up chicken breast, and slowly increase the amount of raw food until the cat will just eat the raw chicken. Then increase the size of the chunks so that the cat is finally eating a whole piece of raw chicken. After this point, begin branching out slowly to other cuts of chicken and maybe another protein like pork, and introduce a raw meaty bone. You can try hitting the raw meaty bone with a hammer to help break up some of the bones first—this may make it a little easier for the cat. Just be careful that the raw meaty bone does not go shooting off the counter onto the floor.
Some cats vehemently refuse bones. Bones are an absolutely necessary part of a raw diet, as they provide the necessary calcium and trace minerals as well as necessary teeth-cleaning effects. Bone meal and ground up egg shells just do not fully fill the role of bone in a raw diet; they can do in a pinch for a short time, but they should not be used long-term. Thus, it is important for a cat to learn how to chew bones—the whole prey for the whole animal! Always check their mouths first to make sure there are no damaged or sensitive teeth resulting from their previous diet. Then, join the RawCat list if you have not joined already. The RawCat list is a place for people to ask questions and receive input, and the people there can offer many more suggestions than I!
Some people use pre-made, ground raw diets to switch their cats to raw food. I personally am not a fan of ground raw diets, for reasons already mentioned about taurine, and for reasons listed on the Ground Raw myth page. However, I understand that for some it can be an important stepping stone to a species appropriate raw diet. If you choose to use a ground raw diet for switching your cat, I strongly encourage you to begin feeding whole pieces of meat and raw meaty bones as soon as possible. Cats can and do become 'addicted' to pre-made raw diets and will not try anything else outside of them. Unfortunately, these diets do nothing for helping keep their teeth clean. Additionally, many of the pre-made diets contain vegetables; vegetables are COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY for cats. Cats are 'obligate carnivores', meaning they MUST eat other animals to survive. They do not consume nor need plant matter. Everything they could possibly need is found in the flesh, bone, and organs of their prey.