Some cat owners are turning to raw diets as an alternative to commercial pet foods, but is a raw diet truly the ideal diet for felines? Once you know about the pros and cons of feeding raw meat and other foods, you can make an informed decision about what's best for your pet.
The Typical Raw Diet
While conventional cat food is cooked completely, raw cat food is exactly what the name implies. It's a mixture of meat, ground bones, organ meats, and other food that is not cooked. Once the food is ground and mixed together, it's usually freeze dried or frozen to keep it fresh until it is fed to the cat.
Poultry and rabbit meat are typically used in a raw diet. That's because these meats are similar to the meats a feral cat would catch and eat.
Arguments in Favor of Raw Diets for Cats
Some cat owners and even some veterinarians, according to the Canadian Veterinary Journal, fully support feeding raw diets to pets, and there appear to be some valid reasons for their position. It all boils down to understanding natural feeding behavior for the feline species.
A Natural Diet for a Cat's Digestive System
According to the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals, cats were designed to catch and eat their prey. This is why proponents of raw food diets believe that feeding a cat a diet similar to what he would naturally eat in the wild allows his digestive system to function the way it was designed to.
Wild cats that must catch their food typically eat the muscle meat, organs, some bones, and even the stomach contents of what they catch. A raw food diet is as close as cat owners can get to feeding their pets what they were designed to eat without actually feeding them live prey.
Raw Meat Retains More Nutrients
Raw cat foods retain the enzymes, vitamins, and other nutrients that are present in the body of the prey animal. In fact, a study by Dr. Francis M. Pottenger, Jr., described at the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Institute, showed that cats on a raw food diet were much healthier than cats that were not fed raw food.
Pottengers's Study of Raw vs. Cooked Diets
Dr. Pottenger studied over 900 cats over a period of ten years. The cats were divided; one group was fed raw meats and milk, while the other group was fed cooked meat and heat-processed milk.
The cats that were consistently fed the raw and non-pasteurized foods remained healthier over generations than the group that ate only cooked foods. Each generation that lived on the cooked food diet became less healthy and showed an increase in cases of hypothyroidism, skin diseases, bone problems and more. By the fourth generation, that group of cats suffered and died rapidly from many of the same diseases that humans suffer.
Arguments Against Feeding Cats Raw Meat
Despite the claims of people in favor of raw diets, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) took a position in 2011 that discourages owners from feeding raw diets. That position is shared by the American Association of Feline Practitioners and the American Veterinary Medical Association, among others.
Dangers Associated With Handling and Consuming Raw Meat
According to the AAHA, the main concern is about the disease-causing organisms associated with raw meat. Dangerous microbes like E.coli and salmonella are often present in raw meat. The cooking process kills the bacteria and keeps them from making a cat sick. When feeding a cat a totally raw diet, these types of organisms can still be present and could possibly make cats sick, especially kittens, elderly cats, and cats that already suffer from other diseases.
Other concerns include the facts that:
- Anyone who prepares raw food runs the risk of contracting an illness from it.
- Cats, and even dogs, may shed pathogens from the raw food in their stools. These disease-causing organisms may inadvertently be tracked around the house, and house members may come in contact with them.
- Therapy program cats that eat raw diets could pass along pathogens to the people they come in contact with, such as seniors in assisted living facilities and children who receive animal therapy as part of a treatment plan.
Tips to Reduce the Risks Associated With Raw Diets
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers a full list of tips that will help you reduce the chance of contracting a food borne illness from handling your cat's raw food. Tip highlights include:
- Wash you hands thoroughly after handling raw food.
- Clean and disinfect all food preparation surfaces and utensils after preparing the food.
- Keep raw food separate from your other food, and freeze all prepared raw diets to keep them fresh until it's time to use them.
- Refrigerate or discard uneaten portions as soon as your pet finishes eating.
- Avoid letting your pet lick you on the mouth or hands, especially just after he eats.
Discuss a Raw Diet With Your Cat's Vet
If you're still undecided about feeding your cat a raw diet, the best thing you can do is discuss the idea of raw food with your veterinarian before you attempt to put this type of diet into practice. The vet should be able to answer your questions and help you to make the right decision for both you and your pet.