Greetings crazy cats! Skye Blake here… diggin’ into the controversial topic of raw cat food. Come join me!
Raw cat food is becoming more interesting to people as a possible way to keep their kitties healthy through their entire lifetime.
But is it the best nutrition or a dangerous fad? Let’s find out…
The information here is for general knowledge… always see your vet with questions about your cat’s individual needs.
- Who Is Skye Blake?
- Who Should You Believe About Nutrition?
- What Is a Raw Cat Food Diet?
- The Raw Feeding Lifestyle
- What to Consider
- How Did Raw Diets Start?
- The Raw Food Mentality
- How People View Cat Food
- Types of Raw Cat Food
- USDA Food Quality Labels
- Why Many Veterinarians Don't Like Raw Diets
- Raw Feeding Veterinarians
- Can I Give Raw Food to Kittens?
- Deciding About Raw Diets
- List of Sources
Who Is Skye Blake?
Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a veterinarian) who sniffs out expert, reliable sources about cats, studies their information, then passes it on to you!
Sometimes there’s not enough evidence for easy answers, so Skye gives you all sides, explains the situation as thoroughly and clearly as possible, and links you to experts on each page.
All sources are at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping.
Who Should You Believe About Nutrition?
The first question you need to answer is “Who can I believe about nutrition and cat food?”
That’s a good question considering how many “experts” are out there on the internet.
Anyone can call themselves a pet nutritionist and even become certified.
But how do we know if their knowledge is complete and there aren’t dangerous gaps that can lead to nutritional deficiencies?
Board-Certified Veterinary Nutritionists
After snooping around a long time, I finally discovered that the most reliable starting point is with veterinarians, especially board-certified veterinary nutritionists.
Board-certified veterinary nutritionists are specialists who have the most well-rounded understanding of nutrition due to their extensive years of in-depth study.
You can find them at American College of Veterinary Nutrition | ACVN.
There are also qualified vet nutritionists who haven’t taken the board tests but have the knowledge to help with your cat’s dietary needs.
Your vet is your partner in keeping your cat healthy so that relationship is key when dealing with nutrition, especially when trying to create your own meals, raw or cooked.
Your veterinarian can recommend nutritionists for specific medical situations or if you want more help with your cat’s diet.
A nutritionist will need to know your cat’s medical conditions in order to develop an appropriate diet.
They work with both you and your vet as a team to monitor your cat’s health over time.
Some vet nutritionists are willing to discuss raw diets, review your cat’s medical condition, and develop a specific diet.
Who will you trust most with your cat’s health?
Read “What’s a Veterinary Nutritionist?” for more info about vet nutritionists.
Mistrust of Veterinarians
Among promoters of raw diets there’s often an attitude that they know better than vets.
But do they really?
“Recent survey work comparing attitudes between RMBD- and conventional-feeding pet owners supports the idea that RMBD-feeding owners are less engaged with health specialists (Morgan et al. 2017).”1 Raw diets for dogs and cats: a review, with particular reference to microbiological hazards – Davies – 2019 – Journal of Small Animal Practice – Wiley Online Library
They may study and have in-depth knowledge of various parts of nutrition and feeding raw diets.
But they don’t have the years of specialized training and thorough study that veterinary nutritionists have.
See more about this at “Big Cat Food Paying Off Vets & Other Myths“
What Is a Raw Cat Food Diet?
So, what is a raw cat food diet?
“Raw meat-based diets (RMBDs), sometimes marketed as “Biologically Appropriate Raw Food” or “Bones and Raw Food” (BARF) diets, include uncooked ingredients from either livestock or wild animals and may be home-prepared or commercial, with the latter being supplied as fresh, frozen or freeze-dried complete diets or as premixes intended to be complemented by raw meat (Freeman et al. 2013). 2 “Raw diets for dogs and cats: a review, with particular reference to microbiological hazards” by R.H. Davies, J.R. Lawes, A.D. Wales – Journal of Small Animal Practice, Wiley Online Library, April 26, 2019
The Raw Feeding Lifestyle
Feeding your cat a raw diet is like jumping into the deep end of the pool, don’t do it if you can’t swim!
Raw do-it-yourself feeding isn’t just a way of giving your cat food, it’s a lifestyle.
You have to be realistic, for your cat’s sake, about your ability to deal with the demands of time, knowledge, money, and stress that come with the responsibility of constantly creating a complete and balanced diet.
Frankly, it just isn’t realistic for most people.
Having said that, feeding raw isn’t something to be afraid of if you educate yourself, plan, and properly prepare the food.
But if you decide dealing with raw food isn’t for you, that’s ok because doing it wrong can seriously harm your cat!
Since there are plenty of complete and balanced foods available you don’t need to feel guilty about whatever you choose.
What to Consider
When deciding if feeding a raw diet is right for you, there are serious things to consider…
Nutrition is Complex
Food ingredients are simply a way of getting the necessary nutrients into your cat’s body.
The nutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals) are the most important factor for good health, not the ingredients themselves.
The best ingredients allow the nutrients to absorb quickly and thoroughly in the body (“bioavailability”).
The evidence shows it doesn’t matter what the ingredients are as long as they create a complete and balanced meal every time.
This is what keeps your cat healthy, not whether the food is dry, canned, or raw.
Nutrition is a complex topic and is constantly being studied by experts.
Learn more about feline nutrition at “What Nutrients Do Cats Need?“
Diet Must Be Created by a Vet Nutritionist
If you choose to feed your cat a raw diet, it must be nutritionally complete and balanced, formulated by a veterinary nutritionist.
Many internet recipes, no matter how well intentioned, have been tested and found to be woefully incomplete and nutritionally deficient.
This will cause serious problems for your cat’s health over time… some nutritional deficiencies are irreversible and can’t be treated.
Vets frequently see the tragic results of using inadequate recipes.
Stick to the Recipe
You must commit to sticking to the recipe, or it becomes incomplete and unbalanced.
This includes both the types of ingredients and quantities.
In other words, if the recipe calls for chicken, you can’t substitute with pork or beef.
If it calls for 1 ounce of a specific supplement it can be no more or less and must only be that one supplement.
Substituting ingredients changes the nutrients and the food is no longer complete and balanced.
If your cat decides she no longer likes it, you’ll have to consult with the vet nutritionist before making changes.
This is the challenge with creating your own food.
Good Hygiene Is Vital
The risk of bacterial or parasitic infection is serious with any raw meat, so good hygiene is very important.
Proper storage, wearing gloves, washing hands, having separate meat preparation areas (e.g., using cutting boards reserved only for meat), and washing everything diligently greatly reduce the risk.
But the only way to kill the bacteria and parasites in raw meat is cooking it to the proper temperature (usually 165°F).
Don’t forget, you’re not cooking this meat… your cat is eating it raw, so the bacteria from her saliva can transfer to you and your family.
Feeding raw cat food isn’t recommended for any household where a pet or person has a chronic illness or otherwise has a compromised immune system.
How Did Raw Diets Start?
The idea of feeding a raw meat diet began from some articles published in the 1990’s and 2000’s that promoted the idea that cats and dogs would be healthier and happier eating a more “natural” diet than kibble or canned wet food.
The “species-appropriate” concept is related to the “natural” diet belief.
This idea has been growing more popular because it fits the widespread belief that “natural”, “organic” and “healthy” foods are better than processed foods for both people and pets.
Since these are very broad marketing terms, not scientific ones, it may be impossible to determine if they make any difference.
Learn more about these terms and other claims about raw cat food at “Raw Meat Diet for Cats – Benefits vs. Risks“.
The Raw Food Mentality
Raw Feeding Psychology
There’s a mentality unique to some people who feed their pets raw food that doesn’t seem to exist with people who feed traditional kibble or canned food.
It’s important to understand because it affects what you read from many sources promoting this lifestyle.
“It has been proposed (Freeman et al. 2013) that feeding RMBDs [Raw Meat Based Diets] answers a psychological desire among owners to care for and improve their pet’s health, using a route that is simple and understandable, compared with more challenging and confusing interventions associated with health professionals.”3 “Raw diets for dogs and cats: a review, with particular reference to microbiological hazards” by R.H. Davies, J.R. Lawes, A.D. Wales – Journal of Small Animal Practice, Wiley Online Library, April 26, 2019
“Survey work supports notions that raw feeding owners value spending time preparing pets’ meals, often distrust the pet food industry to supply wholesome or appropriate food, perceive raw-fed pets to be ‘healthier’, value changes in feeding behaviour associated with the raw form (i.e. duration of feeding and interest), and tend not to turn to veterinary health professionals for information (Morelli et al. 2019; Morgan et al. 2017).
The Misunderstanding About Food
Some people who make and feed raw food are adamant that it’s the only way anyone should feed their cats.
It’s become almost a religion to them, and they make others feel guilty for not doing it.
The implication is that you don’t love your pets if you don’t feed the “best” food as they do.
They call dry kibble and canned wet food “bad” and raw food “good”.
This is a projection of human attributes onto food, which allows people to feel superior to others and be satisfied with themselves.
It’s certainly appealing but isn’t realistic or factual.
The basic concept of food’s purpose seems to be misunderstood… food is merely food, not “good” or “bad”.
It’s merely a vessel to make nutrients available for the body’s cells to convert to energy, giving life and health.
This “bioavailability” is what’s important, not the ingredients containing the nutrients.
So, as long as each meal is nutritionally complete and balanced it’s not important what ingredients are used.
Of course, it has to appeal to our feline tastebuds as well!
How People View Cat Food
People aren’t like us cats.
Humans project their emotions and attributes onto animals and other things.
They also sometimes romanticize nature… ever heard of looking through rose-colored glasses?
This is fun for cartoons and social media posts, but not when it comes to our feline nutrition and health.
See “What’s the Best Cat Food?” for more on the dangers of romanticizing nature and projecting emotion onto pets (or food).
Mistrust of Cat Food Manufacturers
Some people who feed raw diets don’t trust pet food companies.
They accuse these companies of being more interested in money than the health of pets.
The complaint is that companies use grains in dry food only as fillers and skimp on real nutrition to save money.
Basically, they’re saying that dry food is junk food and companies don’t care about good nutrition because they use unhealthy ingredients to save money.
But are these claims true?
Pet food companies aren’t mysterious sinister corporations.
People create and operate them, so it’s the quality, integrity and honesty of the people involved that makes the difference.
There will always be those who cut corners and care more about the bottom line than product quality.
But there are also those who do their best, constantly working to test, improve and sell high quality products.
Judge each company on its merits, history, reputation, and product analysis, to determine which are trustworthy.
Types of Raw Cat Food
There are five main types of raw cat food…
- Whole Prey
Homemade cat food can be raw or cooked.
You choose the ingredients just as you do your own food at the grocery store, butcher or farm.
This allows you to be in control of freshness, quantity and type of ingredients in the meals.
You do the preparation and can control what’s in the recipe.
Discover more at “Homemade Cat Food“.
Frozen raw cat food is simply raw meat, often in bite-sized pieces, sold in the freezer section for your convenience.
It saves you the steps of buying fresh meat, cutting, packaging and freezing it yourself.
Freezing raw meat DOES NOT kill bacteria or parasites in the meat.
Freeze-drying is a method of preserving food by freezing it, then putting it in a vacuum to change the water content from ice to vapor.
The food is then sealed in air-tight packaging.
At that point, it’s more shelf-stable at room temperature than it would be if not freeze-dried and can last quite a while.
Freeze-dried raw cat food is not cooked or pasteurized with heat to kill bacteria.
Freeze-drying raw meat DOES NOT kill bacteria or parasites in the meat.
It’s sold on its own as meals, treats or toppers, or used to coat/mix with kibble.
Freeze-dried meals must be complete and balanced to be sure your cat stays healthy.
Differences Between Regular Raw & Freeze-Dried Cat Food
“There are several main differences between unprocessed raw food and freeze-dried cat food:
- Moisture is removed from raw foods (freeze-drying process) to create freeze-dried food that is shelf-stable.
- Freeze-dried is sold commercially, whereas unprocessed raw foods are typically homemade by pet parents or sold by local pet shops or butcher shops.
- This means they have undergone no alteration to attempt to decrease the bacterial or parasitic load that can be a problem associated with feeding raw.
- Unprocessed raw foods also may not be regulated or nutritionally balanced, unless an owner is specifically working with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist to ensure that their pet’s diet is nutritionally complete.” 4 Freeze-Dried Cat Food, PetMD
Dehydrated Cat Food
Dehydrating is a technique for removing moisture from food to make it last longer and be “shelf-stable”.
It’s similar to freeze-drying but uses low heat instead of cold temperatures to remove the moisture.
The dehydration process uses heat but does not heat it enough to cook the food.
Freeze-dried food often has less moisture than dehydrated foods, which can make them last longer than dehydrated.
Whole prey food is exactly that… a whole animal that’s been humanely killed for a cat to eat.
Even though it’s a whole animal, it’s never fed live to a cat.
The intention is to replicate as closely as possible what wild cats eat; however, this is not necessarily nutritionally complete and balanced.
Those who feed raw diets recommend using whole prey as part of a balanced diet, not as the only diet.
Typical whole prey you can buy…
- domestic farm raised (quail, mice, chicks, duck, rabbit, rats)
- hunted wild (quail, pheasant, duck, goose, rabbit, squirrel)
Whatever bacteria and parasites the kill contains is what the cat consumes.
USDA Food Quality Labels
Since most raw food is purchased at a grocery store or butcher shop, it helps to understand how the USDA grades meats.
There are a number of categories regulated by the USDA like vegetables, dairy, fruits, poultry and beef.
You can find them along with the details of each at “Understanding Food Quality Labels“.
Why Many Veterinarians Don’t Like Raw Diets
Many veterinarians don’t like raw diets and there are some legitimate reasons why they’re concerned.
The main reasons are…
- the risk of bacterial illness to people as well as pets
- lack of clinical studies proving claimed benefits
- no AAFCO or WSAVA feeding trials or nutritional analysis reports about raw diets
- many raw diets aren’t nutritionally complete and balanced
Bacteria Transfers from Cat to Human
Vets take an oath and have a responsibility to protect human public safety as well as the health of animals.
They have to take seriously any possible illnesses that might transfer from your pets to you.
As discussed above, bacteria can be transferred from raw food if you don’t wash your hands and practice good hygiene.
It can also happen through your cat’s feces and saliva (ever petted your cat after she’s groomed herself or had a dog lick your face?)
Some strains of these bacteria resist antibiotics, which means if animals or people get them there’s no drug to stop the infection and they can die.
Healthy adults are usually fine if practicing good hygiene but young children, elderly adults, or anyone with immune problems have a greater risk of serious illness.
Here’s a helpful video from a vet who’s been on both sides of this issue…
The confusion over cat food stems from lack of scientific studies and factual information.
Most studies are being done with dogs, not cats, and there are too many variables to get reliable conclusions.
There’s no evidence that complete and balanced raw diets are nutritionally harmful to cats nor is there any to prove benefits outweigh the risks.
It’s unknown whether the fact that the food is raw makes any difference.
We Need More Clinical Studies
Anecdotal evidence points toward some benefits, but more true clinical studies must be done to determine what creates those benefits.
One scientific study suggests that raw food is more digestible in dogs than kibble.
“This is ultimately the crux of much of the research currently performed to assess raw food diets in dogs.
In order to truly assess the impact of a raw diet, as opposed to a cooked or extruded diet, the diets must be otherwise comparable in all or most other regards, including ingredients, macronutrients, and micronutrients.
The information gained from a true comparison of that nature could help shed light on whether the public health risks associated with the use of raw diets is justifiable.”5“Raw Revisited: Recent Research” by Caitlin Marie, Doc of All Trades, July 8, 2021
A few cases of Salmonella infection in cats have been documented.
One was in a cat who had a history of FLUTD (feline lower urinary tract disease).6“Salmonella bacteriuria in a cat fed a Salmonella-contaminated diet” by Erika Fauth, Lisa M Freeman, Lilian Cornjeo, Jessica E Markovich, Nicol Janecko, J Scott Weese, Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association, Sep 1, 2015 7 “Septicemic salmonellosis in two cats fed a raw-meat diet” by Shane L Stiver, Kendall S Frazier, Michael J Mauel, Eloise L Styer, Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, Nov-Dec 2003
This raises the question of whether a sick or immuno-compromised cat can handle the higher risk of bacterial contamination in raw food and commercial food that’s not processed properly.
Raw Feeding Veterinarians
There are some veterinarians who support raw feeding and feed it to their own pets.
They don’t adhere strictly to evidence-based medicine and peer-reviewed clinical research studies as most vets do.
They use anecdotal evidence and basic nutritional understanding to work with clients who want to feed their pets a complete and balanced raw diet.
RFVS (Raw Feeding Veterinary Society)
“The RFVS is a group of motivated vets and vet nurses with a common interest in raw feeding and species appropriate nutrition in dogs and cats.
Our Mission [is] to promote the principles and practical aspects of species-appropriate nutrition, through education of veterinary professionals and the pet-owning public.“8Raw Feeding Veterinary Society (rfvs.info)
This group is based in the United Kingdom and has a number of corporate sponsors.
Claims About Raw Cat Food
See “Raw Meat Diet for Cats – Benefits vs. Risks” for more helpful info about raw food claims.
Can I Give Raw Food to Kittens?
Kittens have specific nutritional needs for growth and development that you can’t fulfill with adult or senior cat food (or dog or human food for that matter).
While it is possible to feed them raw food, vets and vet nutritionists don’t recommend it because of bacteria risks, the amount of work required on your part, and the serious consequences of doing it wrong.
It’s not realistic for most people to take on that extra work when complete and balanced diets are available using dry kibble and wet canned food.
Deciding About Raw Diets
Now that you’ve read all this information, you might be hesitant to feed raw cat food.
Before making a final decision, check out “Raw Meat Diet for Cats – Benefits vs. Risks” about various claims regarding raw food and pets.
Talk to your vet about your cat’s specific medical needs, your lifestyle and whether anyone in your home is susceptible to bacterial infections.
These are the most serious aspects of taking on the responsibility of dealing with raw food.
Don’t feel guilty if you decide this isn’t for you!
If, however, you’d like to switch your cat to a raw diet, consult a board-certified veterinary nutritionist for help to develop the right diet for your cat.
You can find them at American College of Veterinary Nutrition | ACVN.
It’s tempting to skip this step, go online and try some recipes that people swear are just fine, but your cat’s health is at stake.
It’s vital that you balance every meal with the proper nutrition in the correct proportions or you’ll cause deficiencies.
Nutrition deficiencies are often serious, causing problems like bone deformities and heart failure.
If you wish to learn more about other types of food, check out “Cat Food!“
Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.
Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.
Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.
Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own.
Sometimes they refer to primary sources.
When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.
List of Sources
“Ancestor” – definition of ancestor by The Free Dictionary
“Appropriate – Definition & Meaning” – Merriam-Webster
“Canned or Dry Food: Which is Better for Cats?” (skeptvet.com). September 3, 2019
“The Carnivore Connection to Nutrition in Cats” by Debra L. Zoran, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, Timely Topics in Nutrition, JAVMA, Vol. 221 No. 11, Dec 1, 2002
“Commercial vs Homemade Cat Diets: What you need to know” by Cecilia Villaverde, Marge Chandler, PubMed (nih.gov), May 2022
“Evaluation of cats fed vegetarian diets and attitudes of their caregivers” by Lorelei A Wakefield, Frances S Shofer, Kathryn E Michel, J Am Vet Med Assoc, July 1, 2006 (PubMed – nih.gov)
“Evaluation of recipes for home-prepared diets for dogs and cats with chronic kidney disease” by Jennifer A Larsen, Elizabeth M Parks, Cailin R Heinze, Andrea J Fascetti – J Am Vet Med Assoc, March 1, 2012, PubMed (nih.gov)
“Freeze-Dried Cat Food” by Ellen Malmanger, DVM, PetMD, January 19, 2021
“Homemade Kitten Milk Formula Recipes“, by Franny Syufy, The SprucePets, February 7, 2022
“How Much Raw Food to Feed a Cat? Check our Raw Feeding Guides“, pawesomecats.com, Updated October 7, 2020
“How to… Advise clients about raw feeding dogs and cats” by Andrew Wales, Joanna Lawes. Robert Davies, BSAVA Companion, August 2019
“Humans are Omnivores“, Vegetarianism in a Nutshell, adapted from a talk by John McArdle, Ph.D., first published May/June 1991 in Vegetarian Journal
“Increased dietary moisture is beneficial for urinary tract health in cats” by Dr. Abigail Stevenson, WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, Oct 13, 2011
“Nutrition & Nutritional Disorders” – Veterinary Pediatrics: Dogs and Cats from Birth to Six Months by Johnny D. Hoskins, DVM, PhD, Professor, Veterinary Clinical Medicine, Louisiana State University, School of Veterinary Medicine, W.B. Saunders Company, a Division of Harcourt Brace & Company, Philadelphia, PA, 1995, 2nd edition, pp. 511-524
“Raw Cat Food Calculator How Much to Feed and Cost of Raw” by Jess and Jericho, Published March 4, 2021, Updated May 8, 2022
“Raw Cat Food Diets” by Jennifer Coates, DVM, PetMD. January 19, 2021
“Raw Cat Food Ratios and Percentages for a Healthy Feline Diet”, kittyhealth.org
“Raw diets for dogs and cats: a review, with particular reference to microbiological hazards” by R. H. Davies, J. R. Lawes, A. D. Wales, Journal of Small Animal Practice, Wiley Online Library, April 26, 2019
“Raw Feeding Veterinary Society” (rfvs.info)
“Raw meat-based diets for companion animals: a potential source of transmission of pathogenic and antimicrobial-resistant Enterobacteriaceae” by Magdalena Nüesch-Inderbinen, Andrea Treier, Katrin Zurfluh and Roger Stephan, Royal Society Open Science, October 16, 2019
“Raw, Refrigerated, and Dry Pet Foods“, Anasazi Animal Clinic (anasazivet.com), January 25, 2022
“Raw Revisited: Recent Research” by Caitlin Marie, Doc of All Trades, July 8, 2021
“Salmonella bacteriuria in a cat fed a Salmonella-contaminated diet” by Erika Fauth, Lisa M Freeman, Lilian Cornjeo, Jessica E Markovich, Nicol Janecko, J Scott Weese, Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association, Sept 1, 2015
“Salmonella Infection in Cats“, PetMD
“Septicemic salmonellosis in two cats fed a raw-meat diet” by Shane L Stiver, Kendall S Frazier, Michael J Mauel, Eloise L Styer, Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, Nov-Dec 2003
“Should You Feed Your Cat a Raw Diet?” by Jenna Stregowski, The Spruce Pets, Updated on 02/09/22
“Species” – Wikipedia”
“Species Appropriate Diet” – Thomas Tails – Crystal Lake Natural Dog and Cat Food
“Tales from the Trenches: Feeding Kittens a Raw Diet” by Robin A.F. Olson, Feline Nutrition Foundation™, February 25, 2019
“What’s natural?“, Understanding Science, University of California-Berkeley
“Whole Prey – Raw Feeding Guide for Dogs & Cats” (perfectlyrawsome.com)
“Why It’s Time Veterinarians Accept This Feeding Trend: Homemade Diets: Benefits, Potential Drawbacks, Best Practices” by Dr. Donna Raditic and Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker (mercola.com), May 10, 2020
Updated November 15, 2023