Raw Meat Diet for Cats - Benefits vs. Risks - Cat Info Detective

Raw Meat Diet for Cats – Benefits vs. Risks

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Greetings curious cats! Skye Blake here, continuing on the Cat Food Trail with more about raw food… claims made about a raw meat diet for cats.

There are so many claims about raw diets that they have a page all their own!

Let’s dive in…

paw prints coming in from a distance

Let’s start with a veterinarian’s perspective about raw food diet claims…

Dr. Em, Vet Med Corner, April 29, 2022

Understanding Evidence

Scientist holding a petrie dish-vet

It helps to understand the importance of evidence and the different types of it.

Peer-Reviewed Clinical Evidence

man holding kitten - veterinary medicine

“Peer-reviewed” evidence is clinical testing done in controlled circumstances (like laboratories) according to strict scientific methods and protocols.

It is published in medical journals and reviewed by other experts in the same field for authenticity, accuracy, and results.

vet researcher looking in microscope

Traditional vets and human doctors use peer-reviewed scientific evidence to diagnose and treat patients.

It’s often referred to as “evidence-based” medicine.

Anecdotal Evidence

doberman dog and kitten looking at each other

“Anecdotal” is when you judge a situation only by the experiences and observations of people (in this case, cat owners and veterinarians).

While anecdotal evidence can have some value, especially when consistently seen by large numbers of people, it’s not the same as clinical testing and proof of a connection.

Its value is more for pointing to the need for clinical testing rather than any ability to draw conclusions.

Scientist holding a beaker-enzymes - vet

There are too many variables in how the body processes nutrients to make definite conclusions without true clinical studies.

Here are only a few examples of questions not answered by anecdotal evidence…

  • “Can we define a cat as “healthier” because of one type of food?
tripe, rumen, stomach lining, offal
  • “What specifically is in a raw diet that makes a cat healthier, if it does?”
  • “Is one type of meat more nutritious than another?”
  • “Does the fact that it’s raw instead of cooked make any difference?”
beef bones, raw cat food
  • “Is there a nutrient in some types of raw meat that isn’t in others (e.g., muscle meat vs. organ meat)”
  • “Is the bioavailability better, worse, or the same as in cooked food?”

Remember, no matter how adamant they are, nobody can yet prove their claims about raw meat diets.

raw food as medicine - alternative vets

Watch this interesting video about the pros and cons of raw meat diets…

by Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM, All About Cats, March 9, 2022

Here is a vet explaining his position on raw diets…

Pet Food Series 1 – Raw diets by Coastal Animal Hospital, Dr. Evans, July 15, 2019

Claimed Benefits of Feeding Raw Meat

cat lying on back, lounging, focused, play, food

People make many claims about possible health benefits of a raw meat diet, mainly that their cats are generally happier and healthier than when eating other types of food.

“Claimed benefits, compared with conventional processed diets, are wide-ranging and include improved dental and skin health, prevention or control of disorders affecting any of the major body systems, and behavioural improvements.”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

The following are specific claims made about raw meat diets…

Raw Meat is “Natural” & Better

evergreen trees - nature, natural, forest, mountains

This is a very broad, general claim and, as with all sweeping generalizations, doesn’t mean much.

Terms like “natural” and “organic” are mainly marketing terms that appeal to people but don’t mean anything when it comes to cat food.

They end up meaning whatever each person wants them to mean.

chopped chicken on cutting board with knife, raw

Some people define “natural” as anything created by or existing in nature as opposed to manmade things.

“Within science, the term natural refers to any element of the physical universe — whether made by humans or not.

This includes matter, the forces that act on matter, energy, the constituents of the biological world, humans, human society, and the products of that society.”2 “What’s natural?” – Understanding Science (berkeley.edu)

periodic table of elements- chemicals, science vet medicine

As you can see, “natural” doesn’t have anything to do with one food being better than another.

Consider this… arsenic is a natural chemical element yet is deadly.

Natural Vitamins & Minerals

vitamin C, B12

A related claim is that the vitamins and minerals in raw food are natural and not synthetic which makes them better.

Some say natural vitamins and minerals are better absorbed by the body than synthetic.

Others are concerned that synthetic ingredients are usually made in China and other countries where the purity is questionable.

But is there any evidence that any of this is true?

Discover more at “What Vitamins Do Cats Need?

Raw Meat is More “Species Appropriate” & “Ancestral”

raw beef - meat

The terms “species-appropriate” and “ancestral” are used to support the belief that feeding a raw meat diet is best for cats.

When describing pet food, “species appropriate” and “ancestral” are used interchangeably to describe a diet made up of foods that are most compatible with the animal’s biological makeup.

Are these accurate concepts or marketing buzzwords?

What Does “Species-Appropriate” Mean?

Species
lynx, bobcat

Defining “species” has been controversial for a long time and there are various definitions available.

“In biology, a species is the basic unit of classification and a taxonomic rank of an organism, as well as a unit of biodiversity.

A species is often defined as the largest group of organisms in which any two individuals of the appropriate sexes or mating types can produce fertile offspring, typically by sexual reproduction.

tabby wild cat

Other ways of defining species include their karyotypeDNA sequence, morphology, behaviour or ecological niche.”3 Species – Wikipedia

There are many species and subspecies of cats around the world.

Appropriate

“Appropriate” is something that’s suitable or compatible with something else.

What Does “Ancestral” Mean?

Calico cat guarding it's food

“Ancestral” means relating to or inherited from an ancestor (someone who originated or came before others in a line of succession).

In other words, raw meat is claimed to be best because it’s thought to be the closest diet to the prey cats catch in the wild.

But is it complete and balanced, containing all the nutrients your cat needs in the appropriate amounts?

Dark tabby cat eating mouse

Is it really the most appropriate diet simply because cats eat raw prey in the wild?

It certainly seems logical because we see cats eat mice, birds, and other small prey.

So far, though, there are no peer-reviewed studies or other scientific evidence proving anything “species-appropriate” or “ancestral” makes any difference in what you feed your cat.

bird on a branch

“…[T]he history of medicine is full of plausible hypotheses that turned out to be wrong.

It is not enough to make a good argument based on general principles.

To know what is really best for our patients, we must test such arguments experimentally and follow the evidence, whether or not it supports seemingly obvious, “common sense” beliefs.” 4 Canned or Dry Food: Which is Better for Cats?, (skeptvet.com)

Discover more about feline nutrition at “What Nutrients Do Cats Need?

Feline Body Structure – Made to Eat Meat

cat eating meat

A cat’s body structure is made for eating and processing animal flesh, which is an argument used in favor of feeding only raw meat to cats.

The teeth, jaw, and digestive system are all made to kill and eat small mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects.

Feline teeth are made for both tearing flesh (as you know if you’ve ever been bitten), and neatly severing the spinal cord of prey.

side view of white cat's teeth

We’re quite the humane and efficient hunters!

The only other things cats eat in the wild are small amounts of greens and grains found in the stomachs of prey.

Again, this all sounds good, very logical, but doesn’t mean cats can’t eat other things.

Dark tabby cat eating mouse

It’s important to keep in mind that food is, at its most basic, a vessel to get the nutrients your cat needs in the most easily absorbable way.

While it has to smell and taste appealing, it’s the nutrients that count, not the ingredients.

The main question with any food is “How well does the nutrition absorb into the body and become available for energy, etc.?”

Brandy waiting for food

This is known as “bioavailability” and is very important for anyone to survive and thrive.

A complete and balanced diet with good bioavailability is what’s important with any type of food.

Any meat in the food doesn’t have to be raw… experts recommend it be cooked to kill bacteria and parasites.

Is Raw Meat Easier to Digest?

siamese cat licking front paw

Raw food advocates claim that raw food is easier for cats to digest than other types of food.

They support this with anecdotal evidence that cats don’t poop as much on a raw meat diet as with other types.

The assumption is that this means more is efficiently absorbed into the body, leaving less waste to be eliminated.

tabby cat standing in litter box

They conclude that this proves that raw food is better than other types of foods.

But all we really know from this is that a cat’s poop is different when eating various foods.

There are too many assumptions without clinical studies to back them to draw any conclusions about raw meat vs. other foods.

Raw Diets Have No Mystery Ingredients

silver magnifying glass inverted

One claim that is true is that feeding raw food allows you to know exactly what your cat is eating.

There are no mystery ingredients with names you don’t understand and can’t pronounce.

white, ginger tabby cat licking back food

Some people prefer this because ingredient labels on bags and cans of food often contain long, hard-to-read ingredients that sound fake and unappetizing.

Creating your cat’s meals yourself certainly puts you in control and you’ll know all the ingredients, but it also makes you responsible to have a complete and balanced diet.

Are By Products Bad?

beef kidney, offal

The term “by products” has become synonymous for many people with horrible, dangerous, and offensive ingredients.

Some proponents of feeding a raw meat diet feel that any food containing by products is automatically bad and should be rejected.

But is this true? Are by products always bad?

Find answers at “Meat By Products In Cat Food“.

Claims About Improving Skin & Coat Health

bengal cat stretching upside down

The claim of healthier skin, relief of allergies and itchiness, along with a shinier coat is one of the most common ones with those who feed raw diets.

The anecdotal evidence from owners and vets seem to confirm this, but clinical studies have not yet proven any connection.

Sphynx cat after flea spray looking at camera

It’s unclear what it is in raw food that could make a difference, if it actually does, or whether being raw has anything to do with it.

Here are some of the questions that must be studied before this claim can be verified…

Grey, white cat looking at camera
  • Is it one nutrient or a few different ones?
  • Is it because the food is uncooked?
  • Are there similar benefits in dry or canned wet food?
  • Is there something more bioavailable in raw than other types of food?

Discover more about food allergies at “Cat Food Allergies & Sensitivities“.

Claims About Improving Dental Health

cat with open mouth, canine teeth

Some people claim that raw food, particularly bones, help cats keep their teeth clean.

  • But does raw food clean teeth?
  • Are bones safe for cats to chew on?
  • Can they hurt their teeth?
  • Does cooked or raw make a difference?

Discover answers at “Dental Care for Cats“.

Water Content – Does Raw Food Have More?

cat drinking from half full glass of water

It’s claimed that raw meat diets have more water content than other types of food.

It’s likely true that raw meals have more water than dry kibble since dry food has only 10% water.

But how do you compare raw meals to canned wet food that has 70-80% water?

tabby cat drinking water out of a pan

There are no clinical studies comparing water content of any raw meats with dry or wet commercial foods.

It’s a difficult thing to compare directly, since there are many types of meat processed in different ways.

Some raw meats are freeze-dried or dehydrated which removes the water.

kitten curious about stream of water from faucet

Since it’s easy to provide water separately in bowls or fountains, this doesn’t have to be an issue.

Find more at “How to Feed a Cat“, “Can Cats Drink Milk?“, and “Cat Food & Water Bowls“.

Does a Raw Diet Prevent Obesity?

fat, obese calico cat

Raw cat food proponents often claim it prevents obesity.

But there’s no proof the actual diet or the fact that the food is raw has anything to do with whether or not a cat gets fat.

There is evidence, however, that obesity happens when humans feed their cats too many calories of any food.

fat tawny cat

Anyone who has a cat is responsible to feed the appropriate number of calories no matter what food they use.

People who feed raw diets tend to be more conscientious about their cat’s feeding habits than the average person, so they’re not as likely to overfeed.

See more about feline obesity at “Fat Cats – Unhealthy or Cute?

Do Raw Diets Prevent Diseases?

bacteria - vet medicine; nematodes

In the world of raw meat diets, it’s often claimed that feeding raw prevents or helps heal various diseases.

This is most often claimed about Diabetes Mellitus (“DM”).

But, there is simply no evidence that a raw diet has any effect on preventing or healing disease.

Virus under microscope

This type of claim can be dangerous because cats who are struggling with disease or chronic conditions often have suppressed immune systems.

They are more at risk of bacterial infection than they would be when healthy, which is a problem with raw food.

So, an unsuspecting cat owner might harm their cat while thinking they’re doing something good by giving raw meat.

Discover more about Diabetes Mellitus at “Dry Cat Food (Kibble)“.

Do Raw Meat Diets Help Behavior Problems?

angry ginger cat

There are claims that cats who eat raw meat diets are calmer, happier, and otherwise have better behavior.

There’s no clinical evidence that behavior differences have anything to do with raw or any other food.

There could be some truth to this but it’s more likely behavior changes have nothing to do with food.

Changes in your own behavior, which you may or may not be aware of, can influence cats, making them calmer or more agitated.

Raw Food Doesn’t Have Recalls – True or False?

knife in raw meat

There are claims that raw meat diets are better because other types of cat food have product recalls.

When a recall happens in any industry it makes people worried that a company’s products are dangerous.

But what do recalls really mean? Are you unable to trust a company that has recalls?

Does this claim make an honest, factual comparison?

Discover more at “Cat Food Recalls – What Do They Mean?

Claimed Risks of Raw Cat Food Diets

Dangerous Bacteria & Parasites in Raw Meat

microscopic parasite

The risk of bacterial or parasitic infection is serious with any raw meat, so good hygiene is very important.

The main bacterial causes of illnesses from food are SalmonellaE. coliListeria, and Campylobacter.

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.

raw ground, minced meat, beef, pork, cat food

But the only way to kill the bacteria and parasites in raw meat is cooking it to the proper temperature (usually 165°F).

“Unlike heat-processed pet food, there is no late-stage critical control step for destroying microbiological hazards in raw foods.” 5Focus on… advising clients about raw feeding dogs and cats” by Andrew Wales, Joanna, Lawes, Robert Davies, BSAVA Companion, 2019

Your cat is eating it raw so the bacteria from her saliva can transfer to you and your family.

sliced roast beef-barbeque

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.

Cats have small intestines that are short and a very acidic digestive system that digests quickly.

This protects cats with healthy immune systems from most bacteria carried by prey but doesn’t protect against parasites.

bacteria under microscope

But cats aren’t immune to all bacteria and if any cat’s immune system isn’t healthy, it can cause serious problems.

This is a real consideration for kittens, seniors and any cat with a compromised immune system.

So it’s important to have your cat checked and dewormed by your vet if he shows signs like diarrhea, lethargy, or sudden weight loss.

Here’s a video discussing parasites in food…

Are There Parasites In Raw Pet Food?, Paws of Prey, March 9, 2021

Internet Raw Food Recipes Are Inadequate

recipe book, 3 ring

If you choose to feed your cat a raw meat diet, it must be nutritionally complete and balanced, formulated by a veterinary nutritionist for your cat’s specific needs.

Many internet recipes, no matter how well intentioned, have been tested and found to be woefully incomplete and nutritionally deficient.

cook figure in front of recipe

This will cause serious problems for your cat’s health and some nutritional deficiencies are irreversible with no treatments available.

Vets frequently see the tragic results of using inadequate recipes.

Recipe Drift

recipe card, wooden spoon

You must stick 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.

2 cats eating wet food from pan

If it calls for 1 ounce of a specific supplement it can be no more or less and must only be that one supplement.

If you substitute you change the nutrients, and the food is no longer complete and balanced.

This is the challenge with creating your own food.

recipe spelled in scrabble blocks

It’s important to keep in mind that food is, at its most basic, a vessel to get the nutrients your cat needs in the most easily absorbable way.

It’s the nutrients that count, not the ingredients, since ingredients are just the vessel for transporting the nutrition.

A complete and balanced nutrition is more important than what type of food you feed.

Deciding Whether to Feed Your Cat a Raw Meat Diet

cat eating fish at market

Now that you’ve learned something about the various claims about raw diets, you’re in a better position to decide if the claimed benefits outweigh the known risks.

To discover more about other types of cat food, check out these related pages…


Cat Food!How Is Cat Food Made?
Cat Food Companies – Which Are Best?Cat Food Recalls – What Do They Mean?
Meat By Products In Cat FoodPet Food Regulations & Oversight
Reading Cat Food LabelsHow to Feed a Cat
Cat Food & Water BowlsCat Food Puzzles
What Nutrients Do Cats Need?Are Carbs Bad for Cat?
Can Cats Drink Milk?Food for Kittens – Giving Them Good Nutrition
What Vitamins Do Cats Need?What’s the Best Cat Food?
Dry Cat Food (Kibble)Homemade Cat Food
Raw Cat Food – Good or Bad?Big Cat Food Paying Off Vets & Other Myths
The Best Cat Food BrandsThe Best Kitten Food
Wet Cat FoodCat Food Allergies & Sensitivities
Dental Care for CatsFat Cats – Unhealthy or Cute?
What’s a Veterinary Nutritionist?

Sources

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

A-H

American College of Veterinary Nutrition“, ACVN

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)

Facebook Nutrition Groups: “Feed Cats Like Cats – Feline Nutrition“, “Feline Nutrition & Cat Food Discussion

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

I-R

Increased dietary moisture is beneficial for urinary tract health in cats” by Dr. Abigail Stevenson, WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, Oct 13, 2011

Natural Definition & Meaning”, Dictionary.com

“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

S-Z

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 January 9, 2023

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