Feeding a Raw Food Diet
If you’re like me, you probably grew up thinking there were just three kinds of things to feed your pet: dry food (“kibble”), wet food (“the smelly stuff from a can”) and human food (“table scraps”).
But have you ever heard of a raw food diet?
I’ve been feeding my kittens raw food for the past 2 years and I can honestly say I have no plans to ever switch back.
When I first heard about raw, I was a little skeptical and maybe you’re feeling that way right now too. I hope this page will help you better understand the benefits of raw food and why I’m so passionate about it.
Before I get into what a raw food diet is, I need to explain a little bit about cats and their nutritional needs. I could really write a whole blog post on this topic but I’m going to try and keep this short and sweet.
Biologically, cats are very similar to their ancestors – they share 95% of their DNA with the Siberian Tiger. Both are obligate carnivores which means that, whether wild or domestic, cats need meat to survive.
A raw cat food diet, which is also called a “species appropriate” diet, is really about feeding your cat what they would eat if they were in the wild. This means a high protein, high moisture and moderate fat diet consisting of uncooked, fresh meat including bones and organs.
I feed raw because I’ve seen firsthand how strong and healthy it makes my kittens.
It often takes a long time to see the effects of good (or bad) nutritional choices, for humans and animals alike. However, I’m constantly amazed by how quickly and drastically a raw food diet improves their digestion – or to put it more directly, their poop is great.
Before I started feeding raw, poop was ALWAYS an issue. With raw, their poop smells less and is consistently smaller and firmer. They also don’t poop as often because their bodies use the food more efficiently.
Good nutrition is also the foundation for many long term benefits such as increased energy, better dental and urinary health, less shedding and a healthier coat.
If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of a raw diet, I would recommend checking out Feline-Nutrition.org
I have to admit that it took me a while to try raw. My first thought was that if it’s so great, why isn’t everyone feeding it? It was probably also just easier to defer to the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ and what I was familiar with.
That all changed when I started fostering a kitten named Pippa!
Pippa had a VERY hard start to life. She was literally thrown away when she was just a few days old. A good Samaritan found her and her siblings in a trash bag in a park. Unfortunately, little Pippa had a huge wound near her bum and we weren’t sure she was going to survive.
Over the next month the wound started healing, but she wasn’t gaining weight and she couldn’t poop properly. At 6 weeks old, she was the size of a 3 week old. The plan was for her to have surgery so they could try to figure out and correct her digestive issues but they couldn’t operate because she was too small.
I felt like I was out of options. To be honest, I started feeding her raw food as a last resort, without a lot of hope that it would change things.
I’m so glad I tried it though because her body immediately started digesting the food properly. She started growing and, for the first time, she was able to poop on her own! By the time she was ready for adoption, she didn’t even need to have surgery!
I know that raw food had a life-changing impact on Pippa. But I’m also thankful that the experience will have a positive impact for all my current and future fosters since it opened me up to trying raw.
If you look into the history of commercial wet and dry cat food, you’ll find that they were mostly designed for our convenience and not for the benefit of the cat. Most traditional options are heavily processed and can last for years on a shelf.
We have a greater understanding now that processed foods aren’t as healthy as they once seemed. Personally, I’m more conscious of the amount of processed foods that I put into my own body and I think it’s only fair to extend this to my kittens too.
I think it’s worth discussing dry food in a little more detail because it’s such a common option but also by far the worst:
- Besides being processed, dry food is generally high in carbs and has very little moisture. This combination can lead to obesity, feline diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Cats get most of their water intake from their food, which can mean they’re not getting enough water if they’re only fed dry food. This can lead to stress on the kidneys and the liver
- I know a lot of people like to leave dry food out all day because it’s easy and because their cat “likes to graze.” Yes, your cat might be in the habit of eating like that, but the truth is cats are hunters, not grazers. This leads to them overeating
(Sorry, rant over!)
The short answer is “yes” commercial raw food is more expensive than low quality wet and dry food. It can be pretty comparable to some high quality wet food brands.
The simplest answer isn’t always the most helpful though. I believe that a raw food diet will lead to longer, healthier and happier lives for my kittens. So “yes” it costs more today, but I think the investment is well-worth it.
Though you can make your own homemade raw food, I recommend purchasing commercial raw food if you’re new to this. It’s the quickest and easiest way to get started.
I primarily feed “complete and balanced” raw food. This means it’s been formulated with a blend of muscle meat, organs, bones and occasionally other supplements to provide all the nutrients that a cat needs. Said another way, I just open the pack and serve!
My favorite brand is Darwin’s Pet Food. I’ve spent a lot of time researching and speaking with raw cat food companies (well over 30 of them) and have to say there are a lot of great ones out there. Darwin’s has always gone above and beyond though.
For example, when I called with a long list of questions, the customer service representative put me in direct contact with one of their product managers. I was amazed by how knowledgeable, transparent and passionate he was about their food. He spent a lot of time explaining why they formulate their products in the way that they do and what benefits it adds.
It goes beyond the excellent customer service and high quality ingredients though. I also love that Darwin’s makes feeding raw easy (which is an extra plus if you’re just starting out).
They ship right to my door so I never have to leave the house to get it. Their packaging is really convenient – each serving is individually portioned and vacuum sealed. I just pull the “easy peel” tab to open and it’s ready to serve.
I partnered with Darwin’s and they gave me a coupon code to share with you! If you use code BNB2020 on your first trial order, you’ll get a free jerky treat AND they will also donate the cost of the trial ($15) to New York Animal Care Centers. This is NYC’s only open admissions shelter and where all my kittens come from.
The next best thing is either a gently cooked fresh food diet or freeze dried raw food. These options are a little more expensive but might better suit your specific situation.
I usually keep a couple bags of freeze dried raw food around since it’s easier to travel with and can serve in a pinch (like when I forget to defrost some raw food overnight and I have a bunch of angry customers yelling at me).
Sometimes I wean kittens to a raw food diet using gently cooked fresh food. This can also be a good tactic if you’re transitioning a cat from a traditional diet to raw food, especially if they’re being particular.
Smalls for Cats has both options and is a great place to learn more.
I REALLY hope you at least give raw a try BUT if you’ve decided it’s not for you, my advice would be to focus on products that have both high quality ingredients and the right composition.
The first ingredient on the label should be a muscle meat like “chicken” and not “by-products.” I would also suggest sticking to chicken, turkey or rabbit. It’s safer to stay away from fish since it can be high in mercury and many cats are allergic.
As far as the composition, you want to make sure it’s high in protein, has moderate fat and low in carbs.
A few wet food brands I would recommend checking out are Feline Natural, Ziwi Peak, Nulo and Instinct.
I don’t have much experience with transitioning cats to raw since most my of kittens wean right from bottle to raw. Sometimes I foster kittens that are already eating on their own. If they’re picky, I’ll try freeze dried raw or gently cooked fresh food (see “What do you recommend if I don’t want to feed raw food” for more detail).
With that said, I found this to be an excellent guide on transitioning.