Cats, Food and History:
For thousands of years, cats roamed the ancient world. They made their homes on the Savannahs of Africa, the plains of India and the forests of Eurasia and the Americas. Cats, big and small, swirled through every type of terrain in every climate. They hunted in every different niche, surviving on mainly fresh herbivores; rats and rabbits; and in the case of large cats, deer and buffalo.
A cat will eat the whole of its prey fresh, including entire rabbits (gut contents, offal and nervous tissue included). Unlike dogs they do not scavenge and are obligate carnivores (they cannot be vegetarian).
In this way they gain complete nutrition; the prey contains all the protein building blocks, fatty acids and carbohydrates (from the gut contents of their herbivore prey – partially digested grass, other vegetable matter and cereal) that they need.
Isn’t nature clever?
Today we find ourselves tempted by the convenience of, and advertising for a large array of pet foods, both tinned and dry. With such a large choice we sometimes don’t know where to turn. There has been a big drive by manufacturers to create the perfect biscuit diet, however no matter how high the quality of the ingredients used to manufacture these foods, there is one step that cannot be omitted – the need for processing, and cooking. This changes the nature of the proteins from their natural form, destroys vitamins which have to be added back artificially and in the case of biscuits removes the moisture which would have been normal constituent of a raw diet in an animal which naturally does not drink a large amount.
This can result in symptoms such as persistent itch or eczema, dental problems or smelly breath, allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, food hypersensitivity, lethargy, dull and scurfy coat, and arthritis.
Cats, in my opinion, should eat a raw diet; raw meat, pureed raw fruit and vegetables and raw chicken wings and necks (for calcium and for their teeth). It is simple to feed and, logically, it is what cats were, and are still are, designed to eat. Here’s how it works:
- Cats should be fed on a variety of raw meat and chicken wings and necks:Sticking to one meat source is no good – you don’t get all your nutrients. Try to aim for variety offering three different types of meats during the week including fish. Minced meat especially for pets can be purchased where the whole frame has been minced bone and all. This provides an invaluable source of calcium, and also fats (including bone marrow). I prefer mince to be bought frozen so small amounts can be defrosted at a time and served fresh at room temperature. The minces bought chilled often contain sulphite preservatives which are best avoided and have been shown to trigger asthma. Try to use meat sources which might have been a natural prey animal if the cat was in the wild (chicken, rabbit, hare and possum rather than beef). Do not feed pork.
- For every 90-95g of meat, feed 5-10g of pureed raw veg (1-2 teaspoons):Cats will usually avoid vegetables at all costs. By pureeing the food you can smear it on the raw meat or mix it through the mince which will usually be eaten with gusto. Many cats don’t mind the sweeter vegetables such as carrot and pumpkin but try to include a wide variety including leafy greens if possible. To create a puree: Take any vegetables, especially green leaved ones, fruit and salad items and place in the liquidizer or juicer. You can use just one or two ingredients at any one time, but make sure you have variety from week to week. Blend to a puree. Add some water to give a liquid texture, if necessary. For convenience a batch of pureed vegetables can be made and then frozen in ice cubes so that small portions can be defrosted daily. Some cats will also eat a small amount of green tripe as an alternative to pureed vegetables which is a rich source of vegetable matter, pre and probiotics, digestive enzymes and fatty acids. Onions are toxic to cats – do not feed.
- Feed raw meaty bones (chicken wings and necks) once weekly minimum:Some people worry about feeding bones to their cats. There are two circumstances under which bone feeding is dangerous. If the bone is cooked (becoming splintery and hard) and if inappropriately sized bones are fed. Bones that are too small can be a choking hazard for pets new to raw feeding and bones too large can fracture teeth. Bones should be fed with plenty of meat on them and should be from a prey source which your pet could reasonably be expected to hunt if they were in the wild (chicken, rabbit, hare, possum). A meat only diet is highly imbalanced. Raw chicken wings and necks are most commonly used.
- Feed fresh (kidney, heart, lung or liver) once a week or 1/6 of daily intake:It is a necessary part of a balanced diet. Vary the organ meat weekly, but make sure heart is often on the menu. Cats cannot live without Taurine, found in high amounts in heart. Meat that has been frozen for long periods will have little or no taurine. If the turnover of frozen produce from the store you buy your minced meat or heart from is high, then taurine levels should be adequate.Some frozen pet minces already contain some heart, liver and kidney in their mix.
- Quantities:Feed similar quantities as for wet food or 1 ½ times the volume of dried previously fed.
- Do not feed cereals.
It is possible to obtain ingredients from health food stores such as powdered Spirulina, Barley and Wheat grass, Brewers Yeast, Pro-biotics, Slippery Elm Bark, Sea greens, Grapefruit seed extract and Omega 3 fatty acid supplements. For specific products available locally discuss this with Wendy.
- If you cannot bear to feed raw meat, light cooking in olive oil to ‘seal’ the juices is okay.
- Cats not used to raw feeding may take some time to get used to the new food. Braising the food can sometimes encourage them to try something new as it will enhance the flavor and smell, a big factor affecting palatability in cats.
- Older cats may also sometimes require light cooking of the food to aid digestion and palatability. Also older cats will benefit from the more easily digestible white meats, and rabbit, reducing the loss of muscle mass that many older cats suffer from.
- Offer meals 1-2 times per day removing any uneaten meat after 45 minutes. Wild cats are lucky if they eat once per day – nature provides fasting periods ranging from 1-7days at a time. Fasting for short periods of time is healthy.
- Young kittens can be weaned directly onto raw feeding offering 4 small meals per day.
- For cats suffering from chronic vomiting or diarrhea it is best to start with bone broths in order to heal the gut and then gradually transition onto natural feeding.
Cats fed a balanced raw diet have more acidic stomach acid then those fed on biscuits. This combined with the presence of anti-bacterial salivary enzymes and a short gut means they are less likely to develop illness from exposure to pathogens. Sourcing high quality food from the human food-chain and ensuring that it has been adequately frozen + feeding in a sensible manner will reduce the risks. In terms of human health, pet owners should apply the same hygiene standards that they employ when dealing with food intended for their own consumption.
Interestingly there have been numerous recalls of branded biscuits due to contamination with salmonella, and some of these have found to be a cause of human illness requiring hospitalization. The same cannot be said for raw feeding.
This advice sheet has been made with the help of information from Nick Thompson at www.holisticvet.co.uk and Lyn Thompson at www.rawessentials.co.nz. For more information and advice, you can contact the Raw Essentials helpline on 0800 RAW PET (0800 729 738) or contact Wendy Dixon at New Plymouth Vet Group (06 758 4006) or St Aubyn clinic (06 751 3000) if you have any further questions.