Some Notes on Feeding Your Cat a
Home-prepared Cooked or Raw Diet
For the past six years I’ve been making food for my cats, Fearless Freep, Mouse, Gracie and Sam, and here I’ll share some of my experience in getting Kitty to cooperate. I won’t go into recipes or proportions here. Our reading list has lots of good resources for that information. (You will find that some of these sources contradict each other on some points, and some have recipes for supplements – also a point where many contradict each other. Read them all and then follow your instincts.) But where to begin?
While most of us won’t be fixing mouse or chickadee for our cats’ dinner, a home-prepared cooked – or even better, raw – diet is the next best thing. A home-cooked diet will be better for your furry friend than even the best commercial diet – you control what goes into it. No excess grains, no “meal” or “digest”, no red dye number 3,427, no chemical preservatives.
Cats lack the enzymes to digest veggies and need them to be broken down – either by their prey digesting them or by us lightly cooking them. But a raw meat diet is certainly the closest to their natural diet. My Siamese, Sam, was a barn cat for three years before I brought him home to be an indoor cat. Although he got plenty of good quality dry and canned food while he lived in the barn, I suspect he also supplemented his diet with whatever he could catch. I soon switched him to a raw diet, and the improvement in his coat and the allergies that caused his “goopy” eyes was immediate. When I later switched his diet to all organic we saw another impressive improvement.
The EEEEEEEW! Factor – or
What About BACTERIA!?!?!?!?!?!
Just say NO! to onions…
Onions are toxic to cats.
As Emeril would say, you don’t hafta call the chicken police! Follow basic safe food handling rules. Wash your hands. Wash your tools. Freeze batches of food – don’t keep either cooked or raw meat in the fridge for more than a day at a time. And no – you won’t get food poisoning if your cat eats raw food and then licks your face!
CONVINCING THE CAT…Some don’t need convincing. Fearless Freep was the first cat I switched to homemade food. Piece of cake. He hardly ever met anything edible he didn’t like - and some things that should be considered inedible, like plasic bags. Except for cooked ground turkey, he’d eat anything and loved to “help” me make his food. It was some time before I switched him from cooked to raw, but he took right to it and did very well on it.
OK, so how much to feed?
I got my husband the computer geek to find me the average weight for a mouse, a squirrel, a robin and a chipmunk. Then, figuring that in the wild a cat might be lucky to catch a meal 4 or 5 times a week, I averaged out the weights for a 7 day period and came up with 2 ½ ounces a day, plus veggies and a few treats. Sam at 12 pounds is larger than the 8 or 9 pound average cat and maintains his weight on 2 ½ ounces. A more active 9 pound cat might do the same. Gracie is smaller than average and I might feed her 2 ounces a day. This is less than the typical can recommends, but there is nothing unusable in home-made food. I watch their “waistlines” and adjust amounts accordingly.
Like Freep, Sam will happily eat whatever I put in front of him. However, I learned by observing that he has some difficulties with ground meats. He tends to turn around and regurgitate them on the rug next to his dish. But cats’ teeth are made,for tearing rather than chewing and the their stomachs are made for digesting chunks of meat, so we feed Sam in chunks of roughly ½ to ¾ inch and spread them out on a flat plate to slow him down a bit.
Other cats aren’t so willing to put up with change of any sort. Here’s where where you need a heaping helping of patience and creativity.
At age 15, Mouse had grown up on grocery store dry food and wasn’t interested in anything else except peanuts, Triscuits and chocolate graham crackers (none of which are advised as treats for cats or dogs!). She took to better quality dry food without much trouble, but getting her to try canned food was more of a challenge. The method usually suggested is to mix the new food with the old, gradually increasing the amount of new and decreasing the old over the course of a couple of weeks. Mouse would have none of that, thank you. So I started putting a spoonful of canned food in a separate dish next to her dry food. Over time I found that there were certain canned foods she would take a couple licks of and I’d end up throwing out the rest. I threw out a lot of food, but eventually she would take a few more licks. It was probably a good six months before she would eat enough canned food so I could stop the dry. As for “human” food I could never get her to eat more than a few bits of cooked chicken. But for an old girl addicted to cheap dry food, that wasn’t too bad.
Gracie is another dry food junkie, but I got started with her at a much earlier age, getting her from the SPCA at age three. I found she would eat ¼ inch bits of cooked chicken breast if I hand fed them to her one at a time, but not from a bowl or plate, thank you. Now, I’m a patient person, but even I have limits. But she did like the chicken, knew it lived in the refrigerator and would squeak at me if I had forgotten to cook any chicken for her. She was eating maybe a half ounce of chicken a day. One day I was prepping raw chicken for Sam and something made me offer her some. Hey Mikey! She liked it! Hers still has to be cut in tiny bits, but she will now eat ½ to 1 ounce twice a day and I have slowly added in some of the veggies I cook for Sam. While he thinks vitamin supplements are treats, she will have no part of them. I’ve reduced her dry food accordingly, but don’t mind feeding her some dry as long as she’ll eat some fresh food. She’s really much more interested in playing than in eating.
I can spend up to $5.99 a pound on meats and still be spending less per day than on the best commercial canned foods!
GO SLOW with any dietary changes, both to let Kitty get used to the idea and to let Kitty’s digestive system adjust gently. Fresh meats may need to be cooked at first and then fed raw. Or you may find that a cat who won’t touch cooked meats will be happy to eat them raw, or will only eat cooked meats. Watch for any vomiting, soft stool, urinary difficulties or skin issues. Cats have sensitive systems, and anything can be an allergen, even if it is of the best quality. If you encounter any of these problems, a change of protein source may be in order, but your best bet may be to get help from a veterinarian who’s knowledgeable in feline nutrition.
Be patient, be watchful, and be persistent. Keep a record of what you’re feeding, what Kitty likes and doesn’t like, and any issues that come up. Keep in touch at least annually with a veterinarian who is willing to work with a fresh foods diet. And keep an eye on the bookstores. As more of us work with nutrition and alternative health systems, more and better books are being written by knowledgeable authors to help us out.
Resident Cat Person