There are many recipes for making homemade dog food both online and in cookbooks, but what about the family cat?
Homemade cat food is a much more complicated proposition. Recipes and resources are harder to come by, and some authorities disagree on what cats can and cannot consume.
Before changing your diet, check with your veterinarian about your cat’s specific nutritional and dietary needs.
Below is an interview with Times Test Kitchen editor Noelle Carter and Dr. Tasi, edited for clarity and length:
There are many homemade dog food books out there, but it’s hard to find cookbooks that focus on cat food, let alone recipes, or even non-contradictory advice.
I think there is no point in looking for something definitive. If 30 vets were surveyed and asked what you should feed a cat, we would receive many different responses.
I think you have to go back to the basics and ask what veterinarians are taught in school about animal nutrition. And the answer is, almost nothing …
Most veterinarians believe that pet food companies make good products and have an interest in the health of pets. They have done the research, they know what to do and they know what is best. And I completely fell into that trap. Now, I don’t believe that anymore.
I have fed my cats exactly as I was taught. Now, I’m not doing scientific research here, but over the years, when I’ve fed my cat’s processed food, each of my cats developed some kind of chronic disease. And all of these cats are genetically unrelated, so what is the common denominator? What I’m feeding them.
A cat naturally eats mice, birds, small rodents, small mammals, insects, reptiles. Yes, they can nibble on some blades of grass here or there, but it is a carnivorous diet. And who can deny that?
What about the high-quality “balanced nutrition” brands we find in gourmet markets or even vet offices?
All dry foods are grain-based. Have you ever seen a cat nibble on an ear of corn? No. So I started recommending canned food and quickly began to see the merits of leaving dry food behind. But then I started to realize that even canned foods are highly processed due to the canning method (high-pressure heat cooking). The good nutritional advice that I can offer you is, eat less processed foods.
So our cats should be eating meat?
You shouldn’t just use meat. If we are preparing homemade cat food, our objective has to be to elaborate a recipe that recreates the nutritional value of a mouse. A mouse is the perfect cat food. When cats eat mice, they don’t eat mouse fillets. They eat all the parts of the mice. And all these different parts and organs contain different nutrients.
It sounds like homemade cat food is a lot more complicated than buying ground chicken from the supermarket.
If you are interested in feeding your cat food prepared at home, you have to do it with great care and spend a lot of time learning. This is not easy. For people who want to feed their cats less processed food, I don’t think they should make their own food the first time.
If you are feeding an animal a raw meat-based diet, you cannot just grind raw chicken breast. That is not a whole animal. You need calcium from the bones. You need amino acids present in the organs. You need fatty organs like the liver because that has iron. It is not just a matter of “Let’s buy chicken and feed it to our cats.”
If someone was interested in making homemade food for their cat, where should they start?
If you want to, start with prepared foods [frozen and raw]. This is how I did it, and once my cats transitioned, I realized that (a) I like to cook, (b) I can cook, and (c) I have the kitchen and the time, so I started doing my own food. It is less expensive and I have more control over the ingredients.
What kind of meat can we feed our cats?
Any type of meat is fine: beef, pork, chicken, turkey. But, if it is fish, it should never be fed raw. There is something in fish that can antagonize the use of vitamin E. Cats are not supposed to eat fish in the same way. Cats evolved as desert predators, and their ancestor is the African wildcat. With that said, if I had cooked fish, I would give my cats a couple of bites. But it’s not right for cats to eat a diet rich in fish, and I don’t recommend it.
Many people wonder, which is better when comparing raw versus cooked. Does the diet have to be raw, and do I have to worry that this is safe?
This is very, very controversial. Most veterinarians and the American Veterinary Medical Association have issued a position against raw diets because they consider food safety to be very important. I can say that in 15 years of dealing with animals that eat raw food diets, I have only seen one household where only two cats got sick. That’s it.
Before you begin, visit Dr. Lisa Pierson’s website, catinfo.org. She is a very conventional veterinarian and a pioneer. While his original cat diet was predominantly based on raw meat, he now advocates partial cooking of chicken pieces to reduce the chance of bacterial contamination.
If you are feeding your cat raw or partially cooked meat, the only safe way to do so is whole cuts of meat or animals. You cannot use ground beef. If you have a piece of chicken, the salmonella is not on the inside of the meat, but on the surface. When I made my own food with chicken quarters, I would soak them in boiling water for a minute. That’s lightly cooking the skin and hopefully sanitizing the exterior.
Is there something to avoid?
Yes. Garlic and onion, anything in that family can cause anemia in cats. And don’t give them cooked bones.
Why cooked bones?
The animals were not designed to eat cooked bones. Cooked bones splinter and can cause perforations. Cats were designed to eat bone, but they were designed to eat raw bones from small animals. So no cooked bones.
For those of you not ready to make your own food, are there commercial raw foods or alternatives that you would recommend?
The best way to start is to go to some of the companies that are doing good, balanced, frozen, raw food pre-pasteurized diets. The brands I’m most familiar with are Rad Cat, and then there’s an East Coast company called Aunt Jeni’s. And Nature’s Variety also produces raw foods [sold under the Instinct brand ]. In some cases, [brands] do high-pressure pasteurization (HPP). They make PPH for their chicken and turkey-based foods due to the risk of salmonella.
There is also an intermediate gender with freeze-dried foods. And many veterinarians are more comfortable recommending freeze-drying because the process mitigates the possibility of transmission of pathogens through food.
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