A Raw Food Diet for Cats — What are the Pros and Cons?

Looking to get the scoop on feeding your cat a raw diet? We spoke with the experts to get the pros and cons of a raw food diet for cats.

Cat sitting at the table with a piece of raw meat in a bowl.
There are pros and cons associated with putting your cat on a raw diet. Photography by ©PumpizoldA | Getty Images.

When selecting what you hope is a nutritionally fortified food choice for your cat, it’s easy to be afflicted with a case of the Double C’s — Confusion and Concern. Confusion occurs due to the eruption of choices available online and on store shelves, and concern that you are indeed picking one containing healthy nutrients your cat needs. Should you stick with traditional commercial “cooked” diets that come in kibble and canned forms or venture into the world of raw food diets? Nowadays, a raw food diet for cats could run the gamut from uncooked, fresh meats you prepare at home to dehydrated ones you add water to, pre-packaged frozen meals and freeze-dried versions.

“Today, pet parents have more healthy diet options to pick from than ever,” notes Jennifer Coates, DVM, a veterinarian and author based in Fort Collins, Colorado. “Cats tend to do well on a diet that is high in protein, contains adequate amounts of water and is made primarily from ingredients that sound like ‘real’ food. A veterinarian familiar with a cat’s particular needs is in the best position to make specific recommendations.”

A Raw Food Diet for Cats — Yes or No?

A hungry tabby cat looking up.
What are the pros and cons of a raw food diet for cats? Photography ©hrabar | Getty Images.

What are the pros and cons of a raw food diet for cats? And will your cat accept this new cuisine, or sniff and walk out of the kitchen? For answers, Catster turned to our experts, Dr. Coates as well as Katherine Evans, DVM, a veterinarian at the Holistic Veterinary Center in Concord, New Hampshire, and Ihor Basko, DVM, a veterinarian at All Creatures Great & Small in Kapaa, Hawaii.

A Raw Food Diet for Cats — The Pros

1. More quality commercially prepared raw diets are now available. Dr. Evans says, “Commercial raw diets are generally easier to feed than home-prepared diets, and they tend to contain more organ meat so the cats get all the different amino acids they need.”

2. Commercial raw diets tend not to include carbohydrates. These diets tend to include ingredients designed for what your cat is — a meat-eating carnivore. Our experts noted that carbohydrates are complex sugars, and foods containing these might contribute to urinary issues and diabetes in some cats. Dr. Basko says, “Dry food can create crystals in a cat’s bladder, causing urinary tract infections and plugged urethras in male cats.”

3. Some cats with health issues fare better on commercial raw diets as recommended by their veterinarians. “Diets containing single proteins like some freeze-dried commercial raw diets are good for cats with food sensitivities,” Dr. Evans notes. “I’ve noticed that cats tend to like freeze-dried rather than frozen raw food diets. It is important to add warm water to these freeze-dried diets to make the protein closer to the body temperature of a mouse — around 102 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes it more appealing to cats. Remember that cats are very picky, but their pickiness has evolved with their survival.”

A Raw Food Diet for Cats — The Cons

1. Some cats are neophobic — they have a fear of the new. “It’s great to have a cat who eats anything, but that is not common,” Dr. Evans says. “Cats develop strict preferences for the shape, texture and smell of specific foods as kittens. That is why it is important to expose them to a variety of healthy foods when they are kittens.” Dr. Basko adds, “Cats addicted to dry food have a hard time switching to raw.”

2. Preparing homemade raw diets can be time-consuming and risky. “Home- cooked diets are great for sick pets, pets recovering from surgery and pets with allergies and gastrointestinal problems, but they take time, and a raw food diet prepared from beef, lamb or rabbit may not contain enough taurine, an essential amino acid necessary for proper heart function,” Dr. Evans says. Dr. Coates says, “Some commercially available raw food diets are being recalled for contaminants like Salmonella and Listeria at a greater rate than are commercially available ‘cooked’ diets. If pet parents choose to buy these foods, they should use the same food hygiene practices that they would when handling something like raw chicken (wash hands thoroughly after handling, disinfect surfaces) and only offer them to healthy, adult cats who are not immunocompromised in any way.”

Dr. Basko points out, “Cats on steroids and many drugs might be more susceptible to picking up parasites from raw meat (toxoplasmosis) and pathogenic bacteria.”

3. Commercial raw diets tend to cost more than commercial dry and canned food. “I recommend buying human-grade, USDA-approved, antibiotic-free organic food if you can afford it,” Dr. Basko says.

Adds Dr. Evans, “Pet foods have gotten extraordinarily expensive. To me, canned food is a better option, as you are not looking at breaking the bank as you would with freeze-dried raw foods.”

The Final Word on a Raw Food Diet for Cats

The American Veterinary Medical Association has gone on record opposing feeding raw diets to cats and dogs. The group’s main concern is the risk that raw or undercooked animal-sourced protein like chicken may be contaminated with bacteria that will make the pet ill or infected.

But Dr. Evans sees more public interest in commercial raw diets.

“There is a greater awareness by educated consumers to put more pressure on companies for better quality products,” she says. If you are considering the raw food route — making homemade meals or purchasing commercially prepared ones, Dr. Coates offers this final piece of advice: “I recommend that any homemade diet, cooked or raw, be prepared based on a recipe that is put together by a veterinary nutritionist.” Two raw food diet websites managed by veterinarian nutritionists include balanceit.com and petdiets.com.

Arden Moore is a pet behavior consultant, author and master pet first-aid instructor who often teaches hands-on classes with her cool cat, Casey, and very tolerant dog, Kona. Each week, she hosts the Oh Behave Show on Pet Life Radio. Learn more at ardenmoore.com, and follow Arden on Twitter at @ArdenKnowsPets.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Catster magazine. Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.

Thumbnail: ©PumpizoldA | Getty Images. 

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32 thoughts on “A Raw Food Diet for Cats — What are the Pros and Cons?”

  1. Years ago we had a half-Abyssinian female who lived to be 21 and she was in perfect health up until she was 19. We got her as a kitten and our vet recommended raw organ meat. We fed her raw beef liver, heart or kidney 2-3 times a month and I attribute her longevity to that part of her diet. None of our current furry companions will go near it, or any people food.

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  7. I find this article odd. All the Pros you list show how awesome a raw diet is for CATS. All your Cons seem to only complain on the issues it causes HUMANS. Is that not literally like comparing apples to pizza?

  8. Superb blog you have here but I was wanting to know if you
    knew of any discussion boards that cover the same topics talked about
    here? I’d really love to be a part of online community where
    I can get responses from other knowledgeable people that share the same interest.
    If you have any recommendations, please let me know.

  9. Certain worms, Salmonella, Listeria and so forth, certainly. However, can a cat actually contract Toxoplasma Gondii from raw common meats? I thought that only eating wild birds and rodents posed this issue.

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  12. Silky fur, white teeth, no obesity, defined muscles, less stinky poop, no more urinary tract infections, bladder crystals, good energy… Yeah I’m sticking with home-prepped meat/organs (chicken, beef, minimal tiny fish). It’s worth putting in an hour or two ifof prep twice a month. L-lysine really helps with immunity too.

    Not going back to kibble or canned.

    If people so worried about meat bacteria, just wash the meat in vinegar+salt water. Pack in ziplocks then freeze. I don’t waste my time blending it all into mush as if the cats can’t chew through meat with their sharp teeth.

  13. I am not a nutritionist so I can only speak from my own experience. I have never had my cat cough up a hairball, her tests from the vet each year come back great, never had any issues with joints or skin/fur, muscle growth is great, heart or urinary tract function is on track, never constipated on her raw diet. That said, it is a commercially purchased raw food. You have to make the decision for your pet as you see fit; no one should be made to feel they HAVE to feed kibble, or MUST feed raw. Trust your heart, look at ALL avenues of information, and watch your pet. I think that is what it all boils down to in the end.

    1. i truly appreciated your diplomatic approach as to how we choose to feed our cats. there is no one answer. educate ones self as a guardian but keep the fur babies happy. well done.

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  16. I’ve been using raw food for two years and my two little fur balls love their food! I could also recognize a positive change in their behaviour! It’s true that raw feeding is time consuming but there are also a lot of online shops which offer frozen raw food, so that’s definitely a good alternative!

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  20. I do not use raw food, instead only commercially cooked canned food. I fear that giving the cat raw food nor even homemade food is too risky:
    (a) Raw food might have the contaminating bacteria and there’s also fear of does it have enough of the very important taurine. Proper amount of Taurine, vitamins and minerals is also a concern in homemade cooked food.

    (b). Both raw food or a homemade cat food are a risk because what if I get sick and have to be hospitalized and then the cat has to be put in a boarding facility. That facility is not gonna home cook meals for the cat nor will it be able to really have diligence in proper feeding of any raw food, if it would even be able to give raw food to any cat.

    SO, in regards to all above I feel I am putting the cat at less risk to feed commercially cooked canned cat food.

    1. What if disaster hits and companies shut down? Who will make the synthetic food for you? At least meat has always existed (which cats ate before we made them dependent) :-)

      Just another angle to consider. All the best with your kitty!

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