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Originally published November 17 2008

Raw Food for Your Feline Friend

by Phoebe Kerr

(NaturalNews) If you are a cat owner, more than likely you understand the importance of providing your feline friend with optimal nutrition. Your cat's nutrition can be a very confusing topic if you are like a lot of pet owners out there. Nutrition is not a simple topic to cover; the amount of contradictory information available is enough to make a professional animal caregiver cringe. When you take your cat to the vet for a routine checkup you are told she's overweight and given a wet food to try. The wet food is important because cats don't drink enough water to stay fully hydrated on a dry commercial food diet. The first three ingredients on the can read: water, liver and beef. Those ingredients don't look so bad. Since canned food is predominantly water, why wouldn't the first ingredient be water? Notice how general the ingredients are though. Liver, well there aren't many mammals that don't have one of those. Beef is a little more specific but then you are left wondering about the quality; Was it a downer cow? The list of ingredients on this particular food is well over 20, many just as vague as the first few. As you move through the ingredients list you come across quite a few ingredients that you can't pronounce and don't know what are. Would you eat something with an ingredients list like this? Would you eat it every day of your life? Do you feel like this would promote a happy and healthy life? If these questions resonate with you, raw food may be a good option.

Feline Physiology

Cats are obligate carnivores. Their teeth are designed to rip flesh and crack bone. In the wild they feed on small mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Cats may eat grass but their teeth do not allow them to masticate it so it travels through their system in its whole form. If you open your cat's mouth you will see 30 sharp teeth, all with specific purposes. The feline digestive track is designed to digest meat. A cat eating a diet high in carbohydrates could cause a multitude of problems, most of which don't show up until much later in life. Diseases including dental disease, diabetes, thyroid disease, obesity and kidney failure are becoming more common and even acceptable. One nutrient that cats must get from their diet is taurine. They are unable to produce this particular amino acid on their own so they must consume meat or get it through supplementation (in commercial foods). Cats that consume a high carbohydrate diet are consuming a lot of filler material that their body doesn't know what to do with. The consumption of food that their bodies can't process results in larger, more odoriferous bowel movements. Left to their own devices, cats would hunt and "consume prey high in protein with moderate amounts of fat and minimal amounts of carbohydrates." (Cornell) Their entire body is designed to hunt; from their needle like claws and sharp teeth to their long legs and slender body.

Benefits of Raw Food

Feeding your feline companion a raw food diet isn't a mainstream practice yet but neither is being vegan. The choice to feed your cat a raw food diet is just as important as choosing to feed yourself a vegetarian or vegan diet. The benefits are substantial. Since cats are obligate carnivores they are able to meet their nutrition requirements by consuming fresh raw meat. It is advised to feed a species specific diet; providing your cat with meats that they could catch in the wild. Poultry is a great option. These meats are high in protein and not as fatty as beef or pork. To provide your feline friend with a diverse diet, you could rotate in rabbit and small amounts of larger mammals or wild game. It is important that the cat is allowed to consume the intestines (including the heart, lungs, liver & kidney) as well as muscle meat and bone so they are getting a well balance diet.

If you were to ask your vet about making your own cat food you may find that it is frowned upon. Cats require a balance of multiple different nutrients including fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Cats are very susceptible to deficiencies. If you ask about feeding your cat raw food, unless your vet is very well versed in nutrition and the benefits of raw food, they may try to talk you out of it. Make sure you are prepared to have this conversation with your vet by educating yourself and having documentation with you during your cat's routine visit.

Cat's mouths benefit greatly from the chewing action required for them to consume whole pieces of raw meat and bone. This chewing action breaks tartar and gingivitis off the teeth and stimulates the gums, acting like a natural tooth brush. Cats that eat dry or wet food do not get this benefit, the only way to remove the tartar and gingivitis is to put your cat under anesthesia and scale and polish their teeth. In most cases, if the cat has to be put under anesthesia it is because they are already exhibiting signs of dental disease like bad breath or pain when eating. Depending on the severity of the dental disease it may take a couple procedures to finish cleaning your cat's teeth. Another thing to consider is the number of times during your pet's life that she will have to undergo this procedure. The exploitation of dental disease through exams and minimal education is one way veterinarians make money. Since a majority of pet owners feed their cats dry or wet food there is a prevalence of dental disease in the companion animal community and a consistent revenue stream for animal dental hygienists.

Cats are able to digest meat and bones. Their systems were built to do it. People have only been feeding their pets processed foods for about 100 years. Commercial pet foods became popular in the 1930's during the Great Depression. Commercial food wasn't developed to promote health and well being; it was made of cheap ingredients and designed to sustain life not nourish it. When given the opportunity cats still hunt and consume their kill. Due to cats short intestinal tract and a reduced time required for digestion there is little concern for bacterial proliferation. The highly acidic environment that their bodies create when a meal has been consumed quickly breaks down meat and bones to extract its nutrients. Some feel it is important to supplement their pet's diet with a cat specific multi-vitamin or supplement powder so they get a full spectrum of nutrients as well as greens. Depending on personal knowledge and research this is an area where people who feed raw differ greatly.

A cat's outward appearance benefits greatly from a high protein natural diet. You will see a healthier fur coat, brighter eyes and healthier skin just to name a few. By supporting your cat's heath with raw food you create a happy healthy cat that will not need to go to the vet as often. Their immune system will be stronger and they will be less susceptible to parasites. You may find that you no longer need to use chemicals to prevent fleas. With a decrease in vet visits it is possible to put more money towards promoting the health of your feline friend. When you take your cat to the vet don't be surprised if your vet or the technicians make comments on how healthy your cat looks. This may also provide you the opportunity to educate your vet on the benefits of a raw food diet.

How to make the Switch

These lanky little carnivores will thank you with many years of health if you decide to support their systems by providing them with natural fresh meats. The cost of feeding a raw food diet to your cat may prove to be less expensive than the super premium foods you currently feed. There are multiple options for feeding your cat raw food. You can order your food online through a company like Primal Pet Foods, Inc. or Hare-Today, buy it at a local natural pet food store, join a local raw pet food co-op, visit a local farmer or butcher shop, or pick it up at the grocery store. Purchasing pre-packaged foods has the advantage of simplicity, but you don't know exactly what went into your pet's food. Buying whole meat and cutting it up is less convent but you do know exactly what your cat is consuming. It is advised to feed 4% of your cat's body weight (a little less if you are looking to get them to lose weight, a little more if you are looking to get them to gain weight) or 4% of their ideal weight.

Once you have a preferred source of meat (whole or pre-packaged and preferably organic) you have to get your cat to convert over to raw from kibble or wet food. This can be a long, drawn out task. Cats like their commercial food; getting them to switch over to raw is similar to getting a kid raised on fast food to switch over to a vegetarian diet. If your cat is young it may be easier than if your cat is older. Cats become addicted to the flavoring and sugars in the commercial foods. Raw meat does not have the odor that commercial foods do. It is designed as nature made it, not in a lab. A little coaxing may be necessary. Make sure your serve the raw food at room temperature, cats are more inclined to eat food that is near body temperature. Starting by getting your cat on a 100% wet food diet is advised. Ground up pieces of raw food can then be mixed into the canned food, slowly replacing the wet food. Once your cat is on 100% raw food you can start making the pieces larger and giving them small bones to consume. They will catch on quickly once they are on a 100% raw diet. This whole process can take anywhere from a couple weeks to months. Don't get discouraged, it is worth the time and energy.

In Conclusion

Remember that you aren't alone when you decide to make this switch. There are enlightened veterinarians out there who are very helpful; there are also many different internet communities whose main focus is pet health and nutrition. The opportunity for you to learn and grow your pet nutrition knowledge is limitless and you may be surprised to see how the knowledge gained from feeding your pet well affects other aspects of your life. The greatest reward is having your happy health cat that is 10, 15 even 20 years old not be plagued with the health issues that most are. This is not to say that a raw food diet will prevent them from ever getting sick, but it will support their body and immune system making it less likely.

Feeding your cat a natural diet is not intended to substitute for veterinary care. If your cat already has a compromised immune system you should work with a veterinarian, animal nutritionist and/or nutrition consultant to make sure you do not tax your cat's already overworked system. To best serve your cat it may be advisable to use nutrition as a complimentary therapy to Western practices. Once you have made the switch to raw it will take a little time to see the full benefits. Fur coat, skin and eyes may take a little while whereas you may notice the litter box and energy level (depending on age) right away.


About the author

Phoebe Kerr is a mom, and a writer and researcher in her spare time. Nap time is when she reads and does the homework on whatever class she is taking that month. A majority of her researching pertains to her life experience at that given time. Her extensive knowledge and resources range from animal nutrition to alternative healing modalities such as homeopathy and herbalism to alternative child rearing.
Phoebe has always been drawn to the natural world. Growing up in a rural town in Vermont gave her a deep seated love and respect for nature and the natural world. She attended university for Biology but in 2005 after starting her graduate studies in Agriculture had a large upheaval and her life took a different path. Her father-in-law was diagnosed with ALS resulting in the relocation of her and her partner to be close to his family. That was when her passion for healing the body was ignited. Since that time, her father-in-law has passed, but her desire for knowledge and helping others through education or hands on healing of loved ones had just begun to unfold.

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