A Raw Deal - Raw & Freeze-Dried Diets

Author: Lora Schuldt, DVM

February 21, 2013

What’s the deal with feeding raw meat to cats? This is a question I’ve had clients ask me and I’ve answered it many different ways over the years. It remains a controversial topic in pet nutrition, but why? Opponents of feeding raw food raise concerns about safety and cite a lack of studies showing that raw is superior to canned meat diets. Advocates tout the nutritional benefits of meat that has not been cooked or processed and regard such foods as safe when prepared properly.

Feline veterinarians now believe that the closer we can get to feeding cats a carnivorous, low carbohydrate diet, the healthier they will be. Mimicking the “ancestral” diet is what we’re trying to do. With that in mind, I have kept an open mind about feeding raw food and have trialed 3 raw meat diets with my own cats. It is very important to say that I am talking about commercially prepared, nutritionally balanced diets designed for cats. Raw ground meat from the grocery store could pose safety concerns and is nutritionally deficient.

I have several observations about feeding raw to my cats. My first surprise was how palatable they seemed to find even the frozen form. Two of the diets were very easy to portion, minimal work to prepare, and barely smelled. The third was more like a container of bloody meat, but I was ok with that. Each raw diet was more expensive than a canned diet, but not by that much. Because raw diets can be more caloric than canned foods, you can feed less and there is usually less fecal output. I did not worry about foodborne illness (the primary health concern is for humans handling raw pet foods, not the pets consuming the diet) because I used the same practices I would if I were handling raw hamburgers: wash your hands, don’t let it sit out, wash the dishes, use it up quickly or keep it frozen.

At Cats Exclusive, we would certainly consider feeding a raw diet in certain circumstances, and we have recently added Stella and Chewy’s freeze-dried raw food to our inventory. At this time, it seems cats with a diagnosis of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) or food allergies would be the best candidates for a raw diet. Because they can also be quite palatable, picky eaters may also benefit. Make sure to discuss this option with your cat’s regular veterinarian before proceeding with such a diet change, however.

For a very detailed discussion of the raw food controversy, check out the AVMA's recommendations.