By Kim Rain
Published: 12/11/2021, edited: 12/11/2021
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Is your cat turning their nose away from their normal dry or canned food? Perhaps they’ve gained some weight and need a lower-calorie solution. Maybe your purring pal has developed a medical issue or food allergy that requires a different nutritional intake than their regular diet. Whether you are looking for food alternatives or your vet has prescribed it, a homemade diet may be a good alternative for you cat.
Wondering if you should make the switch to homemade cat food? Read on to find out what a homemade diet is, and if it’s a better choice to feed your cat.
What is a homemade diet for cats?
A homemade diet is food made in your own home by you. Just like for us, a homemade diet for cats is made from all natural ingredients, and formulated with the right balance of nutrients to promote health and stave off disease. And considering the health risks associated with commercial pet foods, homemade diets may even be a healthier choice for cats.
Homemade diets can be cooked or raw, depending on your preference, and fed to your cat just like you would any other food. When starting out, though, cooked foods are usually safer than a raw diet, as any bacteria in the meat are killed off in the cooking process. Pathogens in raw meat, including salmonella, E. coli, and listeria, can be dangerous if consumed by your cat, and you can also run the risk of contaminating yourself while preparing raw foods.
What are the nutritional requirements for cats?
In the wild, cats eat a diet primarily composed of meat, that includes a high moisture level, a moderate amount of fat, and a very small amount of carbohydrates, equating to just 1 – 2% of the overall diet.
Your domestic cat is also an obligate carnivore, which means that unlike humans and dogs, they have to consume a diet composed primarily of meat to survive. They lack the enzymes to properly utilize plant materials, and thereby can’t derive enough nutrients out of them. Cats also need several amino acids to survive, and while most of them are synthesized inside a cat’s own body, there are two that they still need to consume from meat. A small amount of arginine can be synthesized, but it's not enough to keep a cat balanced, and taurine isn’t synthesized at all.
Lastly, your cat generally consumes most of their water in their food. A wild cat’s prey contains about 70 – 75% water, so they’ve evolved to not have a thirst drive to seek out water sources outside of that prey, which is why you rarely see your healthy cat drinking water.
In short, a cat’s diet should be composed of:
- High amount of meat or fish proteins
- High level of moisture
- Moderate level of fat
- Very low amount of carbohydrates
- Vitamins A, B12, D and niacin
- Several minerals, including calcium and iron
- Omega fatty acids
- Amino acids, with special attention to arginine and taurine
Eating right for their species keeps cats healthy, promotes good skin and coat, aids digestion and prevents many kinds of disease. But what happens if cats consume the wrong amounts of these essential dietary requirements?
Too many carbs can lead to obesity and diabetes, while dehydration from inadequate water consumption can cause cystitis, kidney or bladder stones, or kidney disease. A deficiency of arginine can lead to vomiting, loss of balance, weight loss, and even death, while a lack of taurine can result in blindness, kidney atrophy, heart disease, and stunted growth.
Commercial diets for cats
Most cat parents start with a commercial diet bought from the pet store or veterinary office of either dry foods, canned foods or both. These foods have been formulated with all the essential nutrients required for cats, are already prepared and ready to eat, and are easy to portion, all factors which make them very attractive to pet parents.
Commercial pet foods, however, also come with a host of problems. For starters, most foods have inconsistent or false labeling that confuses consumers as to what the ingredients and nutrient levels really are. Plus, they can contain several additives, fillers, preservatives, artificial flavors and dyes.
Dry foods are even more problematic as they can be dangerously low in moisture levels, around 5 – 10%, and very high in carbohydrates, about 35 – 50% or higher. Dry foods are processed at high temperatures which can alter and destroy essential nutrients and proteins, requiring synthetic supplements to replace them. They can even be contaminated with fungal mycotoxins, bacteria, and insects, and can spoil while waiting to be eaten. Plus, many dry foods contain more plant proteins than meat proteins which cannot be utilized by cats.
Homemade diets for cats
Whether fear over the safety of commercial cat foods, or due to an issue in their cat, some pet parents look to a homemade cat diet for their feline furiend. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of feeding your cat a homemade diet.
Pros of a homemade diet for cats
- You have full control over all ingredients, including nutrients, supplements and additives in the food.
- You can formulate your cat’s diet with the right amount of meat proteins, fats and carbohydrates to come closer to a wild diet.
- You can ensure there’s enough water in the food to prevent dehydration and other issues.
- You can easily switch your recipes, proteins and carbs to address developing protein or food allergies, or medical conditions.
- You can customize meals to please any picky palate.
- You can prepare a raw diet that doesn’t involve cooking the nutrients out of food.
- You control cooking temperatures to lessen the loss of nutrients in cooked foods.
- You can store food in the refrigerator or freezer, keeping it fresh and erasing the need for preservatives.
- Homemade foods cost less than commercial cat foods.
Cons of a homemade diet for cats
- You’ll need to learn the essentials of a balanced cat diet and pay close attention to recipes to ensure your cat is getting the right amounts of essential nutrients.
- You’ll spend time in the kitchen preparing your cat’s food.
- Whether raw or cooked, any improper handling of meats and fish can cause illness from salmonella, listeria, and E. coli.
Tips for creating homemade diets for cats
If you’ve decided to try a homemade diet for your cat, check out these tips to ensure a safe and healthy transition.
- Consult with your veterinarian first to learn the essentials of homemade meals for cats and decide if its right for your cat.
- Research the right amounts of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and other nutrients your cat needs.
- Consider your cat’s age, weight and medical conditions when formulating recipes.
- If your cat is an outdoor cat, they may need more calories than indoor only cats.
- Be extra careful with kittens, and always consult with your vet throughout their entire growing cycle.
- Consider your meats wisely when creating or using recipes. Each meat can contain different amounts of nutrients, so formulate the entire recipe accordingly.
- Always stay away from foods that are toxic to cats.
- Start with recipes formulated by veterinarians and cat nutritionists.
Need some more guidance? Chat with a vet today to find answers to your cat’s nutritional needs and more!