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5 min read

Raw Diet for Cats: What You Need to Know

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By Adam Lee-Smith

Published: 03/04/2021, edited: 11/17/2023

Reviewed by a licensed veterinary professional: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

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Overview


Whether you've just added a new kitten to your family or you're searching for a new cat food, you've undoubtedly seen the hype about raw diets for cats. Considering some of the ingredients used in many processed cat foods, it's no surprise that more pet parents are turning to raw diets.

But is this new trend good for your fur-baby's health? And are there other unforeseen issues that may occur? Here's everything you need to know about feeding your cat a raw diet.


Is a raw diet safe for my cat?

There's much debate about the safety of feeding a cat a raw diet. While it may make sense from a biological standpoint, many veterinary and federal organizations strongly advise against feeding your cat a raw food diet.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), Center for Disease Control (CDC), and US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) all agree that raw food diets can be dangerous due to the presence of harmful pathogens. A 2012 study found around 25% of raw meats sold as pet food contain some type of harmful bacteria, including salmonella, E. coli, and listeria.

A 2021 study reinforces claims that raw cat foods contain harmful bacteria. Between July 2018 and July 2019, 47 cats across England and Scotland contracted mycobacteria (M.) bovis, a bacterium that can cause tuberculosis, from eating the same commercial venison-based raw cat food. 

These pathogens are not only potentially dangerous for your cat but also pose health risks to humans. While cats digest raw meat easier, humans do not, and cross-contamination through handling raw meat or even interacting with your cat could pose serious health risks to humans. Pathogens such as salmonella would be killed when cooking meat, removing any health risks.

Additionally, cats can have an allergic reaction to raw foods, especially ones that aren't especially for felines. This immune-mediated reaction comes from your cat being exposed to ingredients they're sensitised to. So, if you start feeding your cat something like raw duck or raw lamb, it's possible it may cause vomiting, diarrhea, excessive licking, and more. Of course, cats would also be allergic to the ingredient when cooked.

When feeding your cat raw meats, watch out for bones, as they could become lodged in your cat's digestive tract or cause them to choke. That being said, cats are generally good at digesting small shards of bone.



orange cat paw trying to get raw meat on table - Raw Diet for Cats What You Need to Know

What are the benefits of a raw diet for cats?

Now that we've looked at the potential risks of feeding your cat raw food, it's worth considering why pet parents put their felines on this controversial diet. Feeding your cat raw meats makes good sense, biologically speaking. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they must eat meat to survive. Cutting out any unnecessary carbs, fruits, and vegetables from your cat's diet may put less stress on their digestive system. 

It's worth mentioning that some of the nutritional value of meat is lost when you cook it. As a result, your cat may not be getting the same vitamins, amino acids, and minerals from meals as they would in the wild. Many commercial cat foods use supplements to make up for any lost nutrition; however, these additions may not meet your cat's exact nutritional needs.

Many pet parents who have their cats on a raw food diet have noticed health benefits. Raw diets may improve coat health due to an increase in unsaturated fatty acids, while you may also notice an improvement in your cat's digestion due to a lack of carbs. This can mean better formed and better smelling stool.

Other potential benefits include improved dental health, weight loss, and increased energy. While there do seem to be benefits of a raw diet for cats, many experts feel they are outweighed by the potential for cross-contamination and illness.



Balancing your cat's diet with raw food

If you plan to switch your cat onto a raw food diet, you'll need to consider how to balance your feline's diet. While many pet parents consider raw meat to be more complete than your standard cat food, you shouldn't just feed your cat a mixture of random meats. Calorie intake, fat content, nutrient profile and protein content are all important to consider if you want to avoid your tiny tiger getting sick from a lack of key nutrients. 

You may be wondering why you're unable just to feed your cat any meat, as stray and feral cats survive off scraps. It is worth considering that stray and feral cats have a much lower life expectancy than house cats. Before you start feeding your cat raw food, consult your vet to discuss whether this is right for your cat and if they have any suitable recipes. They may well refer you to a feline nutritionist.

If you plan to buy commercially available raw cat food, opt for frozen or freeze-dried to avoid any unwanted bacteria. You should also check with your vet that this pet food meets dietary needs and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines.



orange cat at food bowl

How to safely prepare raw food for your cat

Since one of the main drawbacks to a raw food diet for felines is cross-contamination and the presence of pathogens, you must pay attention to how you prepare raw food. There are plenty of steps you, as a pet parent, can take to avoid cross-contamination and pathogens. 

Whenever you're handling raw meat, be sure to wear gloves. Also, prepare raw meat in a sanitary environment and clean up afterward with a cleaning solution that kills pathogens. Try to keep any raw meat frozen, and try only to handle it when frozen. Ensure your cat is eating in an isolated area away from commonly used furniture, and sanitize the food bowl after each meal. 

You may also want to set aside kitchen utensils especially for preparing your cat's food, like a separate mixing bowl, carving knife, and storage containers. It's also a good idea to create a separate space in your fridge or freezer for your cat's raw meat. When buying raw meat for your cat, check that it's from a registered supplier. If you're worried about the presence of bones, grind up the meat well to avoid any injuries.



Is a raw diet the right choice for my cat?

No, it's not recommended that you feed your cat a raw food diet. While some pet parents may see some health benefits, these benefits are largely negated by the risk of your cat contracting pathogens and cross-contaminating with their pet parents. Preparing a raw diet for your cat is also very time-consuming. 

If you do plan on changing your cat over to a raw diet, it's vital you contact your vet to discuss your cat's specific dietary requirements and whether it's safe to give your cat raw food. Generally, high-quality cat food will give you all the nutrients your cat needs without the risk of getting ill or your feline not getting enough nutrients. 


Got more questions about your cat's diet? Chat with a veterinary professional today for answers to your cat's health, behavior and more!

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