While still not enough is known at this time about a cat's exact nutritional requirements (such as the exact ideal ratio of Omega 3 fatty acids to Omega 6), this much we do know - they have always been, and continue to be obligate carnivores with carbohydrate requirement of no more than 5%.
What little carbs a cat needs, it gets from the digested food in their prey animals' stomach. Some cats eat the stomach contents, and others do not. To hedge my bets I give my cats 95% meat (including organs and bone) and < 5% hi-moisture low-glycemic index veggies.
Grains are not only not necessary in a cat's diet, they can actually cause irritation in the gut. If nothing else, please consider removing grains from your cats' food whether you feed commercial or a home-made diet. In particular, grains are really problematic for cats with Irritable/Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
Some health problems can be alleviated by adding certain supplements to the kitty's food. Check out other areas of our website for help with nutrition for different conditions, and always adjust recipes in consultation with your vet. Use basic hygiene principles when storing and handling meat. My cats eat all their meat within about 30 minutes, but if they didn't I wouldn't leave meat out for more than 30 minutes or so especially during warm weather. In 11 years on my list with thousands of (whole prey and ground-mix) raw-fed cats, we have had 2 problems - in both cases, liver was the culprit, and in one case it was several days old.
3 Basic Options:
1. Grind animals or birds with as many of the original parts included as possible. In other words, grind chicken meat and bones plus liver, heart, kidneys, spleen, gizzards, etc.
- Pros: No worries about the Ca:Phos ratio; can run veggies through the blender thus making them easier for a kitty to digest; feeding is easy - spoon out just like you would commercial wet food
- Cons: Investment in a grinder; grinding can be a pain and on average takes about 2 hours for 20 lbs of meat; larger animals and birds are difficult to grind
2. Buy muscle meat, organs, and as much of the animal/bird as possible from the store and add calcium/bonemeal + trace minerals to prepare a balanced raw diet.
- Pros: No grinding required; can use either ground meat or chunks which can be ground in a food processor; can feed larger animals such as beef (not saying this is always a good thing because it's not part of a cat's natural diet); feeding is easy - much like wet commercial food
- Cons: Need to figure out for each type of meat and organ what the Calcium and Phos levels are so as to determine how much additional Calcium, collagen, and missing trace minerals to put in the food; limited menu options (pretty hard to find pheasant chunks or mice at the store:); easiest to screw up Ca:Phos ratio:(
3. Feed whole prey animals and birds that a cat would naturally eat in the wild e.g. quail, mice, pheasant, cornish game hen, rabbit etc.
- Pros: Nothing will keep tartar build-up at bay like chewing on bones; closer to a cat's real diet in the wild; cats less likely to gobble down their food; fun to watch them growl and tear apart the meat
- Cons: Acceptance issues are a real barrier - a lot of cats simply will not accept a whole mouse as food but this can be overcome with patience and persistence; some cats (e.g. my 2 boys) make a royal mess so daily clean-up can be a hassle.
At our house, the Fab Four (formerly known as the Mountain Cats) eat 3-4 meals of ground followed by 3-4 meals of whole prey birds and animals, and then back to ground. So we feed about 1/2 whole prey-1/2 ground mix. The reason for this is to be able to add taurine to the ground meat and give the kitties some fiber in their diet from the veggies. Feeding whole prey has not been easy with our girls but rubbing crushed dried liver over the prey animal/bird usually convinces my girl cats that I am indeed offering them real food. Our boys took to whole prey like.. well cats to real meat!:)
This combo of 50% whole prey and 50% ground is working for our cats because with 100% ground plus daily chicken necks and wings for chewing, they still required dentals. With half their meals consisting of whole prey, their teeth are sparkling white. All we do is hack up the animal/bird a bit so the pieces are a bit more manageable especially for tiny Pigpen. Line the feeding area with a tarp or butcher/wax/parchment paper. John and I feed only small animals/birds so each of our cats can eat these in entirety in just one sitting or at most in about 3 meals. Leftover meat is labeled and brought out again at the next meal
Since Option 3 (feeding whole prey) is fairly uncomplicated - freeze in airtight glass containers, thaw by placing said container in hot/warm water or soak prey in warm water/broth, and feed, let's talk about the other two options.
For discussion of all 3 raw feeding options and any other nutritional, behavioral, or health issues related to cats, join the Holisticat Community Forum.
Option 1: Ground raw meat mix
Because of our IBD-cat Pigpen who is allergic to poultry, we grind rabbits and deer. The other 3 cats eat cut-up cornish game hen (CGH) but at times prefer ground so we also grind CGH, chicken (guinea fowl from local farms), and turkey (at Thanksgiving). However, I am going to discuss chicken here because it is more readily available for most people.
This recipe should provide enough for 3 weeks' worth of food for four cats. Our beasties just to give you an idea, range from 8.5 lb Pigpen to Puma the 18lb bruiser with the two middle ones weighing around 10.5-12lbs each.
- 4 whole young (not roaster because those are older) chicken fryers approx. 4 lb. each
- Giblets/organs that come with the 4 fryers - liver, kidneys, heart, gizzards, but not neck (saved for cats to chew on while human slaves are grinding)
- *1 lb. veggies - preferably high-moisture low-GI index squash, zucchini (all lightly steamed), and home-grown oat/barley/rye/wheat grass from seeds. Depending on the water content of the veggies, this can be as low as 1 cup or as high as 2 cups in volume. For cats with CRF, pumpkin can be beneficial because it functions as a nitrogen-trapper. IBD cats too can be helped by the moderately fermentable fiber in cooked/canned pumpkin. For some reason, my cats love a steamed broccoli and cauliflower mix; do not use in raw form unless you have a cat with an overactive thyroid gland.
- 5 egg yolks (increase to 8 during shedding season) - can also add lightly cooked egg whites if you wish or make frittatas for yourself instead:)
- 13,500 mg L-Taurine or 5 tsp. L-Taurine powder - based on the fact that 1/4 tsp of L-Taurine powder = 675mg (Source Naturals brand)
- 32oz spring water or home-made chicken broth (check my book for recipe) - the moisture doesn't hurt kitties, and you'll also find it makes the whole mix easier to handle
*For cats allergic to veggies e.g. some IBD cats (FWIW, mine - Pigpen - is allergic to psyllium, but not to veggies or rice bran), substitute with rice bran or psyllium - 1/8 tsp mixed with 2 Tbsp water added each day to food, not to the whole mix. Pumpkin has a low GI-load though is moderate on the GI index, so if you have a diabetic cat, use either rice bran or psyllium or lo-GI index veg e.g. fresh grasses, which are more likely to show up in a mouse's tummy than anything else. I have not found any blood glucose spike with using a small amount of grass vs rice bran vs psyllium, but YMMV so please check for yourself how your cat responds and feed accordingly.
Optional Supplements (not necessary if you feed a variety of fresh whole animals):
Note: These can be tossed in the grinder along with meat and veggies. Softgels such as for Vit A, D, cod liver oil, and E can be pierced with a thumb tack and squirted into the mix. Alternatively, these can be added to each meal at feeding time. If using the plate with small holes, they can even be added in as-is interspersed with meat to prevent squirting.
These are drawn from AAFCO's daily adult maintenance requirements, and based on the recipe above so meant to be added into the mix at grinding time. Meat contains most of the nutrients cats require, so these should be considered maximum amounts so as not to lead to overdosing problems.
Please adjust if you are planning to only include these at meal time (which is ideal, BTW) e.g. less B is needed if it will be added fresh at meal time because freezing causing loss of B vitamins. Also, if using Nordic Naturals cod liver oil rather than soft gels, add at feeding time.
Vit E is the only item higher than AAFCO levels because of the addition of fish oil and to account for Vit E is lost in the freezing process; AAFCO's recommendation would come to a total of only 600 IU for 80 meals! This OTOH comes out to 100IU per cat per day at least what's left of it post-freezing.
Total amounts based on 80 meals - a 20 day supply for 4 healthy adult cats:
- Vit A - 100,000 IU
- Vit D - 10,000 IU
- Cod Liver oil in lieu of Vits A and D - Nordic Naturals brand softgel
- Vit E - 20 400IU softgels of Carlson's Gems, Natural Factors, or NOW Dry E capsules
- Vit B-complex - 8 capsules of Jarrow B-Right Low Odor B-complex
- wild salmon oil - 10,000 mg
Additional supplements for cats with IBD and other digestive issues best added at meal time, not into the whole mix:
- Digestive enzymes
There are other optional additions that can be made such as:
- trace minerals - key word here being "trace" so only teensy amounts please
- egg yolk lecithin (during hairball season) - there was a study at UT Austin suggesting its use for hairball control
- kelp -some concerns due to kitties being prone to hyperthyroidism, so very small amounts are best
- nutritional yeast - okay as a bribe food but is high in Phosphorous so over time, can lead to imbalance
In other words, please use these judiciously.
Please read the IBD section for other supplementation ideas such as Slippery Elm Bark (this one not with meals)
Step 1: Line your entire counter top with large plastic shopping bags overlapping them.
Step 2: Place your dishes (for holding cut-up meat) and cutting boards on top of these bags. Assemble the grinder by placing the sharp/flat side of the cutting blade towards the spout end of the grinder. Start with the disk with the smallest holes because the ground meat will more closely resemble commercial food. Over time, you can move to the disk with the largest holes so that the mix is more coarsely ground.
Step 3: Place the grinder sideways so that it is facing the kitchen sink with the spout directly over the dish that will hold the ground mix. I place the bowl (usually I use a large stock pot) that will hold the ground mix in the sink directly under the grinder spout. You can line the sink with bags too if you wish. Even if you do not, this way anything that falls goes into the sink can be cleaned. In our case clean-up is easy because we have a stainless steel sink which is easy to disinfect.
Step 4: Cut up a chicken first at each joint, then in the middle lengthwise or across the back into several pieces, depending on the size of your grinder's chute. We use this 1000 watt Northern Tool grinder Model 168620 and the 1200 watt Tasin TS-108. Tasin is available on eBay.
Step 5: Fill your stock pot with 1/2 the broth or water plus canned pumpkin (if you prefer this to fresh veggies or in conjunction with fresh steamed vegetables). Mix well.
Step 6: Feed chicken parts in the grinder chute alternating with veggies i.e. intersperse liquids and soft ingredients with bony chicken parts to give the grinder a break.
Step 7: Mix all ingredients in the stock pot.
Step 8: Spoon mix into Mason/Ball/Kerr jars leaving room in each jar at the top for expansion. Can also use disposable plastic containers if you wish. A pint-sized glass jar/plastic container holds about six meals' worth, so each time I use up a jar from the fridge, I remove another from the freezer and place in the fridge. I always have 2 jars in the fridge - one from which I am currently feeding, and the other from the freezer defrosting.
Step 9: Clean-up - fold over all the bags, disinfect the exterior of the grinder, and clean the sink. The grinder parts can all be run through the dishwasher.
Cutting meat: Invest in a good cleaver. My favorite is one I got from a Chinese supermarket for $5 about 10 years ago. It is so sharp that one strong whack is all that is needed to sever a chicken joint.
Feeding amount: A good guideline is 2-2.5% of ideal body weight. This mix will be quite nutrient-dense because it contains no fillers, so all your 8-10lb cat will need is about 2ish tbsp per meal. You might want to add of warm water at serving time if the mix is a little too gooey.
Grinder maintenance: After the disk and other parts of the grinder are clean and dry, rub them with some vegetable/olive/food-grade mineral oil i.e. any edible oil to keep rust at bay.
Clean-up: Prepare 2 spray bottles - fill one with vinegar, and the other with 3% hydrogen peroxide. Mist first with one, then the other. It doesn't matter in which order, just keep each of the 2 ingredients separate in spray bottles.
Here's an article discussing this finding as first reported in the journal Science:
Option 2: Recipes that do not require a meat grinder
Note: Since different meats and veggies have varying amounts of calcium and phosphorus, it is imperative that you first determine how much calcium and phosphorous there is in a given type of meat so that you can then calculate how much calcium to add to a lb of meat to attain the ideal Ca:Phos ratio which ranges from 1.2 - 1.4 Ca: 1 Phos We have a calculator available to forum members that does this very easily.
At this web site, you can get the fat %, potassium, calcium, and phosphorous levels (plus a lot more) for most meats:
is where I got the numbers to perform the calculation for 1lb of turkey
+ organs for this recipe below (would have to recalculate calcium/bone
meal, amounts if feeding beef, chicken, lamb, deer, turkey, rabbit, or
any other meat):
(Note: this provides 8 2oz meals for a healthy 8lb cat with a "normal" activity level)
- 1 lb raw ground turkey muscle meat (the darker the meat the higher its taurine content) - has 59mg Ca and 708mg Phos
- 1 piece of raw turkey liver - contains 279mg of Phos and only 5mg of Ca
- 1 raw heart - 2mg Ca and 60mg Phos
- 100g chicken/turkey gizzards - contains 6mg Ca and 139mg Phos
- 2 tbsp steamed pureed veggies* - preferably
high-moisture low-GI index squash, zucchini (all lightly steamed), and
home-grown oat/barley/rye/wheat grass from seeds. Depending on the
water content of the veggies, this can be as low as 1 cup or as high as
2 cups in volume. For cats with CRF, pumpkin can be beneficial b/c it
functions as a nitrogen-trapper. IBD cats too can be helped by the
moderately fermentable fiber in cooked/canned pumpkin. For some reason,
my cats love a steamed broccoli and cauliflower mix; do not use in raw
form unless you have a cat with an overactive thyroid gland.
- 1472 mg calcium carbonate or 3/4 teaspoon of eggshell powder* or a bit less than 1.5 tsp of bone meal powder**
- 1 raw egg yolk and lightly cooked white of same egg
- 1/2 tablespoon unflavored Gelatin as a proxy for cartilage
- 1/2 teaspoon Dulse (has lower iodine levels than Kelp) to provide trace minerals and support thyroid function
- 1 teaspoon Salmon body oil (available in liquid or in capsules at health food stores)
- 2,000mg taurine
- 2-3 oz home-made meat broth or spring water to help with consistency
cats allergic to veggies e.g. some IBD cats (FWIW, mine - Pigpen - is
allergic to psyllium, but not to veggies or rice bran), substitute with
rice bran or psyllium - 1/8 tsp mixed with 2 Tbsp water added each day
to food, not to the whole mix. Pumpkin has a low GI-load though is
moderate on the GI index, so if you have a diabetic cat, use either
rice bran or psyllium or lo-GI index veg e.g. fresh grasses, which are
more likely to show up in a mouse's tummy than anything else. I have
not found any blood glucose spike with using a small amount of grass vs
rice bran vs psyllium, but YMMV so please check for yourself how your
cat responds and feed accordingly.
*This calculation was done as follows:
Total Ca = 59 (ground meat) + 5 (liver) + 2 (heart) + 6 (gizzards) = 70mg in meat mix
Total Phosphorous = 708 (ground meat) + 279 (liver) + 60 (heart) + 139 (gizzards) = 1186mg in meat
get supplementation amount, multiply 1186mg (Phosphorous) times 1.3 =
1541.8 mg Calcium - 70mg (total Calcium in the meat) = 1471.8 mg
If you add 1,471.8mg Calcium, your mix will have a Ca:Phos ratio of 1,541.8/1186 = 1.3:1
This comes to ~ 3/4 of a teaspoon of eggshell powder (ESP)* i.e. 1,471.8mg/2,000mg = 73.6% of a teaspoon of ESP
is the bare minimum you would need to add. If you change the liver
source or use a different meat source, you would need to make
appropriate adjustments. If the phos levels in that meat source are not
higher than turkey muscle, liver, and gizzards, you can add close to
the same amount of Ca or eggshell powder.
1 tsp of eggshell powder (ESP) contains somewhere between 4,500mg and
5,000mg calcium depending on whether one goes by the US Egg Board or
research by a vet at the Univ. of Florida. A 2003 study on eggshell
composition found that eggshells contain 39% calcium carbonate.
A colleague (fellow professor but unlike me, she's in Ag Science) and I
ground up 3 large egg shells each in 3 different consistencies -
medium, fine, and extra-fine, then weighed each of the resulting grinds
in her lab. Our results ranged from 4,400mg to a shade under 5,080mg
not hugely different and enough to satisfy my curiosity. Deferring to
the researchers in this field, I feel comfortable going with a range of
1,800-2,200mg of elemental Ca per teaspoon of eggshell powder.
the fact that teaspoon is a volume measure, and how finely ESP is
ground determines just how much one can fit in a teaspoon, as long as
one is not leaving the ground too coarse, somewhere in the 2,000mg
elemental Calcium per teaspoon is a good ballpark.
I don't think
it's safe to go too low with calcium, and since eggshell powder is the
only form of calcium I know of which has been shown to not raise serum
calcium levels, if you have to err, go a bit over rather than under in
If you want to get close(r) to feeding a whole animal/bird, i.e. as a substitute for real bones, bone meal
might be a better choice because animal/bird bones contain a lot more
than just calcium.
Some FUS cats on the list seem to do better when
calcium carbonate rather than bone meal is used in boneless mixes. There
are also other concerns regarding bone meal such as BSE and
contaminants including lead and arsenic.
If you wish to feed
bone meal, there are some reputable brands such as NOW. It contains a
2:1 ratio of Ca:Phos, so each tsp. contains 1,000mg Ca and 500mg Phos.
so for each 1,000mg of Calcium, there is about 1/2 that amount being
added back in Phos. Clearly, using bone meal to "balance" (tricky word in this context) phosphorous
levels in meat is not without its challenges.
The following are drawn from AAFCO's daily adult maintenance requirements,
and can be added into the mix at time of preparation. Meat contains most of the nutrients cats require, so
these should be considered maximum amounts so as not to lead to
Please adjust if you are planning to only
include these at meal time (which is ideal, BTW) e.g. less B is needed
if it will be added fresh at meal time because freezing causing loss of
B vitamins. Also, if using Nordic Naturals liquid cod liver oil rather than
soft gels, add at feeding time.
Vit E is the only item higher
than AAFCO levels due to the addition of fish oil and to account for
Vit E is lost in the freezing process. For what it's worth, AAFCO's recommendation would
come to a total of only 7.5 IU per meal.
Total amounts based on 8 meals for 1 healthy adult cat at ideal weight:
- Vit A - 4,000 IU
- Vit D - 400 IU
Liver oil in lieu of Vits A and D; matching up can be tricky because
there is a different ratio of Vits A and D in brands e.g. for Nordic
Naturals brand softgel has only 1 IU of Vit D per 300IU of Vit A. With
Carlson's, 2 softgels would match Vit A but would have too much Vit D.
- Vit E - 4 400IU softgels of Carlson's Gems, Natural Factors, or NOW Dry E capsules
- Vit B-complex - 1/2 capsule of Jarrow B-Right Low Odor B-complex
body oil e.g. wild salmon, sardine, anchovy, or krill oil: one 1,000mg
softgel - Carlson's or Nordic Naturals brand or NOW krill
Additional supplements for cats with IBD and other digestive issues best added at meal time, not into the whole mix:
- Digestive enzymes
There are other optional additions that can be made such as:
minerals - key word here being "trace" so only teensy amounts please -
Source Naturals and Futurebiotics brands are the least icky ones though the amounts of various minerals is not the same for both these.
- egg yolk lecithin (during hairball season) e.g. Nature's Plus
brand - there was a study at UT Austin suggesting its use for hairball
1. Steam, then puree veggies or use veggie pulp from a juicer.
2. Finely chop heart, gizzards, and liver or use a food processor.
Mix all ingredients (with hands if need be) and blend well. Can add
more water/broth is consistency is too gooey and glue-like.
4. Transfer to storage containers e.g. glass canning jars (leave 1/4-1/2" room on top for expansion), and freeze.
5. At feeding time, warm up by placing glass jar in warm water, then serve.
Feeding amount: A good guideline is 2-2.5% of
ideal body weight. This mix will be quite nutrient-dense because it
contains no fillers, so all your 8-10lb cat will need is about 2ish
tbsp per meal. You might want to add of warm water at serving time if
the mix is a little too gooey.
If all of this is too much work, you can always order pre-ground mixes from various independent meat farmers or purchase commercial pre-made mixes. They are usually much more expensive of course, but rather convenient. Nature's Variety brand contains only 5% veggies, so it is one of the best IMO. Alas, I don't get paid from any companies though if you know of one or more reputable ones who would like to, do drop me a line because meat is expensive!