Homemade Cat Food and Raw Cat Food

For cat owners who want to make homemade cat food or try a raw cat food diet, WebMD provides ideas, tips, and important nutrition guidelines.

By Julie Edgar
WebMD Pet Health Feature

Reviewed by Audrey Cook, BVM&S

Three years ago, Lynne Ackman of Chicago began making food at home for her five rescue cats. She had tried kibble and canned food to treat one's inflammatory bowel disease and another's diabetes, but it wasn't until she adopted a raw diet of rabbit and fowl that their health dramatically improved, she says.

“I think raw is the gold standard for a feline diet,” she says, explaining that she chose that path after seeing a friend's gorgeous cats who ate a diet of raw meat.

Ackman, a software tester, is among a growing number of cat owners doing it themselves - the pet food scares of recent years have, by some accounts, motivated the trend -- but she doesn't mention the diet to veterinary specialists she's seen over the years; she says they tend to be “anti-homemade and anti-raw.”

There is a chasm between cat owners who feed their pets raw or homemade cat food and veterinarians who warn that without quality control, the risks of bacterial contamination or nutritional deficiency are too high.

If you choose to go it alone, be warned: Making your own cat food is an exacting and time- consuming business. Striking the right balance of ingredients, including vitamins and minerals, and properly storing the food are critical for a happy and healthy animal.

What Do Cats Need to Eat?

As obligate carnivores, cats need:

  • Protein from meat or fish
  • Amino acids like taurine and arginine (from meat or fish)
  • Fatty acids
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Water

Carbohydrates like rice and corn in small amounts are fine, but they aren't necessary for a cat's diet. However, a modest amount of carbs will provide useful energy and may reduce the cost of a home cooked diet, says Rebecca Remillard, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist.

Nutrition guidelines for cats are available through the American Association of Feed Control Officials.

Raw Cat Food: The Risks and the Rewards

Remillard, who works with the MSPCA Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston and maintains a dietary consulting business, says raw meat diets are neither safe nor nutritionally sound. She's backed up by the American Animal Hospital Association, which warns against the risk of salmonella poisoning to both the cat and human members of the household.

“There are a lot of people who want to feed raw. I tell them they have to be aware of zoonotic (animal to human) disease transmission, food safety, and contagion issues. I don't think veterinarians should get upset about it, but they should make clear the health issues,” Remillard says.

Feeding cats a raw meat diet also leaves too much room for variables, another reason she doesn't advocate such a diet. The potential for slip-up is high if the owner goes out of town and the food is left out too long, or if he substitutes one ingredient for another, she says.

Lisa Pierson, a veterinarian in Lomita, Calif., is familiar with the arguments and disputes them passionately on her own web site. She says she hasn't had issues with bacterial contamination in the six years she has made her own cat food because she is careful: She knows where the meat comes from, she parboils mostly rabbit and bone-in chicken, grinds it herself, and adds minerals like taurine to make sure her cats are eating a balanced diet.

She says it's also cheaper than higher-quality canned food and would take an owner of two cats about two hours a month to make.

If you can't find a supportive veterinarian and you are determined to go raw, go to www.catnutrition.org or www.petdiets.com, both of which provide detailed information.