Homemade Cat Food Recipe
Please check back to this webpage periodically for any updates to the recipe.
Also see below the recipe for links to products that I purchase from iherb.com.
Please note that I do not recommend this recipe for cats with CKD (chronic kidney disease) – formerly known as CRF.
Also note that I do not favor the many recipes on the internet that use large amounts of potatoes, pumpkin, squash, rice, etc., for CKD patients. In almost all cases of CKD, feeding these species-inappropriate ingredients is not only unnecessary but can be detrimental to the health of the patient. See below.
September, 2011 update: Since writing this page many years ago, I have pushed heavily for the use of fresh bone (versus bone meal) as a calcium source. This requires buying a grinder.
However, many people are either unwilling or unable to purchase a grinder so I am finally ‘giving in’ and will state that if you are going to use 3 pounds of boneless meat and skin, then the amount of bone meal (NOW brand linked below) to use is 2 1/3 tablespoons. That is 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon….or….7 level teaspoons. (1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons)
A commonly asked question: “What do I do with the bones left behind in the grinder?”
Answer: Discard them.
I use the following ingredients – in amounts listed – per
3 pounds of poultry thigh meat/bones/skin
2.25 lbs of whole carcass ground rabbit + 0.75 lbs of boneless chicken or turkey meat/skin/fat (see reasons above):
- 1 cup water (or, preferably, more if your cat will eat it with more water)
- 2 eggs – use the yolk raw but lightly cook the white
- 5000 mg fish oil (a good source of essential fatty acids – note that this is increased from the original amount of 2,000 mg – if your cat does not like fish, it is ok to use only 2,000 mg) Do NOT use cod liver oil!
- 400 IU (268 mg) Vitamin E (powdered E in capsules is the easiest to use)
- 50 mg Vitamin B-complex (capsules or tablets)
- 2,000 mg taurine (use powdered – either in capsules or loose)
- 3/4 tsp Morton Lite salt with iodine when using chicken but not when using rabbit (contains potassium and sodium – make sure that it contains iodine – see below for further explanation.)
For people living outside of the United States who cannot source Morton Lite Salt with iodine, use 1/2 tsp of regular salt (sodium chloride) with iodine.
- Liver – If using ground rabbit (which includes liver) from wholefoods4pets.com, do not add additional liver. If using chicken legs, thighs or a whole chicken carcass minus the organs, add 4 ounces of chicken livers per 3 lb of meat/bones/skin.
- Fiber - A cat’s natural diet is extremely low in fiber. Contrary to popular belief, the hair and feathers of their prey is not a source of fiber. Fiber only comes from plant material – not other animals. The only source of fiber for a cat in the wild is the miniscule amount in the gut tract of their herbivorous/omnivorous prey or the plants that they may eat. Since cats don’t generally chow down on much plant material, this is also a negligible source of fiber.
When I first started feeding raw, I used psyllium whole husks but I did not see much difference in their stool consistency. It was still very dry and and low in volume but then I came to realize that this was normal for a cat eating a diet like this. I was just so used to the big, bulky, stinky stools of cats fed commercial canned and dry diets.
For the next 8 years, I added no source of fiber.
Left = homemade diet………….Right = canned food diet
Take my word for it….the one on the left = very little odor
The one on the right = very stinky
Recently, Robbie, my best buddy with no colon whose picture adorns the top of all web pages on this site, has needed his stools softened due to an anatomic abnormality in his intestines. I have chosen to use guar gum powder but I am not adding it to the entire batch. I am just adding it to individual meals so that I can play around with the amount.
I am using ~1/8 per 3 ounces of food. If you are going to try it, start with 1/8 tsp and work up from there. Also, add more water to the food since fiber ‘soaks up’ water.
There are two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble. Psyllium is a combination of both types. Guar gum is strictly soluble. I use this source of fiber because it does not seem to add as much bulk to the stool when compared to insoluble fiber but it does increase the water content of the feces, thereby softening it.
Soluble fiber also has some properties that promote intestinal (colon) health.
If you want to use psyllium, add 2 tsp if using psyllium husk powder. If using whole psyllium husks, use 4 tsp.
If using any fiber source, be sure to add more water to the this recipe.
At the request of several readers, here are links to specific products that I purchase from iherb.com:
Fish oil – This is a link to Nature Made 300 capsules for people who make a lot of food.
Fish oil – This is a link to Nature Made 100 capsules for those with fewer cats.
Both of these fish oil products have 300 mg of EPA + DHA per capsule. There are other fish oils with a higher level (called “super”, etc.) but they are more expensive per gram of EPA + DHA.
Note that I strongly prefer using fish oil capsules – not bottled oil. Capsules stay fresh longer than bottled oil which can become rancid. Make sure that whatever you buy is not lemon flavored!
Do not use cod liver oil.
Vitamin E – I prefer using the d-tocopherol (natural) versus dl-tocopherol (synthetic) vitamin E.
Vitamin E – another option
You can also use liquid vitamin E in gel capsules but you will need to either dissolve them in the water or poke them with a pin and squirt the oil into the water. I find dry vitamin E capsules easier to work with.
B-Complex – 50 mg per capsule
B-Complex – 100 mg per capsule for larger batches
Note that these B-Complex products do not contain vitamin C.
Lite salt with iodine – sample link to show picture – can be purchased at most local grocery stores (not available at iherb.com)
Salmon vs fish oil: I prefer to use fish oil from smaller fish such as anchovies and sardines. Oil from fish that are lower on the food chain are less contaminated with heavy metals and other impurities.
If you prefer to use salmon oil, here is a link to a product that I used for many years before switching to oil from smaller fish:
Bone meal powder – for use if you are not going to buy a grinder. Please note that different brands of bone meal powder vary in their composition. I have calculated the amount needed based on the NOW brand product so please use this brand if possible.
Most cats eat 4-6 ounces/day. Therefore, this recipe yields enough food for one cat for approximately 10-14 days.
If using capsules with dry ingredients, open them and add the powder to the water. If using tablets, dissolve them in the water.
You can either poke the fish oil capsules with a pin or cut the tip off with scissors and squirt the oil into the water….or you can do what I do and just dissolve the fish oil capsules in the water for ~10 minutes and then, once they are somewhat dissolved, make sure that all of the oil is liberated from the capsule by squeezing the capsules with your fingers within the water. Using warm water helps dissolve them faster. I use this method because I make so much cat food at one time that it would take forever to poke each capsule with a pin.
It is fine to leave the capsules in the water. They are gelatin (a protein) and most cats readily eat them.
For the boneless poultry meat and skin that you are adding to the pre-ground rabbit carcass, you can either use a grinder or a food processor for the meat that you don’t chunk for dental health.
Notes on why I omit/alter certain ingredients that you may see in other recipes:
- Kelp – You will see recipes on the internet that use kelp. Kelp varies in its iodine content but usually contains very high levels of this mineral. The thyroid gland is very sensitive to iodine levels that are either too low or too high. Given the fact that hyperthyroidism is very common in the cat, I do not want to add too much, or too little, iodine to the diet.
The thyroid gland of a cat’s natural prey is a good source of iodine but when using chicken or turkey thighs – and, therefore, no thyroid gland – we need to add Morton’s iodized Lite salt as a source of iodine. I use Lite salt instead of regular table salt because Lite salt is a mixture of sodium and potassium versus table salt which is all sodium.
The iodized Lite salt (or, for non-US residents, regular iodized salt) is not an option. It is a definite requirement when using only chicken or turkey parts – or any whole carcass that does not include a thyroid gland.
Also keep in mind that when we use poultry, we are missing the blood and its sodium and potassium. The Lite salt adds in some sodium and potassium
If using ground rabbit, I would assume that the thyroid gland is included. However, you may want to call your supplier and ask if this is the case. If it is, I would not add the iodized Lite salt.
Be sure to use all of the blood that comes with any ground food since blood contains valuable nutrients – including sodium and potassium. Note that the ground rabbit from wholefoods4pets.com comes with a lot of blood included which is why I do not use Lite salt when making rabbit food.
- Multi-glandular supplement – I initially added this item but when Mad Cow disease surfaced, I discontinued using it. If you wish to use this supplement, here is a link to the product that Anne uses. Unfortunately, that webpage does not list the iodine content so I have no idea how to work that in with the iodized salt that I have in the recipe for use with chicken parts.
- Dulse – This is an optional trace mineral supplement. I have never added it to my cats’ food. Many people feel that the mineral content of our soil is not what it used to be so this is one reason why some people choose to add it to the recipe.
- Hearts – Hearts are a good source of taurine but chicken hearts are not as high in taurine as mouse hearts. Therefore, I consider hearts to just be pretty much the same as muscle meat so I still add powdered taurine. (I have never used heart meat in my cats’ food since I do not have a readily available source for them.)
- Egg whites – Raw feeding sites often discuss the fact that raw egg whites contain avidin which binds to biotin in the intestinal tract and prevents it from being absorbed. However, I don’t see this as a significant issue because there is biotin in the egg yolk and there is plenty in the B-complex so I doubt that the avidin in the raw egg whites would cause a problem.
But, that said, in light of the recent contamination of eggs with salmonella, I would lightly cook the egg whites anyway. If you want to be extra safe, then lightly cook the entire egg (white and yolk). I find that soft boiling them (~6-8 minutes) works very well but some people like to scramble them in a bit of butter. Be be sure to run them through the grinder or food processor in order to break them up so that you can mix them into the food uniformly.
Egg whites (not yolks) are an excellent source of phosphorus-free protein. This is a great additive as long as the cat has not shown any allergy/intolerance for egg protein. (Although, technically speaking, if a cat is allergic to eggs, I would assume that he would also be allergic to chicken meat but maybe not??)
For cats with gastrointestinal issues or any signs of allergies, I would suggest omitting the eggs when first introducing this diet. They can always be added in later as a single change to the diet. That way, any negative reaction can be monitored. If your cat does not like the diet, try omitting the eggs. Some cats just do not like eggs. I consider the eggs to be an optional ingredient.
Note: I do not recommend this recipe for CKD (Chronic Kidney Disease) cats.
(CKD is also known as CRF – Chronic Renal Failure – but we are trying to move away from the word “failure” because it is such a negative term.)
There are other recipes that are more suited to feeding cats with this condition. However, the nutritional needs of these cats must be discussed on an individual patient basis. The reader can reach me via email to request a phone consultation if they wish to discuss an appropriate diet for a CKD patient.
All consultations are conducted via the phone (or Skype) only after the patient’s medical records, including lab work, have been provided for my review. General CKD medical management to prolong the length and quality of life, in addition to appropriate dietary issues, is discussed during the consultation. My CKD consultations take up approximately 2 hours of phone time since there is a lot to discuss if optimal CKD medical and nutritional management is desired.
Again, as noted above, I do not see diets that are loaded up with potatoes, pumpkin, squash, rice, etc., as being healthy diets for any cat – including CKD patients.
Putting the Recipe Together
Here is a video that my friend, Anne Jablonski of catnutrition.org fame, put together. Please note that Anne uses a plate that creates a very coarse grind whereas I prefer a more finely ground product. Anne has never had any problems with her cats eating larger bone pieces but I have. You will see that her grinding process goes much faster with the plate that she uses.
See Anne’s Pictorial here.
I prepare food for my cats in two basic ways – depending on if I am using pre-ground rabbit or whole chicken/turkey thighs from Whole Foods Market:
1) Ground rabbit (meat, bones, and liver): The ground rabbit is shipped to me in a frozen state in 4 lb packages. I thaw it and mix in the ground and chunked chicken/turkey thigh meat and skin as discussed above.
The supplements are added to the water and, once they are all dissolved, this supplement slurry is added to the meat/bones/skin/liver/eggs. Since I make so much food at one time (30 – 50 lbs), I find it easiest to use my hands to thoroughly mix the food. After the food is mixed well, it is portioned into containers and put into the freezer.
Note that for this preparation, a grinder (for use with bones) is not needed but a food processor is.
2) Chicken/turkey thighs: The second way that I make food is to:
- Bake (at 350 degrees) the chicken/turkey thighs and liver leaving ~50% of the thigh meat raw. (The time needed varies depending on how thick the thighs are.) I use a Pyrex dish since I will be using all of the fat drippings so I can add them to the ground meat/bones/skin/liver/eggs.
- Remove from the oven and put in cold water to stop the cooking process.
- Remove some of the raw meat from the bone for chunking.
- Cut the meat into chunks for dental health…. as much as you have the patience for. (I hate chunking meat but since switching from using a knife to using a pair of sharp scissors, this task is not as annoying.) Truth be told, I often skip this step. There is just only so much time I am willing to spend making cat food!
When I say “chunks” I mean pieces of meat about the size of a die (~1/2 inch cubes) or a bit smaller at first and then larger (size of your thumb) once your cat gets the hang of chewing on them. The bigger, the better. Keep in mind that raw meat is more tenacious (and better for teeth) than cooked meat.
I would prefer it if the chunks were raw like the ones in the middle of this picture. Raw meat is harder to chew than cooked meat and will, hopefully, exert more cleaning action on the teeth. That said, nothing is as beneficial for dental health as daily brushing.
- Run the meaty bones and non-chunked meat and skin through the grinder using this plate with 4 mm holes:
Since I really hate chunking meat by hand, I tried the plates below which were a waste of money. Even the one with three large holes ground the meat too finely to allow for any dental health benefits.
- Run the liver through the grinder along with the meat and bones. It is also a good idea to run the cooked eggs through the grinder. This way, they will be broken up and more evenly dispersed through the food. (Some cats don’t like the taste of egg.) The ground meat/bones/skin/liver/eggs plus the fat drippings from the baking pan and the chunks of meat are then placed in the refrigerator while the supplements are mixed up.
Mixing up the supplement slurry:
- Whether you are using pre-ground rabbit with additional ground boneless poultry meat and skin, or chicken/turkey thighs that you have ground yourself, it is now time to combine the water, egg yolks (if you did not cook the whole egg), vitamin E, vitamin B-complex, taurine, and fish oil with a whisk.
Note that it is helpful to put the fish oil capsules in warm water in advance of mixing up the supplement slurry. It takes about 15 minutes for them to dissolve and I use my hand to make sure that all of the oil is squeezed out of each capsule. Some people poke the fish oil capsules with a pin but I use ~50 capsules for my large batches and that would take far too long.
It is ok to leave the capsules in the water. Most cats readily eat them but if your cat is not fond of fish, then you may want to remove them.
Remember to add the Lite salt if using only chicken/turkey thighs. This is an important source of iodine since the thyroid gland is not included when using only chicken/turkey parts.
- After all of the supplements are dissolved and thoroughly mixed together, stir in the psyllium – if using this ingredient. (Be sure to add the psyllium last otherwise it tends to clump.)
- Pour the supplement slurry into the meat/bones/skin/liver/egg mixture. Mix very well then portion into containers and freeze.
Ideally, the food should only be in the refrigerator (in a completely thawed state) for 48 – 72 hours so keep that in mind when choosing your container size. The average cat eats about 4-6 ounces per day. When I was first starting to feed raw, I used baby food jars so there would be no waste during the transition. I then quickly graduated to larger plastic containers that hold 1-1.5 pounds. People with just one or two cats need to pick the container size that works for them.
You will note on Anne’s site that she prefers not to warm the food in the microwave. Instead, she heats it in hot tap water. This method would never work for me since it takes forever to get hot water at my sink and I hate wasting water. Plus both my cats and I are impatient so all of my cat food-warming is done in the microwave. Depending on the level of thawing, I may heat it for 10 -15 seconds then stir. I repeat this several times so that the food is not cooked but is just warmed to ‘mouse body temperature’.
Exception to the above: I found that one of my cats, Toby, was (is) very stubborn about eating meat if it is completely raw but I noticed that he would eat the ‘accidentally-cooked’ pieces if I left it in the microwave too long. I have tried to cook it less and less over time but he is really stubborn about eating the completely raw rabbit so I humor him and feed it to him half cooked and half raw – or sometimes it is cooked even more than is shown in this picture.
Toby eating his half raw and half cooked rabbit.
I do not worry about cooking the ground bones. I grind them so finely that this is not even a remote concern for me.
Canning the Food
There is a very helpful page on the Raw Meat Cat Food Company website. It provides information on canning cat food. My Robbie does not do well on any commercial canned food (he gets severe diarrhea) so this is a great alternative for me in an emergency situation so I don’t have to use commercial canned foods.
I purchased this pressure canner and now have homemade canned chicken, turkey, and rabbit cat food available for periodic feedings and for emergencies. This canned food also comes in handy if I have to be gone for 12 hours on a hot day. I leave this food out instead of the raw/semi-cooked diet. This canned food is also safe for human consumption so it doubles as an emergency supply for both two-legged and four-legged members of the house.
Please note that I said for “periodic feedings”. I have no idea what nutrients and in what amounts are destroyed in the canning process so I would not want to feed this diet as a sole diet for more than a couple of weeks during an emergency situation.
Of course your cat has to have a healthy mouth to start off with when pushing the chewing-on-chunks-of-meat or tooth brushing issue. No cat will want to chew on any type of food or have his teeth brushed if he has a painful mouth!
If in doubt, please be sure to have your veterinarian examine your cat’s mouth. Poor dental health is the most commonly overlooked health problem in our cats and dogs!
Unfortunately, people (including myself….) do not take their cats in for dental cleanings/exams as often as they should. We need to stop over-vaccinating cats and pay more attention to their dental needs. Please see my Vaccine page for more information on the rampant over-vaccination that occurs among our cats and dogs.
I would encourage you to have your cat’s teeth properly cleaned and examined (under general anesthesia – *not* anesthesia-free) if you have not already done so. You want to know that your cat’s oral cavity is in a healthy state before you push the issue of chewing on chunks of meat and/or tooth brushing. If you start your cat off with clean teeth, you can then go forward and be proactive in keeping them clean.
It is important to note that chewing on meat and tooth brushing will not remove the plaque that is already on the teeth.
Only professional scaling under general anesthesia can do this in an effective and safe manner.
Unfortunately, like most cat and dog owners, I have been ignoring my cats’ dental health when using finely ground meat and bones and they are paying for it with unhealthy mouths.
Hopefully you will do better for your cat.
The reasons why my cats’ dental health is not being addressed are:
1) I am being lazy. De-boning and cutting up meat by hand is time-consuming.
2) My cats are also lazy (Robbie has a perpetual ‘Mommy, please cut my meat for me‘ look on his face….) and will often just eat around the chunks. Not only is this frustrating because the meat is wasted, it can also lead to an unbalanced diet.
If a large percentage of the meat in the diet is chunked….and the cat eats around the chunks….they will be eating too much ground bone/liver and supplements.
Therefore, watch your cat to make sure that he is consuming both the chunks and the ground-up portion. Otherwise, he will be eating an unbalanced diet.
And….if you have a kitten, train him to eat chunks of meat early in life!
One trick that you might try is to serve a full meal of 100% chunks – when your cat is ~12 – 18 hours hungry in order to get him used to chewing on meat chunks. Hunger goes a long way when trying to get a cat to embrace any new food - as long as your cat has a healthy, non-painful mouth.
As mentioned above, you can also try coating the chunks of meat in parmesan cheese or FortiFlora. My cats LOVE FortiFlora and would probably eat cardboard if I sprinkled it with FF. That said, some cats (~10-15%) do not like FF.
See Anne’s pictorial here where she shows the size of the meat chunks that her cats are chewing on. You may have to start smaller – like the size of a pea – just to get them used to the texture of meat. Unfortunately, most cats are not used to doing what nature intended for them and they may take some time to get used to gnawing on chunks of meat.
Another good dietary option to promote dental health for your cat is to feed them gizzards. Gizzards are very fibrous and tough to chew and If your cat will eat them alone, they can be used as a great dental snack.
If your cats like gizzards, you can incorporate them into the batch of food since they are easier to cut up when compared to muscle meat. Just count the gizzards’ weight as part of the 3 lbs of meat/bone/skin in the recipe above.
In order to promote dental health, many proponents of a raw diet use meaty bones. However, this is not within my comfort zone due to the risk of broken teeth, or swallowing sharp bone fragments. Plus, I don’t want raw bones drug around my house.
When first starting to feed a homemade diet, you may not want to do much chunking if your cat will not readily eat the chunks. First things first….ie….get them to embrace the finely ground up meat and bones diet first….then see if you can get them to chew on chunks of meat.
Brushing your cat’s teeth is the best way to keep his teeth clean if he will not chew on chunks of meat but, honestly, even if they do chew on meat? I would still suggest brushing their teeth as an added insurance policy. Please see this video that explains how to do this.
After 18 months of use, this tooth brush is very worn out and needs to be replaced.
This toothbrush is the only product that is suitable for cats and is the one shown in the video.
Please pay close attention to the statement in the video regarding a thorough dental exam by your veterinarian before starting a brushing program.
Many cats have very painful mouths but show no outward signs of this pain. If you try to brush your cat’s teeth in the face of a painful mouth, all you will end up with is a cat that is scared – along with developing a strong aversion to toothbrushes. If this aversion occurs, you may never get him to accept tooth brushing once you have addressed the painful mouth with your vet.
In January, 2010, I started brushing Robbie’s teeth after a dental cleaning under anesthesia and am kicking myself for not doing it sooner. Robbie builds up tartar faster than any cat I have ever dealt with and he really could use dental cleanings 2 times per year. Plus, his breath smelled awful! It actually smelled worse than his feces.
July, 2011 update: Robbie’s teeth would have been a mess by now since his last dental was in December, 2009. However, since I have been brushing his teeth daily (or at least 6 times/week) for the past 18 months, his breath is still great and his teeth are very clean! I should have started doing this years ago!
Here is a video that I took in December, 2010. It is not a very good video but it shows that he tolerates it very well….and the kisses on the head are mandatory. :>)
February, 2012 update: It has been more than 2 years since Robbie’s last dental and his teeth are still very clean and his breath has no odor. I am still brushing his teeth every night.
Understand that you will not be able to get to the inside of any teeth. I just focus the brushing on the outside surface of the upper and lower molars which is where the bulk of a cat’s teeth problems lie. At first, Robbie was not as cooperative with the lower molars as he was with the uppers but now he willingly lets me brush both areas. He is also very good about having his canine teeth (‘fangs’) brushed. In fact, I start with his canines because he is so good about it.
Note that you will not be brushing back and forth like you would on your own teeth. That will annoy most cats. With Robbie, I swipe the tooth brush in one direction over and over again. Front to back, front to back, front to back….trying for ~8-10 swipes. Then the other side is back to front, back to front, back to front….
When first starting to train your cat, only swipe a couple of times then feed him a treat and let him go. Concentrate on the canine teeth and upper molars. Leave the lower molars until your cat has accepted the other areas.
It may take a month or more to get your cat used to this process.
Go slowly and be very patient!
Note that you do not have to use any toothpaste. A moistened (with water) toothbrush is all you need. In fact, I only use the CET toothpaste that I bought for Robbie as a treat after I brush his teeth. He likes the taste of it so I put a bit on my finger for him to lick off when we are done.
You can try using toothpaste but if you use too much, sometimes your cat wants to start licking and chewing and that will make it hard to brush his teeth. You actually want the cat to keep their mouth closed and still.
One final comment….when I brush the upper molars, I pull up/back the lip/corner of the mouth so that I can actually see them. However, with the lower molars, I keep my finger under his chin so that he keeps his mouth closed. I then slip the bristles between his lips and just ‘feel’ the lower molars and listen for the sound of the bristles against the teeth but I don’t actually see them.
I find that it is easier to get the uppers brushed than the lowers.
Hopefully….one day soon….I will write a Dental Health webpage which will address this issue in more detail.
- Pre-ground supermarket meat: I hear you asking “But I don’t want to buy a grinder….so why can’t I just buy ground meat at the supermarket and add a calcium source?” I would never do this for reasons stated below. This method is definitely outside of my comfort zone and is not one that I can recommend.
I buy only whole meats from the market for the following reasons:
1) The surface of whole meats can be washed with water before we grind them. This helps remove the surface bacteria that would otherwise be ground into the meat. For the first 6 years of making cat food, I simply rinsed the meat and skin off with water and then sent the meat/bones/skin through the grinder. I was always careful to source the freshest meat possible by checking with my butcher regarding shipment dates.
However, knowing that the above precautions were no guarantee that I would be feeding a safe diet, I now bake the chicken/turkey thighs to the point where they are ~25-50% cooked on the outside and 50-75% raw on the inside.
I set the oven to 350 degrees but the baking time will vary depending on how thick the thighs are.
There will be a loss of weight from the original 3 lbs of meat/skin/bones but by the time you add the drippings back in and add more than 1 cup of water to account for the moisture loss, you will be back at roughly 3 lbs.
I definitely suggest doing this for any animal that may be immunocompromised due to illness, advanced age, or if they are receiving any immunosuppressive medications, or antacids.
Note: Boiling is one of the worst ways to cook meat in terms of nutrient loss. Baking is much better for nutrient retention. I used to boil the thighs because it was easier given the large batches that I make but I now bake them so that there is less nutrient loss and so I can save the fat drippings to put back into the food.
When packaging for the freezer, use a container size that will be used up with within 2 – 3 days of being in a completely thawed state in the refrigerator.
2) Once we grind the whole meat during our cat food preparation, it goes directly into the freezer. Ground meat that you buy from the supermarket has had the surface bacteria ground into it. Once the meat is ground, the surface area increases, which makes a great breeding ground for bacteria. This meat then sits in the refrigerated section of the meat department. It is not immediately frozen which would halt any further bacterial growth.
You may be wondering what the difference is between the ground meat at the supermarket and the ground rabbit that I buy from wholefoods4pets.com. Wholefoods4pets process the rabbits and then they immediately freeze the final product versus refrigerating it. It arrives on my doorstep frozen.
This meat comes to me in such a clean state so that it would probably be fine if left in the refrigerator for 4 days but I still package it in containers to be used up within 3 days of being completely thawed in the refrigerator.
3) I want to use fresh bone versus bone meal and it is very easy to grind the meat with the bones. With regard to adding a basic calcium source (like calcium carbonate) – instead of using bone - you run the risk of feeding an unbalanced diet because these calcium supplements are just that – calcium only. Bone is a source of more than just calcium.
- Source fresh meat: Check with the butcher who you are purchasing from and see what his delivery schedule is so that you may purchase the freshest meat possible. Sometimes I will ask my butcher if he has anything fresher in the back – versus what is in the display case.
However, having said this, one of the reasons why I started partially baking the poultry thighs is because I did not want to have to worry about shipment dates. I wanted the convenience of buying meat on my schedule – not my butcher’s.
- Safe food handling principles: Basic hygiene practices should be followed when preparing meat for yourself or your carnivore. My kitchen counters and cat feeding areas are kept very clean with a 1:22 bleach/water (1 part bleach to 22 parts water) solution.
- Bone size: Many people, including Anne, chunk a portion of the meat and then send the rest of the meat and bones through this coarse grinding plate.
However, I am not comfortable with the size of bone pieces that result from the use of this plate. In fact, my cats have gotten bones the size shown below stuck in their mouths causing them great distress. I have a 4 minute video of my Robbie violently pawing at his mouth because of a bone fragment that had gotten stuck. He was not happy and neither was I!
I often get asked about acceptable bone size. This is where I differ from many raw feeders. I tend to err on the side of caution and grind the bones very finely.
This picture illustrates a bone size that I am not comfortable with.
These bone pieces were taken from a single ground rabbit product obtained from wholefoods4pets.com. At my request, Mary (at WF4P) now offers an Extra Fine Double Ground product using what she jokingly refers to as “Dr. Pierson’s microplate” to appeal to my paranoia about bone size. (The regular double ground still yields the bone size as shown in the picture above.)
If you want to save money, order the single ground (this will yield the bone sizes shown above) and then it will be your choice to feed as is or send it through your grinder using a fine plate.
The Dangers of Commercial Pet Food – Especially Dry Food
With regard to the safety of raw meat diets, you will no doubt hear varying opinions on this issue. Many of my colleagues are adamantly opposed to the feeding of raw meat yet they think nothing of supporting the common practice of leaving bowls of dry food sitting out for pets to free-feed from which can be contaminated with fungal mycotoxins, bacteria, chemicals, or storage mites. It is very frustrating to witness this narrow-mindedness and lack of acknowledgement as it pertains to the contamination issues regarding dry food and treats – many of which have been recalled as noted below.
I would like to see my colleagues stop reflexively telling their clients that all raw meat diets are dangerous and understand that there are ways to source and prepare this diet that will actually make it safer than the commercial foods that they continue to recommend without any thought as to feline illnesses that these foods contribute to due to their species-inappropriate composition/ingredients, as well as the contamination issues.
I don’t think that a single cat or dog caregiver in the US is not aware of the thousands of cats and dogs that suffered tremendously and died – or have been left with failing kidneys and a shortened lifespan/diminished quality of life – due to the contamination of commercial foods processed by Menu Foods in the summer of 2007.
While the Menu Foods recall was the largest pet food recall in the history of commercial pet food, make no mistake in thinking that this was the first time that cats and dogs have died after consuming commercial pet foods that have been contaminated with chemicals, bacteria, and bacterial or mold toxins.
However, keep in mind that the vast majority of these contamination disasters (outside of the Menu Foods tragedy) have involved dry food or treats – not canned food. Therefore, if you decide that you don’t want to make your cat’s food, please feed canned food and keep the dry food out of your cat’s food bowl.
Dry food is simply not a very healthy or completely safe diet to be feeding to any cat.
See Urinary Tract Health and take a look at Opie’s pictures. If humans would stop feeding dry food to cats, cats like Opie would not have to suffer from excruciatingly painful – and life-threatening – urethral blockages.
There have been many instances of mold toxin-related deaths of pets after eating contaminated commercial dry food. I have listed a few below but these tragedies are too numerous to list all of them.
The regulatory body for the commercial pet food industry does allow a certain level of mold toxins (found in grains) to be present in your pets’ food. For me, this is unacceptable – especially when feeding cats – since grains have no business in their diet to begin with.
With regard to the extremely dangerous and life-threatening fungal toxins found in commercial dry food, this issue will never be a worry when feeding a grain-free diet – either in the form of canned food or the diet discussed on this page.
And if mold toxins and bacteria in dry food are not enough to cause us worry, please consider the fact that the fats contained in dry food become rancid over time – even with the preservatives that are added to the food. Heat, oxygen and light are all factors involved in fats becoming rancid. Keeping dry food in the refrigerator will help with the issue of heat but that still leaves the oxidation issue unaddressed.
Dry foods sit in warm warehouses and pet food stores before they even reach our pets’ bowls – promoting rancidity of fats, bacterial growth, mold growth, and toxin formation, and proliferation of storage mites.
At the very least, dry food should be kept in the refrigerator but it is better to just refrain from feeding this type of food.
See this link for an abstract that discusses the issue of storage mites that were found in 9 out of 10 bags of tested dry food.
This link will take you to an article on a website maintained by the pet food industry. This article discusses the use of ethanol by-products in pet foods.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that many cats and dogs have died as a result of consuming commercial pet foods yet the cause goes unrecognized.
These deaths include the various illnesses that manifest themselves due to the species-inappropriate composition (composition = percentage of calories coming from proteins/fats/carbohydrates and the water content) of the diet, as well as out-and-out contamination issues as discussed above and below in the Pet Food Recalls section.
Unfortunately, humans just don’t recognize these illogical and unsafe diets as the cause of the pet’s illness. Humans – including veterinarians – often fail to put 2 + 2 together in many instances of ill health or death. Food is often the last thing to even be considered as a cause or contributing factor in the event of an illness or death.
As stated above, we all must work within our comfort zone. If you find that you are not comfortable feeding a raw meat – or semi-cooked – diet even when implementing the tips in my safety section, then please feed canned food and remove all dry kibble from your cat’s diet.
Throughout the history of the commercial pet food industry, there have been numerous recalls of dry kibble pet food and treats due to contamination issues involving bacteria (salmonella, etc.) fungal mycotoxins, deadly chemicals, and storage mites. And to be fair, there have also been recalls of commercial raw meat diets.
The list below by no means includes all reported contamination issues. If it did, this webpage would be a mile long.
I have included links below that will take you to the websites of the manufacturers or to articles discussing the recalls/warnings. However, they seem to take these pages down not long after the recall is announced.
For a list of current recalls, please see truthaboutpetfood.com. This website lists pet food recalls and is much more current than the information below. I cannot keep up with the task of posting all recalls/warnings/dry pet food-related animal deaths and human illnesses/deaths on this page.
January, 2011: 200 cows recently died after consuming feed contaminated with moldy sweet potatoes. The mycotoxins produced by the mold was the cause of death.
February/March 2010: Nature’s Variety raw chicken products – possible salmonella contamination. This company has recently implemented a pasteurization process to help ensure the safety of its future products.
January, 2010: Merrick Beef Filet Squares for dogs – FDA warning issued due to salmonella contamination of these treats.
October, 2009: Wysong recalls dry food with mold contamination.
October, 2009: Diamond Pet Food company recalls Premium Edge dry food due to thiamine deficiency which causes severe neurological damage and death in cats.
June 12, 2009: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced today it was suspending the temporary Emergency Permit issued to Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Co., Inc. The deviations in their processes and documentation could result in under-processed pet foods, which can allow the survival and growth of Clostridium botulinum (C. botulinum), a bacterium that causes botulism in some animals as well as in humans.
January 9, 2009: Chicken jerky treats for dogs. Here is an excerpt from VIN (Veterinary Information Network):
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has received 153 complaints during the past 16 months about illness in dogs that have eaten chicken jerky treats and continues to take reports “at a steady clip,” an agency spokeswoman said Friday.
November 25, 2008: Mars Petcare US extended its October 28, 2008 voluntary pet food recall of dry food that affected 15 states, adding more product carriers and brands affected by possible salmonella contamination.
October 28, 2008: Mars Petcare US is yet again recalling another salmonella-contaminated dry food manufactured at one of their facilities. This time it is Special Kitty Gourmet which is sold at Wal-Mart locations in 15 states.
October 20, 2008: Hartz Mountain Corporation is recalling rawhide chips due to salmonella contamination.
September, 12 2008: Mars Petcare US, once again, is recalling salmonella-contaminated dry pet food. This company makes many different brands of pet food. There were many human cases of salmonella infection possibly linked to this food.
August, 2008: The California Public Health department reported salmonella contamination of Pedigree dry dog food. Pedigree is made by Mars Petcare US.
August, 2007: The FDA recalled several dry foods under the Natural Balance Eatables product line due to botulism toxin contamination.
January 2006 – September 2007: See this link for a CDC report on a multi-state (19 states) outbreak of salmonella in humans during 2006 and 2007. The source was dry pet food made at Mars Petcare US.
December, 2005: Some of you may also remember the deaths of many cats and dogs after they ate Diamond pet food in 2005. These animals became very ill – and many died – secondary to liver failure from mold toxins (aflatoxin) that were contained in the grains of a commercial dry kibble. Many cats and dogs died as a result of this contaminated food. The surviving animals will have permanent liver damage.
If you would like more information regarding the obligate carnivore status of the cat, please see Feeding Your Cat: Know the Basics of Feline Nutrition. If you would like to read a more in-depth discussion of this topic, please see Dr. Zoran’s wonderful article linked in the sidebar of this site or click here.
As stated above, if you decide that you are not comfortable preparing your own cat food, please feed canned food and get the dry food out of your cat’s food bowl.
Updated (partially): July 2012
Lisa A. Pierson, DVM