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Answers: Are Exotic Meats Nutritious or a Novelty for Cats?

Updated: Saturday, June 01, 2019 05:40 PM
Published: Saturday, April 07, 2012 03:51 PM
Written by Lyn Thomson, BVSc DipHom

I understand that cats need to eat a variety of different meats when being fed a raw cat food diet. Mine eat chicken, turkey, rabbit and some pork. I have noticed that a few places are offering what I think of as very unusual meats, such as ostrich, emu, kangaroo, yak, llama, elk and even muskrat. I know cats in the wild will eat pretty much anything that is available that they can catch, so are these more exotic meats okay to add to their diet? Or are they more of a novelty that appeals to humans?

Great question. A variety of meats is crucial to a raw cat food diet. The simplest way to think of it is that each animal consumed by your cat has a different nutrient profile, dependent on what that animal has consumed in its lifetime. So, feeding a variety of meats from a variety of sources ensures a full range of nutrients for your raw fed cat.

We also have to think about whether the meat source is exotic to us, or to our cat. Pork would be a food source unlikely to be eaten by feral cats, so, do we call it an exotic meat? Our New Zealand possums, which might be considered an exotic meat, are packed full of essential fatty acids as they consume all of our beautiful native bush and berries.¹ Feral or wild cats naturally consume what crosses their path, such as insects, frogs, birds, rodents and rabbits. Regional differences are common in the dietary habits of feral cat populations.² Our obligate carnivores will feast on larger animals if bigger hunters have killed them first. They have a preference for very fresh meats, so will only eat fresh kill. What this means is that cats can and will eat most exotic meats. Whether they should or not is actually harder to answer.

Take beef for example. Cats wouldn't naturally hunt cattle, so for a cat, it is an exotic food. In my professional experience, I have found that cats fed daily on beef have a higher incidence of asthma and allergies. Beef is a meat that is higher in histidine than other meats, which can cause inflammation.³ Ingesting higher levels of histidine over the long term can result in a zinc or copper deficiency. Zinc is an important co-factor for digestive enzymes and for the production of hydrochloric acid, so it is very important for cats with IBD. Copper helps tyrosine work as a pigment factor in fur. A loss of coat color is one of the early signs of a copper deficiency. In my practice, we often see cats fed only beef developing a change in coat color from black to rusty brown.

However, I find that cats fed beef occasionally, up to three times a week, seem to cope with no problems. In the past, cats were often brought up on gravy beef, which is a cheap cut from the butcher. But, we have to remember that these cats would also have been hunters working for their keep, keeping the rat and mouse population low and feasting on insects and birds. In my own practice, I would say that feeding exotic meats to add variety to the diet is a really good idea. Here in New Zealand, we can access wallaby, ostrich, alpaca and possum, to name a few exotics. We don't over feed any one source of meat. Up to three meals a week would be the maximum for one meat source is a good rule of thumb.

Note: Feline Nutrition provides feline health and nutrition information as a public service. Diagnosis and treatment of specific conditions should always be in consultation with your own veterinarian. Feline Nutrition disclaims all warranties and liability related to the veterinary advice and information provided on this site.

Dr. Lyn Thomson trained at the University of Bristol in England and is studying with the Australasian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine. A dedicated and experienced advocate of bio-appropriate nutrition, Lyn practices in Auckland, New Zealand. HerRaw Essentials stores have grown to seven retail locations, providing a variety of raw diet products for cats and dogs.

1. I Koizumi, Y Suzuki and JJ Kaneko, "Studies on the Fatty Acid Composition of Intramuscular Lipids of Cattle, Pigs and Birds," Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology 37, no. 6, Dec 1991, 545-54.

2. GR Martin, LE Twigg and DJ Robinson, "Comparison of the Diet of Feral Cats From Rural and Pastoral Western Australia," Wildlife Research 23, no. 4, 1996, 475 - 484.

3. TT Vu, AR Stafford, BA Leslie, PY Kim, JC Fredenburgh amd JI Weitz JI, "Histidine-rich Glycoprotein Binds Fibrin(ogen) with High Affinity and Competes with Thrombin for Binding to the Gamma'-chain," Journal of Biological Chemistry 286, no. 35, Sep 2, 2011, 30314-23.

4. RA Wapnir and C Balkman, "Inhibition of Copper Absorption by Zinc. Effect of Histidine," Biological Trace Element Research 29, no. 3, June 1991, 193-202.

5. MY Jing, JY Sun, XY Weng and JF Wang, "Effects of Zinc Levels on Activities of Gastrointestinal Enzymes in Growing Rats," Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition 93, no. 5, Oct 2009, 606-12.

6. Philip Roudebush, Candace A Sousa and Dawn E Logas, "Skin and Hair Disorders," Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 4th ed. Walsworth Publishing Company, 2000, 462-3.