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A Veterinarian's View on Raw Cat Food: Andrea Tasi, VMD

Updated: Sunday, June 02, 2019 02:20 PM
Published: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 02:05 PM
Written by Andrea Tasi, VMD

My name is Andrea Tasi, and my whole life revolves around cats and cat care. I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 1988 and was determined to go out into the world and help sick cats get better, and keep well cats well.

I have been in feline-exclusive practice since 1991, first in Philadelphia and now in the Washington DC metropolitan area. I have watched cats become the most popular pet in our country, and been part of the evolution of feline-specific veterinary medicine. Where cats were once "second class" citizens in the veterinary community, there is now an explosion of interest in feline medical care and increasing research into feline disease. Despite my intentions to try to help cats stay healthy or regain their health, I began to see many cats with chronic problems that I could not "fix." More and more of my feline patients were on one or more prescription drugs and/or diets to try to help them with the diseases I encountered day-to-day in feline practice: recurrent lower urinary problems, obesity, diabetes, chronic vomiting and/or diarrhea, chronic constipation, asthma and skin and ear problems, to name a few. As I prescribed more and more drugs to try to help these cats, I ran into complications and side effects from the drugs themselves, or they often stopped working after awhile. Prescription diets served me no better: often the cats wouldn't eat them and, even if they did, I did not see uniformly-positive results.

One day, a client of mine who had a lovely old cat named Max, told me that she had switched Max's diet to raw food for cats and all of his chronic skin and ear problems went away within several weeks. Poor Max had been on cortisone-type drugs and prescription diets (prescribed by me!) for years, to no avail. My interest was sparked! I began to read about cat nutrition and cat diets and talk to veterinarians and pet owners who had been feeding raw cat food diets. I was amazed at what I was hearing, so decided to try a raw diet with my new kitten, Bug. I had adopted Bug as a sickly, near death and underweight 6 month old. I watched him blossom on the diet, gaining healthy muscle mass weight but not becoming fat, developing a beautiful coat and clearing many of his chronic health problems without the need of conventional drugs. I am convinced that this change to raw food for cats was the foundation for his wonderful recovery.

I now recommend it to virtually all of my clients, and have seen wonderful improvements in my patients' health. I will never go back to recommending or using processed pet foods.

Why Not Just Use Dry and Canned Cat Foods?

Grain-based dry foods are the worst possible thing to feed a cat. Obligate carnivores are designed to eat a meat/whole prey diet, as simple as that. Grain-free dry foods, while perhaps somewhat "better" than dry foods, are extremely high in calories and do not have the water content of a flesh-based diet. Many cats that eat dry food do not drink enough water to keep their bodies optimally hydrated.

Canned foods are better than dry, but all canned foods are high-heat processed resulting in the breakdown of many natural nutrients. They are replaced with added supplements, which are all of the chemical-sounding ingredients on your canned food label. Many, but not all, canned foods also contain grain-based ingredients, which can be triggers for a variety of health issues.

Are Raw Cat Food Diets "Safe?"

First, we can ask ourselves if commercial pet food is safe? Numerous pet food recalls have occurred over the years. Many pets have died from eating commercial pet foods contaminated with melamine and other toxins. Some pet food recalls have involved salmonella found in dry food. Believing that mass-produced foods are uniformly "safe" is a big leap of faith, in my opinion.

Second, we can look at the reality of how a cat's anatomy and physiology were designed to eat and digest raw meat. Cats have a more acid stomach pH and a shorter gastrointestinal tract, making them less vulnerable to many types of food-borne bacteria. I remind my clients that cats lick their bottoms every day and do just fine.

Third, it is not difficult to create balanced diets that are safe from a nutritional perspective. Using a variety of recipes and meat sources is the best way to ensure that your cat gets all the nutrition she needs.

Isn't It Very Complicated to Feed Raw Cat Food?

Feeding raw food for cats can be simple! The easiest way to begin is to use pre-prepared frozen raw meals such as Bravo, Aunt Jeni's and Primal. Homemade cat food is not difficult either. The easiest way to begin is to use a powdered premix like Instincts-TC® that turns meat and liver into a complete and balanced diet. One can then graduate to using recipes that require adding supplement items like taurine and essential fatty acids.

The most common problems my clients have is that they try to transition too quickly forget to defrost food in advance so it is ready for feeding to kitties.

Why Do Some Veterinarians Caution Against Raw Cat Food for Cats?

Veterinarians actually receive very little training in nutrition. In my 4 years of veterinary school, I had one class, one semester long, on nutrition. Most of this course focused on which prescription diet to recommend for which disease and why. For well pets, I was taught to recommend "Pick one dry food and stick with it." A major pet food manufacturer supplied free pet food to veterinary students and free prescription diets to the University's veterinary hospital for use with hospitalized animals. Is it any wonder that most vets come out of school recommending that manufacturer's products? We were cautioned that it was complicated and risky for owners to make their own cat food, and that raw meat was full of harmful bacteria and parasites that would sicken animals and possibly their owners. As I began to become interested in raw cat food and spoke with veterinarians who had been recommending it for years, I was happily surprised to find that raw-food related health problems were few and far between, and that the benefits were amazing.

What Cat Diseases May Be Helped With Raw Food Diets?

I have seen diabetes, asthma, lower urinary tract problems, chronic vomiting and/or diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease skin and ear problems and other health issues either markedly improve or completely resolve when raw cat food diets were introduced. Every cat will respond in her own way, but I now view it as the best medicine for many of my patients.

What Do I Feed My Own Cats?

I use a combination of homemade and pre-prepared frozen cat food meals. When making homemade food I use several different recipes and vary my meat sources. My youngest cats like pretty much anything I make, as they were raised on a raw diet. Their favorite meat source is rabbit. My oldest cats love homemade food made with Instincts-TC powdered premix. When this "all in one" powder is mixed with meat and liver, it makes a nutritionally-balance complete meal for the best in cat nutrition.

Who Should Not Feed Raw Food to Cats?

I recommend avoiding raw meat diets for cats that are on immunosuppressive medications like chemotherapy drugs, or higher doses of cortisone-type drugs like prednisolone. I also recommend that if anyone in the cat's household has a weakened immune system from HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy or immunosuppressive drugs, extra caution should be used or raw food avoided completely. In these instances, a homemade cooked diet would be an appropriate substitute.

Andrea Tasi, VMD is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and has been in exclusive feline practice since 1991.