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The Benefits of Raw Food for Cats
- Updated: Tuesday, April 23, 2019 01:01 PM
- Published: Monday, February 08, 2010 01:14 PM
- Written by Margaret Gates
Cats are predators. They evolved eating a prey-based diet, and more importantly, eating that food raw. Cooking degrades nutrients in meat, causing the loss of vitamins, minerals and amino acids.¹ Meat used in highly-processed pet food is cooked at high temperatures. The nutrients lost must be added back. This supplementation is not exact. There are nutrient losses that aren't always replaced. Cats in the wild often eat the entire prey animal if it is small, and will eat nearly everything except the intestines of a larger prey animal. This includes the bones of prey, as raw bone is highly digestible and is their primary source of calcium. Cooking bone reduces the nutrients available, making it brittle and dangerous to ingest.²
Providing your cats with a diet that is modeled on what they would eat in the wild has many benefits, both for you and your cat:
- Improved digestion
- Greatly reduced stool odor and volume
- Healthy coat, less shedding, fewer hairballs
- Increased energy
- Weight loss, if overweight
- Better dental health
- Better urinary health
Cats are obligate carnivores, they must eat meat. There are no vegan cats. Their digestive systems are adapted specifically for a meat-based diet. A cat's digestive tract is short and acidic, and processes species-appropriate raw food highly efficiently in about 12 hours. This gives very little time for bacteria to proliferate, so cats are naturally resistant to food poisoning.³
Cats have no requirement for carbohydrates and limited ability to digest them. A raw cat food diet is more digestible than a diet of plant-based foods.⁴ Because they evolved eating a diet with almost no carbohydrates, they have only one enzyme system capable of handling them. This is quite different from humans and dogs, both having multiple enzyme systems that digest carbohydrates.⁵
Greatly Reduced Stool Odor and Volume
When cats are fed a proper diet, their bodies use most of their food, with much less stool volume. Stool production can be cut in half. They also eliminate less often, sometimes once a day or even less. Their stools are often dry, a little crumbly and hardly smell at all. In the wild, this makes sense for a predator that is small enough to also have to worry about being preyed upon itself. It wouldn't want to be leaving too many smelly advertisements of its presence.
When cats are fed a diet with a large amount of carbohydrates, their systems will struggle to digest the excess carbs. Since much of what they eat isn't being efficiently processed by their systems, the amount of waste is much greater than it should be. Those big, gloppy, smelly puddles in the litter box are not normal.
Healthy Coat, Less Shedding, Fewer Hairballs
After a few weeks on a raw cat food diet, people notice that their cat's coat has gotten softer and silkier. Cats require unsaturated fatty acids, omega-6 and omega-3, in their diets. They must come from animal sources, as cats have a limited ability to make these acids from plant-derived precursors. These essential fatty acids contribute to healthy skin and coats, reducing shedding and thus the incidence of hairballs.⁶
After switching to raw cat food, people notice how much more energy their cats have. Couch potatoes start running around and playing! Through species-appropriate raw food, cats are getting more readily available energy from their food.
Cats are uniquely adapted to utilize protein for their energy requirements. They essentially "burn" protein, turning it into energy in their liver in a process called gluconeogenesis. Animals such as dogs and humans also burn protein in this way, but turn it on and off depending on how much protein is available. Cats can't do this. Their "burn rate" is always on high with their absolute requirement for high-quality protein from meat sources.⁷
If your cats are overweight, they will likely start to lose weight on a raw cat food diet. Cats will overeat when fed an improper food, trying to make up for the nutritional deficiencies in the food. Usually, they won't overeat when fed species-appropriate raw food, as it is satisfying to them. They don't feel hungry all the time. Cats that used to wake you up in the middle of the night for food, acting as if they are starving, start sleeping right through the night. The increase in energy they have will also help them burn off more calories.
Better Dental Health
Just as in humans, dental health in cats partly depends on genetics. Cats in the wild usually don't have gum disease or tooth loss due to periodontal disease. Why? Chewing on raw bones, meat, connective tissue, skin and fur helps keep the teeth clean. Carbohydrates create a starchy film that promotes plaque buildup and encourages gum disease. Carbohydrate-laden food will not help control tartar. Reducing or eliminating carbohydrates in your cat's diet will help keep dental disease at bay. Providing raw meaty bones to chew on is "nature's toothbrush" for cats.⁸ This is important as the bacteria from dental infections can spread to other parts of the body.
Just What is a Raw Cat Food Diet, Anyway?
Beginner's Luck: Where Do I Start?
Better Uninary Health
Raw cat food has a high moisture content of about 65 to 70% that mimics that of natural prey; a mouse is 65-75% moisture. Carbohydrate-laden, low-moisture foods, specifically dry food, cause alkaline urine and chronic dehydration in cats. This can lead to urinary tract inflammation. Because they get enough moisture in their food, cats in the wild don't often have urinary tract problems.⁹
Peace of Mind
Perhaps the best benefit of feeding raw food for cats is the peace of mind it can give you. Realizing that cats evolved to eat a diet that is about as unprocessed as it can get, many people have become concerned about the highly-processed pet food they feed their cats. Raw cat food diets are different. The ingredients are simple and identifiable, processing is minimal and it's either fresh or fresh frozen. You know what you are feeding your pe.
"Raw meat is the natural food of the cat, and is really the 'gold standard' of diets for any obligatory carnivore."
Elizabeth Hodgkins, DVM
From Your Cat: Simple New Secrets to a Longer, Stronger Life
Margaret Gates is the founder of the Feline Nutrition Foundation.
1. N. Gerber, M. R. L. Scheedera, and C. Wenk, "The Influence of Cooking and Fat Trimming on the Actual Nutrient Intake from Meat, " Meat Science 81, January 2009, 148-154.
2. Dr. Bruce Syme, BVSc (Hons), "Feeding Raw Bones to Cats and Dogs."
3. U.S. National Research Council Ad Hoc Committee on Dog and Cat Nutrition, Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats, 2006, 7-10.
4. S. D. Crissey, J. A. Swanson, B. A. Lintzenich, B. A. Brewer, and K. A. Slifka, "Use of a Raw Meat-Based Diet or a Dry Kibble Diet for Sand Cats (Felis Margarita)," Journal of Animal Science75, 1997, 2154-2160.
5. Claudia A. Kirk, Jacques Debraekeleer, and P. Jane Armstrong, "Normal Cats," Small Animal Clinical Nutrition,4th ed. Walsworth Publishing Company, 2000, 297-299.
6. John E. Bauer, DVM, PhD, DACVN, "Facilitative and Functional Fats in Diets of Cats and Dogs," Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 229, no. 5, September 1, 2006.
7. Elizabeth M. Hodgkins, DVM, Esq., Your Cat: Simple Secrets to a Longer, Stronger Life, Thomas Dunne Books, 2007, 5-6.
8. David A. Fagan, DDS, Dental Consultant and Mark S. Edwards, PhD, Nutritionist, "Influence of Diet Consistency on Periodontal Disease in Captive Carnivores," The Colyer Institute, 2009.
9. Elizabeth M. Hodgkins, DVM, Esq, Your Cat: Simple New Secrets to a Longer, Stronger Life, Thomas Dunne Books, 2007, 167-171.