More people are turning to biologically appropriate raw foods for feeding their pets. It's a controversial choice and there's little scientific evidence showing that raw diets help or hurt cats. Take time to consider the pros and cons for Tabby before making the switch.
Not Just Kibble Anymore
Cat food has changed radically during the past few decades. It used to be if Tabby ran out of kibble, you'd run to the store and grab a bag from the shelf. Now you can choose from a host of options from your vet, the local mega-store, the chain pet store or from the independent pet shop in town. Ingredients have changed too, ranging from by-products and meals to chicken, potatoes, duck, peas and more. Pet food manufacturers position their food as closer to Tabby's wild origins, using words on packaging such as "ancestral," "biologically appropriate," "evolutionary," and "natural."
Pros of a Raw Diet
Undoubtedly Tabby's wild ancestors didn't cook their food. Her feral friends who rely on mice, birds, lizards and other prey still don't have that luxury. This is the heart of the most common argument in favor of feeding a raw diet: It's closer to a cat's natural origins. Other advantages to a raw diet include: fewer health issues reported by owners, including diseases such as diabetes and kidney disease; shiny, healthy coats; firm, compact stool, indicating that the food is high in nutrients; and it's increasingly easy to find commercially prepared raw food. As well, for those who prepare their cat's raw diet at home, there's comfort in having total control over what Tabby eats.
Cons of a Raw Diet
Not everyone is keen to feed cats a raw diet, and the primary reason is the risk of illness associated with raw meat. Dr. Jennifer Coates, writing for Pet MD, notes eating raw meat puts Tabby at greater risk for contracting a food-borne illness such as salmonella. Tabby's not the only one at risk either; whomever prepares supper for her is also at risk if proper food handling techniques aren't followed strictly. Homemade raw diets also run the risk of being nutritionally incomplete because they rely on supplements, which can be over- or under-used, potentially causing problems for Tabby. Other disadvantages to raw food include the high cost and the fact that many cats don't find them palatable.
Home Cooked Compromise
Dr. Shawn Messonnier and Dr. Jennifer Coates consider a home-cooked diet to be a good middle ground for cats. Cooking the meat eliminates the risk of food-borne illness and Tabby may find it more appealing. Both vets recommend supplements to ensure the cat's nutritional needs are met. Of course, some of the same disadvantages still exist: It's time consuming to prepare and can cost more than traditional cat kibble. As well, if Tabby has developed a taste for dry food, it may be difficult to convince her to make the switch to raw or cooked, no matter how much love you add into the mix.
- SPCA International: Understanding Homemade Diets and the Pros/Cons of a Raw Food (BARF) Diet
- Holistic Veterinary Center: Raw, Home Cooked or Packaged Food: Which is Best for My Pet?
- PetMD: BARF - A Diet for Cats
- Jennifer Coscia, The Holistic Cat: A Complete Guide to Wellness for A Healthier, Happier Cat
- The Canadian Veterinary Journal: Raw Food Diets in Companion Animals: A Critical Review
- Photo Credit Janie Airey/Lifesize/Getty Images