Just What is Raw Feeding, Anyway?
|Written by Margaret Gates|
|Tuesday, February 09, 2010 09:22 AM|
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Many different kinds of meat can be used in raw food. In fact, you should vary the kinds of meat you feed, not only for variety, but also to be sure your cat gets a balanced diet. The important difference between most raw food companies and the rest of the pet food industry is that raw food is made with human-grade meat, frequently free-range and sometimes organic. Raw food products do not use any rendered ingredients or meat meals.
Chicken, turkey and rabbit are favorites. You can also find duck, pheasant, Cornish game hen, quail, venison and even ostrich. Surprisingly, even though cats would never hunt deer, wild venison is very close nutritionally to a cats' natural prey.⁸ Most people try to feed meat that is close to what cats would naturally be eating, so meat such as beef (which can cause allergic reactions in some cats), lamb and pork are used less often. Fish should be avoided, except for occasional use, for many reasons including: heavy metal contamination, vitamin E depletion and the fact that cats get addicted to it because of its strong taste.⁹
Raw bone, unlike what many people think, is highly digestible and provides calcium, minerals and enzymes. The marrow is nutrient rich. It is only cooked bone that is dangerous; cooking makes bone sharp, brittle and almost impossible to digest.¹⁰ In addition to including the bone in ground food, small cuts of meat with bones such as chicken wings or Cornish hens can be given to cats. Once they catch on to the idea, they will eat the whole thing, bone and all. It's great for their teeth and jaws, besides being nutritious.
Raw diets try to balance the meat to bone ratio to match that of a wild diet, usually mouse or rabbit. This balances the calcium to phosphorus ratio. Cats cannot live on just meat, and their calcium source is ideally from bone, not a supplement, as bone provides other minerals such as copper and zinc, along with collagen.¹¹
Organ meats, such as liver and kidney, contain key ingredients your cat needs: B vitamins, vitamin A, amino acids and essential fatty acids. Heart is a particularly good source of taurine, a vital amino acid. Heart is usually counted as muscle meat for raw feeding purposes though, not as organ meat. Both commercial and homemade raw diets usually add taurine as a supplement, even when fresh heart is included, to be sure of providing enough of this essential amino acid.
Eggs provide valuable protein and are a source of vitamin A, and essential amino acids such as taurine and arginine.
Water is added because a cats' natural prey is 65-75% water. Cats evolved in dry climates and depended on the prey they ate as a primary source of water, so their thirst drive is not strong. Cats need to have water in their food to stay properly hydrated.¹²
This is perhaps the wrong word to use, as they aren't just supplemental, they are required. These are added to make up for the fact that usually the whole animal is not being used, and that grinding and freezing does cause some loss of nutrients. Supplements added include taurine, B vitamins, vitamin E and essential fatty acids. Many of these are found in the head of the animal, specifically in brains and eyes, and the head is not always included in the mix. Ever wonder why a cat eats the head of the mouse first? He knows what's good for him!
Why Raw Instead of Cooked?
So why not just cook it? Cooking degrades nutrients in meat, causing losses of vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Cooking also transforms nutrients, changing their chemical composition and making them less bioavailable to your cat.¹³ Cooking bone locks the minerals in place. This makes the minerals unavailable and causes bone to splinter easily, which is very dangerous. Canned cat food manufacturers add these vitamins and minerals back in after the product is cooked to make up for this loss.¹⁴ This supplementation is not exact, and there are nutrient losses which aren't recognized or replaced. Feeding the food raw is the best way to be sure your cat is getting the most from his food.
Knowing What's in the Food
Switching to a raw diet allows you to know what you are feeding your cat. You will feel much more comfortable knowing the wholesomeness of each ingredient you feed your cat, rather than worrying about some vague or misleading description on a label. You don't want your cat to be eating food not fit for human consumption, or some mystery meat meal. Look at the ingredient list on a package of frozen raw food. You will see meat first on the list, then the other whole ingredients and supplements. No preservatives, by-products or fillers.
If your cat is on immune suppressing drugs or is diabetic, you should discuss a change in diet with your veterinarian before proceeding. Immune suppressing drugs can interfere with a cat's natural ability to deal with food pathogens. Many diabetic cats can benefit enormously from a raw diet, greatly reducing or eliminating the need for insulin. It must be done with careful monitoring as diet can dramatically and immediately affect the amount of insulin required, risking overdose.¹⁵