Making Raw Cat Food for Do-It-Yourselfers
Last Updated on Saturday, January 11, 2014 09:05 PM
Published on Friday, May 08, 2009 11:55 AM
Written by Margaret Gates
Making your own ground raw cat food at home gives you the most control over what goes into your cat's food, allowing you to select the meats and supplements you use. It is also the most economical way to feed a raw diet. It takes a little time and some equipment, but it's worth it.
Depending on your available freezer space and the number of cats you are preparing food for, you should only have to make food every two to four weeks. Once you do it a few times, you'll realize how easy it is. If you're organized, you can easily make 15 pounds of food in about an hour and a half, including clean-up. Following is an overview of what equipment you'll need to get started, what meats and supplements you’ll need, a recipe to follow, average costs and some helpful tips.
- Grinder. You will need a grinder that can handle bones. I currently use a Waring Pro Professional Meat Grinder. It can handle chicken thigh bones with no problem, but can't handle drumsticks. It can do turkey wing bones and some of the smaller bones from the frame. I use the grinding disk with approximately 1/8" holes. Other people I know use the Tasin TS108 with great results. You can get the Tasin from the One Stop Jerky Shop, which has great customer service. They won't void the warranty because you're grinding bone as some manufacturers will. Both Tasin and American Eagle make larger (and pricier) models also. You can also use the meat grinding attachment on a Cuisinart mixer. But, it can't handle bones that are very big, meaning you may have to smash them up first, and that's pretty messy. If you don't already have the meat grinding attachment, I would recommend putting your money towards a stand-alone grinder as the attachment is pricey.
- A very sharp knife. Keep your knife sharp! You are more likely to cut yourself with a dull blade than a sharp one.
- Poultry shears.
- Meat cleaver. You may not need this if you are starting with parts, but it's a must if you are working from a whole carcass.
- Set of mixing bowls, preferably stainless steel. You'll need at least three: a small one to mix the eggs and supplements, a medium one to use under the grinder outlet and a large one that's at least 8 quarts, for mixing it all up.
- Plastic or glass freezable containers and labels.
- Ear plugs. Grinders are loud. Or you can use ear buds and listen to music.
- Latex or nitrile gloves.
- Newspaper to cover your work surface. Makes clean up much easier.
- Kitchen scale.
- Large cutting board.
- Freezer space.
Meat and Eggs
Ideally, you want to get meat that is antibiotic and hormone free, and free-range if possible. Get organic meats if you can, but organic is usually a lot more expensive. Try to get the best quality and the freshest meat you can. Cats may refuse meat if it's not fresh.
You definitely want to get liver from a good source since the liver stores toxins. Preferably from a free-range animal, with no hormones or antibiotics used.
The recipe calls for chicken hearts, which can be difficult to source. Hare Today
sells chicken hearts at a very good price. I have also seen them at a local Korean supermarket, so try checking ethnic food stores in your area or ask your butcher if he can get them for you. Try to use the real organs if at all possible; hearts are the major source for taurine
— an absolutely essential amino acid
. It's so much better for your cats to get the real animal parts rather than just the supplement substitute!
If you have ample freezer space you can also try buying in bulk direct from organic or free-range farms or butchers in your area.
Buy free-range eggs, preferably organic, from hens that have not been given antibiotics or hormones.
This is a term I dislike because it makes it sound like these are optional. They are not. These supplements are required. Skipping supplements or letting your recipe "drift" can have serious health consequences for your cat. There are different recipes that call for slightly different supplements, but they cover the same basic needs of the cat. What these supplements make up for is the fact that we aren't feeding cats the whole prey diet they would get in the wild. People have used recipes such as the one below for years without any deficiencies showing up. It is always a good idea to vary the meats you feed, not only for variety for your cat, but also to cover any unknown gaps in the nutrient profile of a particular meat. There may be an as yet unidentified essential micro-nutrient in one kind of meat and not another.
All of these supplements are available from Whole Foods, and most are available at health food stores or online.
Basically, this recipe is the one from Anne Jablonski
with some changes from Dr. Lisa Pierson
. Both of the original recipes are similar, but with a couple of ingredient differences. Here are the supplements you'll need:
- Taurine - Use powdered taurine. I get it in 500 mg capsules, but it also comes loose.
- Wild Salmon Oil or Wild Caught Small Fish Oil — I use the small fish oil. Some cats don't like the taste of salmon oil. Get capsules, not a liquid in a bottle. Once opened, the liquid can go rancid quickly. It's okay to drop the whole capsule into the grinder, the gelatin capsule is edible. This oil replaces the Omega acids that would usually be in the eyes and brains of the animal eaten. Do not use cod liver oil as it can be high in vitamin A which is toxic in large amounts. Be sure the oil you get is from wild caught fish.
- Vitamin E - Get the dry form in capsules.
- Vitamin B Complex - Get capsules.
- Lite Salt - Make sure it contains iodine.
- Psyllium Husk Powder - This adds fiber without adding any carbohydrates. If your cats have been eating dry food for a long time, they may have lost elasticity in their bowels and may benefit from fiber in their food. Also, some cats may have constipation issues when initially fed a raw diet, so adding fiber in the beginning is a good idea. You can omit it later if it seems your cats don't need it.
A note on supplements which you may see in other recipes: I pretty much follow Dr. Lisa Pierson with regards to the following supplements. From her site
- Kelp - You will see recipes on the internet that use kelp. Kelp is very high in iodine and the thyroid gland is very sensitive to iodine levels that are either too low or too high. Given the fact that hyperthyroidism is very common in the cat, I do not want to add too much additional iodine to the diet. Chicken meat (no bones) tends to be low in iodine but this does not take into account that we are feeding bones with this recipe. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find iodine levels in whole carcass chicken or in chicken bones. For that reason, I am adding in a small amount of iodine to this diet in the form of lite salt (iodized) if chicken parts are used. This is because the thyroid gland of the chicken will not be present. The thyroid gland is a natural source of iodine. If using whole carcass rabbit, I suggest calling your supplier and asking if the thyroid gland is included. If it is, I would not add the iodized lite salt. Be sure to use all of the blood that comes with any ground food since blood contains valuable nutrients.
- Multi-glandular supplement - I initially added this item but when Mad Cow disease surfaced, I discontinued the use of this supplement. Also, I have my doubts that there is any benefit derived from this supplement - other than its iodine source if thyroid glands are used. It is more than likely just a very expensive source of protein which ends up being digested just like any other protein that is ingested.
- Dulse - This is an optional trace mineral supplement. Many people feel that the mineral content of our soil is not what it used to be so this is one reason why some people choose to add it to the recipe."
Recipe Using Chicken Thighs With Bone
- 4.5 lbs chicken thighs (72 oz). Remove the skin from half of it before you weigh it out. If your cats are chubby you can remove all the skin before weighing it. Don't remove the fat from the meat!
- 7 oz raw chicken liver.
- 14 oz raw chicken heart. If you can't source chicken heart, then substitute with 4000 mg Taurine. If you do omit raw heart, remember to make up the missing 14 oz of heart with additional chicken thighs. Your total weight for thighs would then be 5.375 lbs or 86 oz.
- 8 to 16 oz water. Use 8 oz if your cats like it firmer, or 16 oz if your cats like it soupier. I'd start with 16 oz, and then reduce it next time if desired. Use bottled water, not tap water which can have too many chemicals.
- 4 raw egg yolks. You can add the white also, but it must be cooked first. When initially using this recipe, don't add cooked whites; some cats with gastrointestinal issues may have an intolerance for them. You can add it later on, if desired, and monitor for any problems such as diarrhea.
- 2000 mg Taurine. This is in addition to the Taurine you may have added if you didn't use hearts. I always add a little additional of this so-important amino acid, just to be sure and to make up for any loss due to freezing. Taurine is water soluble so you don't have to worry about your cat getting too much.
- 4000 mg wild salmon or wild caught small fish oil
- 800 IU Vitamin E
- 200 mg Vitamin B Complex
- 1 ½ tsp Lite Iodized Salt
- 4 tsp Psyllium Husk Powder
Putting It All Together
Be organized, it will save a lot of time. Cover your work surface with newspapers. Set up your grinder, cutting board, tools, supplements and bowls. Oh, and it's probably a good idea to put your four-footed "helpers" in another room at this point!
1. In a medium mixing bowl, open up the supplement capsules except for the fish oil, these you add when grinding, add the egg yolks and water, and whisk until mixed. Don't add the psyllium yet. This is your "slurry" mixture.
2. Weigh out the liver and heart, and then return it to the fridge.
3. Put your gloves on. Remove the skin from half the chicken thighs, or from all if your cats are chubby.
Don't remove the fat! Next, weigh out what you will need. Rinse the meat with water to help remove any surface bacteria.
4. Chunk up meat from the thighs. I usually cut the meat from the side of the thigh with the most meat, and then cut it into roughly ½ inch pieces. You don't have to be very precise here, it's OK if some pieces are larger and some smaller. Put the chunked meat back in the fridge.
5. Put your ear plugs in now. Set your medium bowl under the grinder outlet. Start feeding the thighs through the grinder. You may need to trim meat off the bone to fit through the tube. Add the liver, heart and fish oil capsules at intervals to the grinder. You can add the whole fish oil capsule, the gelatin edible.
6. When it's all ground, transfer it to the large bowl, add the slurry mixture, the chunked meat and the psyllium husk, and mix thoroughly.
7. Portion out the mixture into glass or plastic containers, label them, and freeze. You can refrigerate any portion that you are going to use the same day.
Serving variation: Place the mix into ice cube trays and freeze. Pop them out after a few hours and you've made your own nuggets! These can be really handy as they thaw quicker than a larger container. Useful for when you're like me and forget to get a container out of the freezer the night before. They also come out to a mostly uniform size of about 1 ¼ ounces, so portioning is easier.
Remember to hand wash your grinder parts; don't put them in the dishwasher.
It passes the taste test!
See! It's really pretty easy. I make a batch of food about every two weeks, and it takes about an hour and a half including cleanup.
The approximate ingredient cost for this recipe breaks down as follows:
- $1.86 for the supplements
- $11.16 for the chicken thighs (at $2.49/lb)
- $3.00 for the chicken hearts (at $2.99/lb from Hare Today, plus a bit for the shipping)
- $1.22 for the liver (at $2.79/lb)
- $1.26 for the eggs (at $3.79/dozen)
This works out to about $2.65 a pound, since this recipe makes about 7 pounds of food, using 2 cups of water, which weighs about 17 oz. The chicken thighs can also frequently be purchased at less than $2.49 a pound, which can bring the cost down substantially. This compares very favorably to canned food, especially when you consider that there are no fillers or by-products or carbs.
Use turkey thighs and/or drumsticks. Don't use only turkey necks or wings as the bone to meat ratio and thus the calcium to phosphorus ratio would be off. You can use chicken livers and hearts, as getting quantities of separate turkey hearts and livers is probably not do-able. Follow the rest of the recipe as shown.
Duck, Pheasant, Quail or Cornish Hen
Here I am assuming you would be grinding a whole dressed bird, minus head, feet and entrails. Use the same recipe as above. Again, it's OK to use chicken hearts and liver. If you have them, include the organs that came with the bird in the total weight of liver and heart.
A kitty favorite! Follow the instructions above if you are using a dressed rabbit i.e. no head, entrails, feet, etc., or if using rabbit parts.
Pre-Ground Frozen Meats
Thaw the meat in the fridge. You can mix it up as soon as it's thawed enough to mix; it doesn't have to be completely thawed. It's OK to re-freeze after mixing; since the meat was originally frozen immediately after grinding, it didn't sit around growing bacteria Using pre-ground is a real time saver! Just add in the slurry mixture and portion out, and then freeze.
Whole Rabbit Grind
offers whole ground rabbit, this includes the head, which is a very good thing even though it may not sound appetizing! When using this grind, omit the liver and heart since the organs are already there in the grind. You can also omit the fish oil, as the Omegas are supplied by the eyes and brains from the head. That's the reason including the head in the grind is a good thing. My cats absolutely love the rabbit! They will eat it first every time if given a choice. Add the 4000 mg taurine even though the rabbit organs are included, just to be sure. Some taurine may be lost by freezing or by grinding, so it can't hurt to play it safe. Taurine is water soluble, so you don't have to worry about your cats getting too much.
Meat/Bone/Organ grinds: With these grinds, follow the above recipe, but omit the heart and liver. Add the 4000 mg taurine even though the organs are included in the grind.
Ideally, cats want their food at "mouse body" temperature. The best way to accomplish this is to put thawed or partially thawed food in a Ziploc-type baggie. Squeeze as much air out as you can and then place the baggie in a bowl of warm water for 5 minutes or so. This warms it up without cooking it. It's best not to microwave it, since this does cook it. To serve, cut off the corner of the baggie with scissors and pour or squeeze it onto their plate. Serving the food cold can cause stomach upset, and your cat may throw it up.
Cats usually prefer to eat off a plate, rather than a bowl. For feeding raw food, glass or metal is preferred because they won't get bacteria-harboring scratches the way plastic will. A low sided Pyrex baking dish or pie plate works great; they are heavy enough not to move around as the cat eats and they usually come with covers for refrigerating leftovers. Some people like to use paper plates for easier clean up.
How Much to Feed
Generally, for adult cats you should feed 2 to 3% of body weight per day. For example: for a 10 pound cat this would work out to 3.2 to 4.8 oz a day. My cats will vary in how much they will want to eat in a day; one day they're ravenous and the next they're leaving food on the plate. Kittens can require twice as much food per pound of body weight as adult cats, as they are growing, not just maintaining their weight.
If your cat is overweight, try feeding the amount they would need for their ideal weight, not the weight they are now. They will then lose weight slowly down to their ideal. Just be sure they do eat every day. See "How to Transition Your Cat to a Raw Diet
" for more information.
Get a good scale to keep accurate track of your cats' weights, even if they are not overweight. Health-O-Meter
makes a good baby scale that works well for cats. It features a very useful averaging function that will get an accurate weight even on a squirming cat, and a zero-out function that allows you to get a weight even if you have to wrap the cat in a towel or put her in a carrier to weigh her.
Just to be sure my cats are getting all the taurine and omegas they need, I add a little directly to their thawed food a couple times a week. I open a taurine capsule and sprinkle a little on their food, and I'll stick a knife point into a fish oil capsule and squeeze the oil onto their meal. I recommend putting a glove or baggie on the hand holding the fish oil capsule, otherwise you'll be pretty fragrant; that fish oil is very pungent.
Margaret Gates is the founder of the Feline Nutrition Education Society.