To Grind or Not to Grind Raw Cat Food?

Answers: To Grind or Not to Grind Raw Cat Food?

Being new to feeding raw meat diets, I have noticed that some people say you should feed meats whole and some say that you should grind it up. Why are raw diets most often fed as ground meat diets? Surely cats can eat whole meats because that's what they would get in the wild when they eat prey animals.
We get asked with some frequency why raw meat diets should be ground. The answer is: they don't have to be. There are different ways to feed a raw meat diet. One way is to feed a supplemented meat/bone/organ ground diet. Another is feeding whole meat cuts, often called a "frankenprey" diet. A third is to feed whole small prey items such as chicks and mice. This last item should be clarified as dead, frozen prey items. We are not advocating the feeding of live prey. Keep in mind that these different diets are not mutually exclusive; you don't have to choose between them. Many people, likely most people, end up feeding a combination of methods. We have always recommended that if you feed a ground diet, you should add whole meats and bone-in cuts to the menu, for the dental benefits they give your cat.
People often feel strongly about the type of diet that they view as "right." I have to admit that I have been flamed online by a few frankenprey adherents for advocating ground diets at all. The truth is, there is no single right diet. What works for you and your cat is the right diet. All of these methods have advantages and disadvantages. Here are some of the pros and cons for each type of diet.
Ground Raw Meat Diets
  • Each meal is complete in itself. By grinding the ingredients together and adding supplements as needed, each meal is balanced whatever the portion size.
  • It's a good way to provide real bone in your cat's diet, especially if your cat won't eat whole meats with bone.
  • Ground food is in a form that is probably more familiar to your cat. The consistency is similar to, but not exactly like, canned food. This can be important when transitioning a cat to a raw meat diet.
  • It can be less messy. Cats are less likely to drag food out of the dish or off of the plate than when they are eating whole meats.
  • It's convenient and easy. There are many commercially made raw meat diets available.
  • Ground foods don't require cats to use their teeth much or exercise their jaws.
  • You need to have a grinder capable of handling bones if you are making ground raw diets at home.
  • Commercially prepared raw diets, while convenient, can be more expensive per pound than whole meats.
Whole Meats and Prey Items
  • Requires cats to use their teeth and jaws to gnaw and cut the meat into pieces small enough to swallow. This is good for their dental health and is psychologically stimulating.
  • Adding supplements is usually not required.
  • It's closer to what a cat would get in the wild, especially if you feed small whole prey foods such as chicks or mice.
  • Takes some work to plan the proportions of meats that are fed. Generally, frankenprey diets are 80-85% meat, 5-10% bone and 5-10% organs, half of which is liver. These proportions are fed over a week's meals, so not every meal would be these proportions.
  • Your cat has to be willing to eat all of the meats, including the bone, for the diet to be balanced.
  • If you have multiple cats, it's more difficult to monitor that each cat is eating all the different parts needed for the diet to be balanced.
  • Can be messy. Cats have a tendency to drag whole meats off the plates or dishes, or even run off with them.
  • Some people may be squeamish about feeding whole prey items or about handling and preparing whole meats and organs.
Ground diets are usually what people start their cats on when they first transition to a raw meat diet. Transitioning can be tricky, especially with cats that have been eating dry or canned food for years. Ground diets are often easier for cats to accept. It can take some work and patience to get a cat that is unfamiliar with eating meat with bones to actually consume them. But, some cats will jump right in and eat whatever is offered. The best scenario is to start cats eating whole meats, meats with bone and small whole prey from the time they are kittens.
The gnawing and tearing required when a cat eats whole meats and bone-in cuts is what helps keep a cat's teeth clean, gums stimulated and jaws exercised. Dental health is extremely important to a cat's overall health, so this aspect of feeding a whole meat diet is a real benefit. If your cat is eating a ground diet, it's a good idea to introduce some whole meats in chunks big enough to require some "work" to eat. Get them using those side teeth. Getting your cat to eat meats with small bones, such as chicken wings and necks, is also good. They give the jaws a good workout and the scraping action helps to keep the teeth healthy.
There is another aspect to feeding raw meat diets, besides getting your cat used to it, that favors ground diets. People have to get used to it, too. At least in the US, the idea of consuming raw meat, even if it is your cat doing the consuming, worries people. People are afraid of raw meat. Feeding a ground meat product, something that doesn't look much different than canned cat food, is psychologically easier for some people. At least until they get used to it and realize it's perfectly natural for a cat to eat meat raw. Once the cat gets used to eating ground raw meats and the human gets used to serving it, most people get more comfortable with the idea and offer a more adventurous diet to their feline buddies.
Note: Feline Nutrition provides feline health and nutrition information as a public service. Diagnosis and treatment of specific conditions should always be in consultation with your own veterinarian. Feline Nutrition disclaims all warranties and liability related to the veterinary advice and information provided on this site.
Margaret Gates is the founder of the Feline Nutrition Foundation.

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