Take Heart, But Not Too Much

All of my cats have successfully transitioned to a raw diet. I make the recipe from your site and most of my cats were very interested in the raw chicken hearts that go into the mix. I started feeding the hearts whole as treats. I'd like to know how much raw organic chicken heart I can feed my kitties. Five of my six cats can't get enough of them. Can too much organ meat be bad?
While the heart is a vital organ, it is in actuality made up primarily of muscle with a small amount of fat and connective tissue. Even though the heart is referred to as an organ, because it is really a muscle, not a secreting organ, it doesn't count as organ meat when it comes to putting together a raw meat diet. In raw diets, heart counts as muscle meat. Meat parts which truly count as organ meat in a raw diet, such as liver and kidneys, are highly nutritious, but should never be fed in excess. Liver can cause diarrhea in some cats if fed in large quantities.
The primary nutrients, excluding water-soluble vitamins, in a typical 6 gram chicken heart can be seen in the first table.¹ I have not listed the amounts of water soluble vitamins such as B-vitamins and Vitamin C that chicken hearts contain because any excesses are simply excreted in the urine. Abbreviations used are as follows: kcal = kilocalories, g = gram, mg = milligram, mcg = microgram.
The recommended daily allowances for the above nutrients are listed in the second table.²
While chicken hearts are quite beneficial from a nutrient perspective for your cat, too much of any one nutrient is not good. If you compare the two charts, sodium appears to be the nutrient with the greatest chance of being fed in excess. You would need to feed your cat seven chicken hearts per day to reach this amount. Even if you did feed that many, it might not pose a problem, as your cat may simply drink more water and excrete the sodium. However, over time excessive sodium intake can lead to high blood pressure and stress on the kidneys.
Aside from energy, vitamins and minerals, the heart also contains amino acids, specifically large amounts of taurine. Muscle meat in general contains fairly high amounts of taurine, an amino acid which is necessary for healthy heart and eyes in cats. Generally, the amount of taurine in chicken meat depends on how much work the muscle does, with darker meat indicating harder-working muscles and a higher level of taurine. The heart, being the hardest-working muscle in the body, contains the highest amounts of taurine. In my research, I have not been able to find any evidence that cats can get too much taurine, as any excess is metabolized and excreted in the urine.³
The bottom line is that large amounts of chicken heart, seven or more per day, could provide more than the recommended nutrients for your cat. My recommendation would be to limit chicken hearts to no more than two to three per day. This way you can be confident that you are not providing your kitty with too much of any one nutrient.
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.
Dr. Elisa Katz, DVM, is a graduate of Ohio State University and is the owner of Natural Pet Animal Hospital in Bourbonnais, Illinois. She practices holistic and integrative medicine focusing on proper diet and nutrition. Dr. Katz shares her home with four kitties and one dog.
  2. "Your Cat's Nutritional Needs, A Science-Based Guide for Pet Owners," National Research Council of The National Academies, July 24, 2006.
  3. Eric N. Glass, Jack Odle and David H. Baker, "Urinary Taurine Excretion as a Function of Taurine Intake in Adult Cats," The Journal of Nutrition 122, 1992, 1135-1142.

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