I’ve always been wary of my cats’ dry kibble. My two cats — Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix — are predators, after all, with fangs, claws, and an instinct to hunt. Their teeth are designed to tear flesh from bone — eyeballs, organs … everything! When you think about it, a bowl of grayish pellets of extruded foodstuffs left out for my cats to graze upon throughout the day seems just too … easy.
I’m not gonna lie, though – I like it to be easy. I am terrified of my cats’ natural diet. I can barely stand to touch raw meat – in fact, the moment it enters my kitchen, it might as well be surrounded by an electric forcefield. When I’m preparing to cook a salmon filet or a steak, I always stop just short of contact, my fingers hovering paralyzed above that cold, slimy hunk of flesh. For this reason, I eat vegetarian probably 98 percent of the time.
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But I know it isn’t fair to let my fear get in the way of my cats’ health, so I sucked it up and threw my cats a bone (with meat on it). Here’s what I learned.
Why feed my cats a raw diet?
Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning their survival depends on nutrients found only in the flesh of other animals. They are not physiologically designed to consume plants or vegetables. Therefore, many of the primary ingredients in most pet foods are not beneficial to cats’ health, including corn, grains, and flour. It also bears mentioning that the “meat” in most pet foods consists largely of animal by-products – like, the stuff even Taco Bell throws away. Plus, the meat in pet food has been cooked, which negates most potential benefits.
According to Raw Fed Cats, which has offered advice on how to switch cats to a raw diet since 2006, kitty kibble is akin to “doom nuggets.” I believe its position is a bit extreme; after all, my cats have been eating kibble their whole lives, and they are healthy. But then again, from the ages of 18 to 21, I survived primarily off of Easy Mac and microwave enchiladas. I was fine, but I could have done better. So can my cats do better? Yeah, probably, especially because a raw diet can improve a cat’s oral and digestive health.
Transitioning to raw: An awful offering of offal
To prepare my cats for the more adventurous flavors of real meat, I fed them canned food and tuna regularly for a couple of weeks. As with most changes, it’s best to let kitties gradually adjust to eating raw food; in other words, don’t go cold turkey on the kibble. Raw Fed Cats recommends initiating the switch by having set mealtimes each day instead of free feeding, but my schedule this month has been too hectic to allow for this kind of planning.
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Then there’s the matter of what to feed them. Here are a few tips for beginners:
- Feed small pieces of boneless meat. Anything works: beef, chicken, fish, other.
- Serve the meat at room temperature. (Note: Do not microwave the meat to warm it up.)
- If the cats seem uninterested in the meat, drizzle it with something they do like, such as canned tuna juice.
- Serve it on a plate instead of a bowl so the cats can see and smell it more easily.
I got a salmon filet for introductory purposes, as well as a whole rainbow trout, complete with bones and eyeballs, in case the cats took to the raw meat as though they’d been waiting their whole lives for me to figure it out and wanted a more advanced option.
Once a cat has been eating raw for a while and learned how to gnaw his food, he can progress to eating whole critters, such as mice, guinea pigs, and hamsters. This option is ideal, as whole critters contain the most nutritious bits. It also makes me the most nauseous.
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Important: Always consult a vet before making any major changes to your cat’s diet, and never try to “starve” an uninterested cat into eating raw food, as this can cause liver failure.
A slow start for my cats
I thought Phoenix would snatch up the raw fish and proudly carry it to the couch, and I fully expected to spend the evening doing laundry while crying. Instead, Bubba Lee Kinsey ate a couple of hunks of salmon before he stalked away, and Phoenix merely licked a couple. I tried pouring some enticing canned tuna juice on the salmon, which did pique the cats’ interest long enough for them to lick the salmon a bit more.
By the time I busted out the rainbow trout, Bubba had left the room. Phoenix did not know what to make of the scaly, slimy fish. She was curious, and she licked its face a few times, but she did not seem interested in eating it. I knew giving them an entire fish was ambitious for their first time. I plan to filet it and give it to them later in bite-size chunks.
I’m not giving up! I’ll try scheduling mealtimes for my kitties and sneaking a few hunks of raw meat in with their canned food each morning, and I’ll do as Raw Fed Cats recommends and freeze several small portions to save time. I might also broaden my horizons and try giving them (gulp) beef or chicken (free range, of course).
In any case, I feel a bit like a guilty mother whose kids have grown up eating nothing but McDonald’s and are horrified by the mere concept of spinach. I’m not sure I’ll be able to transition them to a fully raw diet — Bubba is 11 years old, and Phoenix is almost 5 — but I do intend to incorporate raw meat as a kind of morbid “treat,” if you will.
But can I handle it, y’know, emotionally? Yeah, totally … I think.
Photo: A cat trying to eat raw meat by Shutterstock