WOULD YOU FEED YOUR CAT A RAW DIET?
The choice available to us when choosing our cat’s food has become overwhelming. From the supermarket, to online pet stores to the veterinary office; food formulated for specific breeds, food for indoor cats, food to help with furballs, food using organic or inorganic ingredients, kibble or wet food, food for different stages in the cat’s life and even food formulated to reduce litter tray odour! It’s a veritable hodgepodge of choice, enough to make you so unsure that you spend the next few years buying a variety of different food, whittling it down and down, researching various ingredients until you finally find the right formulation and can relax. Your cat will turn his nose up at some, making you feel like you’re incapable of making decisions on his behalf, a cupboard slowly converting into a cat food graveyard because you can’t bring yourself to throw away that 3kg bag that cost you £21. It’s all starting to feel pretty stressful.
What would it take for you to go back to the drawing board, ignore the marketing and take cat food into your own hands? We’re not talking about cooking up a duck terrine with ripples of mousey foam presented on a silver plate (something you might find rather extravagant and appetising) but instead preparing a raw vat of ground bones, organs, egg and vitamins (something your cat might find rather extravagant and appetising) Would you take to deconstructing the mouse?
Anne Jablonski, founder of CatNutrition.org has been making her own cat food for over 10 years. The success and popularity of her site has resulted in sections being translated into French, Italian, Turkish, Russian, Chinese and Korean as she spreads the word about the raw food diet which relieved her cat Duke from a persistent digestive disorder. We were lucky enough to interview her for this month's blog post:
For those who don’t know about the raw cat food diet, what does it consist of?
The basic raw cat food diet consists of simple ingredients that honor the biological fact that cats are obligate (true) carnivores and mirrors the nutrition that Mother Nature intended. The core ingredients of the diet are simple: meat, bones, and organs. Other ingredients in the recipe are there for one of two reasons: to make up for what might go missing in as a result of processing it (i.e., grinding and freezing) or to accommodate the fact that the typical dressed meat carcasses we buy from the market to make cat food are still incomplete, missing body parts that a cat would ingest, like eyes, brains, and glands that supply key nutrients.
The meat, bone, and organ ingredients are ground up and mixed together with water and a few other ingredients, and the food is frozen and stored until use. The reason for the grinding is that although we’re reverse engineering a cat’s perfect nutrition package, a mouse, we’re using animals that are much larger than cat-sized small prey.
I always like to emphasize that the ‘basic’ homemade diet, while it’s perfectly wonderful for many cats, has to be adapted and employed carefully and mindfully for cats with certain medical conditions, ideally under the supervision of a qualified animal health care professional who is knowledgeable the relationship between diet and disease processes. Cats suffering from Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), for example, need to have a diet that doesn’t include bone – but another calcium source – to bring down the absolute amount of phosphorus in the diet. Diabetic cats absolutely must be very closely monitored as any change in their diet can dramatically and immediately change their insulin requirements, especially if they’ve been eating a dry diet high in carbohydrates before they were switched over.
How often do you make a batch of cat food? Does it take a long time to do?
Not very often and it doesn’t take very long at all! These days I make it every eight to 12 weeks. Rather, I should say, we make it every eight to 12 weeks. I’m blessed to have an eager and talented food-making partner – my patient husband – and we make a dizzyingly efficient pair on food preparation day. We manage to get food making and kitchen cleanup done in well under an hour, and that includes our detours moving the over-eager young cat supervisor out of the way every two minutes.
There’s a misconception that making your own cat food involves slaving every day in the kitchen. It’s simply not true. Once you’re organized with supplies and get a rhythm going – and presuming you’ve got the freezer storage space - it really doesn’t have to be an investment of more than eight or 12 hours a year if you’re feeding a couple of cats. And the return on that investment, at least by my measure, is more than satisfying – healthy cats, less time in the vet’s office, and relief knowing there’s nothing in the diet I don’t know about.
What do your friends think about it?
My friends who don’t have cats think I’m mad as a hatter. But I love them anyway.
My friends with cats are intrigued. Many followed suit and are doing it themselves. A few others switched their own cats over from dry food to wet canned food – possibly because it was easier to do that than to listen to me harangue them mercilessly about the folly of feeding dry food to cats.
You’ve translated your site into lots of languages – just how popular do you think this type of diet is becoming?
All those translations came about when some very generous site visitors wrote me volunteering to translate selected pages without ever being asked. I couldn’t be more thankful since this site is one-person operation with zero funding save for the handful of great folks who periodically send financial support to keep it going.
The generosity of the translators underscores how people everywhere are hungry for a nutritional foundation to help cats suffering from diet-related ailments that their vets may not be well prepared to understand, cure, or manage.
In the decade or so since I started the website, anecdotally I’ve seen interest in and coverage of the philosophy and common sense behind home-prepared diets grow exponentially. It’s much more in the mainstream and no longer seen as some peculiar, eccentric practice.
There’s a long way to go with the shared effort by many good people to offer unbiased information that challenges the dominant paradigm in the way we’ve come to feed cats. These in-home tigers ask for so little from us – feeding them well is the least we can do in exchange for all that divine feline love and all those purrs.
What does your vet say about the diet?
I work with a small team of different vets that I rely on for different components of my cats’ health – and they’re probably a little divided about the diet, although no one argues that my cats aren’t in great health. I don’t make much of a secret of my work on the cat nutrition front, so heaven knows that some of them probably think it’s better to keep any contrary opinions to themselves.
Relationships with veterinarians that I’ve come to trust help to keep me honest and from straying into territory on which I’m wholly unqualified to provide counsel. I walk a delicate line with the website – I am, after all, a layperson with zero training in veterinary medicine or animal nutrition. I can’t and won’t offer medical advice. If you want to know a fast way to organize your food-making process, which jars work best for storing food, or where to find a good scientific article or book to open the dialogue about diet with your vet? I’m delighted and qualified to do that. But I’m not the one to diagnose your cat, second-guess your vet, or decipher what a blood panel means.
Is homemade cat food appropriate for every cat?
A home-prepared diet can be absolutely the very best or the very worst thing someone does for a cat. My mantra goes like this: if you're going to do it, follow a balanced recipe carefully, beware of recipes or formulations that rely on plant-based nutrients, use safe and common-sense meat handling procedures to protect yourself, and remember that any special medical conditions a cat is facing must always be taken into account.
Have you ever considered selling your raw cat food on a small scale as an antidote to mass-produced and often unhealthy food available on the market?
Oh most definitely not. The eight to 12 hours each year I spend making cat food for my two little furry dudes, Wilson and Sidney-Beans, is plenty. I’ve got no interest in or talent for starting a food business.
I’m sticking with what I like doing best – continuing as an information resource people can turn to when they want to educate themselves on one healthy option for feeding a cat, whether it’s homemade raw food or learning to decipher a pet food ingredient label so they can make an educated choice.