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Kibble kitty or raw food feline: How to choose the best diet for your cat

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to eat from metal food bowl

Many cats behave as though they’re kings or queens of the domestic jungle you call home. So is raw food—the kind their ancestors and wild cousins enjoy—the right diet choice for them?

When deciding what to feed your furry family member, we recommend you talk to your vet, and make the choice that best reflects your cat’s health needs and lifestyle, along with what you are comfortable with.

Knowing that pet parents these days are eager to learn more about raw diets, we asked our expert nutritionist and team of Animal Care Experts to answer some key questions about this feeding option. We also regularly talk with the companies that produce the food we carry in store and online, so we’re sharing what they do when making and packaging food.

Here’s what you need to know about raw food diets for your beloved feline.

The basics of feeding raw food to cats

When it comes to cats, you’re likely to hear the phrase “obligate carnivore” a lot.

It means that cats require a diet made up mostly of meat proteins, as cats can’t properly digest fruits and vegetables. Protein is their chief energy source as opposed to carbohydrates, which is the case for many other animals.

Raw cat food can be of the homemade variety, or pre-packaged raw food for cats can be purchased in our stores. While home-prepared raw meals might sound like it’s the better, less-processed choice, there are a number of concerns that arise if you’re feeding meat you buy at a grocery store or butcher. The two big concerns are food safety (raw meat in stores can introduce bacteria to your cat which can spread to family members), and not knowing if a meal meets all the nutritional needs of their cat.

Making sure your cat gets enough protein plus the precise amount of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids is a high-wire act, and may not be worth the risk for some people. This doesn’t mean you have to give up on raw feeding, though.

Cat drinking from saucer

If you decide on a raw food diet for your cat, there’s a wide selection of safe, nutritionally complete, pre-packaged raw foods available in our stores.

“Cats are a little trickier than dogs,” says Pet Valu store manager Amy Koehler, “It’s absolutely beneficial for them to be on a raw diet. The trick is getting them to eat it. Cats are notoriously finicky eaters. It’s a long process, especially if they're older and have been on a processed diet for quite some time.”

Koehler suggests pet parents introduce their cats to pre-packaged raw food dinners slowly over a couple of months by mixing in small portions with wet food or kibble.

“If you get them when they're young however, they go right for it,” she says.

Whether you end up going with dry cat food, wet cat food, pre-packaged raw cat food, freeze-dried raw cat food or a mix of those options, all commercially available foods with high-quality ingredients are designed to provide the proper nutrition for your feline.

Just look for quality ingredients, vitamin and mineral content, and water content (cats get a lot of their water from food so supplementing a kibble diet with wet or raw food is important).

couple cuddling two dogs sitting on a grass field

Are raw food diets safe?

The decision to feed a raw food diet to any pet requires some consideration. At the top of the list should be the health and age of your pet, as well as the health and age of everyone else in the household.

The very young, very old, or immunocompromised should not be exposed to some of the bacteria present in raw meat you might get from a butcher or grocery store. That said, commercially prepared frozen raw cat foods are tested by the manufacturer for salmonella and e. Coli bacteria, making them much safer than home-prepared raw food.

If you’ve decided to feed your healthy adult cat a raw food diet, take precautions around raw meats, washing hands, surfaces, and containers carefully. Always keep your commercially prepared raw cat food frozen until your cat is ready to eat, and don’t re-freeze uneaten portions of your cat’s breakfast or dinner once thawed.

And never go in for a kitty smooch right after your cat has finished a meal, as tempting as that might be!

Why many pet parents love raw food diets

Many devoted pet lovers report benefits of feeding raw food diets to their cat. Increased moisture content in raw food can help prevent chronic dehydration, which in turn helps keep a cat’s urinary system flushed out so they may experience fewer urinary problems.

In addition, because raw cat diets consistent mainly of raw meat, it means your cat gets higher protein content which can help satiate hunger. Keeping your kitty full means she’s less likely to beg for more food and treats, which makes it easier for her to maintain a healthy body weight.

Natural antioxidants in raw food diets may also help boost the immune system, and devoted pet lovers have reported their cat’s coats can feel softer or look shinier.

For more info on rotational feeding, ensuring your pet has a balanced diet, managing food allergies and more, check out our full guide to feeding your pet.

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