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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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March 02, 2009

Dear Mark: The Primal Cat Diet on the Cheap?

By Mark Sisson
43 Comments

Dear Mark,

What’s the least expensive way to move in the direction of feeding raw? What raw meats can I ask my butcher for that might be very cheap and suitable for cats?

Thanks, Greg, for the question.

Contrary to popular belief, the toughest thing about feeding your cats a raw diet isn’t the cost. It’s the convenience factor. The types of meat that you should be feeding your cats can actually be had on the cheap, especially so since adult cats only need about 2-3% of their body weight’s worth of meat per day. For example, one of our Worker Bees manages to feed his 75 lb dog a healthy, robust raw diet for around $2.50 per day – not as cheap as bargain bin kibble, necessarily, but far more affordable than buying premium, nutritionally inferior store chow. Now, consider that your 10 lb cat only requires a fraction of that amount (plus the vet bills you’ll save by having a truly healthy cat) and it becomes clear that the only thing standing between you and transitioning to a raw diet is how much effort you’re willing to put forth (and, I suppose, the intrinsic fickleness of a cat).

By far the cheapest cuts of meat that are also the most suitable for cats come from poultry, especially chickens. Chicken/turkey wings, carcasses, necks, organs – all are typically thrown away or sold for about a dollar or so per pound, and all can be used to form an incredibly healthy, affordable raw food plan for your cat. They contain great amounts of muscle meat, organ meat, and edible bones in healthy proportions (80%, 10%, 10% respectively) and most cats react best to poultry.

Buy in bulk during sales and use your freezer (separate individual days’ worth to avoid having to pry apart rock solid meat). Cats generally won’t eat cold meat, but they also have stomachs designed to handle raw meat. Thaw a bit out every day ahead of time, and don’t be scared to leave their food out for a few hours at room temperature. You can even leave it out all day. If it goes bad, they probably won’t touch it anyway. In a pinch or for the squeamish, you can put the raw meat in a bag in warm water for a few minutes.

If you don’t have access to a butcher, or you can’t find a store that provides the cheaper cuts, you can always use scraps from your own meals. Before you roast that whole chicken, set aside a wing or two and some organ meat for your cat. As you prepare that pot roast, shave off a couple chunks of beef (and be sure to provide beef heart regularly for the taurine, which is essential for cats). When you have your fish filleted, ask the fish guy to save the leftovers to take home to your cat.

As I mentioned before, as long as you provide a rough approximation of a diet consisting of 80% muscle meat, 10% organ meat, and 10% edible bones, you can mix and match to your heart’s content. Muscle meat doesn’t necessarily mean boneless, skinless chicken breast, which is probably the most overrated – and most expensive – cut of meat, or filet mignon; it also includes dark meat (which is actually tastier and full of nutrients), fat, skin, tendons, sinew, and cartilage. Organ meat is cheap, too, usually about two dollars a pound, and a little bit goes a long way (when it only makes up 10% of a meal). Edible bones (wings, necks, legs) are cheapest of all, and they always come with plenty of muscle meat attached to them. Everything your cat needs in terms of raw meat can be had by asking your butcher for cheap cuts. In fact, even if you can afford to buy expensive cuts for your animal, don’t even bother. Go for the cheap stuff. Heck, if you insist on spending more money on your cat, go for organic, pasture-raised necks, wings, organs, and carcasses, which are far healthier but still relatively inexpensive. Just remember, baby steps are better than none: actual raw meat, whatever the source, is always better for your little obligate carnivore than dry kibble.

To summarize:

  • Poultry is usually the cheapest. Think wings, carcasses, and necks – plenty of meat and fat attached to pliable, edible bones.
  • Organ meat is cheap and goes a long way.
  • Buy in bulk to save up. Freeze and thaw ahead of time.
  • Watch for sales. You could buy thirty chicken thighs for $20 and be set with enough muscle meat for a couple months.
  • Cats have iron stomachs when it comes to raw meat; don’t be afraid to let meat get to room temperature, and stay there for hours if need be, cause they won’t eat it cold.
  • Once a cat has fully bought into the raw diet, it will go to town on a chicken carcass or meaty bone. Watching it rip and tear pieces of meat away before crunching down on a chicken wing is – literally – like watching a tiger take down its prey. Fascinating.
  • Buy beef heart for the taurine.

Further Reading:

The Primal Eating Plan for Cats

The Primal Eating Plan for Dogs

Raw Meat (for Humans)

TAGS:  dear mark, pets

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43 Comments on "Dear Mark: The Primal Cat Diet on the Cheap?"

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J Hownd
J Hownd
7 years 6 months ago

What’s with this cat fixation? There have been far too many posts lately on the lesser feline… let’s stick to canines or… wait–oh, yeah–people!

Not a cat person.

Brooke Adams
Brooke Adams
1 year 7 months ago

Peope like you are the reason I am a cat person……shut up and go away….thanks.

framistat
framistat
1 year 4 months ago

+1

Cat Lover
Cat Lover
7 years 6 months ago

thanks for the further clarification and information!

A cat person.

Bister
Bister
7 years 6 months ago

Love this article. Thanks so much for it. I know when what I’m eating isn’t working out for me, and can adjust accordingly. Since my cat can’t tell me what is and what isn’t working for her though, I have been hesitant to experiment with her diet. I now feel confident enough to branch out.

She goes nuts over the remnants of canned tuna. I can’t wait to see her go after a raw chicken carcass.

Son of Grok
7 years 6 months ago

Local butcher i support has pet food packs. All the good stuff for pets in a handy freezer pack. $2 is probably enough for a cat for a week and it is all good REAL food.

The SoG

Rachel
Rachel
7 years 6 months ago
I have a cat and a puppy chihuahua. I was already reading into the primal diet when I got the puppy so I searched into a diet similar to it for pets – the BARF diet (Bones and Raw Food)is pretty similar to the primal diet for humans. My pets eat canned tuna in water daily, beef and chicken. We get the tuna 10/$10 at Safeway and the beef and chicken are just cut off from the meat we eat for dinner at home, some is just set aside for the pets. I also give them carrots, apples, strawberries and… Read more »
Ash
Ash
3 years 3 months ago
Garlic is toxic to cats! Also here’s some info on tuna: “TUNA FOR CATS? NO! Tuna can be fatal to cats and is not something to be fed to them…The human variety of tuna fish contains an enzyme that destroys vitamin B1 (thiamine). Cats who regularly eat tuna can develop a vitamin B1 deficiency, which results in neurological symptoms like dilated eyes, loss of equilibrium, seizures and death if this vitamin is not replaced. The scientific name of this disease is polioencephlomalacia. Clearwater veterinarian Richard Brancato said that though most domestic cats do enjoy fish, feeding them a diet of… Read more »
LR
LR
2 years 8 months ago

Garlic toxic to cats? What about companies that use it for natural parasite cleanses like humaworm? https://humaworm.com/Herbal_Pet_Wormer.html
I’ve used it twice on my cat and her health improved and her kitty dandruff was gone, among other improvements.
Also, after 3 days of Oregamax, an eye infection, low energy, weight gain and other issues improved; continued use made her even better. It has a small amount of garlic in it: http://www.oreganopro.com/oregamax.asp

Maybe people fed Too much to their cat? Or, that particular cat was allergic to Any amount of garlic.
I think its all in the amount and how it is prepared.

crabhandle
crabhandle
2 years 2 months ago

Nooo dude dont give your cats garlic! Don’t give them tuna either give them sardines in water if any fish!

Cat Man
Cat Man
9 months 13 days ago

Garlic is fatal for dogs and cats and many animals! The medicine or supplement you would’ve given to your cat must have had a specific safe amount of garlic….

Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach
7 years 6 months ago

Raw rocks!

I’ve been feeding my two doggies on raw now for 3 months. I know some deer hunters, and they give me their scraps…the doggies love ’em. I also make sure to check the specials at the supermarkets and can usually get chicken at 49 cents a pound.

Data points, Barbara

nonegiven
nonegiven
7 years 6 months ago

I gave my cats some chicken wings a couple of times. They played with them for a while and I found all the wings under the furniture covered with dust bunnies, later.

Amanda
Amanda
3 years 3 months ago

LOL I can picture this. I can picture my two doing that. Thanks for the chuckle

Susan
7 years 6 months ago

Isn’t all the sodium in canned tuna really bad for cats? I’m assuming this 10 cans for $10 isn’t low or no sodium tuna.

I liked this post though. I would love to go raw for my kitty, but he is so used to kibble, he won’t even eat canned food. I suspect quite the battle if I ever decide to go through with it!

gkadar
gkadar
7 years 6 months ago
Please check out Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins on the web. She’s got a book on cats and as far as raw food diet for cats, there are certain important nutrients and ratios that must be taken into consideration. Cats need lots of Taurine for cardiac health, they require more zinc than is found in chicken wings, for example, and they do have a high calcium requirement. Please read the good doctor’s book and check out the information on the ‘net before just feeding the cats whatever combination of raw. You may also need to buy a grinder that will do bones.
Rachel
Rachel
7 years 6 months ago

Oh, as for bones… Don’t feed pets any cooked bones as they will splinter and could puncture their innards. Only feed animals raw bones for safety purposes.

shel
shel
7 years 6 months ago

the primal cat diet?

finally!!

i was wondering when somebody would talk about primal cat. it’s delicious!

…a bit chewy though.

Danielle T
7 years 6 months ago

I love that photo; it cracks me up. I am really into my 4 cats and I think it’s great that the blog took this turn. It seems there is always something of great interest to me on this blog! THANKS!

Conrad
Conrad
7 years 6 months ago

Mark, Where do you get all your photos? They are all excellent!

Anne
Anne
7 years 6 months ago

Animal (e.g., human, dogs, cats) lover so I appreciate all the info, love your blog, thanks!

Erin
Erin
7 years 6 months ago

My cat has no interest in “people food”. I grow wheat grass for her and give her dried food; occasionally she’ll lick the gravy out of a small can of cat food. I’ve tried giving her chicken and fish, she’s just not into anything I might eat. Yes, she is strange. I’ve seen companies that sell raw canned chicken for cats, but hadn’t thought of making it myself. Well, like I said, my cat is practically a vegetarian. 🙂

Trinkwasser
Trinkwasser
7 years 6 months ago
Laura Squires
Laura Squires
7 years 6 months ago
I had to take my dog off the primal (raw meat) diet after she caught a serious bacterial infection from human grade raw chicken. She now eats organic cooked meat mixed with high quality pure protein kibble and some vegetables. The cats are on expensive high quality protein kibble for the same reason. All animals are healthy but it costs. Cheap cuts of human grade meat are often pretty nasty. The FDA allows a certain amount of bacteria (e coli, etc.)in such meat since it is assumed that the meat will be thoroughly cooked before consumption. Raw meat sold at… Read more »
Big John
Big John
7 years 6 months ago

I don’t know about cat meat but the dog I ate in the Phillipines wasn’t bad.

Rachel
Rachel
7 years 6 months ago

Laura,
Did you ever think to try poussin/cornish game hen? They are much, much smaller than a regular roast chicken.

Joanne of Open Mind Required
7 years 4 months ago
I’ve been feeding my cats raw food since 1992. They get chicken, turkey, rabbit and baby rabbit. The turkey bones are too big, so I buy turkey already ground. I buy the chicken in chunks and cut it up into smaller pieces so they can eat some of the bone. And I buy whole rabbit, which I skin myself and hack up with a cleaver. Not only do they get a great diet, but the rabbit feet offer hours of entertainment and exercise. Taurine is in all meat but freezing tends to destroy some of it as does cooking, so… Read more »
Candace
Candace
7 years 3 months ago

Great cat posts 😀

My own two felines tend to like different things… one loves fish and the other will only touch red meat… though I will be buying some chicken soon to see how they react to it. Why didn’t I bother trying chicken before? No idea.

Candace
Candace
7 years 3 months ago

Hmm after reading some of the comments… maybe I’ll sear the chicken first.

Joanne of Open Mind Requried
7 years 3 months ago
When I cut up whole rabbit, most of my cats are ecstatic. But Puddy won’t touch it and TipToe will eat it but then promptly throws it up on something important, like an expensive computer book or digital camera. So those two now get something else on rabbit day. And when I feed chicken, everybody but Agnes eats it up. Toby and Pinegar love oranges. Pinegar and Agnes love the base of the romaine leaf. Several cats love cucumber, Puddy goes nuts for tomatoes, and all the cats love avocado. I don’t think you have to worry about searing the… Read more »
Delana
Delana
6 years 8 months ago

My husband is very into this idea, I personally am not as a human. My question to all of you regarding the cats is this, what about the age of your cat and disease. My 2 cats are 17 and in good health. The vet has one on a low protien diet since she has the beginnings of kidney disease. They both have hyper thyroid as well. Do any of you have a pet over the age of 15 on this diet?

Joanne of Open Mind Required
6 years 8 months ago

I have four 16-year-old cats who have been on a raw meat/bone/organ diet for almost 8 years. One is in stage 2 renal failure. Another one has bad teeth that should have been cleaned a few years ago. Also, I fed them mostly ground food, so now I am feeding them chunked meat on the bone to help clean their teeth. They ate Science Diet for their first 9 years.

Joanne of Open Mind Required
6 years 8 months ago

On another note, I have some other cats who are about three years old and have been raw since kittenhood, and they almost never get sick. A few just had an eye infection that cleared on its own. That happened after 2 months of canned food (without grains) and a cross country move that stressed them out.

A benefit often overlooked is that their feces do not smell when on raw meat.

cory
cory
5 years 8 months ago

Isn’t it funny how much we learn!!!!!?

Pogonia
Pogonia
5 years 6 months ago

My friend was told some years ago to feed her ailing adult cat only raw chicken necks. The cat just died last year at almost 20 y.o.; she was healthy and her teeth handled the bones fine. I really enjoyed this article.

Srinivas Kari
Srinivas Kari
4 years 14 days ago

My kitten is 2 months old. Can I start feeding it meat? I am currently feeding it wet food for kittens (royal cannin). It was recommended by the vet. I am afraid that the cats’ digestive system might be underdeveloped to eat meats. Please give some paleo food for kittens 2 months and up (including dairy – I heard a lot of people feed their kittens replaceable milk). Also any remedies for fleas and ticks? Is cat shampoo really that great? could I use neem leaves soaked in warm water instead (a more natural yet effective therapy)

Nerylx
Nerylx
3 years 11 months ago

Great information! One (stupid) question: how do you present it to a cat? In a bowl? On a tray? Either way, I can imagine the cat picking up the wing and going to town on it on the floor…so do we just invest in Clorox wipes?

Karen
3 years 2 months ago

I think my cat was raw and primal for 12 years before I even considered it. He’s 13 now, eats raw and very cold (I barely defrost it first), and is the one cat in the universe who has no idea what canned tuna is.

gkgghhh
gkgghhh
3 years 2 months ago

If we are feed our cats a healthy raw diet, shouldn’t it also be organic? Animals in the wild eatting raw meat do not eat all the hormones and scarys stuff in regular crap from any grocery store. We shouldn’t even be eating that chicken. Chicken is the worse meat out there. I would think it may be worse for a animal.

keithy
keithy
1 year 11 months ago

For a cat, devouring a piece of raw meat is exciting, but what really arouses their character is when they can catch a small prey and eat it. I saw it with my own eyes when my cat caught a small bird in the garden. Although she did eat the bird, I got the feeling she prefers the taste of the cat food which I feed her. I guess this is due to the flavourings in the cat food.

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