If we subscribe to the idea that our bodies are hardwired to thrive on the food consumed by our ancestors, it should follow that the same is true for domesticated animals. After all, we are little more than domesticated hunter-gatherers. A few months back, we discussed the Primal eating plan for dogs. Using the same principles that guide the Primal Blueprint, it makes sense that the descendants of wolves would thrive on raw meaty bones. This prompted a few readers to ask about cats. Can cats thrive on a Primal eating plan?
The answer is unequivocally yes. For anyone who’s ever owned a cat, this should come as no surprise. They’re natural hunters, always stalking something, whether it be your toes moving underneath a blanket or bugs of all kinds. They even have the same gait of the big predatory cats, skulking around like they own the place.
Whereas dogs are happy getting their food from the pack leader (you), cats have an undeniable individual streak. Let them outside and they’re liable to get in a turf war with the tabby down the street, or plunk a bird carcass on your doorstep.
Getting more technical, cats are outfitted with all the accoutrements of your classic obligate (as in “must eat meat to survive”) carnivore: sharp teeth perfect for ripping and tearing; and a short intestine designed for meat digestion but ill-suited for vegetation. They can handle vegetables, and even eat the stuff to throw up sometimes, but they’re certainly not required for optimum feline health.
As you may have already guessed, commercial cat food simply doesn’t cut it. We liken it to shopping on the inside aisles of the grocery store – buying canned soups, potted meat, and frozen dinners – and shunning the perimeter. That wouldn’t be feasible for a person trying to eat right, and it’s the same situation for a domestic cat. It’ll certainly survive on kibble, but it won’t thrive. And isn’t that what the Primal Blueprint’s all about? Thriving, rather than merely surviving; optimizing one’s health, instead of just getting by; and living a full, energetic, active life well into old age. If all that stuff matters to you, it may be a good idea to try out a Primal cat diet (or just for the reduced vet bills, if it’s a financial issue).
We won’t lie – converting a cat to a Primal eating strategy can be tricky. Cats are notoriously finicky eaters, and they have no qualms looking at you like a crazy person if you offer them something unpalatable. They also have more specialized nutritional requirements, especially compared to dogs. “Throw a dog a bone” doesn’t exactly apply to cats here. “Throw a cat a meaty bone that’s pliable and small enough for them to break up, with plenty of meat for a good phosphorus-calcium ratio, along with some beef liver for taurine content and powdered bone meal if the little guy won’t eat actual bones” is more accurate. Sound confusing? At first, it is. But let’s try to shed some light on the Primal cat diet (because your vet – who probably pushes a certain brand of commercial food at exorbitant prices – definitely won’t be much help).
The Primal cat diet should (roughly, not hard and fast) approach the approximate dimensions of your typical prey animal:
80% Muscle meat (including fat, skin, tendons, sinew, cartilage)
Fish – especially oily fish like mackerel, sardines, or herring (which thankfully are a lot cheaper)
10% Organ meat, half of which should be liver
10% Edible bones (as opposed to a huge beef shoulder or something)
Whole fish with small bones
Chicken/turkey necks and wing tips
If you’re feeding kittens, give them as much as they’ll eat. Adult cats only need meals amounting to about 2-3% of their body weight each day.
Cats need taurine to live. It’s good for their hearts and their eyesight, and most commercial cat foods don’t supply enough. Taurine is also very heat sensitive, so overly processed dry food degrades a lot of the taurine before it even gets to the cat. Luckily, taurine is readily available in organ meat, so don’t skimp on that. Calcium is another important part of the Primal cat’s diet – if your cat refuses to eat the bones or the organs, you can supplement their diet with bone meal or a taurine powder.
Raw foods naturally have more moisture, so don’t worry if your cat isn’t drinking as much water as before.
If you’re lucky, your cat will take to the Primal eating plan like a regular MDA reader. If not, here are a few tips for transitioning your commercial-fed cats to raw.
No more 24-hour buffets
If your cat has constant access to unlimited stores of dry kibble, you need to limit that access. Don’t just plunk down a big bowl every day; instead, give your cat access to dry food only a couple times per day, for about half an hour each time. This way, your cat won’t be constantly sated. A bit of hunger will serve you well in the transition to raw, and it will get the cat accustomed to scheduled feedings.
Don’t use starvation to induce acceptance
While a hungry cat (see above) is more likely to try new foods, completely starving your cat in order to force it to eat raw is dangerous. When cats don’t eat for a couple days, they go into survival mode. Their livers start to process body fat for energy, but a cat’s liver is easily overwhelmed by the sudden flood of fat. The liver can become swollen and damaged – hepatic lipidosis – which leads to extreme nausea. Nausea means no appetite, which starts the terrible cycle all over again. Left untreated, hepatic lipidosis can kill. If the cat refuses to eat raw, don’t hold out on the kibble.
Canned wet food can be a nice intermediary between raw and kibble. If your cat’s already accustomed to wet food, you can probably cut out the kibble altogether and use a raw-canned mix for the transition.
As you’re reducing the amount of commercial food and increasing the raw food, sometimes it helps to trick the cat into eating the new stuff. You can drizzle tuna juice, rub crushed kibble, or even smear some wet cat food on the raw meat if your cat isn’t taking to the Primal eating plan. He’ll come around eventually.
Appeal to their sensibilities
A dog will eat a half-frozen turkey drumstick in a second. A cat won’t even consider it food. Because cats are hunters (whereas wolves are often scavengers), they’re more attracted to fresh, warm meat. Especially when starting out with the Primal eating plan, be sure the meat is at room temperature, or even a little warm. Half an hour before you feed your cat, just put the meat in a ziplock bag and place it in a bowl of warm water. Never microwave, because that can cook bone and cause them to splinter.
Start with just muscle and organ meat. Your cat probably won’t take to chomping chicken bones right off the bat, and minced meat isn’t too far off from what they’re used to. Eventually, you can start including chicken wings and other small bones; chop these up too, if he’s still squeamish, and monitor the feeding. Gradually move on to whole hunks of meat and organs, along with whole bones. Before long, your cat should be grabbing entire carcasses and ripping hunks of meat off.
You could always, of course, buy commercial raw food for your cats. It’ll be far more expensive than making your own or feeding kibble, but there are some good brands out there. Just make sure the ingredients are 100% meat, with plenty of bone meal and organ meat listed, and you should be fine.
Thoughts on feeding your feline family members? Let us know in the comment board!