Dear Mark: The Primal Cat Diet on the Cheap?

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

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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45 thoughts on “Dear Mark: The Primal Cat Diet on the Cheap?”

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  1. 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.

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

  2. I wouldn’t call it a fixation with just 2 posts. Both were responses to reader questions and considering the tens of millions of cat owners in the United States alone a little attention paid to our feline friends hardly seems egregious. But don’t worry. We’ll be back to human nutrition and fitness starting tomorrow! Stay tuned for recipes, workout suggestions and health challenges later this week. Cheers!

    1. I would like to say that I REALLY appreciate the information on cats. I have always had cats, whom I consider family and having knowledge to best care for their health indirectly affects my overall health and wellbeing. Please continue to post the occasional information on cats and of course dogs too! Thank you!

  3. thanks for the further clarification and information!

    A cat person.

  4. 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.

  5. 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

  6. 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 garlic… and caviar (which was a treat for them. I hate the stuff.)

    My cat lost weight eating this afer we took her off dry food – which I think is unsafe to feed to animals because of the crude products and soy. Both pets’ coats has gotten much shinier and both have a lot more energy instead of being lethargic and sleeping 23 hours a day.

    1. Garlic is toxic to cats! Also here’s some info on tuna:

      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 only tuna can cause serious disorders.

      Although it is high in protein, tuna lacks sufficient amounts of certain amino acids, mainly taurine, to maintain feline health. There is insufficient calcium to balance the phosphorus; the ratio in canned tuna is 1-to-14.8. This results in bone disease.

      Many essential vitamins such as A and most B vitamins are also lacking, Brancato said. A common disease in cats fed a mainstay of canned tuna is steatitis, or yellow fat disease, an inflammation of the fat tissue in the body due to a deficiency of vitamin E.

      1. Garlic toxic to cats? What about companies that use it for natural parasite cleanses like humaworm?
        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:

        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.

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

        2. 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….

  7. 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

  8. 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.

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

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. the primal cat diet?


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

    …a bit chewy though.

  13. 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!

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

  15. 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. 🙂

  16. 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 pet stores for primal diets is often quite expensive. Even the chicken necks. It’s a racket I think. Also, older cats usually do not have the teeth needed to rip and crunch up meat and bones from large ‘prey’ type animals such as chickens. Too bad you can’t buy little birdie and rodent carcasses. Be careful or you could have a pretty sick animal on your hands with cheap raw meat. Older cats will often refuse to eat when their diets are changed which can cause life threatening metabolic conditions (kidneys usually). Just my experience but I don’t believe there is a cheap raw diet that is better. You get what you pay for.

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

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

  19. 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 the cats also get raw organ meats high in taurine: chicken livers, hearts, and gizzards and the occasional beef kidney or heart.

    They used to get ground vegetables, which the vets in Oregon recommended, but here in PA the sentiment seems to be that they don’t need any veggies. However, some of my cats enjoy veggies and fruit.

    Here’s a post I wrote about feeding my cats raw food.

  20. 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.

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

  22. 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 chicken. From my understanding, the acids in their stomachs kill any bacteria.

    Personally, I would not feed my cats canned tuna, but they do occasionally get a can of sardines in with their raw, ground turkey.

  23. 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?

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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)

  28. 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?

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. Thank you so much for this blog, Mark! What a big help to me with a feral cat and her kittens I am giving a supplemental meal to each day. I am wondering at what age I could give these kittens a whole chicken wing. Right now they are about 10 weeks.