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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 [1].

Contrary to popular belief, the toughest thing about feeding your cats a raw diet [2] 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:

Further Reading:

The Primal Eating Plan for Cats

The Primal Eating Plan for Dogs [3]

Raw Meat (for Humans) [4]