For people, homemade meals are almost always healthier than what you can buy ready-to-eat from the store. It stands to reason that the same would be true for our feline friends, right? Not necessarily.
It’s a good idea to learn all that is involved in making nutritionally complete and balanced cat food before you rush out and buy a bunch of ingredients. The process may not be as simple as you imagine.
Here’s what you need to know about homemade cat food.
Is Homemade Cat Food Better Than Commercial Diets?
Making your cat’s food at home does offer some benefits. First, you have complete control over the ingredients that you use. Are you looking for a diet that is free from artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives? Do you want your cat to go organic or grain-free? It’s all up to you.
Homemade food can be a good option for cats with dietary sensitivities.
If your cat has a food allergy or intolerance, it’s easy enough to avoid your cat’s triggers. You may also be able to tempt a sick cat to eat a homemade food when they refuse to touch other options.
Is Homemade Cat Food Healthy?
However, homemade cat foods are not necessarily healthier than commercial diets.
It’s possible to get most of the advantages mentioned above by being a discerning consumer and offering your cat only high-quality commercial cat foods.
For example, a natural canned cat food will be free from artificial colors, flavor, and preservatives, and it can also be grain-free and made from the types of ingredients you’d use in a homemade cat food.
Organic cat foods are also widely available through online and local pet food suppliers.
With the wide range of unique cat foods available (such as duck and potato), it’s also quite easy to find options that will meet the needs of cats with dietary sensitivities. Commercial veterinary diets are made under the strictest quality control standards to avoid cross-contamination that can lead to symptom flare-ups.
Cooked vs. Raw Homemade Cat Food
If you’re not just thinking homemade, but raw homemade cat food, you have a few extra concerns to address.
The contamination rate of raw animal parts deemed fit for human consumption is truly shocking. For example, the US Department of Agriculture estimates that approximately one-quarter of raw chicken parts in human food production facilities are contaminated with Salmonella and/or Campylobacter bacteria.
While healthy cats may be able to fight off many (but not all) foodborne diseases, young, old, or sick animals often can’t. Additionally, pets who appear healthy can act as carriers and spread infections to people.
Some raw food proponents also advocate for the inclusion of whole raw bones in homemade cat foods. While raw bones are less likely to shatter than cooked bones, chewing on any large bone puts cats at increased risk for broken teeth and gastrointestinal injuries.
What You Need to Know Before You Make Your Own Cat Food
If you’ve decided to make your cat’s food, follow these guidelines to ensure that you meet all of your cat’s nutritional needs.
Ensure Nutritional Balance
Balanced nutrition is essential if cats are to thrive. Nutrient excesses and deficiencies can lead to serious health problems.
Unfortunately, many recipes for homemade cat foods contain too little or too much of one or more important nutrients. A study published in 2019 evaluated 114 recipes for home-prepared maintenance diets (HPMD) for cats gathered from books and online sources. According to the authors, “problems with nutritional adequacy were identified in all evaluated HPMD recipes.”
Use Vet-Approved Recipes
So, where should you get your recipes for homemade cat food? Your best option is a board-certified veterinary nutritionist.
These specialists can design recipes that take your cat’s age, weight, and any health problems into account. Your primary care veterinarian can refer you to a veterinary nutritionist, or you can find one through the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.
Follow the Recipes Exactly
Your potential problems don’t end once you have access to a good recipe.
Research has shown that, with time, many pet parents make substitutions in the diet and/or completely stop including vital ingredients, like vitamin and mineral supplements.
Never make changes to your cat’s recipes without first talking to your veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist.
Get Need the Right Supplements
It is virtually impossible to make a nutritionally complete and balanced cat food without the use of vitamin and mineral supplements. Be wary of any recipe that claims to provide all the nutrients your cat needs without supplementation.
Reputable sources will tell you exactly how much of each specific vitamin and mineral supplement needs to be added to the other ingredients in the recipe.
Make Sure You Have the Time to Commit to Making Cat Food
Preparing a homemade diet for you cat requires extra time (and it’s not cheap).
You can make life a little easier by making a week or two’s worth of food at a time and freezing meal-sized portions. Thaw the food in the refrigerator overnight and then warm it to body temperature before feeding.
Homemade food should be discarded after two hours at room temperature or after a few days in the refrigerator.
Make a Gradual Switch
Rapid dietary changes of any sort can lead to gastrointestinal upset for cats. Take a week or two to gradually mix in increasing amounts of a new food with decreasing amounts of the old. If you cat doesn’t take well to the new diet, switch back to the old, and if symptoms persist, talk to your veterinarian.
Take Your Cat to the Vet Regularly for Monitoring
Cats who eat a homemade diet should be seen by a veterinarian two or three times a year to monitor for diet-related health problems and to ensure that your recipes continue to meet your cat’s needs.
Featured Image: iStock.com/Bebenjy