Cat food: should you go on a raw cat food diet for your cat?

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Barf or raw cat food diet, raw feeding, whole prey. The trend is back, and the cat bowl is no exception. Latest craze: raw food. Is it beneficial or risky?

raw cat food diet Raw Cat Food Diet: Three raw diets on the menu

 The “barf or raw cat food diet”, to begin with. This is the fashionable raw cat food diet, with which those who want to give their companion a more natural food start. The term "Barf" is an acronym for biologically appropriate raw food. This diet has five elements: meat or fish, offal (heart, liver, kidneys, etc.), “fleshy bones” (bones of which at least half are covered with meat), vegetables, and oil (in small quantities). In addition, additions of eggs, yogurt, fruit, herbs, seaweed, and brewer's yeast are tolerated. Ingredients of animal origin should represent around 60% of the bowl and vegetables, 40%. The difference with a household ration? In Barf or raw cat food diet, there are no cereals or legumes and, therefore, no starch. Thanks to their fibers, vegetables play the same role as the hairs of prey: they improve the intestinal transit of the animal and prevent it from being constipated. And the size of the ration? It depends on the cat's weight: it represents 3% of the mass of an adult cat and 6% of that of a kitten.

Raw feeding for cats with good teeth. This is the diet that most closely resembles a meal made from prey. This is why it only consists of ingredients of animal origin. Thus, raw feeding has only three components: meat or fish (which represent 80 to 85% of the ration), bones (10 to 15%), and offal (5 to 10%). They should be cut as little as possible to encourage the animal to shred its food as it would in the wild. Raw feeding is therefore not recommended for old toothless tomcats and cats with a tendency to constipation. As these meals are also generally much higher in caloric intake, they are not to be offered to sedentary or overweight felines.

 The whole prey, for the most ardent defenders of raw diets and their benefits. This diet gives whole prey to your cat, for example, a fish. But since it is not easy to find other types of natural prey on the market, most of them complete with another raw diet.

raw cat food diet

Raw Cat Food Diet: The right questions

 Are the nutrients preserved? Veterinarian Jutta Ziegler, the author of the book Toxic croquettes, is the figurehead of raw food enthusiasts. According to her, cooking destroys everything: enzymes and bacteria that promote good digestion as well as most essential nutrients (proteins, vitamins, etc.). To which supporters of the household ration reply that gentle cooking (i.e. for a few minutes at 60-70°C) does not damage the proteins, and that meat, whether cooked or not, contains in any case, too few vitamins for it to be dispensed with adding a vitaminized mineral supplement to the animal's plate. On the other hand, indeed, the strong and prolonged cooking necessary for the manufacture of croquettes and pâtés is disadvantageous from a nutritional point of view.

 Are there health risks? Most veterinarians point out that eating raw meat is not without risk. Meat, even that intended for human beings, can contain bacteria (like the one responsible for gastroenteritis, for example) and parasites (tapeworm, nematodes, etc.). Freezing, widely used by defenders of raw diets, because it offers the possibility of having reserves at home, makes it possible to eliminate some of these undesirables. But not all of them, unlike baking, are even soft.

 Is the plate balanced? The other major argument of the "anti-" is that the majority of masters do not know how to balance a portion with this type of food. They are based in particular on a German study carried out in 2011 which showed that, out of ninety-five barf rations, only 40% were balanced or presented minor problems, such as an excess of calcium. The remaining 60% had at least a major imbalance in essential micronutrients, even if the calorie and protein intake was just right. To which the "pro-" retort that a single study is not enough to establish the facts. 
raw cat food diet

Who is the cat raw food diet suitable for?

Raw diets can be offered to all cats, provided that they meet the specific needs of each of them. The portions will thus be established according to the age, size, and lifestyle of the animal. That said, they are particularly aimed at: 

  • cats sensitive or allergic to processed foods;
  • cats with behavioral disorders of the hyperactivity type, as these disorders may be due to hypersensitivity to additives contained in industrial foods;
  • cats whose owners have the time to prepare the bowls;
  • to cats whose masters have enough knowledge of animal nutrition to prepare a balanced diet themselves, avoiding dangerous foods and respecting strict health standards;
  • to cats that were accustomed to eating everything at a very young age. 

        They should be avoided if...

  • the cat has digestive sluggishness because raw foods take longer and are much more difficult to digest;
  • the cat is already weakened (illness, leaving an operation, etc.) because its body will have more difficulty in fighting against any parasitic or bacterial infections, which are always possible with raw food;
  • the cat does not want it. Some cats, fed with the same type of food for years (for example, croquettes) and not educated, at the time of weaning, to feed with meat or fresh fish, may not want to touch it. The risk is that in the end, they do not restore enough.

BARF or biologically appropriate diet for cats 

Cat owners are increasingly coming across the term ACBA (Biologically Appropriate Raw Feeding) or BARF for its acronym in English, although few know what this concept means. What does the BARF diet consist of? Why is a biologically appropriate diet for cats so healthy? 

What is the BARF diet?

The term "BARF" comes from the English acronym for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. The Spanish equivalent is ACBA (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food), although at the moment it is less well known than the English term. This feeding method is suitable mainly because cats are carnivorous by nature. A raw food diet gives them just what they need: plenty of fresh meat. Unlike food cooked at home, the BARF diet is offered raw, without cooking or grilling. This fact has generated numerous criticisms about raw food because raw meat is largely unhealthy for people and can lead to indigestion and intolerances. Does the same thing happen with cats?

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Why is raw feeding suitable for cats?

Although cats have kept us company as pets for thousands of years, processed industrial food is relatively new: the Mars company brought out the first canned cat food in 1958, which is still sold today. Known under the name of "Whiskas". Twenty years later the feed of the same brand followed. In the '70s Hill developed "Prescription Diet Feline", and since 1990 there are also diet foods to counteract diseases of cats. However, these little cats have not physically adapted to feeding with practical cans, bags, and dry food. Today there are still many cats that hunt birds and small rodents, as well as kittens that feed exclusively on their prey, as is the case on many farms. Therefore, the digestive tract of cats has not yet adapted to the more comfortable coexistence with humans and the resulting offer of processed food. Deep down, cats are still 100% hunters, which is reflected in their behavior and, above all, in their organs, which correspond to those of small wild cats.

For this reason, the ideal food ration for domestic cats remains similar to the composition of a medium-sized mouse. Meanwhile, it has also been scientifically proven that cats require a diet consisting of 50-60% protein, 20-30% fat, and 3-8% carbohydrates.

But what about bacteria and parasites like worms that may be in meat? Having origins from hunters, cats are prepared for the exclusive consumption of raw meat, since perfectly preserved processed foods are rarely found in nature and, after all, mice are "raw". Consequently, the gastric acid of cats is very aggressive and these little hunters are not as prone to food poisoning as humans.

Although raw meat is not very suitable for human consumption, it is a correct form of food for small hunters. The BARF diet has its reason for being the original way of feeding cats. But it is necessary to take into account that raw foods can carry certain risks.

How to Practice Raw Feeding Properly

For the cat to receive everything it requires to stay healthy, the raw food ration must have an adequate composition. It is necessary to consider that in the wild cats do not feed only on the lean meat of their prey. They also consume viscera such as the heart, liver, lung, and part of the bones and skin of their prey, as these provide them with calcium and dietary fiber. Cat owners who want to offer this type of diet to their little cats should find out in advance their needs in terms of nutrients, vitamins, proteins, and carbohydrates, and adapt the recipes to their requirements. The BARF food ration may vary depending on the cat's age, breed, gender, and pre-existing conditions. The BARF diet has the advantage of being able to be customized to the maximum since owners know exactly what is and

what is not in their cat's food. Generally, BARF dieters use fresh meat and organ meats, natural or artificial vitamins and minerals, and sometimes small amounts of vegetables or fruits. These rations of dietary fibers help regulate the digestion of cats.

To calculate the number of ingredients and additives that a cat requires, there are some "BARF calculators" on the internet. Several specialist raw food stores can offer raw feeding tips and tricks.  However, your trusted veterinarian can advise you if your cat suffers from any illness and has specific dietary requirements.

BARF diet: 100% natural

A particular feature of raw feeding is the particularly natural way of supplementing the food. Instead of adding artificial additives like calcium and vitamin A to meat and organ meats, BARF practitioners use powdered eggshells and cod liver oil. To replace vitamin B powder they use brewer's yeast and to supply vitamin E they use wheat germ oil. On the other hand, magnesium is not added in the form of magnesium gluconate, but by dehydrated spirulina algae. Powdered seaweed is a prized source of iodine.

However, when it comes to supplementing raw food with natural ingredients, it is also important to know the specific needs of each cat. Likewise, all cats must get a balanced ratio of calcium and phosphorus. In addition, while water-soluble vitamins are expelled by the body, an excessive supply of fat-soluble vitamins can lead to slow intoxication.

BARF ready-to-eat products

We have seen that to perfectly meet the needs of cats, it is necessary to delve into the research and think about even the smallest of details when choosing the composition of the food. There is nothing impossible! Although not everyone is prepared to bear the heavy workload of searching for recipes, buying fresh meat, cutting ingredients, weighing food supplements, mixing everything well, dividing it into portions, and storing it in the freezer. For this reason, those who are not willing to be well informed about the diet that their cat requires, find it very confusing to calculate the number of nutrients and do not pay attention to accurately weigh the ingredients and supplements, or those who simply do not have the time necessary to prepare the raw diet properly, you should refrain from offering the BARF diet.

BARF products prepared for consumption offer cat owners who do not have the necessary time or who feel insecure about the composition of the food, due to a lack of experience, and the possibility of adequately feeding their little hunters. Although a few years ago raw cat products were only available at local butcher shops or online, now there are major pet food manufacturers that have jumped on the bandwagon and offer ready-to-eat BARF products. These are prepared with raw meat and the nutrients cats need and are frozen in portion sizes. Later, each one can thaw them as they see fit and offer them to their kittens. On the other hand, those who are opposed to the BARF diet and want to offer their cats delicious menus can resort to exclusive recipes that will make any cat's mouth water. For example: "venison ragout with broccoli and potatoes" sounds like the ideal menu for the demanding palate of small felines.

Those who decide to get more involved and choose the meat for their cats themselves have at their disposal ready-to-eat supplements. These contain all the essential vitamins and minerals and should only be mixed with fresh meat and offal. Preparing the right food for your cat can be that simple, without weighing everything or spending a lot of time.

Advantages and disadvantages of the BARF diet

Just like feeding processed food and the criticism that animal feed manufacturers face for using poor quality meat and impurities, feeding raw can also carry risks. Raw meat can also contain pathogens or worm eggs. The aggressive gastric acid of cats can prevent many diseases, but young, old, and sick cats can be harmed by it. Ready-made food supplements can have the wrong composition, as can the composition of canned food. If only food-grade meat is used for the cat's BARF diet, it has passed disease and parasite controls. But those who do not produce meat and food supplements on their own must resort to third parties and, since it is human to err, mistakes can occur even in organic butcher shops.

In conclusion, whoever feeds their cat with the BARF diet assumes a great responsibility that they must be aware of. In case you are not willing to inform yourself in detail about the matter, pay attention to the quality of the selected raw materials and carefully prepare the meals, it is better and safer to opt for processed food. If, on the other hand, there is interest and responsibility, as well as attention and care when creating BARF cat foods, raw feeding is, without a doubt, a suitable method for practically any cat.

Is raw freeze-dried food safe for cats?

Yes, frozen or freeze-dried raw cat food is safe and nutrient-dense.

How much raw food should I give my cat?

Your veterinarian should determine the perfect raw food ration and formula for your cat. However, the general recommendation is to feed your cat 2-3% of its weight daily, dividing that amount into two complete and balanced meals.

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