Nutrition is the basis of health!
Since writing this page in 2005 I have adhered, with some slippage for "convenience," to the raw meat with supplements diet described here. I have since come to appreciate the Raw Meaty Bones diet advocated by Tom Lonsdale, a vet in Australia. I strongly recommend it to you. It is described on its website, www.rawmeatybones.com.
The best diet for your cat is raw meat with supplements. Serve a variety of meats, poultry, and fish including organ meats like liver—so puss doesn't get bored. Choose supplements—natural as much as possible—to provide nutrients missing or insufficient in meat:
The incentive for feeding your cat the best diet is that the cat enjoys robust health and disease is prevented.
The earliest member of the cat family—Dinictus—evolved about 50 million years ago. The Felidae, from which our modern cats are descended, developed 15–1 million years ago.
All cats are carnivores! Their teeth are designed for biting and shearing, not for chewing or grinding. Pieces of meat are swallowed whole and are digested in the stomach by gastric juices.
Throughout history, cats thrived on a diet of animals (including birds and fish) caught by themselves or their mother and eaten when fresh. They ate the organs, including the contents of the stomach, flesh, bones, and skin; the hair and feathers of their prey provided fiber, while bones and cartilage provided calcium, protein, and fat.
There are three basic defects of commercial pet foods that cause them to be hazardous to the health of cats:
The quality of the meat typically used in commercial pet foods is appalling. "[C]ondemned parts and animals that are rejected for human consumption are routinely re-routed for use in commercial pet foods. The same holds true for animals classified as 4-D. These are animals that are dead, dying, diseased, or disabled . . ." ("The Very Healthy Cat Book" by Wendell O. Belfield). Many of these animals contain toxic agricultural chemicals and synthetic hormones that persist into commercial pet food.
The bulk of many commercial pet foods is grain. Synthetic vitamins and minerals are added. Grain is not an historical cat food and does not keep the cat robustly healthy. Preservatives, artificial flavors and colors, and humectants adversely affect cats (and people).
The heat used in canning and drying commercial foods damages—denatures—the ingredients. It renders fats as dangerous, protein indigestible, and destroys vitamins and minerals. Taurine is an amino acid naturally present in raw meat. Synthetic taurine has been routinely added to cooked commercial foods since taurine deficiency was recognized in cats—deficiency caused by a cooked meat diet.
It is my opinion that today's health problems in purebred cats—hip dysplasia, HCD, et. al.—are the result of a poor diet. Most cat breeders feed dry foods, generation after generation.
Household pets—non-purebred cats—who go outside may be healthier than purebred cats because they supplement their dry food diet with fresh raw meat—lizards, mice, and birds.
Hip dysplasia in dogs was successfully treated by Dr. Wendell O. Belfield with large doses of vitamin C. Dr. Belfield is a veterinarian who practiced in San Jose, California and embraced Dr. Linus Pauling's philosophy of orthomolecular medicine—administering optimal (often mega) doses of vitamins and minerals to achieve optimal health. Dr. Belfield was the original wholistic vet. He also successfully treated feline leukemia with a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement.
And what about the pet food packages that declare the pet food contained within to be complete and balanced and that it meets the nutritional requirements of some organization and warn you not to supplement it? Don't be fooled. It's just hype.
Feline nutrient requirements have been defined by the Subcommittee on Cat Nutrition of the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council (NRC). In 1962, the NRC said flatly that it was impossible to describe how much of which nutrients cats needed. They repeated themselves in 1978, but continued ". . . the levels established are presumed adequate to support maintenance and growth of the cat." I think that presumption is wrong, witness the growing number of ailments that plague cats fed on commercial foods.
In the first half of the 1900s Dr. Francis M. Pottenger, Jr. operated an hospital in Monrovia, California specializing in treating lung disorders. From 1932 to 1942 he conducted a feeding experiment to determine the effects of heat-processed food on cats. This study has become known as "Pottenger's Cats" and is documented in a book of the same name.
Dr. Pottenger found that only diets containing raw milk and raw meat produced optimal health. Cats on the all-raw diet had good bone structure and density, wide palates with plenty of space for the teeth, shiny fur, and freedom from parasites and disease. They reproduced with ease and were gentle and easy to handle.
Cooking the meat or substituting heat processed milk for raw resulted in heterogeneous reproduction and physical degeneration, increasing with each generation. Kittens of third generation cats failed to survive six months. Vermin and parasites abounded. Skin diseases and allergies increased from an incidence of five percent in normal cats to over ninety percent in the third generation. Bones became soft and pliable; calcium and phosphorus content diminished. The cats suffered from adverse personality changes. Females became more aggressive while males became docile. The cats suffered from hypothyroidism and most of the degenerative diseases encountered in human medicine. They died out completely by the fourth generation.
Dr. Pottenger tried to return degenerating cats to health. He found that it took four generations on raw meat and raw milk to bring the kittens of second-generation degenerating cats back to normal. This experiment could not occur with third-generation degenerating cats because they could not give birth to viable offspring.
Our diet reflects the findings of Pottenger's Cats and is influenced by Dr. Ian Billinghurst (Give Your Dog a Bone), Dr. Wendell O. Belfield, and Juliette de Bairacli Levy.
We feed kittens up to 4 months of age four times a day, older cats 2–3 times a day. We feed enough to fill them up, using the emptiness of the plate as a guide. If the plate is emptied immediately, we feed more. If the plate is empty after 30 minutes, that is enough. If there is still food on the plate after 30 minutes, it is too much. As a guide, a Maine Coon cat will eat about one cup of meat a day. It is natural for their appetite to vary from day to day. It can also be helpful to feed only a little food once a week; one day a month, you can feed only water fortified with a little honey.
The cornerstone of our diet is food that is fresh, well-balanced nutritionally, raw, organic, and varied. In addition, we respect the habits and likes of each cat, without sacrificing quality.
We feed our cats on tempered glass plates and bowls; avoiding plastic, metal, and earthenware with a cracked finish. We serve meat at about 100 degrees F. after heating it in a toaster oven (NEVER USE A MICROWAVE OVEN).
Because cats are carnivores, the basic food in our diet is flesh. We also feed animal fats, some vegetables, and dairy products.
Flesh foods include poultry (we rely on turkey and think highly of chicken necks and chicken liver), lamb, rabbit, beef; organically-raised pork is fine. We prefer poultry with the skin and fat left on; similarly, we prefer meat marbled with natural fat. We also include organ meat, especially but not exclusively liver, in an amount that is about 1/5 to 1/4 of the total flesh consumed. Fish is great several times a week: canned fish for people and fresh fish you've caught yourself (anything else is not likely to be fresh enough); we like canned sardines and mackeral, in water with their skin and bones, unsmoked, and with as little added salt as possible. We feed raw flesh chopped in 1/2" squares (for adult cats, smaller for kittens), avoiding ground because cats benefit from using their jaw muscles to chew their food (but hey, we feed ground meat if that is all there is). (You can feed larger pieces to cats, but they may drag the pieces to undesirable places.) Kittens raised on raw meat take kindly to poultry with the bones intact, like a chicken breast with most of the meat removed for human consumption and chicken necks.
We supplement a day's servings of meat (but not canned fish or liver) with:
We adopted dried cereal grasses some time ago and have been happy with both the easiness and results. They are rich in vitamins, minerals (especially iron and calcium), protein, chlorophyl, and fiber. They were developed in the 1930s by a group of people near Lawrence, Kansas. We buy the products made by Pines International. We combine them in equal proportions.
Cod liver oil is a valuable supplement. You need to be aware of the quality issues to get a truly beneficial product. Avoid the cod liver oil sold without the oil-soluble vitamins A and D. Avoid the flavored oils.
We also serve the following foods in addition to meat or in place of it:
Raw milk products are best, sometimes we can get raw goat milk easier than raw cows milk. Ghee is a good form of butter as it does not need refrigeration.
We get some of these foods and supplements by mail order, most from natural foods groceries. See the Resources page for suppliers.
We buy meat from the butcher at the local health food store. We think it important to feed only "organic" meat—meat raised without antibiotics, without growth hormones, and not fed herbicide- and pesticide-treated food. There are different approaches to feeding raw meat. If you eat meat, you can buy extra and feed it to your cat(s). Or you can buy meat for the cats separately. At this time we buy two weeks-worth of meat for the cats at a time and keep it in the freezer in packages small enough to last just over two days.
Quality fish oil is an important supplement for cats. Freshness is important, as rancid oil is harmful. We use cod liver oil, which is an excellent source of the oil-soluble vitamins A and D.
Bonemeal is a traditional source of calcium. It is mixed with the chopped meat in the proportion of 1 tablespoon of bonemeal per 1 pound of meat. Bonemeal can be contaminated with lead and/or radioactive substances; be sure to check the assay.
Another source of calcium is seaweed. Animal Essentials sells an excellent supplement.
Powdered eggshells also provide calcium, use 1 and 1/8 teaspoon per pound of meat. Eggshells provide a concentrated form of calcium that is relatively free (assuming you or your cats eat eggs regularly) and easy to prepare and use. This information is from Dr. Pitcairn's books. One teaspoon of powdered eggshell contains approximately 1800 milligrams of calcium (in the form of calcium carbonate). One eggshell yields approximately one teaspoon of powder. IT IS VITAL THAT THE EGGSHELL BE FINELY POWDERED, or it can irritate the cat's digestive system.
Preparation: Wash eggshells right after cracking and let them dry. Accumulate a dozen or so. Bake at 300°F for 10 minutes. Grind well to remove sharp edges and grittiness; you can use a mortar and pestle, a blender, or a food processor. To be honest: grinding eggshells in a food processor can dull the blade. Doing it by hand can wear you out. So it is really not that easy.
Note: Phosphorus is needed to balance calcium intake. The ideal ratio for cats is between 1.1:1 and 1.3:1 calcium:phosphorus. Phosphorus is supplied in the diet by meat, poultry, fish, milk, and egg. A raw meat diet does not require additional phosphorus. Eggshells and seaweed contain no phosphorus, while bonemeal does; thus the first two are a better source of calcium because they do not provide more phosphorus than that already provided by the raw meat.
Wheat germ and bran are excellent sources of nutrients, but some cats are allergic to wheat. Some time ago we switched from wheat germ to nutritional yeast, and from wheat bran to psyllium husks. After one of our cats exhibited a skin allergy, we stopped the yeast and his symptoms stopped soon thereafter. We no longer feed wheat germ, wheat bran, yeast, or psyllium.
Cats need vitamin C. Dr. Belfield talks alot about this in his book The Very Healthy Cat Book. Ester-C is not recommended; read "Why the Foundation Does Not Recommend Ester-C" published online by The Vitamin C Foundation. For some time we used Orthomolecular Specialities Mega C Plus (formulated by Dr. Belfield) to provide vitamin C. We now use calcium ascorbate by NutriBiotic, a CA company.
Raw liver is a good source of vitamin C for cats. Do not add a vitamin C supplement when serving liver.
Taurine is essential for cats. It is naturally present in raw meat, but not at all in cooked meat. Commercial cat food, prepared with cooked meat, always includes a taurine supplement. Your cats will be getting all the taurine they need with a raw meat diet. Because heart muscle contains more taurine than other parts of the animal, it can be helpful to serve your cats raw heart meat occasionally.
Salmonella is a bacteria that may cause food poisoning, gastrointestinal inflammation, or diseases of the genital tract. Raw flesh, especially poultry, can become contaminated on its surfaces with salmonella in the course of its finding its way to the butcher's shelf. People are warned to cook meat to a particular internal temperature because that will kill any salmonella that may be present. Cooking as a form of disease prevention is not a good thing for cats, so you should adopt other practices.
However, the complete elimination of salmonella and other bacteria on raw food is not always necessary—a healthy animal can digest a small amount without getting sick. The incidence of salmonella infections in cats may be negligible; Dr. Pitcairn reports that he saw no problem in 17 years of advocating raw foods.
Do be particular about the quality of the meat you buy and the cleanliness of your butcher's work areas. Do disinfect all home food preparation surfaces with something like bleach. Do not leave raw meat out of the refrigerator any longer than necessary to serve it. Some people mix 4 drops grapefruit seed extract (a local brand is NutriBiotic) diluted in 6–8 ounces of water with raw meat as a disinfectant; others use one tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide in place of the grapefruit seed extract. I would not use grapefruit seed extract because its antibiotic effects are the result of nasty synthetic preservatives, which I avoid in and on my body and will not force on my cats. I rely on freezing to kill salmonella, and I thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator. My cats have never gotten ill with salmonella.
Lately a friend of mine tried this diet on her two cats, which had previously existed on canned and dry food. Read her testimonial.
These directions are what I use for my three cats. They are provided as an example only.
Serve food and water on placemats. Wash the mats daily.
Serve fresh clean water every day, fill the ceramic water bowl at least half full. Wash bowl before filling.
The cats eat raw meat with supplements. The cats prefer two meals a day, one in the morning, the other about 6 pm. Do what you can.
The basic meats are lamb, turkey, and buffalo. There should be a package in the refrigerator with more in the freezer. Only two days' worth of meat should be kept in the refrigerator, since it will spoil and be inedible. Be sure to move frozen meat to the refrigerator in advance of its being needed. I move a package from the freezer to the refrigerator when I open a new thawed package. Please alternate the meats.
Alternative foods: canned mackerel, canned cat food, and the Flint River Ranch dry food. Do not supplement these. Canned foods are above the stove to the right. Dry food is above the oven to the right.
The preparation is as follows:
These days most municipal water is unsafe to drink by man or beast. It has been deliberately contaminated with dangerous chemicals like chlorine and fluoride, regardless of good intentions, and possibly agricultural poisons that run off fields and pharmaceutical drugs excreted in human urine.
The healthiest water to drink is artesian spring water—water that comes out of the ground on its own without drilling or man-made pressure. FIJI Natural Artesian Water was an excellent choice, but no longer (you cannot call a product bottled in plastic and shipped thousands of miles "green", and then there is the suspicion that the water is no longer artesian). Second choice is water subject to reverse osmosis. You may be interested in my essay on water quality.
Fluoride in water has been linked to thyroid disease in cats.
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