It’s not at all uncommon for people to pamper their pets, sometimes by way of treats, toys, special grooming, or young children (oh, I already said toys). Among these other ways, our cats are also pampered in their everyday food. When we adopted a pair of sibling kittens just about a year ago, we did some research into what the healthiest and most natural food out there was (and one that would still fit into our budget). It seemed clear to us that the way to go was to simply make our own raw meat cat food at home.
Cats are, by design, hunters—pull out a feather toy or laser pointer or watch them around a bug and you’re sure to see the instincts kick in—but their teeth and digestive tract are set up to process raw meat, and little else. We read over and over that dry-only diets are the worst for cats, and are the leading cause of obesity and other health issues…because they simply didn’t evolve to eat such stuff. Canned wet food is a step up, no doubt, but even the varieties we sell at Mississippi Market have filler and are bound to utilize meat scraps and some form of preservatives, and this highly processed mush doesn’t give a cat’s teeth the same cleaning that chewing into fresh meat does. We discovered that it’s really not difficult to make a simple, chicken-based chow that our kittens really enjoy. And when I say ‘really’, I mean they complain quite vocally if we run out and substitute canned food instead.
The recipe we work from we found online at Cat Nutrition and it’s pretty simple, almost everything is available at Mississippi Market, and all of the meat and eggs are locally produced!
–Raw muscle, bone-in meat: We usually use Kadejan or Schultz whole chickens. We’ve also made a batch using a rabbit from LTD Farms, but that was some costly meat. Dark meat is more nutritious than white meat, so adding in some leg quarters is wise. Essential nutrients are found in bones, and if you don’t grind these in, additional dry supplements will be necessary.
–Organ meat: cats will usually eat their entire kill, and vital vitamins, minerals, and proteins are only found in certain organs. US food laws only allow sale of whole animals after certain organs have been removed, so you’ll need to get some chicken hearts and livers to supplement; Kadajan also offers these, and can be found in the meat freezers or special ordered. Our cat Porter really enjoys a plain heart as a treat, too!
–Egg yolks: we almost always buy Schultz eggs in bulk.
–Water: while cats will drink water from a bowl, much of their hydration should come from food (one reason the dry-only diet isn’t ideal).
–A variety of vitamin and mineral supplements: since skin, hair, and many organs have been removed from the meat we grind, essential oils and other nutrients won’t be present in the above ingredients alone. Of what the website lists, almost everything is either readily available in the Wellness section of our stores or can be special ordered. I think the only part of this recipe we couldn’t buy at Mississippi Market was the glandular supplement, but this is relatively inexpensive to order online.
–Lastly, a meat grinder is necessary. We bought a simple stand-alone unit (as in not a Kitchenaid attachment) for about $120 online, and it has worked flawlessly for us, bones and all, for the past year.
The recipe calls for mixing the yolks, water, and supplements into a slurry, which is then mixed in with all the ground up meat (we use a medium-size grind head). When using whole birds, we remove the skin to cut excess fat out of the recipe when there’s white meat included….and this helps the grinder from getting clogged up. I’ve had friends around during the process who’ve asked what I was making because it looked quite good.
If you’re busy or don’t want to walk through the entire process multiple times a month, it’s simple stuff to store and freeze. We usually make a double batch of this recipe, and that’ll last us right about a month for our two still-young cats. And, what better reason to buy Talenti gelato? The sturdy plastic containers are excellent for re-using for storage (Heads-up – Talenti will be on sale for part of September! Perfect!) Each of these containers is about two days-worth of food for two cats, at two-servings a day.
After our first batch, we cost it out to see if it would be a cost-effective venture to keep up with. Not counting the grinder (which can be used for a plethora of other human-food tasks!) or Talenti, buying all the raw food and supplements works out to be about the same as buying a similar quantity of any of the cans of cat food we sell when they are on sale. And if you snag meat or supplements when they are on sale or otherwise discounted, all the better. The whole process (cutting apart the chicken through the final cleaning) for a batch the size we make is usually a two hour process at most, but we only need to do it about once a month.
Finding the benefits of raw cat food isn’t hard, from helping avoid kidney and weight issues, a healthier coat, a more active personality, to just knowing what’s going into the food this extension of your family is eating. Oh, and they won’t be able to get enough.
*Disclaimers: While cats’ systems are tuned to digest raw food, all precautions should be taken with making sure what they eat is as fresh as possible. Only thaw what they will eat within 2-3 days, and be sure to clean all hands, surfaces, containers, and implements that come in contact with raw meat immediately. Transitioning a cat from a dry-only or canned food diet should be done gradually. There is always the risk of injury from a bone fragment being too big or sharp, but this is nothing that a cat wouldn’t also risk hunting on their own outdoors.
Co-written by Ben & Jess Zamora-Weiss, staff members and bloggers for Mississippi Market’s Eat Local Challenge. You’ll also find Ben at the Selby store keeping the shelves stocked with the best locally baked breads we can find and Jess at the Selby store’s juice bar, making things run smoothly and taste amazing!