Making your own cat food can be cost-effective and very healthy for your cat, but – and this is a BIG BUT, friends – only if you do it right: otherwise, it could potentially be life-threatening to your cat. (Still, it’s do-able. We’ll talk about the easiest way to get it right in a moment.)
Dr. Karen Becker writes about a kitten fed only raw chicken muscle meat until he was 5 months old. He became critically deficient in several important nutrients, which caused metabolic bone disease, rear leg lameness, and central retinal degeneration! (The good news is, as kittens have a lot of healing power and this one had a good doctor, he did fully recover after a couple of months of cage rest and a balanced diet. However, not all nutrient-deprived cats and kittens can be so lucky.) Dr. Becker said that she’s seen “an increasing number of pets with skeletal problems, organ failure and endocrine abnormalities caused by dietary deficiencies of essential nutrients.”
I’ve made a lot of homemade cat food and researched it enough to know how easy it is to get certain things wrong. I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time, as I see a lot of confusion and mixed messages out there.
Serious homemade cat food mistakes to avoid
Here’s what many of us get wrong if we aren’t fully informed before attempting to make cat food:
Mistake 1: Not supplementing with taurine – even with raw food
Serious heart and eye conditions have appeared in cats fed diets containing insufficient taurine. Cats cannot synthesize enough taurine to meet their needs, so taurine needs to be added even to foods that naturally contain some taurine because it degrades so easily (see mistake #3). Better to err on the side of caution with this one!
Mistake 2: Not making sure the food contains these other critical nutrients…
There are a few other nutrients that a cat must have, but that are not always in homemade cat food:
- Niacin (B3) and thiamin (B1): These B’s are degraded by cooking, so any homemade food needs to have these added after any cooking or heating (attention anyone who warms raw food in the microwave!). Adult cats deprived of niacin, which their bodies cannot manufacture, will lose weight and could die as a result of this deficiency. Thiamin is also essential because a deficiency leads to blindness and neurological impairments such as seizures and heart-rate disorders.
- Vitamin A (not beta carotene): Deficiencies in vitamin A lead to blindness. Cats can’t manufacture vitamin A and, unlike us, they can’t synthesize vitamin A from beta carotene. They must get it from their diet, but it’s not present in most foods. Vitamin A is found in liver and egg yolks, so if those are not part of your cat’s regular diet, they will need appropriate supplementation (not too much! see mistake #4).
- Calcium: If you feed cats meat without a calcium supplement or bones (finely ground in), it can lead to a collapse or curvature of lumbar vertebrae and pelvic bones; bone pain and fractures, as well as hyperparathyroidism.
Mistake 3: Adding the supplements before cooking, grinding or pureeing the cat food
Why is this bad? Because key nutrients won’t survive those processes. Add supplements AFTER cooking, grinding, or pureeing. You need to add taurine after any cooking has taken place. And, even if you serve raw food or food that contains taurine naturally, it is believed that is also degraded to some degree by grinding and pureeing. And, taurine leaches out in water, especially if cooking in hot water, so keep that in mind too. Finally, most B vitamins cannot survive heat and the B’s are essential to your cat’s health too (see mistake #2).
Mistake 4: Adding too much supplementation (overdosing)
If you get supplements for your cat food, but add too much, this can also cause significant health problems:
- An excess of magnesium is associated with stones in the feline urinary tract.
- Vitamin A, while critical, becomes very toxic when too much is consumed.
- Too much calcium causes depressed food intake and decreased growth in cats.
- Excessive vitamin D is also toxic.
Mistake 5: Including ingredients cats shouldn’t eat
Again, lots of misinformation out there! Here are human foods that should NOT be added to cat food:
- onions and garlic – cause hemolytic anemia in cats
- tomatoes, chocolate, grapes and raisins – toxic to cats
- raw egg whites – contain a protein called avidin that can bind to certain B vitamins and prevent their absorption
- pasteurized milk – very difficult to digest because the lactase enzyme has been neutralized by pasteurization
- grains or soy of any sort (wheat, rice, corn, oats, etc) – while several years ago it was common to recommend putting grains like rice in homemade cat food, and a lot of commercial cat food still includes them, we are now learning that grains are very hard for most cats to digest and may lead to digestive diseases in some cats.
How to easily avoid those homemade cat food mistakes!
As you may imagine, after I did a little research and discovered all this, I was daunted.
I looked at the amount of time in my day and quickly deduced that I’d much rather buy a reliable supplement mix for homemade cat food (and follow the instructions carefully) than risk winging it.
Once I made that decision, I just needed to find some feline food supplement mixes that looked good…
Supplement mixes for making homemade cat food
The sources below include ones I have bought or would buy for my cats. Of course, I cannot make any guarantees about them, but I can say that at this point I trust them and would use them. (I don’t make them, sell them, or have an affiliate connection with them.)
Each source provides recipes and instructions so making homemade cat is not a mysterious process! You just follow the recipe. (See the video at the end of this post for an example!)
(Note: If you are making a homemade meal for your cat just once in a while and feeding them food that meets or exceeds the AAFCO standards the rest of the time, you need not worry about adding supplements for occasional homemade meals. But this is the only exception!)
CAUTION: Do not use these premixes (containing calcium) on formulated pet foods! You will over calcify your cat if you do. For same reason, use meats with NO BONES.