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 (See this article by Fern Crist, DVM and Your Cat: Simple New Secrets to a Longer, Stronger Life by Dr. Hodgkins, and this article by Dr. Becker.)
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.
All ingredients are pure food grade products without silica, magnesium stearate or other processing additives. They do not use any raw materials from China or India. All raw materials are manufactured in the USA, Europe or Japan. Free of controversial chemical additives like BHT, BHA, ethoxyquin and menadione. Alnutrin’s site has a wealth of practical, easy-to-understand information on making food for your cat and they offer free formulation advice to customers.
They also offer free trial samples!
Feline Instincts premixes are human grade, organic and USDA approved with no preservatives, colors, or other artificial additives. You add raw meat, raw liver (or a raw liver powder, which they sell), and water. Their mixes also incorporate ImmnoPlex Natural Glandulars by Nutricology, sourced from New Zealand. Dr. Gardner, a holistic vet they consulted with in creating their mixes, is quotes on their site about the use of kelp in the mix. He said, “Kelp is to supply a source of minerals and helps to support the thyroid. While there is controversy over the use of kelp in felines, in the right amount it is beneficial. We have not had any issues with thyroid problems and a lot of felines with hyperthyroidism use the diet and have done very well along with appropriate veterinary care, both holistic and allopathic.”
If you’re in Canada or Europe TC Feline may be a good option.
I haven’t tried this one, but I’ve heard some folks love it. It uses 100% human grade and pharmaceutical grade ingredients. GMO-free, and no artificial additives, flavors, etc. The premixes are “made in small batches, precision measured, blended, sifted, and packaged by hand in a spotless facility.” The sources of ingredients are carefully selected. For example, it includes grass-fed whey protein from New Zealand (GMO free, rBGH free, BSE free). However, I have question marks around their use of the Arctic Pacific krill oil in the product. I cannot confirm it, but there is concern about eco-system damage from this kind of krill fishing and some are also concerned with a risk of Fukushima radiation contamination in Pacific krill oil.
Get TC Feline in the US here.
- Premixes are not meant to be used as a “sprinkle” on top of meat or added just to water or other foods; Feline Instincts says you can harm your cat by using the supplements that way. Follow the instructions for mixing the right amount into the food at the right time.
- For cats with constipation, Feline Instincts No Bones About It or Alnturin with Calcium mixes are an ideal option. TC Feline also provides a bone-free special mix for cats with kidney problems.
- Some (but not all) experts say you shouldn’t use store-bought meat (unless you cook it before adding supplements) because there are concerns about bacteria. Instead, they say you should grind your own or order from source that freezes immediately after cutting or grinding, like Hare-Today, which carries many types of meats.
- Alnutrin provides an excellent homemade cat food nutrient calculator to create your own new recipes or to customize one of theirs. You can also use it if you already have a recipe and would like to know what the nutritional composition of the diet is.
- The homemade cat food supplement companies listed above will provide you with what you need to know for making your cat food. But if you’re really wanting to geek out and learn more about doing it all from scratch, see Dr. Lisa Pierson’s HUGE page on the topic of making cat food here.
Wanna see how to make, prepare, and store a batch of cat food?
This video from Feline Instincts shows you exactly how to prepare and package a batch of homemade cat food that’s supplemented with a premix. Demystifies it!
- Your Cat’s Nutritional Needs: A Science-Based Guide for Pet Owners by the National Research Council
- The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care by Celeste Yarnall and Jean Hofve, DVM
- Whole Health for Happy Cats by Sandy Arora
- Keeping tabs on taurine from FelineWellness.com
- Answers: Thiamine in a Raw Meat Diet from FelineNutrition.org
- Thiamine Deficiency and Excess Vitamin A in Cats from PetMD.com