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The Do's & Don't's of Making Nutritious & Delicious (for Your Cat!) Cat Food at HomeBy Vicki McClure Davidson
We have two cats, and my son's cat Gabriel is huge. We lovingly call him "The Beast." You'd swear he was part cougar, looking at the size of his paws and head. He's a mammoth, muscular American shorthair tabby. My daughter's cat, Zima, is petite and active and black with white markings, a "tuxedo kitty," if you will. Feeding her is painless on the pocketbook, since she eats such small portions. Gabe, on the other hand, is like feeding a teenage high school football player. All the time.
With the rising cost of store-bought cat food (and naturally, our two cats aren't pleased with the bargain brands I've bought), it made sense to make my own at home.
Originally, I searched for cat food recipes on the Internet some months ago, and ran into several doom-and-gloom sites that made it sound like I'd have to create a high-tech scientific lab in my kitchen to prevent killing my beloved felines if I dared have the presumption to make them their food. Whew! Scary stuff. So, in discombobulated fear, I stopped researching, and resigned myself to buying the ever-cost-rising canned food. But, I continued to silently cringe every time I had to stock up on increasingly more expensive kitty food cans.
The amount of food our big tabby boy eats in a day is staggering. An average can of cat food is 5.5 ounces and if it costs 79 cents a can, the contents of that can costs about 14.36 cents an ounce, or $2.30 a pound. Gabe can eat about 2.5 of those cans daily, plus munch on dry cat food throughout the day.
With the high cost of meat, at a glance, that seems reasonable (for beef or saltwater fish, not for chicken), but inexpensive fillers that are not meat are added to that cat food. This makes the meat/protein portion of the cat food significantly more expensive. Even if half the contents in the can is meat, that jumps the cost of the meat up to $4.60 a pound. The price of the filler is the same price, and if it is cheap grains or gums, you're overpaying for it. Those smaller "gourmet" cans of cat food (average size is 3 ounces) are even more expensive. They may have a higher quality meat and more of it, but they're still too expensive. They average 99 cents for a measly 3 ounces.
The price does drop with the cost of cheaper, generic, or non-national-brand-name cans of cat food (if your cat will eat them) or name brands that occasionally go on sale, like 2 for 88 cents. At that price, it works out to being about 8 cents an ounce, or $1.28 a pound. If half the contents is non-meat (which includes questionable chemicals, coloring, and saturated animal fats), the meat/protein portion doubles in cost to $2.58 per pound. Remember that low-grade meats (or the scary-sounding "meat by-products") are used.
I decided to resume my search. After all, so many people make their own dog food and sell gourmet homemade dog biscuits online. Why would making cat food be any more difficult? I must have hit pages that were funded by cat food manufacturing companies during my first search, because I'm now convinced it can be done, and without committing feline homicide. However, it is very important for cat owners to understand the needs of their kitty's diet, because they synthesize foods differently than other animals. Their whole physical makeup differs greatly from that of dogs. Cats are carnivores, never forget that.
Deficiencies in important amino acids and vitamins could result if you were to not understand the specific needs of a carnivore, which could lead to ill health or even death. Not that we're trying to alarm you... making homemade cat food is indeed feasible, but you need to know and fully understand the dietary needs of your cat—indeed, all cats—first. Consulting with your vet is a good idea.
Should You Make Your Own Cat Food?
From what all my sources have proclaimed, not only will homemade cat food save you money, but you'll know exactly what is in it. The pet food industry would have consumers believe that THEY are the experts, THEY are the only ones who can nutritionally balance your pet's diet. However, statistics and increasing obesity are proving otherwise.
According to Donald R. Strombeck, a veterinarian and writer, this obesity is not caused by fat. In his book, Home-Prepared Dog & Cat Diets: the Healthful Alternative, dogs in particular need a high-fat diet to maintain good health. It's the addition of so many other suspicious ingredients in canned pet food that is causing much of the problem. In the 1950s, before pet food became a staple for feeding dogs and cats, few pets had the allergies, gastric problems, and obesity we see today. It was believed that a high-fat diet in dogs and cats would cause acute pancreatitis, but this hasn't ever been proven.
There are too many obese cats and dogs in America, and it is believed that the cheap fillers and other mysterious ingredients in pet food may be primarily to blame for them getting so fat. Other factors are also at work, namely hormonal changes from being neutered, boredom, lack of activity, too much dry cat food, and overfeeding. Canned pet food is being looked at more closely now.
Homemade cat food has more flavor, more meat/protein, more vitamins, no junk. This translates to a MUCH happier kitty. And if your cat is fat or lethargic, a new diet that eliminates or cuts down on canned cat food will slim her or him down in a quick period of time, plus boost energy.
Pet Food Deaths
Let us never forget the tragic pet food recalls in 2007 and 2008, when so many beloved pets in the United States suddenly were sickened or died from the fertilizers and rat poison that were accidentally included by pet food manufacturers in China. Ninety-five brands of pet food were pulled from store shelves. Thousands of pet owners are worried about what goes into commercial pet food. The trust is gone. Some experts believe that commercial cat food has serious deficits in its nutritional content. There is no conclusive evidence yet for this claim.
The Importance of Taurine
Taurine is a B-amino acid that is essential for feline health, as cats cannot synthesize the compound. Dogs and humans and other animals can. The absence of taurine in the cat's diet causes the retinas to slowly degenerate, causing eye problems and, eventually, irreversible blindness—a condition known as central retinal degeneration, as well as hair loss and tooth decay. In addition, taurine deficiency can cause feline dilated cardiomyopathy, and supplementation can reverse left ventricular systolic dysfunction. Taurine is necessary for normal skeletal muscle functioning. Taurine is now a requirement of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and any dry or wet food product labeled approved by the AAFCO should have a minimum of 0.1% taurine.
Preformed taurine is only available from animal tissue, and high concentrations of taurine are found in the heart muscle, skeletal muscles, brain and eyes of mammals (like the heads of birds, mice, rats, and other rodents), as well as the meat from clams and oysters. Taurine is very sensitive to heat, and taurine content in meat is greatly reduced after cooking. If you're going to make your own cat food, you need to be sure that you include adequate taurine, whether through foods that contain it or by including supplements. There are books available on the subject. Taurine is added to all cat food by the pet food manufacturers. When in doubt, you should consult your veterinarian.
Cats cannot convert beta carotene (found in green vegetables) to vitamin A as can dogs and people, so you must be sure that other sources of fully formed vitamin A (found in animal tissues) are provided in the diet to prevent a deficiency that can result in skin, eye, and reproductive changes.
On the other hand, hypervitaminosis A (too much vitamin A) is far more likely to be a problem. This condition is typically seen in cats whose diets have been oversupplemented with, for example, cod-liver oil, and those which have been fed excessive amounts of liver which is highly palatable to cats and may result in an apparent 'addiction'. Signs of toxicity, which usually develops from feeding the diet over a period of months or years, do not develop until the prolonged daily intake exceeds 17mg (57,000 IU)/kg BW.
Do's & Don't's of Making Cat Food
There are a number of important "Do's and Don'ts" you need to know before making your homemade cat food.
Certain foods should be avoided when you make your own cat food. Never feed a cat chocolate, onions, garlic, pork (including bacon, sausage, and ham), spinach, fermented cheese, raw fish, raw eggs, raw meat, milk, or bones. Each of these has its own ill effects on cats. Many can have high levels of histamine, which is harmful to pets. Chocolate is a horrible, potentially lethal thing to feed to any animal; bacon, sausage, and ham are processed and have far too much salt in them. Raw eggs can make your cat sick or be deadly if they have E. coli or salmonella (cooking will destroy harmful bacteria) and with raw meat, you run the risk of giving your pet parasites. Always cook eggs and meat that you feed to your cat.
Always remember that cats are carnivores. Never feed your cat canned or dry dog food. Cats require five times more protein than dogs do, so dog food will not meet cats' nutritional needs. Avoid feeding your cat a vegetarian diet for the same reason.
Limit the amount and use of tuna because of the risks associated with the mercury levels in it.
Feed liver in moderation and not at all if you're giving your cat vitamin A supplements. Overdoses of vitamin A can be toxic.
There are many cat food recipes available on the Internet and in books. Look for recipes that are high in protein content. Do your research.
During the transition from canned cat food to homemade cat food, you may want to combine some dry, commercial cat food with meat, eggs, lactose-free milk, and flavorings to get your cat used to eating homemade cat food.
You can include some small amounts of cooked vegetables in your cat's food. Use gas-producing vegetables, such as cabbage, broccoli, or Brussels sprouts, sparingly.
The area where you're preparing the cat food must be absolutely clean because you'll be working with raw meats. You don't want to accidentally transfer any harmful bacteria to your cat food mixture.
You can add flavorings such as kelp powder to the food you cook for your cat. Small amounts of dairy products are acceptable, but cats should not drink a lot of milk. Use lactose-free milk instead.
If you're making a big batch, don't make more than your cat(s) can consume in three days if you're going to store it in the refrigerator. Store in the fridge in an airtight container. If you're going to store it in the freezer, it is recommended to store it in several small containers rather than one large one so that thawing it is easier and quicker. Homemade cat food can be stored in the freezer for up to six months. After you thaw the frozen cat food, do not refreeze it.
Cat Food Recipes
ALWAYS cook meat before feeding it to your cat. Raw meat can be harmful. Here are a few easy recipes for you to prepare for your cat.
"Easy Cat" Recipe
From The Veterinarians' Guide to Natural Remedies for Cats: Safe and Effective Alternative Treatments and Healing Techniques from the Nations Top Holistic Veterinarians
Choose one of the following protein sources. Rotate proteins frequently so the cats get used to a variety of tastes.
- 6 oz. ground turkey
- 1/2 lb. boneless chicken breast
- 1/2 lb. lean ground beef
- 1/2 lb. lean ground lamb
- 1/2 lb. beef, chicken or turkey heart, ground
Optional: Once a week, substitute 4 ounces organic liver for one-half of any meat source.
Finicky Cat Chicken Feast
From Pet Food Cookbook
- 1 c. chicken (boiled or microwaved)
- 1/4 c. fresh broccoli (steamed)
- 1/4 c. carrots (shredded, steamed)
- Chicken broth (homemade preferred, salt-free if canned)
Mix ingredients with enough chicken broth to hold it together.
Finicky Cat Fish Feast
From Pet Food Cookbook
- 1 can salmon (3 oz.)
- 1 can tuna (3 oz.)
- 1/4 c. fresh broccoli (steamed)
- 1/4 c. carrots (shredded, steamed)
Mix all ingredients, using enough liquid from the cans to hold everything together.
Kitty Cat Casserole
Derived from a recipe posted at The Little Foxes website, with important healthful annotations added here that were not included in the original recipe
Cook the following ingredients together:
- 4 oz. meat (chicken, turkey, fish, beef, lamb, rabbit, venison, organ parts — NEVER use pork and use organ parts infrequently), ground, cut into small pieces, or puréed
- 2 eggs (cats can only eat cooked eggs, never raw; mash up or dice the eggs)
- 1 T. grated or cut carrot
- 1 T. cottage cheese
- 1 T. sunflower oil
When the meat is completely cooked, mix it all together so that it is uniformly proportioned. Mash and mix the carrot if you didn't grate it and also mash and mix the eggs. Let your cat food mixture cool for at least a half hour before serving it to your cat, just to be sure that it won't burn his or her mouth or tongue. Olive oil can be used instead of sunflower oil.
While sticker shock is a great incentive to make your cat food, the convenience of it can't be denied.
A can of cat food is always ready to go, always ready to feed a squawking, hungry feline. But the cost of that convenience is high, and it's climbing higher.
I've decided that I'm not confident enough to include the proper amounts of taurine in my cats' diet over time, so what I will do is research more and for now, make enough cat food to supplement the canned stuff. However, my personal goal is to not have to rely on those costly cans at all. I just don't know when I'll be at a level of "expertise" so that I can eliminate all manufactured cat food from our home and be confident that our four-legged children are properly nourished.
One last note: NEVER EVER give any pet chocolate. I know that some dogs love chocolate (I've never met a cat that wanted chocolate, although there likely are some that do), and their owners will sometimes sneak Fifi or Max a few squares. DON'T DO IT. Chocolate CAN and DOES kill pets. Better to be safe than sorry.
Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, both stimulants. Unsweetened bakers chocolate is especially high in both, with just 1 ounce being enough to cause toxicity in cats or small dogs, often with deadly results. Milk chocolate, although not as potent as bakers chocolate, should still be avoided at all costs, as even small amounts nibbled on frequently can lead to fatal poisoning.
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Allen, W.P., "Make Cat Food - Safe, Natural, and Delicious" Ezine Articles website, (http://ezinearticles.com/?Make-Cat-Food---Safe,-Natural,-and-Delicious&id=1305361).
Committee on Animal Nutrition, National Research Council, Nutrient Requirements of Cats (revised edition), Board on Agriculture, 1986.
eHow website, eHow Pets Editor, "How to Make Homemade Cat Food," (http://www.ehow.com/how_12698_make-homemade-cat.html).
HeraldNet website, "5 Home-cooked Meals for Pets," (http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20070331/NEWS01/703310718), March 31, 2007.
Max's House: Feline Nutrition website, (http://maxshouse.com/feline_nutrition.htm).
Pet Food Cookbook website, (http://www.petfoodcookbook.com/).
Strombeck, Donald R., Home-Prepared Dog & Cat Diets: the Healthful Alternativeem>, Iowa State University Press, IA, 1999.
The Little Foxes website, "How to Make Cat Food at Home \ Recipes," and Homemade Cat Food
Wikipedia website, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taurine).
Zoran, Debra L., DVM, PhD, DACVIM, Feline Future website, The Carnivore Connection to Nutrition in Cats, (www.felinefuture.com/cat_nutrition/).
Zucker, Martin, The Veterinarians' Guide to Natural Remedies for Cats: Safe and Effective Alternative Treatments and Healing Techniques from the Nations Top Holistic Veterinarians, Three Rivers Press, Crown Publishing Group, NY, NY, 1999.