Cats are predators and obligate carnivores. This means that their bodies have adapted to hunt for their prey and require a diet consisting of whole meat, which provides animal protein and other essential nutrients for survival.
Raw cat food diets have increased in popularity in recent years. Since wild cats live on whole meat, many people believe that it’s the healthiest and most natural option for their domestic cats. It’s essential to understand your cat’s natural diet, along with the risks and benefits of feeding raw.
This article provides the necessary guidance to enable you to choose the best raw cat food. It includes homemade raw-diet tips and the five best raw cat food options for your cat.
Our top pick of commercial raw cat food is Stella & Chewy’s Yummy Lickin’ Salmon & Chicken. However, if you can’t contain your curiosity about the remaining raw cat food on review, here’s a quick outline:
- Stella & Chewy’s Yummy Lickin’ Salmon & Chicken—Best Overall
- Instinct Raw Boost Mixers—Best Raw Cat Food Mixer
- Nulo Freestyle Freeze-Dried Raw Cat Food—Best Budget Pick
- Wysong Archetype Raw Chicken—Best for Picky Cats
- Vital Essentials Vital Cat Minnow Freeze-Dried Treats—Best Raw Treats
Essential Nutrients for Quality Raw Cat Food
Domestic cats are distinctly similar to their wild ancestors and have evolved very little from them. In the wild, cats’ diets consist of mainly whole rodents, rabbits, birds, insects, frogs, and reptiles.
The general idea behind raw cat food is to feed your cat a diet that it would naturally eat had it not been domesticated. It usually includes raw muscle meat, organ meat, and ground bones.
As a natural meat eater, a cat’s food-conversion process (metabolism) is especially suited to a strictly meat or fish-based diet as the primary source of protein for nutrients and energy. Unlike herbivores and omnivores, cats have a limited ability to produce certain amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins.
As a result, cats evolved to consume specific amino acids that already exist in meat sources because their bodies don’t produce enough of them for survival.
Most species share a need for nine essential amino acids that they require from the diet. Cats, on the other hand, need two additional essential amino acids. These are taurine and arginine, which are obtained from eating animal tissues.
Taurine is particularly important for the eye and heart health of cats as predators. It is also necessary for normal reproduction and kitten growth. Cats can produce small amounts of taurine, which aren’t enough for their needs.
Without taurine, cats may suffer from blindness, heart failure, reproductive failure, and defects of the central nervous system.
Arginine deficiency leads to high levels of ammonia in the blood, resulting in symptoms of the nervous system that may quickly lead to seizures and death.
While protein is an important energy source for cats, fat is the most energy-rich nutrient in the diet. Fats help to transport nutrients and conduct nerve impulses.
Essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are also crucial for skin and coat health, wound healing, and inflammation.
Fat and essential fatty acid sources include salmon, chicken, liver, or beef in raw cat food. Sometimes, extra fat sources include beef fat, fish oil, or soybean oil.
Vitamins are organic nutrients, which means that they break down in the cat’s body and are absorbed by fat or water. Cats need 14 different vitamins to thrive but can’t sufficiently produce specific vitamins critical to their health, including vitamin A, vitamin B3 (niacin), and vitamin D.
Therefore, your cat must get those insufficient vitamins from animal tissues, adding to other essential vitamins.
Cats require specific minerals to flourish. Unlike vitamins, minerals are inorganic, which means that they don’t break down in the body, are more manageable for cats to get, and need only be consumed in small quantities.
The natural diet of cats would consist of the whole prey, including fur, tendons, bones, ligaments, and cartilage. Most of these aren’t digested or only slightly digested, so they would function as fiber.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that plays a significant role in the movement of food through a cat’s intestines to act as a transportation means for the cat’s meat diet. This is why it’s critical that your cat isn’t eating too much fiber, preventing bowel movement issues.
According to the Feline Nutrition Foundation, cats are meat eaters and don’t need plant-derived fiber. Any of this fiber that a cat might consume in the wild would be partially or completely digested in the prey’s stomach.
Water is the most critical nutrient for cats and essential to almost every chemical process. Domestic cats have evolved to get most of their water from their food. They will typically allow themselves to become dehydrated (by 8%) compared to dogs (by 4%) before taking a drink of water.
Methods of Providing Raw Cat Food
Now that you know what to look for and that the best raw food is the one that contains the essential nutrients, there are two ways you can provide your cat with the proper raw meal. You can either make raw food for your cat at home or buy it from the store.
How To Prepare Raw Cat Food Safely
If you choose to prepare raw food for your cat, it’s essential that you do so safely by closely following the guidelines of the US Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent diseases associated with raw pet food products.
Your veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist may help you develop a complete and balanced diet, which complies with the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards.
Your vet practitioner may also recommend safe supplements to ensure your cat gets the nutrients they need to stay healthy.
However, if you prefer to feed your cat more convenient commercially-prepared raw diets, which are usually frozen or freeze-dried to reduce disease-producing organisms (pathogens), here’s a brief review of the five best picks for your cat, based on their unique qualities.
The 5 Best Raw Food Picks for Your Cat
1. Stella & Chewy’s Yummy Lickin’ Salmon & Chicken—Best Overall
If you’re looking for an all-around raw meal to suit all your cat’s needs, this should be at the top of your list.
The Stella & Chewy’s Freeze-Dried Raw Dinner Morsels are designed in the same way as a cat’s wild ancestral diet with wild-caught salmon and cage-free chicken as main sources of protein; organs, ground bones, and pumpkin seeds. It doesn’t contain any gluten, food coloring, grains, fillers, or artificial preservatives.
The ingredients contain no added hormones or antibiotics but are improved with added substances that prevent or slow damage to meat tissues (antioxidants) and beneficial bacteria (probiotics) that can be helpful for your cat’s digestion.
This food is complete, balanced, and strengthened with the right levels of vitamins, minerals, and added taurine to provide extra benefits for glowing skin, more energy, and healthy teeth and gums. It’s recommended for kittens, adults, and senior cats.
You can serve this food as it is or add water to rehydrate or re-moisten it. If you’re remoistening it, use cool water, not hot. Using hot water will cook the food, which defeats the purpose of serving it raw and dries the ground bone in the food, making it brittle and difficult to digest.
- Freeze-dried, so it’s safer to store and handle.
- 98% meat, organ, and bone.
- Rich in probiotics.
- Free from grain, gluten, fillers, or by-products; artificial preservatives, or food coloring.
- Low carbohydrate content.
- Formulated for kittens, adults, and seniors.
- Freeze-dried food demands a few minutes of rehydration.
- Some customers reported that it causes first-time vomiting in cats.
2. Instinct Raw Boost Mixers—Best Raw Cat Food Mixer
You may want to try feeding your cat raw food to see how it goes or add a boost to your cat’s regular meal. Instinct Raw Boost Mixers are a great choice of freeze-dried raw-food nuggets, which should be mixed into your cat’s daily meals. They’re neither nutritionally complete nor intended to be used as your cat’s main dish.
The mixers can be used as toppers or treats to give your kitty a minimally processed, protein-packed boost. They’re available in cage-free chicken and farm-raised rabbit varieties with fruits and vegetables but no artificial colors, grains, or preservatives.
This raw cat food mixer is especially great for cats that are particular about their food or underweight due to a lack of healthy appetite or digestive issues. If you’re not ready to make the complete switch over to raw food just yet, this is the ideal way to start.
- Contains primarily meat ingredients.
- Nutritious treats or meal toppers.
- Contains unnecessary plant ingredients
- Promotes mixing with kibble.
3. Nulo Freestyle Freeze-Dried Raw Cat Food—Best Budget Pick
Our pick for the best budget raw cat food is protein-rich, grain-free natural cat food that has been freeze-dried for convenience.
The food comes in two different recipes: turkey & duck and chicken & salmon. Both contain 98% bone, organs, and meat protein, along with optimal fat levels inspired by wild prey. Other ingredients include dried kelp, cranberries, and a range of probiotics for digestive and immune health.
It is nutritionally complete and can be used as a full meal. You can also use it as a topper for regular dry or wet food or a tasty treat for your kitty.
To use it as a meal, you can mix it with warm water to make it more appealing and easier to eat. You can feed this to a pregnant or nursing cat, but check with your vet or vet nutritionist first for more specific advice.
- Made for kittens and adult cats
- Doesn’t contain grains, soy, or other unnecessary ingredients
- 98% animal meat, organs, and bones.
- Contains a patented strain of good bacteria (BC30) for healthy digestion
- Some cats don’t like it.
- Not recommended for senior cats.
4. Wysong Archetype Raw Chicken—Best for Picky Cats
If your cat refuses to eat most options of food, you might consider this recipe. It’s freeze-dried raw cat food and made primarily from chicken meat, bones, and organs. This makes it high in natural proteins and fats for your cat’s optimal health.
You can feed it exclusively as meals, although it’s best to rotate it with fresh foods or other raw diets. Some customers like to use it as a treat or topper to offer variety and dietary rotation to their cat.
Although low in carbohydrates, the recipe also contains a diverse range of nutrients, including trace amounts of blueberries, chia seeds, barley grass, broccoli, carrots, whey, plums, dried kelp, yeast extract, and probiotics.
- Freeze-dried for safety and longevity.
- After it’s rehydrated, this food is an excellent moisture source.
- Contains probiotics to encourage digestive and immune health.
- Free from grains, fillers, and by-products.
- Wysong has an outstanding reputation for food safety.
- Not an adequate source of moisture unless rehydrated.
5. Vital Essentials Vital Cat Minnow Freeze-Dried Treats—Best Raw Treats
If you’re feeding your cat raw breakfast and dinner, you’ll likely want to continue the trend when offering snacks and treats. Vital Essentials treats are filled with wild-caught minnow fish that are freeze-dried for safety.
These single-ingredient treats are protein-rich and free from unsuitable ingredients that are often found in standard crunchy treats. Low-heat processed, the treats contain all the nutrients found in a raw minnow, with every part of the small fish intact, including the eyes, internal organs, and tiny bones.
The treats are popular with cats, providing a nutrient-rich single source of protein without any antibiotics, grains, fillers, flavorers, or added hormones. There are also many other options available such as duck liver, rabbit, salmon, and chicken if you want to switch up your cat’s treats to keep them interested.
- Single-ingredient treats.
- Wild-caught minnows from natural bodies of water.
- Free from high-carbohydrate additives.
- No artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives.
- Highly appetizing for cats who like fish.
- If your cat doesn’t like fish, they probably won’t care for this treat.
- Relatively pricey.
Safety Considerations for Raw Cat Food
An FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) study showed that raw food was likely to be contaminated with harmful bacteria compared to other types of pet food tested.
According to the FDA, if you choose to feed raw pet food to your pet, be aware that you can infect yourself with Salmonella or L. monocytogenes by spreading the bacteria from the contaminated food to your mouth. If you get the bacteria on your hands or clothing, you can also spread it to other people, objects, and surfaces.
So, before you feed your cat raw food, it’s vital to pay careful attention to the FDA tips to prevent food-carrying illness from the raw food.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Vets Recommend a Raw Diet for Cats?
The CDC doesn’t recommend feeding raw food to pets because of the real risk of illness for the animals and humans living in the home. However, cats are naturally adapted to digest the right complete and balanced raw diet, which must be handled carefully against the risk of disease.
Vets or vet nutritionists may help you develop your cat’s complete and balanced raw diet, which complies with the AAFCO standards.
Is a Raw Diet Best for Cats?
Like their wild ancestors, domestic cats are predatory meat eaters and can digest animal-based raw foods better than humans. Many harmful germs will pass through a cat without causing issues. Most cats will benefit from raw food, but those with health concerns may need cooked food.
What Is a Complete and Balanced Raw Diet for Cats?
A complete and balanced raw cat food contains all the essential nutrients that your cat requires to be healthy, making it suitable to feed your feline at every mealtime.
The diet usually includes raw muscle meat, organ meat, and ground bones. The most common raw meats include chicken, fish, and eggs.
Domestic cats are very similar to their wild ancestors and have evolved very little from them. Naturally, they eat the whole prey meat for animal protein and other essential nutrients.
Regardless of your approach to providing natural prey-diet nutrients to your cat, raw cat food must be handled with strict safety rules to prevent the risk of disease from the raw food.
If you’re looking to feed your cat the best raw cat food, check out the options on our list. The best overall in our opinion is the Stella & Chewy’s Yummy Lickin’ Salmon & Chicken.
Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links. If you choose to purchase any of the products we have discussed in this article, we may receive a small commission.