Written by Tracy Dion, Oc
One of the two most common concerns of cat owners contemplating the switch to a fresh diet is the specter of potentially lethal bacteria (the other is a fear of bones). In Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, oh my!, we discussed how easily and thoroughly healthy cats manage the bacteria in their environment, including in their foods. But what about feeding a diet with potentially harmful bacteria to an cat that *isn’t* healthy, or one with a compromised immune system, such as an FIV+ kitty?
My answer to the query, “Can you feed raw foods to a cat whose health is compromised in some manner?” is “Yes!” Cats are so finely-tuned for a diet of prey animals that it’s not only safe to put FIV+ cats on a raw diet, it’s vitally important to support their immune systems by feeding them the foods that are going to nourish their physiology at the highest levels.
As I mentioned in the Oh my! article, the latest edition of The Nutrient requirements of dogs and cats by the National Research Council (U.S.) Ad Hoc Committee on Dog and Cat Nutrition goes into great depth examining the complexities of the relationships between the cat’s digestive physiology and chemical workings and the foods it eats. It cites studies proving the cat’s entire digestive system functions at a higher level of efficiency when fed a raw diet; beginning right at the mouth – more saliva, with a more efficient composition of enzymes, is produced during a meal of raw, animal-based foods. The stomach acids are different, the pacing through the system is different, the enzymes released from the various organs (gall bladder, pancreas, etc.) are all different – and more efficient – when a cat is fed the diet she is so beautifully designed to thrive upon (p. 6-11).
There’s a veritable smorgasbord of material illustrating the overall health benefits of raw-feeding, from improved oral health to reduction or outright elimination of a multitude of diseases to improved coat quality, a drastic jump in energy and a nice reduction in stool quantity and odor. (Check out the Resource Center for the best sites.)
All the reasons we feed our healthy cats a raw diet apply twice as strongly to a cat who is coping with some type of illness; she needs the foods that are going to provide her with the highest level of nutrition and energy for the least amount of work – for an obligate carnivore, that’s animal-based meats, organs and bones. And cats’ natural, inborn defenses against bacteria don’t disappear just because their health is compromised, they become FIV+ or catch an upper respiratory infection – the glands in their mouths still produce lysozyme-containing saliva, their stomach acids still kill incoming pathogens, their digestive tracts are still just about the shortest, comparatively-speaking, in the animal kingdom.
Why isn’t this more widely known, or accepted? Why do so many raw-feeding experts and advocates tamp down the rhetoric when the discussion turns to sick cats?
It is my belief that proponents begin waffling and throwing out caveats because we have all – every last one of us – been sold so solidly on the dangers of raw foods, especially meat, that even in the face of plain logic, those doing the recommending can’t stand their ground because they don’t know – as in, don’t have anything they can point to as proof (notwithstanding the thousands of years of evolution and wild living) – that raw feeding health-compromised cats is safe.
If something went wrong – even if it was completely unrelated to raw feeding – without that “real proof” of safety (i.e. scientific studies done on health-compromised animals), the cat’s owner will be unable to know for sure he / she didn’t hurt their furchild, and of course, no one wants to feel responsible for the pain of a cat that suddenly dies.
Logic and evolution, however, shouldn’t be discounted simply because science hasn’t gotten around to “proving” them. I believe it’s both safe and the best choice we could make to feed health-compromised cats a raw diet. Right down to my bones, I believe it. In fact, when Ralph arrived here all terrified skin and bones last year (the pic is of him shortly after his rescue), the very first thing I did was plunk down a plate of fresh raw turkey for him. And today, he’s the strongest and boldest of my clowder.
For those who want to start raw feeding their cats, but are having a difficult time with the concept, I offer you two viable compromises. If your preference is home-prepared, first rinse and then lightly sear the outside of the bone-less meats and organs you wish to feed (bacterial pathogens are nearly always on the outside of meats), and supplement with freeze dried bone or eggshell instead of real bones (read Whole Bone Alternatives: When and How to Use Them in a Raw Fed Cat’s Diet for more info); once your cat returns to full health and / or you become comfortable with the raw-feeding concept, you can upgrade to a wholly fresh, raw diet with real bones.
If your preference is commercially-prepared foods, there is at least one – Nature’s Variety – that guarantees their products are pathogen-free (Commercial Raw Overview). (Note: NV has a relatively high bone content and can cause some cats to become constipated, so it’s best to feed in combination with plain meat meals.)
In addition, for cats that have had to cope with a life-time of overly processed kibble and canned foods and now have IBD or other digestive issues, you can purchase probiotics and digestive enzymes and sprinkle those over the raw foods, as per the directions, for a few weeks to help kick-start their digestive systems. (For more info on raw feeding IBD-stricken and FIV+ kitties, read MY Journey to Raw: Would I want to eat that?)
Bottom line, not only are raw foods safe for our beloved felines, they are the highest in bio-available nutrition and the best foods you could feed, especially to health-compromised and FIV+ cats. Options are available for assuaging fears if needed… what’s important is to get the cat on a healthy diet.
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