Written by Tracy Dion for ‘Catnip Chronicles,’ April 2012
(Note: This is a condensed version of the very detailed Prey Model / Whole Prey Feeding Guide.)
If you’re reading this, then you’ve probably done some research and realize how important a species-appropriate diet is for your cat; I won’t have to bore you with the kibble-is-bad lecture and can move right into giving you the scoop on what is good for your furry little friends. 🙂
Which is to say, a raw, prey-based or prey-modeled diet. Cats are obligate carnivores and, in the wild, thrive on rodents, birds, reptiles and insects. A prey-based diet seeks to mimic that menu by providing either whole prey animals or enough meats, organs, and bones from different animal sources to recreate the same nutrient balance as would be found in a whole prey animal.
Raw diets can be produced two ways – commercially or at home. This article covers only the later, with a focus on frankenprey.
There are three primary methodologies for preparing a raw diet: grinding, frankenprey and whole prey. The first two are based on a guideline that has been used by raw feeders for decades, the 80 / 10 / 5 / 5 rule – that’s 80% meat, 10% edible bone, 5% liver, and 5% other secreting organ (a rough average of typical prey percentages)(1) – while the third is as close to natural as your cat can get without catching dinner on its own.
Grinding is the most well-known and popular method. It is the farthest from a cat’s natural diet in that everything is ground together, offering little to no chewing challenge and due to the nutrient breakdown inherent in the process, often requiring supplementation.(2) However, this method most resembles the canned food many cats are already accustomed to eating and is often the easiest raw diet transition a cat can make.
As grinding is the most prevalent raw feeding method, there are several how-to articles available online; see Feline-Nutrition.org and CatInfo.org for the most well-known and vetted recipes.
Frankenprey is not as widely known, but is slowly becoming more mainstream. In this method, a variety of animal parts are fed in measured amounts so that over a certain period of time (usually a week), the cat gets the same sum of parts as it would have were it eating whole animals. Meals are often all meat or a mix of meat and bone or organ and are fed in large chunks that the cat must gnaw on to reduce to bite-size pieces.
This active engagement in the eating process has several benefits, including the psychological satisfaction inherent in successfully meeting mental and physical challenges (eating becomes work!). One of its more important benefits, however, is improved dental health. Dental disease is at near-epidemic proportions in the feline population and can have far-reaching health consequences. A diet that includes tearing, ripping and scissoring through meat, tendons and bones provides the necessary stimulation to keep your carnivore’s mouth clean and healthy.(3)
Feeding frankenprey entails less initial preparation than grinding, minimal or no supplementation, and fewer tools, but requires strict adherence to a feeding schedule to ensure the proper nutrient balance is maintained.
Whole prey is the rarest raw feeding method. It is exactly what it sounds like – whole animals such as mice, rats, young chicks, and quail are offered to your cat. It is, obviously, the most natural method, but it is the least acceptable to both cat owners – who may find it emotionally difficult to handle dead animals – and the cats themselves, who often have trouble recognizing the prey as food (accustomed as they are to heavily processed kibble or canned products). If owner and cat can get past these difficulties, whole prey is the easiest, most efficient and beneficial method of raw feeding.
Menu Choices and Meal Preparation
Whichever method you choose to use, a variety of animals should be part of the menu; aim for at least five different protein sources. Offering a variety of animals mimics the hunting behavior of cats in the wild(4) and, since nutrient profiles differ between prey animals, provides the greatest assurance of a balanced diet.
Turkey, chicken, Cornish hen, beef, lamb and pork are often basic ingredients and can be readily found in local stores. Venison, bison, pheasant, quail, rabbit, duck and goat can sometimes be found locally, but can also be ordered online. Liver, kidney and other organs can be sourced from any animal and do not need to “match” the meat products; it’s fine to feed beef chunks, chicken liver and lamb heart in a single meal.
Organic products are just as much healthier for your cat as they are for you, but feeding organic is not a critical component of a raw-fed regimen. Organic or not, however, care must be taken that any product destined for your cat’s plate is not “enhanced” with extra sodium or flavorful marinades. The sodium content should not exceed “100 mgs per serving” as written on the package.
Never feed cooked bone, as it can splinter and cause serious complications.
Insects can be a fun addition to a cat’s menu. Just throw a few crickets in the tub once or twice a month and watch your kitty go into instant hunting mode.
An issue that crops up with frankenprey and whole prey diets that is seldom, if ever, seen with ground is the runaway diner. One way to reduce or eliminate this behavior is to separate cats by levels and distance. Feed one cat on the table and another on the floor, or feed them on opposite sides of the room. If necessary and your cats tolerate the confinement, you can also crate them for meals.
Always thaw your cat’s food in the fridge, not on the counter. Bacteria grow faster at room temperatures than they do in the fridge and while your cat is far less likely to become ill from this than you are, it’s good practice not to do it. Whether you serve food straight from the fridge or slightly warmed depends on your cat’s preferences. You can take the chill off your cat’s dinner by sealing it in a bag and placing it in warm water for a few minutes. Don’t put the food directly into water, as this leaches nutrients out, and make sure the water is only warm, as hot water will cook the outside of the meat and degrade the nutrient content.(5)
Microwaving is not recommended for the same reason – the instant you turn it on, it begins cooking the food and destroying nutrients.
To feed frankenprey and whole prey, you’ll need a scale that registers down to a quarter of an ounce or less, a good set of kitchen shears, a high-quality carving knife, a knife sharpener (skin dulls a knife fast!), cutting board, and freezer bags and/or plastic storage containers. You’ll also find a chest freezer is a huge convenience; you can shop, chop, bag and freeze once a month with a freezer large enough.
Supplements are not generally necessary in frankenprey and whole prey diets, with the single exception of Omega-3 fats. Today’s meat animals are often corn-fed instead of grass-fed which creates a higher Omega-6, lower Omega-3 balance that needs to be compensated for in your cat’s diet. Feed grass-fed meat sources whenever you can, or offer your cat an ounce or two of Sardines. ‘Though fish shouldn’t make up more than a tiny percentage of your cat’s diet(6), sardines, invariably wild-caught, are among the safest to feed and are full of Omega 3 fatty acids, making them a valuable – if minimal – contribution to a raw-fed cat’s diet.
How Much to Feed
To determine how many ounces of raw food to feed, multiply your cat’s weight by 16 to convert it to ounces and then multiply that by 2%, 3% or 4%. Divide that total by however many meals you offer each day to get the ounces to feed per meal (until they are about a year old, kittens can generally be offered twice this amount). Feeding at least three times a day (four for kittens) is recommended, as the cat’s stomach may become too acidic if it goes hungry for too long, causing digestive upsets and possible vomiting.
Your starting percentage depends on your cat’s current weight and activity level; the leaner the cat and the higher the activity level, the higher the percentage you start with. If you’re not sure what percentage is best, start with 3% and adjust as needed.
For example, an overweight, inactive 15.5 pound cat would be fed about 4.96 ounces of food a day (15.5 x 16 = 248; 248 x 2% = 4.96) , while a lean, active 10 pound cat would be offered about 6.4 ounces (10 x 16 = 160; 160 x 4% = 6.4).
Once you know how much raw to offer your cat each day, your next step is to determine how much of what parts to feed. You can do this using daily numbers, but it’s easier to calculate by the week, so take that daily total from above and multiply it by 7 to get a weekly total. (Continuing the previous example of the overweight cat: 4.96 x 7 = 34.72 ounces of food per week.)
Now multiply that weekly total, $34.72, by the percentages to get the weekly breakdown:
80% = 27.78 ounces of meat to feed each week (34.72 x .80 = 27.78)
10% = 3.47 ounces of bone to feed each week (34.72 x .10 = 3.47)
5% = 1.74 ounces of liver to feed each week (34.72 x .05 = 1.74)
5% = 1.74 ounces of non-liver organ to feed each week (34.72 x .05 = 1.74)
This is the part that often makes new raw feeders discouraged before they’ve even begun, but these calculations need only be done once, and a helpful calculator can be found here. Once the diet is established, you can easily tweak the numbers if and as needed.
Note that for raw-feeding purposes, meat, fat, skin, sinew, connective tissue, hearts, and gizzards are all considered muscle meat and count toward the muscle meat percentage, not the organ requirement. Liver has its own requirement and the remaining non-liver organ percentage can consist of any secreting organ in the body.
Determining how to fit the appropriate amount of bone into your cat’s diet can take a bit of work, but a review of the USDA’s chart(7) will give you the bone-to-meat ratio of many of the most commonly fed raw products and can be used to calculate your needs. Chicken wings, for instance, are 46% bone and 54% everything else. Our tubby kitty needs 3.47 ounces of bone per week, so he would need to eat a total of 7.5 ounces of chicken wings every week (3.47 / .46 = 7.54 rounded up to 7.5oz), which breaks down to 2.5 ounces of chicken wings three times a week (7.5oz / 3meals = 2.5oz per meal).
Among other things, bone is necessary to keep a cat’s digestive system regulated, so you want to feed it fairly often; a minimum of three meals a week is good. If you feed it too infrequently, you may end up with a cat whose stools are alternately too hard and too soft. If you’re feeding the 10% weekly requirement in three feedings and your cat’s stool seems to be too hard, cut back to the lower end of the recommendation (down to 5%). Don’t panic if your cat’s stools drop in frequency, however, as a drop in waste quantity is to be expected on a raw diet. Many raw fed cats go a day or two between stool deposits, and some even longer.
Some cats find liver and other organs a bit “rich” and may get diarrhea or an upset stomach if they eat too much at a single sitting, so don’t feed them together and, like bone, spread them out over two or more meals each per week.
A typical weekly menu could look like this (click the pic to enlarge):
There is steep learning curve to home-preparing your cat’s raw-food menu, but after a remarkably short time, you’ll be surprised at how easy it becomes. Your pet food and litter costs will drop and otherwise-costly visits to the vet will almost assuredly be avoided. Your cats will be healthier, happier, and will live longer – a powerful return on investment and well worth the effort involved.
2 – Roman J. Kutsky, “Handbook of Vitamins, Minerals, and Hormones”, Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, May 1981; Susan D. Crissey, et al, “Handling Frozen/Thawed Meat and Prey Items Fed to Captive Exotic Animals”, Unites States Agricultural Department, May 2001, pp. 12
5 – A.R. Spitze, et. al, “Taurine Concentrations in Animal Feed Ingredients; Cooking Influences Taurine Content”, Department of Molecular Biosciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, January 2003
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Created 02/24/13; Updated 08/11/14