Our dietary advice is based on millennia of evolution. Cats have evolved biologically to eat prey. Please note I say prey not meat! - the bones and organs such as heart and liver are also important. Whilst we can’t feed whole live prey we can feed something better than a cereal-based dry food (kibble).
Your kitten will come to you already on a diet of some description. Never feel obliged to stick to this diet, except for a few days of stabilisation with you. And don’t leave it for a few months ‘to see’. Diet changes are easiest in young kittens before strong dietary preferences become established.
However there are so many different options - raw on-the-bone, pouches, tins, dry nuggets - each with their own pros and cons. Which is best?
Well what is right for one cat and owner may be very wrong for another. As an example, some vegans will not wish to handle meats (though many are avid raw feeders – good nutrition is high on their list of priorities). Those of you with young children may want maximum convenience while for others cost may be the over-riding consideration
We have our ‘ladder of desirability’ with raw meat on the bone at the top, with a cheap dry food (kibble) at the bottom. But fear not – there are lots of options in between for every kitty. And reliance on a single source or type of food is not desirable –variety guards against over-fussiness, and unexpected errors of all sorts including wrong formulation (a past example was excessive vitamin D in dry foods).
Firstly we favour wet over dry any day – much healthier on kidneys and bladders, less highly processed starchy matter, more animal protein. And there are very different qualities of wet – but again which do you choose? And how much do the different options cost?
Top of the ladder
Let’s start with raw – or I should really say a ‘prey-model’ diet. In the wild cats would catch live birds and rodents – obviously not an acceptable way of feeding your kitty. Closest to this would be the carcases of small birds (eg partridge, quail) or rabbits, gutted and skinned/plucked for convenience – but these are very seasonal, hard to source, and expensive!
Much more readily available, cheaper and still very appropriate would be a diet based on chicken wings/thighs with added organ meats (liver, hearts). Variety is good – other boney meats can be included, or minced meat/bone mixes. Try not to feed the same thing every day otherwise your kitty may not want anything else – until it decides it doesn’t want that food any more!
WARNING !! DO NOT feed just meat on its own. Home-formulated MUST be done properly. It can be very challenging to implement properly and is quite demanding of effort and time. Speak to us first. Minced balanced mixes are safer in this regard.
But don’t worry about the bones in meat joints spiking them – millions of years of eating little boney birds and rodents has seen the feline species thrive not die. And chewing bones is great for teeth and satisfying deep natural instincts. Negative side is effort, need for freezer, need for somewhere for them to chew bones, hygiene issues (they will drag it out of the bowl) .
Minced raw mixes
Take the previous boney foods just mentioned and put in through a mincer – all the same nutrients but without the benefits or potential problems of bones (see our guide to raw-feeding for more details of this)
Usually supplied frozen, these mixes supply all the nutrients your cat needs, including taurine. This is much more convenient than meaty bones – but lacks the dental care afforded by regular chewing. Defrost overnight to feed the next day. The food should contain meat, bone, fat and little else. However mincing meats lets anyone stick whatever they want in – be warned against cheap raw mixes!
We stock 2 different varieties – one wild, free-range or organic or both, supplied in 250gm chubs. The second is from a human butcher/wholesaler/farmer we have known for 30 years but is not free range. It is sold in 4.5kg bulk bags of 120gm tubes.
The dangers of bacteria in raw meat are hugely inflated by the processed food market to encourage you to buy their products. Freezing will kill Campylobacter and reduce the overall bacterial burden, so for our pets frozen product is not detrimental. And for UK meats there is zero-tolerance of Salmonella. Good hygiene reduces any risks to a negligible level – statistically you’ve more chance of being struck by lightening than die from feeding raw! So convenient, cheap, no dental wear, quality risks with cheap/unknown product.
However, light cooking kills pretty much all important bacteria, and you can cook our raw minces. However there is now a new product from a new-kid-on-the-block - 'Hugs', designed to be cooked, packaged in its own cooking pot – and it can be fed cooked or raw. The bone is replaced by a biologically-appropriate form of Calcium, with minerals and vitamins added to ensure that the diet conforms to industry requirements for a ‘complete diet’.
So this food answers the raw-anti’s claims that raw food can be imbalanced and dangerous bacteriologically. No real negative.
A comment for all raw foods
Don’t waste time experimenting with frozen raw if you don’t have any freezer space!
Buying frozen from pet-food retailers invokes expensive carriage and you don’t want to be visiting us every few days for food – nor do we want to be supplying 3 days worth at a time. Either get a small freezer or stick with wet foods!
Next step down the ladder are wet-foods which come in a vast variety of qualities and prices. How do we define quality? My persona criteria are as for human food – the least processed the better. If you can see the ingredients in the end product that is good – if it’s a load of jelly and gravy with pink-coloured processed nuggets of mush, then it’s not the best. Most wet cat-food these days contains minimal carbohydrate though the expensive ones often include the likes of ‘wild rice’ and pumpkin to appeal to us humans. Quality wet foods are expensive, but even cheaper wet foods are not cheap - our free-range meat mixes work out cheaper than feeding Felix! We sell a high quality highly palatable moist called ‘Pussy deluxe’. Negatives for moist are lack of dental wear and cost.
Pouches/tins/foils – what’s the difference? Not a lot – marketing, ease of use – all the same stuff in a different outer. Cheapest wet can be large cans, but many cats wont touch the stuff as soon as it starts to dry and discolour, so if not using a full can best to cover the exposed surface immediately, or get it all out, chop into pieces and freeze until required. Watch out – those little foils are ridiculously costly and are often no more nutritious than larger cans or pouches. Expensive does not mean high quality!
All kibble needs starch to make the little nuggets, and the better ones have lower starch levels – preferably not from cereals. But don’t think that because it says ‘grain-free’ it is all good – we don’t really recommend you feed any dry, but if you do then choose a high meat-content food such as Applaws or Orijen.
When it comes to dry food, there are foods made with real meat and others that are made from ‘meat and animal derivatives’. Do you know what animal derivatives means? We don’t.
How much to feed
Let us first kill the idea of ‘recommended feeding amounts’. The energy requirements of individuals varies so much that any manufacturer recommendation should be taken simply as a starting point, adjusting according to your cat’s physique.
Kittens eat huge amounts – probably as much as their adult counterparts, so don’t be surprised at how much they will consume. Contrary to popular belief, you can over-feed kittens – we see them for neutering at 4 months old at which time they can already have central obesity – lots of fat in their tummies which is not obvious from the outside. Any saggy tummy is a sign of obesity!
Initially kittens will need 4 or 5 small meals a day, depending on how old they are when you get them, reducing to maybe 3 meals daily at 4 months and 2x daily at 5 to 6 months. They do not need food down 24/7 any more than we do – this wouldn’t happen in the wild. And if you are feeding wet or raw foods you don’t want to be leaving foods out on hot days in case they get hungry – get them used to meal-times.
As a guide/starting point, most adult cats need around 100gm of quality raw food a day. Some may need 150 gm or more, others as little as 50 gms. Pouches vary hugely in nutritional value, with cheaper ones having recommended amounts of 3 or 4 pouches a day – this is why Felix is not cheap – they need loads, whereas a single small pot of Hugs cookable raw may be enough (at the same overall cost).
Dry foods are very energy dense – a small handful is often more than enough. 50gms total is my starting point, but weigh it out first to see just how little this is. (better still, don’t feed kibble!)
It would be reasonable to assume that a high quality meat-based diet is going to be more expensive than cheap wet food – wrong! Let’s look at the options and costs – all prices approximate and per day for a 4kg cat.
Cheap kibble 10p
Expensive ‘vet grade/quality’ kibble 40-60+p
Home-sourced raw meaty bone diet 30p
Jaffa’s meaty mixes 50p
Jaffas organic/free-range meats 70-80p
Cookable raw 1.30
Felix (‘cheap’ wet) 1.40
Pussy deluxe (‘quality wet’) 1.80
Encore (‘expensive’ wet) 2.20
For our specific advice on raw-feeding ask for the appropriately-named Jaffa’s guide to raw feeding.