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Following the breeder's advice it would be a good idea to feed my British Shorthair cat a bit of raw food from time to time. I saw that the term for a raw diet is "BARF", an acronym for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food.

Unfortunately in the country I live there is no raw (frozen) food available for cats. Therefore I would like to create my own. How should I do it so I minimize the risk of infection but also create a balanced meal for my cat (even if I just give him such food once every 1-2 weeks)?

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I also live in a country with less than stellar food quality. Still, it's possible to get your cat on raw (or semi-raw) diet. There are some things to consider though.

First, it's not a good idea to combine commercial foods with raw diet. Commercial foods, at least good quality, are carefully balanced, there are certain amounts of proteins, fats, carbs, vitamins, and minerals that are supposed to be healthy for your cat. When you mix that diet with something else, you upset the balance, there's bound to be too much of something and too little of something else. It might not affect your pet whatsoever, or it might cause (or contribute to) serious health problems in the long run. There's no way of knowing for sure. Still, I prefer to stay on the safe side. So, either raw, or commercial foods. Unless raw is an occasional treat, then it shouldn't interfere much.

Second, if you can't be sure of the quality of meat you get, you should process it very carefully. Boiling it is an option, but not a good one. Cats digest boiled meat a lot worse than raw, and a lot of vitamins and the like decompose in heat. Chicken should be boiled or steamed regardless though, because chickens are natural carriers of Salmonella (a kind of pathogenic bacteria), and these are very sturdy buggers, they die only if you boil them for at least half an hour.

Another option is deep-freezing meat (or just freezing it for prolonged period), then defrosting it, then putting it in boiling-temperature water, and leaving it there for about 15 minutes. There are some rules though. Many single-cell pathogenic organisms (for example, Toxoplasma) die in -30 °C in about 2 days, in -25 °C in about a week, and in -18 °C (regular temperature of freezers we use at home) in at least 2-3 weeks or more. Some (including Toxoplasma) 'burst' when they are defrosted. Most fungi, on the other hand, endure cold quite well, but they die in heat, hence the boiling water. All of that is from practical knowledge though, not scientific, so if there are any professionals here, sorry in advance if I got anything wrong. Seems to work for all breeders I know who opt for raw diet though. There was just one case of toxoplasmosis, as far as I know, when the breeder gave her cat a bit of fresh meat before she put it in the freezer.

Now, the ingredients. Pure meat is a good treat, but it's not balanced food. In nature cats eat birds and mice with the contents of their stomachs, and they eat some grass (to barf hairballs, but still), so they do need ingredients other than meat, somewhere between 5 and 20%. Some vegetables (pumpkin, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, everything heat-processed in some way till it's soft-ish), grains (oatmeal, buckwheat, wheat bran, rice, everything steamed or boiled till it's soft; careful with rice though, too much might cause constipation), a bit of olive or cotton-seed oil, laminaria (unless your cat is a smoke/silver/shaded/tipped show cat -- laminaria, as well as everything else with iodine, makes fur a bit darker, which makes smoke/silver/etc. less contrast), good vitamins. In another meal give your cat fermented dairy products (such as fatless yoghurt or fatless sour cream), boiled egg yolk, probiotics, additional calcium. Many people mix those, but it's not such a good idea, because iron (in meat) prevents calcium from being properly digested.

As for meat, fatless beef/veal, fatless lamb, chicken breasts, some beef/chicken hearts/liver, some turkey, some rabbit work fine. Pork -- not so much. Don't give cats fatty meat (or fatty anything) -- their liver is too fragile to handle too much fat. Which is to be expected actually -- have you seen any fat birds or mice in nature?

If you want to give your cat fish, opt for ocean fish, boil it (there can be some specific worms in fish), and don't give it more than once a week (it contains too much phosphorus, which can be bad for health).

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  • Good point about stomach contents. Obligate carnivore means they must eat meat; they can and sometimes will get plants in their diet as a feline side-salad. (I had a cat who liked broccoli...) I'm less convinced about the don't-mix zdvice; "too much of something" is rarely a concern, and balanced plus unbalanced just means less well bakanced... whiich is about what most of humans in developed countries are earing. Try to hit recommended daily allowances as a minimum.
    – keshlam
    Nov 22 '15 at 15:54
  • @keshlam mixed/separate is an ongoing debate in local cat-owners community, those who are against mixing commercial and home-made foods argue that unbalanced diet heightens the risk of developing bladder stones. Personally, I don't see anything wrong with mixing (I did it myself when I didn't have funds for canned), but if I'm going to give advice, I'll choose the safer option.
    – Kaworu
    Nov 22 '15 at 16:13
  • We agree that we disagree about which option, if any, is "the safer option"
    – keshlam
    Nov 22 '15 at 22:54
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Go buy him some mice or rats. If we was feral that's what he would be living on. It's very difficult to get the proper mix of muscle, organ, bone and hair/fur/feathers that would constitute a balance diet. Fortunately, they are evolved to hunt and eat prey like small rodents, vermin, birds, lizards ... really, whatever they can catch.

Your cat, however, is captive bred and has not experienced a wild diet and wild prey carries a host of risks. Beyond diseases they may be carrying poisons in their body that people leave out to get rid of them. These poisons build up over time in predators - some develop a limited immunity and some succumb to the build up.

Your safest approach is live, store bought mice and rats. These are safe because their diet is controlled and, being alive there is little risk of infections growing in their guts. The next best thing is frozen rats, mice, quail, etc. The problem with buying pre-killed whole bodies is that an improperly handled body can end up with bacterial growth that makes it unsafe to eat. (This is what makes carrion eaters different from predators. Carrion eaters can tolerate rotten meat.) So you will want to learn to remove the digestive organs before feeding it to your cat.

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  • Wow! I had never expected you could buy such things!
    – George
    Nov 16 '15 at 8:58
  • Rodents are sold as food for predators that insist on whole and/or live prey -- snakes, for example.
    – keshlam
    Nov 22 '15 at 15:56
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If this is your goal, remember that housecats are descended from a desert species. One of the reasons they drink so awkwardly is that in the wild they'd be getting a lot of their water from fresh-caught prey.

This also means their diet would have been small rodents, small reptiles (perhaps), and small birds. Fish is reportedly not something cats are especially well adapted for, even though many love it.

Remember too that your own cat may have allergies. I knew one who couldn't eat turkey; one of mine apparently gets itchy after eating fish.

If you're going to design your own diet, be sure to have a vet check that it has all the needed trace elements as well as sufficient taurine (which cats can't synthesize).

Personally, I prefer to trust the labs at the (reputable) pet food companies, who will at least ensure the food covers the minimum daily requirements.

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I have only done some basic reading on BARF, but the basic rule shoudl be: Keep the hygiene-standards up to what you woudl do for human guests.

Also, do you have a butcher in reach whom you would trust if he told you "You can eat this steak rare, without any trouble"? If yes, approach him. BARF often includes pieces that are rarely sold for human consumption, but your trusted butcher should have access. Ask him about storage and fodo savety, too.

For balancing, refer to BARF-deidcated sites, and possibly your vet (you may have to be a bit lucky to have one who can fully advise you!)

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Raw meat is risky for people, cats, and dogs to eat even in the most technologically advanced countries.

Cats do very well on a diet just of high quality cat food.

If you really want to make your own cat food this site can help: http://www.catinfo.org/?link=makingcatfood#The_Ingredients

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