Back when it was the latest and greatest diet on the scene, I tried the Paleo diet. The idea is that we eat a diet as close to what our prehistoric ancestors ate as possible because this is what our bodies have evolved to eat. For me, the diet didn’t stick, but it did stick for my cat.
Unlike people, cats really still are wild animals, who deign to live in our houses and let us care for them. But in all seriousness, cats really are closer to their native instincts, and so the theory is that they would benefit from a diet that more closely approximates their diet in the wild. This is called the raw food diet and is basically a diet that is heavy in raw meat, including muscle, organs, and raw bone.
At around the same time I started the Paleo diet, I started my Fluffy on what I found to be the best raw food for cats. While I wasn’t feeling my perky best, she had notably more energy, a shiny coat and, unexpectedly, better breath. We have never looked back.
But feeding your cat a raw food diet is not simple, regardless of whether you are planning to make your own, buy off the shelf, or use a mixture of the two. Read on to find out more about the raw food diet for cats, including both why it is good for them as well as the dangers. I’ll also share what needs to go into a good raw food diet and give you my three best commercial freeze-dried raw cat foods. I will also discuss the other types of commercial raw cat food available, but their short shelf life means that your choices will largely be limited by what is available near you.
If You’re in a Rush…
In my opinion, the best freeze-dried raw food currently on the market for cats is made by Stella & Chewy. It is made from high-quality meat from good, wild sources, and uses every part of the animal to give your cat all the nutrients that it needs.
This is closely followed by Primal’s freeze-dried recipe, which uses human-grade meat and naturally enriches their recipe with nutrients from organic fruits and vegetables.
Finally, if you are thinking about transitioning, or aren’t ready to go fully raw, try Instinct by Nature’s Variety’s mix of high-protein kibble and freeze-dried meat chunks.
Best Raw Cat Food Brands
While there are many good quality freeze-dried raw cat foods now available on the market, these three are the best that I have encountered.
Stella & Chewy produce one of the best freeze-dried foods on the market. It all starts with grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish, or cage-free poultry, ensuring that the meat product, which forms 90 percent of their recipe, is as close to what your cat would eat in the wild as possible.
Their recipes use the whole animal, including bone and organs. For example, the chicken recipe starts with raw chicken, ground down with the bone, liver, and gizzards. The recipe is also reinforced with essential nutrients such as taurine, dried kelp, and a vitamin A supplement.
Some additional fruits and vegetables are added to the mix to provide extra nutrients and are all organic. It is completely free from grains, gluten, and artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. The resulting recipe is relatively high in fiber and low in fat, making it easy for your cat to digest and enjoy.
- High in protein
- Good quality meat source
- Uses the whole animal including bones and organs
- Enriched with essential vitamins and minerals
- A wide selection of flavors
- Low in moisture
- Crude protein 45% minimum
- Crude fat 25% minimum
- Crude fiber 5% maximum
- Moisture 5% maximum
- 182 calories per cup
All of Stella & Chewy’s facilities are FDA inspected and approved, which is reassuring when working with the dangers of raw food. The only real warning sign here is the low moisture content. Cats will need to get the essential moisture that they need from somewhere else.
Stella and Chewy’s freeze-dried raw cat food comes in five different recipes:
- Stella & Chewy’s Chick, Chick, Chicken Dinner Morsels Freeze-Dried Raw Cat Food
- Stella & Chewy’s Duck, Duck, Goose Dinner Morsels Freeze-Dried Raw Cat Food
- Stella & Chewy’s Sea-Licious Salmon and Cod Dinner Morsels Freeze-Dried Raw Cat Food
- Stella & Chewy’s Tummy Ticklin’ Turkey Dinner Morsels Freeze-Dried Raw Cat Food
- Stell & Chewy’s Yummy Lickin’ Salmon and Chicken Dinner Morsels Freeze-Dried Raw Cat Food
Overall: Eat the Whole Animal
Primal raw freeze-dried cat food sets itself apart by only using human grade food in their manufacturing process, so in theory, you could eat these freeze-dried nuggets yourself.
Primal also use the whole animal to create their food. Their chicken and salmon recipe includes chicken and salmon ground whole, including the bone, plus added chicken necks, gizzards, and livers. Primal only use antibiotic-free and steroid-free meats and poultry.
What sets Primal apart is that it prioritizes enriching its food with vitamins and minerals from fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, rather than supplements. Their recipe includes organic kale, squash, carrots, apples, broccoli, cranberries, blueberries pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, apple cider vinegar, parsley, salmon oil, taurine, coconut oil, cod liver oil, and more. These dietary nutrients should be easier for your cat to absorb than supplement based nutrients. It does add a few carbohydrates to the recipe, not nothing to be concerned about.
- High in protein
- Human-grade meat
- Uses the whole animal including bones and organs
- Enriched with essential vitamins and minerals from natural sources
- Wide range of flavors available
- Low in moisture
- Low in fiber
- Crude protein 52% minimum
- Crude fat 32% minimum
- Crude fiber 1% maximum
- Moisture 3% maximum
- 161 calories per ounce
This food is a little less appealing to me than the Stella & Chewy formula because while the end result is higher in protein, it is also pretty high in fat and very low in fiber and moisture. This dryness and lack of fiber can make it a little more challenging for some cats to eat and probably needs to be accompanied by fresh or frozen raw food that has quite a bit of moisture.
Their freeze-dried formula comes in a wide range of flavors. This is important as cats can develop allergies and sensitivities if they eat the same meat protein too regularly. Their recipes include:
- Primal Duck Formula Nuggets Grain-Free Raw Freeze-Dried Cat Food
- Primal Venison Formula Nuggets Grain-Free Raw Freeze-Dried Cat Food
- Primal Rabbit Formula Nuggets Grain-Free Raw Freeze-Dried Cat Food
- Primal Beef and Salmon Formula Nuggets Grain-Free Raw Freeze-Dried Cat Food
- Primal Pork Formula Nuggets Grain-Free Raw Freeze-Dried Cat Food
- Primal Turkey Formula Nuggets Grain-Free Raw Freeze-Dried Cat Food
- Primal Chicken and Salmon Formula Nuggets Grain-Free Raw Freeze-Dried Cat Food
Overall: Naturally Enriched Human-Grade Meat
This unique recipe from Instinct by Nature’s Variety is a good option when transitioning onto a raw diet or when you want to introduce more raw food into your cat’s diet but they are too fussy to go completely raw. It does this by mixing Instinct’s high-protein kibble with raw, freeze-dried meat chunks.
In the chicken recipe, the freeze-dried meat chunks are chicken and chicken liver but it seems that the recipe does not include bone, which is an essential part of a raw diet. This is mixed in with kibble made from chicken, turkey, and fish meal. While meal may contain much of the muscle, bone, and organ meat that we want for our cats, when companies use meal rather than grinding their own meat, they cannot be sure what is in the meal.
Also, the meal has been baked to create the kibble, taking away some of its essential nutrients. Kibble also requires carbohydrates for texture. This recipe uses peas and tapioca, which are a relatively good carbohydrate choice for cats, certainly better than grains, soy, or potato.
The kibble is enriched with a variety of essential vitamins and minerals that cats need including zinc, selenium, vitamin A and E, ascorbic acid, omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, and Bacillus. As well as moderate fiber levels, it is enriched with probiotics to boost digestion health.
- High in protein
- Relatively high in moisture
- Comes in a variety of flavors
- Good carbohydrate choices
- Not 100% raw
- Uses meal
- Unclear if it contains bone
- Crude protein 43% minimum
- Crude fat 20% minimum
- Crude fiber 3.5% maximum
- Moisture 9% maximum
- 480 calories per cup
Instinct by Nature’s Variety mixed kibble and freeze-dried recipe comes in a variety of flavors and also special formulas for indoor cats and weight management.
- Instinct by Nature’s Variety Raw Boost Indoor Grain-Free Recipe with Real Chicken Dry Cat Food
- Instinct by Nature’s Variety Raw Boost Indoor Grain-Free Recipe with Real Rabbit Dry Cat Food
- Instinct by Nature’s Variety Raw Boost Healthy Weight Grain-Free Chicken Recipe Dry Cat Food
- Instinct by Nature’s Variety Raw Boost Grain-Free Recipe with Real Duck Dry Cat Food
The brand also provides options for cat parents who want to go full-on raw with its Frozen Raw Bites Cat Food.
Overall: Raw Food-Kibble Halfway House
Raw Food Diet For Cats
On the raw food diet, you basically feed your cat raw meat, as they would eat in the wild. This is also sometimes known as a biologically appropriate diet. Raw meat is better for cats than cooked, as when meat is cooked it loses some of its natural nutritional value.
But this does not mean cutting up a chicken breast and putting it in their bowl (even if that wasn’t prohibitively expensive). In the wild, cats eat the whole animal — raw meat, bone, skin, ligaments, cartilage, connective tissue — and all of these parts offer different essential nutrients.
The inclusion of bone on this list might raise a red flag for a few cat owners, as we all know that we should not feed our cats bones off the table. But it is specifically cooked bones that are dangerous to cats. The cooking process makes them brittle and prone to splitting, which results in the sharp spines that can puncture your cat’s stomach or esophagus. Raw bones are soft enough that cats can break them down with their teeth into digestible chunks and they are full of nutrient-rich marrow.
But that is not to say that there are no dangers when it comes to a raw food diet. The risk most commonly cited is of foodborne illness and the type of contamination that accompanies raw food. However, this danger is mostly to the people preparing the food, as cats have a higher tolerance to bacterial contamination. It does mean that raw cat food needs to be prepared and handled in a safe way, just like human food. Storage practices and use-by dates also need to be considered carefully.
Nevertheless, the benefits of this type of diet outweigh the risks. Cats on a raw food diet generally enjoy improved digestion, noticeable boosts in health and energy, better immune systems, which are reflected in healthy skin and hair, and they should also have cleaner teeth and fresher breath.
In theory, the best way to feed your cat a raw cat food diet is to make it at home yourself, but it is not as simple as it sounds. First, you need to invest in high-quality meat that is not treated with hormones or antibiotics. Second, you need to add water. Cats are known for not drinking very much and so get most of their water requirement from their food. Finally, it needs to be supplemented with a variety of vitamins and minerals that are hard for cats to procure, even from a natural diet like this. It would be quite challenging to pull these all together on your own, so if you do want to make your raw cat food at home, consider using something like TC Feline Raw Cat Food Premix.
If you and your cat aren’t ready for a full-on raw diet, you can just take good quality, organic cat food and just top it with some raw food, whether homemade or store-bought.
Commercial Raw Cat Food
A good quality commercial raw cat food recipe should generally contain about 80 to 85 percent raw meat from a good quality source, 5 to 10 percent organ meat, half of which should be liver, also from a good quality source, and 10 percent bone. The resulting recipe should be high in protein, moderate in fat, and low in carbohydrates.
As already stated, while this meat mix is the basic core of a cat’s natural diet, they do need a variety of vitamins and minerals that it can be hard for them to procure, even on a diet like this. Some recipes will infuse these important vitamins and minerals into the food with supplements, others will add fresh, raw fruits and vegetables that contain these nutrients naturally. Despite being carnivores, the latter is a better option as, just like with people, it is easier for cats to absorb dietary nutrients than supplementary nutrients. Essential nutrients include taurine, vitamin A and B, and essential fatty acids such as arachidonic and linoleic.
Several reliable cat food brands are now making raw, or near raw, commercial cat foods. They will generally deliver their raw foods in three different forms:
- Fresh – as you would expect, fresh cat food is ready to feed your cat. It might come in chunks packaged in a pouch or tub, or as a roll of raw ingredients that have been mixed together and slices are cut off as required.
- Frozen – it might come in a roll or chunks, but is sold frozen only to be thawed when required.
- Freeze-Dried – this is raw food that has been air-dried to remove the moisture. This increases the shelf life but maintains the nutritional value of raw food.
While fresh food is, of course, the best for your cat, it will always need to be used within three to five days of purchase, and frozen foods need to be used within three to five days of thawing. This means that when it comes to choice, you are largely limited to what is available in your area. Freeze-dried food has a comparatively long shelf life and is easier to procure from more traditional pet food sellers.
The main downside with freeze-dried food is not that any of the nutrition has been lost in the processing, but rather that it is very dry. Cats need liquid just like everyone else, but they tend to prefer to get their liquid from their food rather than drinking water. With this dry food, it is important to make sure that they always have ready access to water and to monitor their drinking to ensure that they do not become dehydrated.
My own research and experience have convinced me that a raw food diet of species appropriate foods is the best thing for my cat. I have myself witnessed the improvement in my cat’s health and happiness as a result of feeding her food as close as possible to what she has evolved to eat. Like most people, I don’t have time to make my own and it is not as simple as it sounds to create a rounded raw diet at home, so I rely on commercially available raw cat food.
As well as feeding my cat a variety of fresh and frozen raw food, I also include freeze-dried food in her diet, as its longer shelf life means that I don’t run out and she does not go hungry. In my opinion, the best freeze-dried raw food currently on the market for cats is made by Stella & Chewy. It is made from high-quality meat from good, wild sources, and uses every part of the animal to give your cat all the nutrients that it needs.
I have also been impressed by Primal’s freeze-dried recipe, which uses human-grade meat and naturally enriches their recipe with nutrients from organic fruits and vegetables. Finally, if you are thinking about transitioning, or aren’t ready to go fully raw, try Instinct by Nature’s Variety mix of high-protein kibble and freeze-dried meat chunks.