Making A Wild Food For Your Cat

Updated March 30, 2021

There are four key differences between most commercial cat foods and the diets that cats have adapted to eat in the wild:

  1. High carbohydrate levels: cats eat almost no carbs in the wild
  2. Low moisture content: wild cats get most of their water from prey
  3. Plant-based proteins: proteins from animal sources have a higher value to the body
  4. Lack of texture: only physical cleaning seems to work on cats’ teeth

Depending on who you believe, you could add a fifth: Safety. That’s what we’re hopefully going to fix with the pet food senate inquiry.

Right now you might be thinking, “if these cat foods are so bad, why does my cat seem healthy?” Our page on What’s wrong with cat diets covers what we know about the link between cat foods and diseases like diabetes and cystitis.

Good Nutrition For Cats

So maybe you want to start a homemade diet for your cat, or maybe you just want to improve what your cat currently eats. Either way, you’ve come to the right place.

Option 1: Homemade Cat Diet

Getting cat nutrition right is harder than people think. Read here why it’s not just a matter of giving them meat and offal. Cats are highly specialised feeders and that comes with very specific requirements.

If you really want to make a balanced home made diet, you need the help of a genuine animal nutritionist. We can put you in touch with some who will, for a fee, construct a suitable diet based on your needs.

For most cat owners, the diet below should tick all the boxes.

Option 2: Practical Compromise Diet

Here’s what I do recommend for normal, healthy cats & kittens. I’m going to take the best ideas, add practicality, and make a good diet that anyone can do.

Choose a low carb tinned food

The closest foods you can buy to what a cat needs are inside some, but not all tins. The idea is to find some quality ones with low carbohydrate levels. These are usually loaf-style without gravy or sauces.

Click here for a calculator & table of carbohydrate levels in Australian cat & kitten foods. You’ll see that there’s a tremendous variation between wet foods from very low to very high. There’s also a calculator so you can do it yourself. 

It’s probably more important to be low in total carbohydrate than grain free. With a bit of searching it should be possible to be both.

There is also a dry food option. Ziwi Peak have developed an air-dried complete and balanced food that manages to be both grain free and low carb. It seems a bit pricey to be a cat’s only food, but could be a good add-on.

Add texture

Tins alone are bad for the teeth. Plaque removal is needed via either raw bones, dental biscuits or tooth brushing. You can read more about feline dental care here.

The ideal dental cleaning option for a grain free diet is a raw chicken neck every day.

I’ve written a guide to getting cats to eat chicken necks. However, for many adults it’s very hard, and often impossible.

For cats that won’t eat chicken necks, I advise a cat dental biscuit, especially if you can’t feed chicken necks. This is optional, as these diets are neither low carb or grain free. However, without dental foods, your cat will need frequent dental cleans.

Add grass

I keep two pots of grass on the go. One in the house and one in ‘grass hospital’ where it recovers from being chewed. Cats have a strong drive to eat grass so it makes sense that we offer it.

That’s the diet! Now, remember those four problems? Let’s tick them off:

  1. Carbohydrate levels are kept low by a carefully selected tinned food and chicken necks
  2. Moisture content is moderate (with dry) or high without
  3. Animal-based proteins come from chicken necks
  4. Texture is in the necks

All while keeping the diet balanced and safe. It’s important to point out that raw chicken is commonly contaminated with Salmonella and Campylobacter, but cats are relatively resistant to the harmful effects.

Option 3: Formulated BARF Diets

Since writing this article several BARF diets have been developed for cats. These should work fine as long as they say ‘complete and balanced’ on the label. The ones I know are sold frozen in pet stores.

Brands include Big Dog, Dr B’s, Leaps and Bounds. I can’t vouch for their quality.

But let me say this in conclusion. There is clearly no feeding mistake as great as allowing obesity. If you can be strong enough to keep your cat at an ideal weight, you’re heading for an above-average lifespan. That’s almost regardless of the diet you choose.

Even though current diets aren’t ideal, it isn’t a disaster. Kittens and cats are far better off than before balanced diets were introduced and living longer than they ever did. Just talk to any retired vets, like my parents.

What would be a disaster is if cat owners are made to feel like they have to make their cats’ food instead of buying it. As I hope you can now see, it’s quite possible to feed your cat a biologically appropriate diet without reinventing the wheel.

Related: the unbalanced cat foods you’re not being warned about.

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.

18 Replies to “Making A Wild Food For Your Cat”

  1. Hi Andrew.
    My 17 yr old girl Kiya has just been treated with hyperthyroidism. Her levels were double what is normal. I only took her to the vet as she has lost weight and some muscle mass over the last 1.5 years.
    Would a raw diet be beneficial for her? She has recently had some chicken heart and giblets added to her food which I was going to give her once or twice a week. But is that meat too high in iodine for a hyperthyroid cat?
    Any information would be helpful and greatly appreciated.
    Thank you,

    1. Hi Veronica. The only diseases which a diet like this might improve are diabetes mellitus and some gastrointestinal diseases (especially food intolerances). For hyperthyroidism, there is in fact a specific iodine restricted diet which I highly recommend, though on its own it’s rarely enough to control the signs.

  2. Hi Dr Andrew,

    Firstly, THANK YOU. I have now been reading your website all morning and learnt so much… whilst also feeling guilty I have let my little ones down.
    I have two Norweigian Forest Cat kittens (almost 12mths old) who have always been feed premium food – the best of the best, so I thought. It wasn’t until I looked at the ingredients and then carb level after reading your info. Colours and gelling agents – yuck!

    It has been tricky with two – especially when my boy loves his food- and his sisters. I will be starting a feeding timetable today and will look into microchip bowls for their dry food.

    Since digesting all of this information, I have been using your calculator to choose food. I have settled on Ziwi (wet food) due to the ingredients being natural – no sugars or grains and according to their website and your calculator, carbs are around 11.

    Is Ziwi a brand you would recommend for cats?
    My last girl was almost 20 yrs old and I want to try and keep these babies for as long as I can too!

    Thank you for all your work… I am happy to pay for a consult RE food over the phone as I am not in SA.

    1. Hi Kirsty. Thanks for reading. I’m sorry that I won’t be able to do any consulting but I’m happy to answer questions or take suggestions for other useful pages. Regarding your question, I tend not to recommend specific manufacturers but try to empower people to be able to make good decisions. You seem to be doing very well.

  3. Hi Andrew,
    I’ve been on your site for over 30mins so that’s saying something as it’s rare to find a website with so much detail and real life talk without the ‘fluff’. Thanks for the information and advice.
    I’m interstate and can’t attend your practice and I hope you don’t mind that I have some questions about my ragdoll.
    About 3 years ago a stray cat was hanging around my house for quite a few weeks. This stressed my cat which caused an infection of the bladder – he was unable to urinate, could not keep food down and diarrhea. This went on for months even with the advice of my local vet, buying very expensive wet, then dry, science diet food (which was also thrown back up) that all led to an operation. Things started to change when I started on raw kangaroo with sprinkles of tripe. I pick grass for him each morning and he eats grass on our afternoon walk.
    Since his infection though, he seems to have an intolerance to anything chicken or fish. I feel he’s not getting what he needs but almost everything for cats seems to contain chicken and/or fish. Is there something I can add to his raw meat and what dry food would you recommend?
    Thank you

    1. Hi Mary-Ann. Since you’re on this page the you already know you need to get calcium into that diet, and fast. The biggest threat to your cat will be pathological fractures caused by depletion of the bones to supply the body’s calcium needs. As chicken is in nearly all mainstream diets to some extent, to provide a tolerable diet containing this and the other necessary nutrients, I advise you use an elimination diet made for cats. You’ll find some listed at the link.

  4. I just want to thank you for all the information, data and advice in all your columns. It’s a real bonus for the pet’s housemates who strive to be good guardians. And it’s entertaining and fascinating. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Oh, not seeking a response, I just wanted to convey my gratitude. think I got that across 🙂

  5. Hi Andrew
    Thanks for your interesting and informative articles. I found your site on google, because I had bought raw chicken necks for my dog. I forgot to take my cat’s meat out of the freezer and put into the refrigerator last night. So because I had no food for her, I googled to see if it was safe to give her a raw chicken neck.
    I read about the reason NOT to give these to a dog, and I will stop doing that. The cat is currently not eating the chicken neck, and I will leave it out all day as you suggested–she was miaowing for a feed, and won’t get anything else until tonight, so we will see how she goes.
    However I tried to introduce “Vets All Natural” muesli “Complete Mix for Cats” to have with her meat, and she wouldn’t touch that. I tried all their suggestions to help her get started over a month, but she would not eat it.

    My question relates to her total feed. Your comments are very challenging about a complete diet. About 9 months ago I changed her from eating canned meat and kibble to a diet of raw kangaroo meat, (twice a day 100 grams each meal) with a small addition of some minced whole chicken, or some organ meat, or a little bit of kibble. She really enjoys this and since being on this diet is much more lively. She is a 12 year old tortoise-shell in good health.
    Interestingly she ate the kangaroo meat straight away so there was no problem with that change.
    My question then is whether you think this is the best diet for her, or if you would suggest different. I am reluctant to put her back on commercial food as she has been doing so well after the change above, but I respect your long experience and obvious ongoing research and analysis.
    I look forward t o your response.

    1. Hi Jim – you will always have more trouble getting a cat to eat commercial cat food then you will raw meat because of their natural food preferences. However, their tastes here do not align with their best interests. That’s because a diet of meat alone is a long way from a balanced natural wild diet as you have read above. However, for the vast majority of cat owners, commercial foods do provide better nutrition (especially at the quality end of the market) even if your cat will resist you all the way!

      1. Thanks Andrew. She is eating the meat cut off the chicken necks, and I hope will chew on the bones soon. I also ordered the Hills Vets Essentials, and hope this will help balance things out. All the best. Jim

  6. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for your informative posts. I have a few questions, I hope that’s okay. My cat is around 6 years old, suffers from idiopathic FHS which is treated with 35mg GABA twice daily (she is still symptomatic but less so). She had an acute liver crisis in July 17 which didn’t fully resolve until October 17. She ended up with a feeding tube; the cause was never fully discovered though tainted raw meat was suspected.
    She is a picky eater at best and repeated efforts to get her to eat “proper” food has resulted in her refusing to eat (wet food) for days on end. Given her liver history, I am reluctant to force the issue. Ironically I had her on Applaws before I found out it was not a complete food. The only other thing she would eat is Dine Finest Serve, which I’ve also just discovered is an incomplete option from your list 🙁
    Additionally she has fresh potted grass available at all times, Canidae Grain Free Pure Elements dry food and Feline Natural Lamb & King Salmon added to the Dine a few times a week.
    I’m just wondering if you feel this is adequate or if I should persist (somehow) in trying to transition her over to something else? If the latter, I’d welcome some novel ideas on how to do that! Thanks again.

  7. Hi doctor Spanner,

    I give my cat 1/4 cup of dry food and then just about 1 table spoon of cooked meat ( boil the red meat and cut it in tiny pieces) for my cat everyday with a bit of cat grass or parsley. Is that ok and safe? I couldn’t see why not I mean I just wanna more moisture in her foods.
    Thanks Lily , cat owner of Gemma Cupcake

    1. Hi Lily. That diet sounds perfectly fine. It’s not low-carb, but as I said in the article, it will give Gemma all she needs quite safely.

  8. Thank you for balanced intelligent argument. I can cranky when some advocates of feeding push their ideas like a zealot, and make people feel guilty and ‘bad pet parents’. People’s life circumstances are highly variable. Sometimes you have to leave your pets in the care of others who may not wish or be capable of dealing with the total raw diet. With this in mind, my cats have about 30% wet and air dried foods and dental biscuits . They will eat anything. Just plucking up courage for the chicken necks.

    1. Hi Andrew,

      I give my cat 1/8 cup of kibble and half a 85g tin of food twice a day, I have now added a chicken neck a day as well. Am I feeding him to much by adding the chicken neck?, should I remove the wet food or cut out some biscuits etc?.

      Thanks in advance.

      1. Hi Justin. It all depends on whether your cat’s weight is going up or down, but that amount sounds close to the average daily requirement.

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