Should Cats Be Fed Wild Foods?

wild cat diet

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.

Making A 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.

A 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. In doing so I aim to please exactly none of the warring camps and make enemies out of them all!

Step 1: 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. 

Step 2: Add texture

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

My kitty gets a raw chicken neck every day. If that sounds crazy, it might help to know three things:

  • I have never needed to clean or remove teeth in cats that get daily chicken necks
  • Although risks exist, I have never seen neck bones get stuck
  • Cats are usually unaffected by Salmonella

I’ve written a guide to getting cats to eat chicken necks. However, for many adults it’s very hard, and often impossible. For these cats, let’s move to Step 3.

Step 3: Choose a balanced dental diet

I also advise a cat dental biscuit, especially if you can’t feed chicken necks. This is optional, and best avoided with diabetes or urinary problems. You just can’t go past it for practicality. A dental diet:

  • gives extra dental care
  • won’t spoil on hot days
  • is safe around children
  • can be put in dispensers and treat balls
  • has minimal packaging or waste
  • isn’t smelly or messy

All dry foods, regardless of the marketing, contain a high carbohydrate level. However, by balancing it with wet food and chicken necks the amount isn’t excessive. If you can’t feed chicken necks I recommend Hills t/d as it seems more effective, but any are fine if you can. 

Step 4: 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 and biscuits

All while keeping the diet balanced and safe.

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.

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These blogs are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

Help! My Kitten Has Cat Flu

feline calicivirus symptoms

‘At A Glance (Details Below)’

What Is Cat Flu?

  1. Cat flu isn’t influenza or a cold, it’s either a herpesvirus or calicivirus
  2. Symptoms include fever, not eating, and eye or respiratory infection
  3. Many infected cats become virus carriers or have lifelong problems
  4. Rarer conditions caused by cat flu include arthritis, gingivitis, eye damage, stillbirths & abortion

Now dive deeper.

A stray kitten was found in a backyard a few weeks ago. Like most people do, her finders never hesitated to give her a home. Straight away, however, they knew something was wrong.

That’s her pictured above and below. She’s obviously miserable, but it’s the second photo that shows what’s really going on. This is ‘cat flu’.

You probably diligently vaccinate your cat against flu but do you know what it is? Cat flu is nothing like what most people think. For a start, it’s not flu!

Common Symptoms Of Cat Flu

Cat flu just looks like a severe cold until you take a closer look. It causes:

cat flu symptoms
Mouth ulcers, conjunctivitis and nasal discharge in a poor kitty with cat flu
  • Fever, lethargy and not eating or drinking
  • Clear or yellow-green discharge from the eyes and nose
  • Sneezing, coughing and difficulty breathing (read the other causes of sneezing in cats here)
  • Ulcers on the mouth, tongue and occasionally the eyes

But that’s not all. These nasty viruses sometimes do a lot more damage. Other important effects can be:

  • Arthritis
  • Viral pneumonia
  • Stillbirth, abortion or birth defects

And yet, there’s still even more. Most of the time it doesn’t go away…

How Long Does Cat Flu Last?

For a simple, uncomplicated case of flu, a cat might be back to normal in seven days. However, in most cases, secondary bacterial infection of the eyes, nose, sinuses or chest increases both the severity and duration of the illness.

Cat flu is treated by:

  • TLC, fluid and nutrition support
  • Antibiotics and eye ointments for secondary infection
  • Bathing and steaming to reduce buildup of secretions
  • More TLC

Most of these cats will still make a full recovery, although they suffer quite a bit in the process. For many, though, and especially the young or neglected, long-term problems persist.

Long-Term Effects of Cat Flu

  • Chronic rhinitis is a nasal infection that persists for life
  • Stunted growth is common in infected kittens
  • Stomatitis-gingivitis complex is a severe mouth infection
  • Most cats who get infected will carry the virus for life

If there’s just one thing I want all cat owners to understand about flu, it’s this last point about carriers.

How Cats Catch Flu

Cat flu is spread in the saliva of apparently healthy carrier cats. Nearly every cat who got cat flu once will carry and spread the virus for life. Carriers are estimated to represent around 30% of all cats.

It’s not their fault. It’s up to all of us to know where the real risk is and stop it. Here’s what I do…

How I Prevent Cat Flu

The viruses spread both directly from cat to cat and indirectly via objects, people and the environment.

  • I assume that every cat I see could be a carrier
  • I wash my hands between each cat and change my coat regularly
  • I use an isolation room for known infected cats
  • I clean and disinfect all equipment after every cat I see
  • I change my clothes when I get home
  • I ask breeders to test their breeding stock for carriers
  • I get my kittens from trusted sources like good breeders or the Animal Welfare League

I hope now you understand why a good cattery never mixes cats or uses anything that can’t be disinfected.

I’m sorry if this all sounds a bit like a scare story. It’s all gospel truth but we’re in danger of forgetting how things once were. If you want to read more, visit an old page where I featured three cats with rare consequences of cat flu or here for other causes of mouth ulcers.

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story! The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.