Getting Cats To Eat Raw Chicken Necks

Updated July 6th, 2020

Let me tell you a story that shows what we’re up against.

I met a very perplexed feral cat researcher recently. In his study area the cats generally hunt and eat one common mammal. However, suddenly the population of that species crashed.

There were lots of other tasty critters still hopping around, some of which look nearly the same. Despite this, the cats began to starve.

Unbelievable as this was to the researcher, it didn’t surprise me at all. The cats just wouldn’t switch to a new, unfamiliar prey. This is why “keep trying, he won’t starve himself” is something I only say to a dog owner.

Although incredibly frustrating, there are good reasons why cats do this.

Why Cats Don’t Eat New Foods

The food preferences of wild cats are mostly decided when they are kittens. Even before they eat solids, the foods their mother eats influence them through the milk. Then, the prey items brought home show them what their diet should be.

dog eat vomit

Why? Cats are highly specialised hunters. They can’t just eat anything and expect to survive (like dogs!)

This means that the foods chosen for a kitten are the most important for life. However, if you need to change an adult cat’s diet, don’t despair. It can be done!

This article is really about changing to any new food, but I’m going to focus on feeding chicken necks. That’s because I see so many cats who would be healthier if only they could make the switch. So before I help you change, it’s worth explaining why.

Benefits Of Dietary Raw Chicken Bone

  1. Dental care: in 25 years, not one of my feline patients who eats a daily chicken neck from a young age has ever needed dentistry. That’s quite a statistic. Natural chewing on bone and cartilage cleans the teeth and prevents periodontal disease like nothing else can.
  2. Disease: raw foods have been associated with a lower risk of urinary problems in cats.
  3. Slow food: if you have an overeater, or especially a fast eater, this should help them to take their time. It’s also likely that chicken necks give a better sense of ‘fullness’.
  4. Fun: cats that eat chicken necks usually learn to love them. If you get this right, your cat is about to discover a new favourite food.

However, nothing is ever perfect, and no decision is black and white.

Are Raw Chicken Necks Safe For Cats?

Here are some possible risks:

  • Choking: I’ve never seen or heard of it so although possible it must be rare. Most cats seem too clever to bolt food like dogs. Cooked chicken bones, however, are extremely dangerous and should be disposed of carefully.
  • Salmonella: cats are natural bird hunters and appear to tolerate Salmonella well. Occasionally a cat will get diarrhoea for a few days shortly after starting raw chicken, but these cats never appear unwell and get better within 3 days.
  • Human infections: Salmonella is a real threat to people. That’s why I’m not so keen on cats being fed raw chicken if they leave it around the house for kids to find. Toxoplasmosis is also a risk, but should be prevented by freezing the necks first.
  • Balance: a diet that’s too high in chicken necks will miss other vital ingredients. That’s one of the reasons I don’t recommend a raw diet for cats, just a raw ingredient.

Assuming you’re still interested, the tricky part is yet to come…

How To Get Cats To Eat Raw Chicken Necks

The reason chicken necks are so hard to feed is that they are so different. The texture and taste of processed foods are nothing like a raw piece of meat and bone.

If you’re starting with a kitten, you shouldn’t find it too hard. I still suggest following the advice below, but it’s really the adult cats who are the challenge.

Buy Fresh

Sorry, pet stores. My cat can definitely tell the difference between chicken necks sold for human or animal consumption. He even knows the difference between fresh and defrosted (which might be why).

One trick found by one of our clients (thanks Lily!) is to freshen them up by rinsing in warm water before serving.

Chicken necks are cheap and nearly always available right where you buy your other chicken cuts. That’s where I want you to get them. You might just need to ask, as they usually aren’t on display. Once you see them, you’ll realise why!

Store Well

raw chicken necks
Ready for freezing in two-day serves

The picture shows how I package and store chicken necks. Before freezing I put two into each bag (ex- fruit and veg bags) and defrost one every second day. However, remember that cats prefer fresh so in the beginning freeze as little as possible.

Be extremely careful never to feed an even-slightly-off neck. If there’s any doubt, chuck it out. I won’t use them past two days if refrigerated, but I still sniff each one first.

Do It In Stages

Some ideas to get your cat accustomed to such a radically new food are:

cat chewing bone
  • Start with raw meat only in small strips or minced
  • Lightly sear the outside if your cat prefers cooked food (the bone inside must remain raw)
  • Smash the neck with a tenderiser to break up the bones
  • Mix with a favourite food or flavour
  • Pretend to ‘forget’ the neck on a bench where your cat likes to pinch food
  • Use other cuts (wings may be tastier due to the skin, and here’s Yuki demolishing a kangaroo bone- he has great teeth too!)

If any of these strategies works, you’re over the biggest hurdle. Now very gradually in tiny steps move towards the food becoming a whole, raw chicken neck.

Be Persistent, Very Persistent

Repeated exposure to a food increases the chances of a cat trying it. I want you to persist for at least a month, each morning offering a new neck, then throwing it away each afternoon.

It’s a good idea to reduce your cat’s other foods, but not starve them either, and a great time to start meal feeding your cat. However, please check with your vet that it’s safe to do so.

I’ve done this with an adult cat I rescued. After a week the neck started being moved, then after another week there were nibbles, but it wasn’t until the next week she actually ate any.

Don’t Stop

Once you get your cat eating necks, don’t ever stop. That cat I just told you about is a good example. Later in life she spent a year not being fed necks and she would never eat them again. This even happens with kittens who started on chicken necks early.

So I’m clearly in favour of raw chicken necks for cats. However, I won’t ever pressure someone to feed their cat a certain way just because I do it.

After all, it’s very easy to feed a cat properly without ever using raw chicken bones. For these cats I recommend using the several excellent cat dental diets as their main food.

But, like me, you might just get to love feeding chicken necks to your cat. Despite the horror movie noises, it’s great to see them enjoy something so much. For Grendel, as an indoor cat who’s always got his eye on the door, it’s the only thing he’ll choose over freedom.

Related: Why Raw Chicken Is Not Safe For Dogs | A Natural, Balanced Cat Diet

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.


21 Replies to “Getting Cats To Eat Raw Chicken Necks”

  1. Aha! finally a practical way to treat my ex-barn mouser supreme with food that is good for her! I picked her up, starving on live mice and the cheapest possible kibble… but I think chicken necks might be what she craves (other than live mice, which I will NOT do in my house. SHe’s tiny though so I wish I could get Cornish game hen necks…

  2. Hi Andrew
    My cat loves the chicken wings (i’ll try necks, next!) so much that she takes it from the bowl and goes and hides it somewhere. I’m happy she likes it but concerned about her smudging raw chicken (salmonella germs) all over the house. What can I do to try to contain her and the mess? I’ve tried serving it in the laundry and closing the door but the closed door seems to distract her from eating and I end up throwing the chicken out. Any other suggestions?

    1. Hi Holly. How about trying a playpen arrangement in a regular feeding spot where your cat jumps in to eat the chicken neck and has to jump out again – it might be enough to discourage her from taking the chicken with her- this is similar to what we do with Grendel.

  3. Hi Andrew, we have begun feeding our 4 month old kittens chicken necks, 1 each a day for dinner and they love them. However they do struggle to eat them so my husband chops them up for them. Is that the right thing to do? Just make the pieces bigger overtime ?
    Thank you

    1. Hi Kelly. That sounds fine. The only thing I would be concerned about is if your kitten is particularly keen, there is a danger of swallowing a small piece whole or choking. However, most cats are too smart to do this.

  4. Hi Andrew
    Whilst trying to transition a 2 year old Burmese on chicken necks (I just rescued him), how much other food would you feed him if he takes a few weeks to eat the neck? I’m sure I’d be mortified watching him not eat for 2 weeks. I’m reflecting on your comment:
    “I’ve done this with an adult cat I rescued. After a week the neck started being moved, then after another week there were nibbles, but it wasn’t until the next week she actually ate any.”

    Also, once he is successful at eating the chicken necks, how much other food do you feed him in a day?

    Many thanks for your advice.


    1. Hi Izzie. I still feed my cats normally, but no more than they need (i.e. two 1/4 cup kibble meals that get eaten within a few hours). Like most cats they always want more, so start tackling the neck.

  5. Hi, I’ve just started my cat on raw chicken necks and he loves it. But I’m wondering how long is it safe to keep it out for him? Since he doesn’t gobble it up in one go and keeps coming back for a nibble, I don’t really want to have to throw them away before he’s had a good go at them

    1. Hi Bee. That’s a food hygiene question more than an animal health question. I personally don’t leave them out more than a few hours before throwing them away. As time goes by, he is likely to eat them a little quicker.

  6. Both my cats love raw necks. I cut in half and freeze on a baking tray. I take 2 out each morning and store in the fridge. They are perfectly defrosted by dinner. On occasion when I’ve forgotten to defrost, they have even eaten frozen! They are 9 months old and started on necks at about 4 months. Looking forward to a lack of dental problems in the future.

  7. Is it safe to feed raw chicken to cats? For some reason I thought I had to freeze it first. Should I get chicken mince from the butcher to start off with as we transition? I am vegetarian myself so not too keen to get my fingers dirty or to cook up the necks myself! We have six indoor adult cats who need the chicken necks to sort out some of their ongoing dental issues. And would it be worth using a chicken neck as a play thing on a string to spark interest? (gross idea but we are desperate)

    1. Gross indeed! As for safety, I’ve observed several cats get a mild and self-limiting diarrhoea shortly after starting raw chicken necks. One of which (my own cat) I swabbed and proved it to be caused by Salmonella typhimurium, and therefore likely to have come from the chicken. Like most she remained happy and eating throughout the 3 days it took to resolve. I have also heard of a cat nearly choke on a chicken neck which his owners had to pull out, but he was (and is) an absolute pig with his food. Normal cats chew their food first, and are at no more danger of choking on a chicken neck than they are on a rat.
      Unlike dogs, cats eating raw chicken do not present a hazard to their owners if they eat it all up.

  8. My cat loves loves loves raw chicken necks but he gets bloody diarrhea each time so he’s having to make due with a drumstick. He seems to like them and no more diarrhea!!

  9. My old girl Special, is almost 21. She has had almost all of her teeth removed on the upper jaw. Maybe 4 left. I figured she would still be able to suck and salivate over chicken necks, but without teeth is it possible its just not a good idea ~ what are yr thoughts ?

  10. Thank you for these practical tips! Particularly to ”freshen” without cooking by rinsing with warm water and to freeze and defrost in batches. I started my 6-month-old kitten on raw chicken wings after reading about the harm caused by kibble-only diets, and after my other cat started showing signs of gum disease. Older cat is very fussy and it will be a while before she comes around. The kitten, on the other hand, cleans up an entire mid-wing every evening, which I cut into 3 for him using kitchen shears. ”Horror movie sounds” is such a great descriptor – crunch crunch crack crack! 🙂 I plan on giving him a mid-wing every day. But is there a reason you favour a chicken neck over a wing?

    1. Hi Mel. I prefer necks due to the shape of the bones. Even the greediest kitten will struggle to get one stuck!

  11. Thanks for the tips.
    King Leo loves chicken necks but only if they’re FRESH! This, unfortunately, means he can only have them the first few days after I’ve done the shopping. I’m going to keep trying though and see if we can break through the fresh vs frozen barrier!

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