Updated November 28, 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.
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
- 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.
- Disease: raw foods have been associated with a lower risk of urinary problems in cats.
- 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’.
- 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.
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!
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:
- 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.
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.
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!
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