Shopping for cat food can be exhausting and overwhelming. With so many brands and recipes out there, it can be tough to sift through them all. If your cat has allergies, sensitivities, or particular preferences, the task becomes even more difficult.
Cat owners everywhere are making the switch to homemade cat food and it’s certainly an option to consider if you can make it work. We’ve done hours of research and have consulted with veterinarians and pet nutrition experts to learn what homemade cat food is all about.
Before we dive into the details, we want to make one thing clear: homemade cat food isn’t the right choice for every cat or cat parent.
Making your own cat food at home is an option if you want to have total control over what goes into your cat’s diet. It’s also helpful if your cat has severe allergies or specific nutritional needs that you’re having a hard time accommodating with commercial diets.
All that being said, homemade cat food is a little more complicated than just filling your cat’s bowl with ground meat.
It takes time and research (not to mention a significant financial investment) to create a complete and balanced diet for your cat.
With the help of veterinarian-formulated recipes, it’s definitely possible, but it’s not something you should do on a whim.
Unless you’re a veterinary nutritionist yourself, we don’t recommend creating homemade cat food without a recipe. Nutritional balance is extremely important, and it may be difficult to achieve the necessary amounts of trace nutrients unless you choose your ingredients intentionally.
Try These 6 Homemade Cat Food Recipes
We’ve assembled a small sample of homemade cat food recipes that have been created by veterinarians and veterinary nutritionists in accordance with AAFCO recommendations.
When it comes to homemade cat food recipes, those that you’ll find online are largely similar. Why?
Because they are formulated according to the nutritional needs of cats. Most recipes can be adjusted for different types of proteins, though you’ll need to check the recipe notes to see whether you need to add or subtract things like skin, liver, heart, or other supplements based on your protein choice.
Note: The following three recipes have been gathered from other online resources. We recommend reviewing the recipe with your veterinarian or working with a veterinary nutritionist to make sure it will provide for your cat’s nutritional needs.
- 5 pounds chicken thighs with bone
- 7 oz. raw chicken liver
- 14 oz. raw chicken heart
- 8 oz. bottled spring water
- 4 raw egg yolks
- 2,000mg taurine
- 4,000mg wild salmon oil
- 200mg vitamin B complex
- 200 IU vitamin E
- 1 ½ tsp lite iodized salt
- 4 tsp psyllium husk powder (optional)
- Remove the skin from half the chicken thighs, but do not remove the fat.
- Remove the bone from 20% to 25% of the chicken thighs and rinse the meat with water.
- Combine the dry supplements in a small bowl and mix well.
- Whisk in the egg yolks and water to create a slurry.
- Weigh out and chop the chicken liver, heart, and thigh meat.
- Place a bowl under the meat grinder and feed the ingredients through.
- Add the liver, heart, and fish oil capsules at intervals (use the entire fish oil capsule).
- Transfer the ground mixture to a large bowl and mix in the slurry and psyllium husk powder.
- Portion out the mixture and refrigerate or freeze.
Notes: When portioning out the raw food, take into account how much you’ll be feeding your cat at each meal to make it easier on yourself. You can freeze the food in plastic containers, freezer bags, or even ice cube trays to create smaller portions.
- 2 to 2.25 pounds whole carcass rabbit
- 75 to 1 pound boneless chicken or turkey thighs
- 1 cup water
- 2 eggs (raw yolk, white slightly cooked)
- 10,000mg fish oil
- 400 IU vitamin E
- 50mg vitamin B complex
- 2,000mg taurine
- 1 tsp lite iodized salt
- Grind the rabbit carcass and chop the poultry into small chunks.
- Bake the chicken or turkey thighs at 350°F for 15 to 20 minutes, leaving 50% of the meat raw.
- Combine the dry supplements in a small bowl and mix well.
- Whisk in the fish oil, egg yolks, water to create a slurry.
- Transfer the ground mixture to a large bowl and mix in the slurry.
- Portion out the mixture and refrigerate or freeze.
- 28 oz. boneless protein
- 2 oz. animal liver
- 6 oz. animal kidney
- 1 teaspoon eggshell powder
- ½ teaspoon vitamin supplement mix (see recipe)
- 500mg salmon oil
- 1 large egg yolk per pound of food
- Water, as needed
- Stir together the eggshell powder and vitamin supplement in a small bowl.
- If using chicken, remove half the skin and include some dark meat.
- Cut the protein, liver, and kidney into chunks that will fit through your meat grinder.
- Place a bowl under the grinder and feed the meat and organs through, adding the salmon oil capsules intermittently.
- Transfer the ground mixture to a large bowl then add the dry supplements, egg yolk, and water as needed to combine.
- Portion out the mixture and freeze or refrigerate.
Notes: This recipe can be fed ground or as chunks. When feeding ground, mix the dry supplements well before adding them to the mix. When feeding as chunks, cut the pieces small – chop it into thin slices rather than square chunks.
- 700g raw chicken wings (bone-in, skin-on)
- 100g raw salmon (with bone)
- 100g raw chicken heart
- 50g raw beef kidney
- 50g raw chicken liver
- 1 whole egg, raw (with shell)
- 1 teaspoon taurine supplement
- 2 cups water
- Cut the salmon and organ meats into chunks that will fit through your meat grinder.
- Divide the chicken wings as needed to fit through the grinder.
- Place a bowl under the grinder and feed the meat and organs through.
- Transfer the ground mixture to a large bowl then add the taurine, egg, and water to combine.
- Portion out the mixture and freeze or refrigerate.
Notes: If you don’t have a grinder, you can start by pureeing the organ meats with the egg and water. Cut the chicken wings into pieces and pulse them together with the organ meat puree in a food processor or high-powered blender. If no other option exists, you can chop the ingredients very finely by hand.
- ¼ cup chicken breast (cooked)
- ½ cup long-grain rice (steamed)
- ½ ounce canned clams, chopped (in juice)
- 1 tablespoon chicken fat
- 1/8 tsp potassium chloride (salt substitute)
- ¼ multi-vitamin tablet, crushed
- 1/10 vitamin B complex tablet, crushed
- Prepare the ingredients separately as desired.
- Chop the chicken and combine with the remaining ingredients.
- Serve immediately and remove the leftovers after 30 minutes.
Notes: This food is not intended to be the basis for a complete diet. The single-serve recipe is easy to scale. Simply multiply the measured ingredients to make larger portions. To store larger portions, combine the chicken, rice, clams, and chicken fat separately from the dry supplements and add them just before serving. Avoid seasoning the chicken and rice when cooking.
- 28 oz. raw pork, boneless
- 1.6 oz. raw chicken liver
- 1.6 oz. raw beef kidney
- 1 teaspoon finely ground eggshell
- 7 (500 mg) capsules salmon oil
- ½ teaspoon vitamin supplement (see recipe)
- 1 large egg yolk
- Combine the eggshell powder and vitamin supplement in a small bowl.
- Chop the pork, liver, and kidney into pieces that will fit through the meat grinder.
- Place a bowl under the mouth of the grinder and feed the pork and organs through it.
- Add the salmon oil capsules intermittently while grinding the other ingredients.
- Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and add the dry supplements and egg yolk.
- Add water as needed to combine the mixture then portion and freeze or refrigerate.
Also Read: The 8 Best Cat Bowls
Notes: The cut of pork you choose will determine the fat content of the recipe. Pork loin is generally a leaner cut of meat and makes a great starter meat for cats new to raw food. If your cat needs more calories or fat in his diet, you could swap out some of the pork for raw chicken thigh, keeping the skin. If you prefer not to include kidney in your cat’s diet, increase the raw chicken liver to 3.2 oz.
Why Go Homemade?
The quality of your cat’s diet is incredibly important. More than just keeping his tummy from rumbling, his food is his primary source of nutrition. Like humans and all other animals, cats require a specific balance of nutrients to keep their bodies functioning optimally.
So, why not just feed your cat premium cat food? What makes homemade cat food a better option?
The truth is all commercial cat foods are not created equal. Pet food manufacturers exist to make money – like any other business – and they use various marketing tactics to do it. Cailin R. Heinze, VMD and writer for the Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University, comments on the “premiumization” of pet food.
Premium is a marketing term that was first used in the alcohol industry but has spread to everything from human health and beauty products to pet food. Heinze says, “These products may actually be higher quality than average, or they may just be perceived to be higher quality.”
This is a bigger issue in commercial pet food than many pet owners realize. The FDA regulates certain aspects of pet food manufacture and labeling, but brands have a lot of freedom when it comes to the claims they make on their packaging.
It’s all about encouraging the consumer to choose Brand A over Brand B.
Because the world of commercial pet food is so complex, many cat owners are making the switch, or at least considering making the switch, to homemade. Commercial pet food manufacturers are required to list the ingredients and nutritional analysis for their products on the label, but there’s a lot that goes unsaid. In the end, you can’t be completely sure what you’re buying when you grab a bag of pet food off the shelf.
The Benefits Of Homemade Cat Food
You’ve heard the saying, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” For many cat owners, that’s the primary motivation behind switching to homemade cat food. If you really want to know what you’re putting into your cat’s body, the best option might be making the food yourself.
Homemade cat food could be a good option for cats who:
- Suffer from food sensitivities or allergies to specific ingredients
- Have specific food and flavor preferences, aka picky eaters
- Have digestive problems, such as inflammatory bowel disease
- Could benefit from a higher level of moisture in their diet
- Experience skin problems related to diet or digestive issues
- Are sensitive to artificial additives and chemical ingredients
The truth is homemade cat food isn’t perfect, but neither is commercial food. As a cat owner, it’s your duty to make a responsible decision regarding your cat’s diet. Whether you choose homemade cat food, a fresh cat food delivery service, or high-quality commercial food is up to you.
We simply want to help you understand the options so you can make an educated decision.
Avoiding Nutritional Deficiencies
If you were to do a side-by-side comparison of your cat versus a wild cat (for example, a lion), you’d notice the differences immediately. Not only is your cat much smaller, but he doesn’t have the same “wild” look about him. He may think he’s a ferocious beast when he’s chasing down the laser pointer, but the differences between the two are pretty stark.
Except when it comes to their evolutionary dietary needs.
Domestic dogs and cats have changed a lot over time. But, unlike canine dietary requirements, feline dietary requirements have not evolved from their ancient origins. In fact, domestic cats are nearly genetically identical to African wildcats and their bodies are still designed to follow a similar diet.
In other words, cats are carnivores and they always have been.
More than that, however, they are obligate carnivores – they are carnivores by necessity, not just preference. Their bodies are biologically adapted to a diet of raw prey.
Here are some clues that cats are carnivores (specifically, obligate carnivores):
- They have teeth and claws designed to tear flesh
- They have short digestive tracts
- They have digestive enzymes designed to break down protein
- Their bodies are able to utilize animal fat
- Their blood glucose requirements are met through gluconeogenesis (the production of glucose in the body)
- They lack the enzyme needed to turn carotene from plants into vitamin A
What we’re trying to say is your cat’s body requires a very specific type of diet: a meat-based diet.
The only way to keep your cat healthy and avoid nutritional deficiencies is to feed him the type of diet his body can process and utilize properly.
Commercial diets are formulated to provide for your cat’s minimum needs in terms of essential nutrients, but they aren’t all biologically appropriate. If you’re going to feed your cat homemade food, it needs to be nutritionally balanced and optimized for your cat’s biology so his body can digest it and utilize the nutrients properly.
Key Nutrients For Feline Diets
Before setting out to make homemade cat food, you need to understand the basics of your cat’s nutritional needs. After all, what good will it do to switch your cat to a homemade diet if it doesn’t actually benefit him more than his previous diet?
All cats are unique, but their core nutritional needs have a common foundation.
Cats require the following five nutrients in their diet:
Protein is the most important nutrient for obligate carnivores like cats and it needs to come from animal sources. This may include poultry like chicken or turkey, meat like beef or lamb, or even fish. Decisions about which protein to use in your homemade cat food will come down to your cat’s preferences (and any allergies or sensitivities), as well as availability and pricing.
Like protein, fat should come from animal sources. When using poultry, you can use a mixture of white meat and dark meat to ensure appropriate fat levels. If you’re using lean poultry like rabbit, you may need to add animal fats to your recipe.
Vitamins and minerals are essential for cats but are needed only in small amounts.
Though your cat may need less of these micronutrients than he needs of fat and protein, he has specific requirements to prevent nutritional deficiencies.
Animal proteins provide some key vitamins and minerals, but you may also need to include organ meats or a nutrient pre-mix to ensure nutritional balance.
Water is also incredibly important for cats, especially considering cats don’t tend to drink a lot on their own. Adequate hydration is needed to keep all of a cat’s body processes working properly. Fortunately, fresh food is generally much higher in moisture than commercial dry food.
Notice Anything Missing From This List? That’s Right – Carbohydrates.
As obligate carnivores, cats have no biological requirement for carbohydrates in their diet. In fact, their bodies aren’t designed to digest plant materials and don’t have the enzymes necessary to derive certain nutrients from them. That being said, cats can use glucose from plants for energy. Also, complex carbohydrates, known as fiber, can help with digestion.
Overall, though, carbohydrates have no biologically necessary role in a homemade cat food diet.
What About Fresh Cat Food Delivery?
By now you’re probably asking yourself whether homemade cat food is worth the effort. If you’re willing to put in the time to do it properly, we really think it is. That being said, it’s definitely a time-consuming commitment and it may not be a practical choice for everyone.
If you love the idea of homemade cat food but you’re not ready to take the leap, consider a fresh cat food delivery service as a steppingstone.
In an age where you can have just about anything delivered right to your door, pet food is no different. Companies like The Farmer’s Dog and Spot & Tango ship a month’s worth of fresh dog food (frozen) to your home and fresh cat food companies are gaining speed as well.
Nom Nom offers fresh cat food formulated by board-certified veterinary nutritionists like Dr. Justin Shmalberg. Their recipes are designed in accordance with the nutritional levels established by AAFCO Food Nutrient Profiles and they send you individual bags of food pre-portioned according to your cat’s calorie needs. Simply open the thawed pouch and pour it right into your cat’s bowl.
As a quick side note, ‘AAFCO’ stands for the Association of American Feed Control Officials. One of AAFCO’s roles is to “regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies,” as stated on the AAFCO website. AAFCO also ensures that a pet food meets minimum nutritional requirements.
If you really want to feed your cat’s carnivorous side, we’d recommend Darwin’s Natural Pet Products. This fresh, raw pet food delivery company offers fresh frozen meals made from 100% real meat with raw bone, formulated specifically for obligate carnivores.
Fresh cat food delivery is a convenient option. But it’s just as important to do your research with food delivery services as it is with commercial cat food. Make sure the company uses veterinarian-formulated recipes and high-quality ingredients. As always, protein is key!
The Pros And Cons Of Homemade Diets
Choosing a diet for your cat can be difficult at the best of times, but it can be even more of a challenge when you are considering making it yourself.
The benefits of homemade cat food are significant, but your cat will only receive those benefits if you choose a properly balanced recipe and prepare it correctly. Homemade cat food isn’t a simple switch, but it may well be worth the effort.
Before you make your final decision, consider the pros and cons of homemade cat food.
Pros Of Homemade Cat Food:
- You have complete control of the ingredients that go into your cat’s diet.
- It may provide higher-quality nutrition than a commercial diet.
- You can customize it to accommodate food allergies and sensitivities, as well as other health problems.
- It may improve your cat’s digestion (read: smaller, firmer stools and less litter box odor).
- You can choose the primary protein and flavor according to your cat’s preferences.
- It may be easier for senior cats and cats with dental problems to chew.
- You can mix supplements directly into the food for easy administration.
Cons Of Homemade Cat Food:
- Preparing a homemade diet takes more time than pouring a bowl of kibble.
- It can be more expensive to feed your cat homemade food.
- Achieving balanced nutrition can be tricky – only use a veterinarian-formulated recipe.
- It can be a little more difficult to store the food to avoid foodborne illness.
- Once your cat transitions to a homemade diet it may be reluctant to switch back.
Switching your cat to a homemade diet isn’t a decision that should be made lightly. If it isn’t properly balanced, a homemade diet can actually be worse than a commercial diet. It’s very important to talk to your veterinarian before making the switch and make sure you choose a homemade cat food recipe formulated by an animal nutritionist or veterinarian.
It is crucial that you consider your cat’s overall health when deciding whether to feed your cat a homemade diet. For example, cats with chronic kidney disease need a special diet that must have a precise balance of nutrients to reduce the workload on the kidneys. This balance may be difficult to achieve with a homemade diet. Again, your veterinarian will help you decide the most appropriate diet for your cat.
Additional Tips And Tricks
Before you make the switch to homemade cat food, we recommend doing as much research as you can. We’ve done our best to give you an overview, but there’s a lot more to learn if you’re going to do it yourself. Talk to your own veterinarian and check out online resources to learn directly from cat owners who have tackled the challenge of homemade cat food themselves.
If You’re Going To Make The Switch To Homemade Cat Food, Do It Slowly!
Sudden changes to your cat’s diet can trigger digestive upset, so it’s important to transition your cat over a period of at least 7 to 10 days. If you’re switching from commercial food to raw food, you may want to extend the transition a little longer just to be safe.
The Most Important Thing You Can Do For Your Cat Is Keep Up With Routine Veterinary Exams.
Every cat should see the vet for an annual checkup, but it’s even more important when feeding your cat a homemade diet. Your veterinarian can help you keep tabs on your cat’s wellness to make sure he’s staying healthy on a homemade diet.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is homemade cat food safe?
Commercial cat food is processed in specific ways to destroy foodborne pathogens. If you’re switching to homemade cat food, you’ll need to take certain precautions to keep you and your cat safe. For example, take these precautions when working with raw meat:
• Clean and disinfect all surfaces and cooking tools (food bowls, spoons, etc.) that came into contact with the raw meat
• Wash your hands thoroughly after preparing a meal with raw meat
• Do not allow your cat to lick your face after he’s finished his meal
• If you have children, ensure that they do not touch the raw meat or allow the cat to lick their faces after the cat finishes his meal
When properly prepared and stored, homemade cat food is perfectly safe.
How much does homemade cat food cost?
The cost of homemade cat food varies significantly depending on the ingredients you choose and the amount you feed your cat. Pricing will also vary depending whether you chose a cooked or raw homemade diet.
Is raw cat food better than cooked?
Raw cat food is generally regarded as the most biologically appropriate diet for cats by animal nutritionists, but it isn’t the right choice for every cat owner. Also, raw meats can contain bacteria, such as E. coli, that cause foodborne diseases. Do some research to compare the different options and decide which works best for your cat.
How much should I feed my cat?
The average adult cat needs about 200 calories per day, or about 6 ounces of homemade food. The calorie content of the food will vary, of course, depending on the proteins and fats you use. Talk to your veterinarian and consult online calorie calculators to determine your cat’s specific calorie requirements and go from there.