Many cat owners are concerned about giving their cats raw meat. We were too…at first. We all know that eating uncooked meat is risky for us but how risky is it for cats? Is it riskier than commercial cat foods? Remember all the pet food recalls! So How concerned should we be about our cats eating raw meat?
The main concern is bacterial infections – namely salmonella. It is virtually impossible to purchase meat that doesn’t have at least trace amounts of salmonella. It is the main reason we are told to thoroughly cook it and not to prepare veggies on the same cutting board after cutting meat.
Ground meat from the supermarket is especially susceptible to bacterial contamination. Grinding increases the surface area which in turn, increases the areas where bacteria can grow. Supermarkets then allow the ground meat to sit in refrigerated display cases for hours – sometimes days. And all the while, bacteria grows. Because of this, we can not recommend using supermarket ground meat to feed your cats.
This is not to say that all supermarket ground meat is full of bacterial contamination. Many people feed their pets ground meat from the supermarket without problems. We are just not comfortable taking the risk. Many of our cats have health issues and we want the food we feed them to be as fresh and free of contaminants as possible.
That being said, cats eating properly prepared homemade cat food are at minimal risk from food-borne bacterial infection. Thanks to mother nature, cats can handle a much higher bacterial load than we can.
98% of salmonella bacteria is destroyed by the time it is eliminated by the cat. Some of the bacteria are destroyed by an enzyme in the cat’s saliva. Cats also have a very short and acidic intestinal tract.
The short intestinal tract allows bacteria to pass through quickly which minimizes the bacteria’s ability to settle in and multiply. Food passes through the cat’s digestive tract in about 12 hours.
The high acidity of the cat’s intestinal tract also helps to kill bacteria as it passes through. Both the short transit time and high acid level help cats to tolerate a higher bacterial load than we humans can. It is also part of the reason cats seem to vomit so easily!
Salmonella is quite common in cats. They shed the bacteria in their stool and it has even been cultured from their mouths, noses, and even ears. Unless a cat has a weakened immune system, illness from salmonella is highly unusual.
If you feed your cats fresh, quality meat, the bacterial infection is only of minimal concern.
The main concern is directed toward protecting you from bacterial contamination. But a few common-sense safety practices will help keep both you and your cats healthy.
- Use only fresh, quality meats.
- Freeze the meat if not making your cat food right away. Freezing stops bacterial growth. Once thawed, growth will resume.
- Wash your hands prior to preparing the raw meat cat food.
- Wash the surface of the meat prior to cutting and grinding.
- Freeze the prepared food if not using it right away. It will only last 2-3 days in the refrigerator.
- Thaw frozen food in the refrigerator – not in the sink or on the counter. This will minimize bacterial growth as the food thaws.
- Thoroughly wash and disinfect the equipment you use in making the cat food. Anti-bacterial dishwashing soap is fine for the equipment – knives, utensils, bowls, etc. Use brushes to clean the holes of the grinding plates. Use a diluted bleach solution or a kitchen disinfecting product to clean the sink, cutting board, countertops, and outside of the grinder.
- Wash your hands after handling raw meat.
- Wash the cats eating areas and food dishes after each meal – cats can be messy eaters!
- Throw away any uneaten food after about 30 minutes to an hour – raw meat can spoil quickly at room temperature.
- Always, always, always – wear gloves when cleaning litter boxes and wash your hands afterward – no matter what you feed your cat!
Raw meat homemade cat food can be very healthy for your cats. With a little common sense and basic safety practices, both you and your cats will stay healthy and happy!