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Whether you want to save money or make sure your kitty’s eating a high-quality diet, learning how to make homemade cat food seems like a great idea. But cats require a delicately balanced diet, and if you’re not careful, feeding them homemade cat food could make them severely ill.
In this comprehensive guide to making your own cat food at home—we’ll show you how to make cat food at home, safely and economically.
How to make homemade cat food:
- Use ample animal protein—cats require a protein-rich diet to thrive.
- Animal fats provide your kitty with the needed energy to support their active lifestyle.
- Calcium and phosphorus are crucial minerals to support dental and bone health.
- Taurine is an amino acid that works to preserve heart health, vision, and bile production.
- A diet high in water is necessary to avoid dehydration, urinary tract issues, and constipation.
The benefits of cat food made at home
Healthier for your cat
One of the more apparent advantages of homemade cat food is that you’ll know exactly what’s in it. It’s much like cooking your meals at home—you’re fully aware of how much salt, sugar, and other ingredients are added.
Considering that you’ve incorporated the necessary vitamins and balanced nutrients, homemade cat food is healthier.
By making your own, you’re also avoiding many of the harmful substances found in store-bought food. For example, some brands of dry kibble have been found to contain large amounts of carbohydrates and plant-based proteins which can be problematic for some cats.
In some instances, they were even found to be contaminated by fungal mycotoxins, bacteria, and vermin excretions.
In 2007, a number of pet food brands recalled their products due to contamination of melamine (1). This is a chemical compound used by manufacturers for use in coatings, lamination, and flame retardants, among others (2). It’s highly toxic.
Researchers found dangerous substances in both dry and wet cat food.
Less smelly cat poop
Although cat poop will never smell like roses, it shouldn’t be THAT bad either!
Food can sometimes be the culprit to making cat poop extra smelly, but even so, it can be challenging to figure out precisely what your cat is eating to cause the foul odor.
If your cat is a hunter, it may be feasting on bugs, small reptiles, birds, and rodents. Cat-specific vitamin supplements have also been shown to increase the smell of cat poop. This often happens when owners add additional supplements to already vitamin-enriched cat food (3).
Nonetheless, changing to a homemade diet can help reduce smelly cat poop as you’re able to narrow down and pinpoint the odor-triggering ingredients.
Better for the planet
In the U.S., we have more than 163 million pet cats and dogs—considering how much meat they consume, it’s no wonder that they contribute to roughly 25 to 30 percent of environmental impacts from animal production (4).
This doesn’t mean that you should make your feline go vegan—in fact, this would be a very bad idea—but it helps to be more conscious of their diet.
Using highly nutritious animal byproducts that we humans aren’t likely to eat minimizes the ecological impact on the food system. Opting for items such as cheek meat, livers, or kidneys from a variety of animals is a great idea (5).
In addition, making your own wet cat food eliminates the packaging waste, from cans to tear-pouches, that store-bought cat food comes in.
Research has shown that pet owners across the U.S. spent, in 2018, more than $72.56 billion on pets—dogs and cat lovers combined (6). That number increases steadily every year. Of course, not all this is on pet food—but a large portion is.
If you’re on a budget, making home made cat food might be a better deal. This depends on what meat you’re planning on using, types of supplements, and how much your cat consumes per day.
Although making homemade cat food has a lot of benefits, you have to follow instructions. Cats require a well-balanced diet, so you should always follow a veterinary formulated recipe. Resist the urge to be creative or skip out on ingredients—measure everything to ensure the proportions are correct and exactly follow the recipe.
Changing or making up your own homemade cat food recipes could have dire results for your cat.
Raw cat food vs. cooked cat food
We tend to cook our food to get rid of pathogens and other harmful elements found in raw meat. Cats, however, can easily eat both raw and cooked food. Which is better? There are pros and cons to both.
Pros and cons of feeding raw
A raw diet consists of uncooked animal products, including organ meat, muscle meat, and bones. Some refer to this diet as the BARF—no joke intended—this stands for “biologically appropriate raw food” or simply “bones and raw food,” an idea by Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst.
A raw protein diet has its risks and rewards—advocates claim that it improves the cat’s fur, enhances digestion, and provides them with more nutrients. It’s also undoubtedly more affordable than canned food you find in the grocery store.
However, according to the American Animal Hospital Association, we should be careful (7). The association warns against salmonella poisoning, which can affect both pets and humans.
Other risks include zoonotic disease transmission (animal to human), contagion issues, and food safety. Studies conducted on both commercial and homemade raw diets found that 30 to 50 percent were contaminated with pathogenic organisms.
Your cat may shed the harmful organisms in their stool, which could transmit to other pets and those handling litter box duties.
Pros and cons of cooked
One of the most significant pros of offering a cooked diet is the reduced risk of contamination. When heating the protein to a certain temperature, harmful organisms die, hence the reason we always cook meat and poultry.
Even if you give your cat ‘human-grade’ protein, this isn’t a guarantee. Most raw proteins are likely to be contaminated, and it’s crucial to cook them before consumption (8).
Still, there’s minimal scientific evidence on the specific benefits of either a raw or a cooked diet for cats. It ultimately depends on what you’re comfortable with—what’s important is that you follow a carefully constructed recipe from a certified veterinary nutritionist.
Essential nutrients for cats
For your kitty to live a long, healthy life, a diet rich in essential nutrients is imperative. Offering your cat the wrong menu can lead to several health complications, one of which is obesity. In 2018, it was estimated that 60 percent of U.S. cats were overweight or obese (9).
Below are some critical nutrients that should always be in your cat’s diet:
Animal proteins & fats
Two of the most obvious nutrients a cat needs are animal proteins and fats.
Unlike humans, cats aren’t metabolically designed to turn carbohydrates into energy. This is because a feline’s natural diet is meat-based—in the wild, they feed primarily on rodents and birds, which contain minimal carbohydrates.
To give you an idea of just how much protein a cat really needs, we can compare it to a dog’s (omnivore) diet. An adult cat requires two to three times more animal protein than an adult canine (10).
Fats are also a concentrated source of energy. Fat provides essential fatty acids, which are vital for nutrient utilization and transportation. Saturated fat found in animal sources and fish is particularly important.
Crucial elements include omega-3 fatty acids like alpha-linolenic acid, docosahexaenoic acid, and eicosapentaenoic acid. They also require omega-6 fatty acids, such as gamma-linolenic acid, arachidonic acid, and conjugated linoleic acid (11).
Calcium & phosphorus
Calcium and phosphorus are just two of the many essential minerals your cat needs. Minerals are important as they’re involved in almost all physiological reactions. They’re required in enzyme formation, nutrient utilization, oxygen transportation, and pH balance.
In addition to calcium and phosphorus, your cat requires:
Another essential component is the amino acid known as taurine. This acid is crucial for cats for normal heart muscle function, reproductive organs, and vision. Your cat also needs it to produce bile salts to assist its digestion.
However, unlike other amino acids, taurine isn’t incorporated into protein and is instead found as a free acid in body tissues. In most mammals, their bodies are capable of producing taurine from other amino acids found. Cats, on the other hand, cannot—at least not a sufficient amount. They need additional taurine in their diet which only comes from animal meat or supplementation.
A diet with a high water content is important for cats. In the wild, cats fulfill this need by eating fresh raw protein, which is also why they have a naturally low thirst drive.
If you’re not serving raw food, a lack of water can lead to health issues. This is mainly if your cat eats a lot of dry food products. One of the main worries is dehydration, which can lead to constipation.
Constipation in cats is similar to humans—it becomes tough for your cat to have regular bowel movements.
Why look for constipation?
If your cat is only constipated once in a while and for short periods, you shouldn’t worry. If, however, it becomes a frequent issue, it can lead to something called obstipation, where a vet is required to remove the obstruction (12).
Signs of constipation
When your cat is constipated, the most noticeable sign is that they enter the litter box, strain, and push without results.
When to see your vet
Consult your vet if this continues or becomes a recurring issue. You should also contact your vet whenever you notice changes in your cat’s poop.
Vitamins are additional nutrients required for metabolism regulation, healthy growth, and function. Vitamins are usually found in food—here they’re classified as fat or water-soluble.
Fat-soluble vitamins are A, E, D, and K, whereas water-soluble include C and the B group.
Cats generally store most fat-soluble vitamins in their bodies—water-solubles tend to pass straight through. Now, carnivorous animals like cats derive these nutrients from other animal sources.
Unlike other mammals, cats can’t convert most nutrients, like beta-carotene, which is found in plants, into vitamins. Instead, they require it from animal protein.
Essential ingredients for homemade cat food
Before we get to the cat food recipes, it’s time to create our shopping list. Here are the essential ingredients you need:
Types of meat & where to buy them
Meat is the most crucial component. Fortunately, you have ample options:
- Lamb (lamb meat is high in fat, but offering bits once in a while won’t hurt).
You can get the protein from any good source you trust, whether it’s the grocery store, butcher, or directly from the farm. However, the meat must be fresh and unprocessed.
With or without bones?
You can easily let your cat have meat bones if they’re raw. Never give your cat cooked bones—they splinter too easily and can get stuck in their throat.
If you choose to serve bones, always supervise. Small pieces can get lodged in their throat, posing a choking hazard.
Bones are a good source of calcium. If you have a strong meat grinder, you could always grind the bones and incorporate them directly with the food.
Why calcium is essential for cats
Calcium is important for healthy bones and teeth. It also helps to bind blood cells. Great sources of calcium include small fish such as anchovies and sardines—your cat can eat them whole, bone and all, without an issue.
The importance of dental health
Bacteria, plaque, and debris tend to accumulate on your cat’s teeth from their food. If not cleaned, this germ-coating becomes harder, where it eventually forms tartar. Hardened tartar will irritate the gums and may lead to gingivitis and tooth loss (13).
Because cats can’t verbally let us know that they’re in pain, preventative health routines are essential. Make sure they get enough calcium, and from time to time give them a bone to chew on or grass, which can help preserve their dental health.
Commercial cat food formulas are based on specially crafted recipes to make sure your kitty gets the needed nutrients. But what about when shifting to homemade cat food recipes?
The truth is, your cat will probably get most of the needed nutrients from the food itself (14). As long as you follow a veterinarian-approved recipe, it should be fine.
In saying this, under certain circumstances, you may consider supplements. However, always consult your vet before adding anything to your cat’s diet.
Here are some supplements to consider:
- Taurine is critical for cats—fortunately, it’s abundant in animal protein (15).
- Wild-caught fish oil is a supplement you can add directly to your cat bowl. It improves your cat’s fur and reduces painful joints and skin conditions.
- Vitamin E is another supplement that improves your kitty’s fur. It’s abundant in eggs.
- Vitamin B complex protects your cat’s overall health. But, if they have a condition inhibiting them from absorbing vitamins, your vet may recommend supplementing.
- Lite Salt with iodine is essential for many things, but most importantly, it supports the thyroid gland.
- Psyllium husk powder is a supplement you can add to prevent constipation (16).
- Calcium and phosphorus are crucial in your cat’s diet. However, don’t overdo it—consult your vet to see if these supplements are necessary.
Ingredients toxic to cats
When making your own cat food, you should always adhere to the recipe. Cats have sensitive stomachs and some ingredients are toxic. Items to avoid include:
- Onions, garlic, and scallions—these destroy the cat’s red blood cells, which could lead to anemia.
- Raw eggs—can carry salmonella and can make your cat seriously ill if consumed.
- Caffeinated drinks and chocolate—such items include a substance called methylxanthine. This can lead to diarrhea, vomiting, and heart problems, among other alarming symptoms.
- Alcohol or raw dough—don’t share your glass of red wine with your cat or raw cookie dough. It can cause similar effects to chocolate and caffeinated drinks.
- Milk and other dairy products—this can lead to stomach problems such as diarrhea, so it’s best avoided. Although, some cats tolerate it just fine.
- Grapes and raisins—only a small amount can lead to kidney failure. Needless to say, avoid these at all costs.
Making cat food
Now it’s time to get cooking. Below, we’ve gathered a few recipes we’re sure your cat will enjoy.
If you’re wondering how to make homemade wet cat food, poultry is a great protein to work with, and kitties love it! You can make both raw or cooked—we’ve included recipes for both—and you can substitute the type of bird as desired.
Raw poultry recipe
You’ll need the following ingredients:
- 4.5 pounds of chicken thighs, including meat bones, fat, and skin (for now).
- 7 ounces of raw chicken liver.
- 14 ounces of chicken heart (if you can’t find chicken heart, substitute with additional thighs and 4000 mg Taurine supplement).
- 4 raw egg yolks.
- 8 ounces of bottled spring water (don’t use tap water).
- 2000 mg Taurine supplements (4000 mg if you omitted hearts).
- 4000 mg wild salmon or wild-caught small fish oil.
- 200 mg vitamin B complex supplement.
- 4 teaspoons of psyllium husk powder (add it to the first batches of food to help your cat adjust).
- 200 IU vitamin E.
- 1 ½ teaspoon Lite iodized salt.
This is what you’ll do:
- Start by preparing your chicken. Remove the bone from 20 to 25 percent of the thighs (if you have 10, remove the bone from two of the thighs). Remove the skin from half of the chicken thighs, but leave the fat. Wash with water and weigh to confirm you have 4.5 pounds.
- Grab a small bowl and open the supplement capsules, discarding the gelatin caps. Don’t open the fish oil capsules or psyllium—we’ll add them soon.
- In the same bowl, add the four egg yolks and water. Whisk until mixed. Wait with the psyllium.
- Weigh the liver and heart to make sure you have the correct proportions.
- Take the chicken thighs and cut the finer meat up into smaller pieces. It doesn’t have to be precise but aim for roughly ½-inch parts. Set it aside. Leave some meat around the bone that you’ll put through the grinder.
- Get your meat grinder and place a bowl underneath the outlet. Feed the thighs (with bone) through the machine. Add the liver, hearts, and fish oil capsules—the gelatin capsules are edible.
- Once everything is grounded, add the wet mixture (egg yolks, water, and supplements), the cut pieces, and psyllium husk. Mix it thoroughly.
- Portion the batter into plastic or glass containers or freezer-friendly bags. Label them with the ingredients and date before placing them in the freezer. What you’ll need for that day or the next, simply leave it in the fridge. And voila!
Duck or Cornish Hen
We recommend using the same recipe as above. You can purchase a whole bird with organs like liver and heart—cut out the backbone and neck to reduce the bone count. Then simply follow the steps.
Turkey works wonders as well, using the same recipe.
Try to use thighs—avoid solely using necks or wings as the bone to meat ratio would be off. Aim for a bone percentage of 7 to 10 percent. Then use either turkey or chicken liver and heart.
Cooked poultry recipe
We found this easy cooked chicken recipe. It becomes a paté that your kitty will love. It doesn’t have any added supplements, so make sure you consult your veterinarian if you should incorporate any for your cat.
We’re using chicken, but duck, Cornish hen, and turkey work wonderfully, as well.
You need the following ingredients:
- 1 cup baked or broiled chicken.
- ¼ cup steamed carrots (mashed).
- ¼ cup steamed broccoli (mashed).
- Chicken broth, as needed.
Here’s how to make it:
- Cut up the cooked chicken into smaller pieces for the food processor.
- Add the chicken, carrot, and broccoli to the food processor along with 1 tablespoon (up to 3 tablespoons) of chicken broth.
- Start the machine to puree the ingredients. Add broth as needed, so it resembles cat food paté —don’t make it watery like soup.
- Serve at room temperature. If there are leftovers, place in the fridge in an air-tight container to use the same or the next day.
Kitties love rabbits, and it’s definitely healthy homemade cat food that’s easy to make. You can serve both raw and cooked meat—if you prefer raw, we recommend following the recipe for fresh poultry. Below, we’ll show you a cooked, gourmet rabbit recipe that your cat will thank you for.
Again, we’re not including supplements in the recipe. Talk to your vet if it’s necessary or not.
This is what you’ll need:
- ½ pound of rabbit meat.
- 1 teaspoon olive oil.
- A small dash of rosemary, thyme, and parsley.
- Unsalted vegetable stock.
- 20 grams of carrot, sweet potato, peas, and celery.
Steps to follow:
- Sautee the rabbit in olive oil in a medium-sized pot.
- Sprinkle the herbs and add the vegetable stock. Then bring it to a boil.
- Reduce the heat and allow the meat to cook through.
- Incorporate the chopped veggies and place them in the oven for an additional 45 minutes.
- Allow it to cool to room temperature before serving.
- Or, cut the big pieces and place in a food processor to make it more chewable for your cat. This might be more practical if you think your cat won’t eat their veggies.
- Store any leftovers in an air-tight container. Place in the fridge for up to three days or freeze.
Liver is one of the easiest foods to offer your cat. They can eat it either raw or cooked. You rarely need to combine it with other ingredients, unless your veterinarian recommends it. It’s also a great ingredient for making homemade dry cat food and treats.
However, don’t offer liver daily—keep it to once or twice a week.
This is what you’ll do:
- Boil about ½ pound of liver—you choose whether it’s chicken, duck, beef, or something else.
- Once it’s cooked through—it should only be a couple of minutes—remove from water and allow to cool. Now, you can serve it as is—if your cat is older, chop it up into fine pieces.
- Or, place in a food processor with a little bit of water and puree into a paste.
If you’re serious about making DIY cat food, it’s best to invest in the right tools, like a durable meat grinder.
Here are a few tools to add to your wishlist:
Pre-ground meat tends to be unsanitary if you’re feeding a raw diet. So, you’ll need a durable meat grinder to get the job done.
But be careful when handling the meat grinder! Read the instructions and use the appointed tools. Do not use your fingers to feed the meat to the grinder, as this is a sure way to lose a finger or two.
After use, clean it thoroughly by hand with hot soapy water, rinse well. Avoid placing any parts in the dishwasher.
Here are two of our favorites:
Tasin TS-108 meat grinder
The Tasin TS-108 meat grinder is available from the One Stop Jerky Shop and is excellent for making homemade cat food.
It’s one of the most powerful grinders in its class and can handle up to 200 pounds of meat per hour. It can easily grind tough proteins such as elk, deer, and moose—even bones from small animals, which is perfect for your raw cat food recipe.
STX International STX-3000 Turboforce
Another option worth considering is the STX-3000 Turboforce from STX International (AFF). It’s an electric meat grinder, offering three speeds and #12 size grinding plates as well as stainless steel blades, sausage tubes, and Kubbe.
Although it’s a heavy-duty machine, it isn’t recommended for bones, feet, or tendons. Still, it’s easy to use and assemble.
Meat cleaver or sharp knife
To assist you when cutting meat, a meat cleaver or sharp knife is essential. Using a dull knife can lead to injuries as the blade may slip when using excessive force.
When handling raw chicken, you’ll quickly notice how slippery it can be. Poultry shears are life-changing tools once you get the hang of them. They cut through bone effortlessly.
The proportions in the recipes are crucial to follow and eyeballing amounts won’t cut it. We highly recommend using a kitchen scale, preferably one that has options for different units. Also, make sure it can measure up to at least 10 pounds.
Using a cutting board will protect your countertop and make clean-up easier. You can use any cutting board that you have at home, just ensure that you clean it thoroughly to avoid cross-contamination. A good idea is to use a board that fits inside the dishwasher and use one board for cutting meat use exclusively.
Get yourself a selection of small to medium-sized bowls to use for mixing. These help with organization and keeping everything ready for when you need it.
Air-tight food storage containers & labels
Placing the food in air-tight containers keeps it fresh. Some cats don’t like eating food that’s been sitting out or has lost its meaty scent.
Labels are essential. You should label each container with the date of when you made it and the ingredients. This way, you can easily keep track of what’s old and what your cat is eating.
Handling raw meat isn’t recommended without protecting yourself. Wearing gloves shields you from contamination. However, don’t reuse them—after touching the raw meat, place them in the trash can.
Important: safety issues
- When making cat food, ensure that you’re staying safe. Protect yourself and your family from cross-contamination by cleaning up thoroughly after handling raw meat and poultry.
- Make sure that you store cat food properly. Do not leave it on the counter or bowl for more than 20 minutes. Place either in the fridge or freezer.
- Handle the meat grinder with care. Read the instructions and follow them.
- Be careful when handling knives. Sharpen them before use.
If you want to continue doing research on home-made cat food, we’ve gathered some trusted sources below:
Making homemade cat food is a rewarding experience that allows you to know exactly what’s in your kitty’s dinner.
Cats require a well-balanced diet, rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and moisture. To ensure they get the right balance, you should always follow a veterinary formulated recipe.
If making your own cat food at home sounds daunting, or too time-consuming, check out our list of hand-picked healthy wet cat food options.