Some pet parents are eager to feed their cats with homemade food because they want greater control over the ingredients involved. Others may turn to homemade pet food as a way to tailor ingredients to reduce specific health risks, like heart disease, or urinary tract problems. Another reason to make your own cat food might be concerns about the safety of commercial food -- for pet owners, the pet food recalls of 2007, and the tragic deaths due to contaminated food, may not feel very distant.
First Things First
Regardless of the reason for dishing out homemade eats, get to know the basics of your cat’s nutritional needs before you switch to cooking for them. Without the necessary nutrients and proteins your cat can grow very ill. Before embarking on a homemade diet, we recommend you consult with your veterinarian or a board certified veterinary nutritionist. You may also want to show them some recipes to ensure that the meals provide your cat with all their dietary needs.
What’s in a Balanced Diet?
So what exactly do cats need in their diet? The following is a list of the essential items that should be included in your cat’s food, whether you’re purchasing it or making meals yourself:
The best proteins for a cat are from animal meats, like turkey, beef, and fish, because of the nutrients that are contained in a meat-based diet. Some of these nutrients simply aren’t present within plants, and can’t be derived from vegetables during digestion, even though vegetables do have proteins within them.
Fats are a necessary part of a cat’s diet. Omega fats, such as those found in meats, are important for a cat’s health.
Vitamins and minerals help with your cat’s teeth and bone strength, and help keep your cat’s body running strong. It’s important to note that, just as a shortage of vitamins and minerals can cause trouble, so too can an excessive amount of them.
Hydration is an essential need for cats (as with all mammals). Dehydration can have a negative impact on your cat’s health, so make sure to always provide water to accompany your cat’s food.
A caution on raw food diets -- many pet owners are eager to make homemade food for their cats because they theorize a raw diet is healthier for their cat, mimicking the natural world. (After all, if you weren’t dishing up food for your cat, they would likely be hunting small rodents to survive). However, a raw food diet does carry with it some risks, such as exposure to bacteria, like Salmonella.
A similar caution is also necessary about vegetarian or vegan diets -- cats are carnivorous and the amino acids contained in meat allows them to thrive. Cats require meat-based nutrients like taurine, vitamin A, and others that can’t be found in plants. While vegetarianism or veganism are healthy choices for people, for cats, it means being deprived of life-essential nutrients and vitamins.
Keep in mind that cats are finicky eaters, and also generally content to eat the same food day after day, week after week, with maybe only a few changes a year. You may find that your cat is confused at first by homemade food, and reluctant to eat. Give it a bit of time to see if your cat begins to enjoy your homemade concoctions.
Supplements for Homemade Cat Food Diets
Supplements can be helpful if you are very aware of a gap in your cat’s diet. However, be cautious about providing them -- some omega-3 fatty acid, for instance, can be helpful if you know your cat doesn’t get seafood in their diet. But providing too much omega-3 -- or any supplement -- can be just as dangerous as not providing enough.
More on What to Feed Your Cat
What to Feed A Cat: Female Cats
The Principles of Nutrition For Adult Cats
Tips to Avoid Your Cat's Stomach Upsets
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.