In the wild the Asian Leopard cat’s diet consists of mainly rodents and birds; they also eat small mammals, lizards, amphibians, eggs, poultry, fish and insects. While Bengals are not Asian leopard cats and most have been domesticated for a long time, I believe that it makes sense to feed our cats a diet close to that they would naturally have in the wild (better go catching those mice then!).
We switched to feeding predominantly meat and fish rather than cat food when we got our first breeding queen and the difference in our cats has been amazing – they all have much softer coats and better skin. Our cat Lucretia had suffered with skin problems most of her life and frequent trips to the vets hadn’t helped much, but the change in diet made a huge difference – had we known, we would have done it much sooner!
I realise that feeding raw meat isn’t everybody’s cup of tea and cooking your cat chicken and fish isn’t always practical, so we feed what I like to call a ‘combination diet’! In addition to raw/cooked meat and fish, we also feed our cats a good quality dried food with a high meat content (Royal Canin/ James Wellbeloved) and wet food in jelly, this insures that they receive the correct nutrients.
Some people believe that you shouldn’t mix raw and dried food for optimal health, so if planning on doing this, research first and only do whatever you are happy with.
Bengal cats (and particularly kittens) have very sensitive stomachs; wet food in gravy often upsets them as can milk and rich foods – It can take a while to find foods which suit them perfectly. Most people find a way of feeding their cat that suits both of them, but here are some suggestions.
Feeding raw meat
Many people feed their cats raw meat, although some vets are against this. A raw diet can be helpful for gastric issues and skin problems, and most cats thrive on raw. If feeding a completely raw diet it is important to research thoroughly. You must include meat, bones and organs in the correct ratios. It is not recommended to feed weight bearing bones. catnutrition.org is a good site with recipes and ratios. The facebook group Cats Completely Raw and Proud also has some really good tips and advise. Many people choose to add a nutritional supplement such as Kitty bloom to ensure their cats are receiving all the nutrients they require. Never use meat past its sell by date and treat it with care. Obviously ensure that you clean everything properly to avoid Campylobacter, Salmonella sp., E. coli, etc., and don’t leave meat out too long. Remember that although a cat’s digestive tract is shorter than ours, they can still get food poisoning. It is good practise to freeze raw food for at least 48 hours before serving to reduce the risk.
You can buy chicken from the supermarket and grind it/cut it up to feed to the cats. Whole chickens are good, and you can use every part – chopping the meat and mincing the bones. This ensures the cats are also getting the goodness from the bone marrow and bones themselves. Bones do not have to be minced of course, many cats will happily eat the softer chicken bones themselves. This is fantastic for their teeth. Parts of the chicken can also be fed, such as chicken wings which can be bought cheaply. Our kittens are weaned onto raw ground chicken wings to insure they have enough calcium for their growing bones, and they love it! You can freeze the ground chicken and defrost when needed, alternatively it can be bought already ground and frozen.
Beef is nutritious and good for cats. Some cuts can often be bought cheaply and are great for adding to raw mixes for taurine and calories.
You can also get raw rabbit from some pet shops or online, which our cats really enjoy as a change. It is best not to feed a diet of purely rabbit though as it doesn’t contain as much taurine as other meats.
If feeding your cat a totally raw diet you will need to include organs. Some good organs to use are liver and kidney (chicken, lamb, beef). We always freeze organs before feeding to the cats in case of parasites. Organs are full of nutrients and should only be fed in small amounts.
Heart is a nutritious food for cats and contains a lot of taurine. If feeding as part of a raw diet it counts towards the ratio of muscle meat and not organ meat.
Feeding whole prey is not something that everyone wishes to do. However, it is a complete and natural meal for cats, and helps keep their teeth healthy. You can buy frozen mice, rats and Day old Chicks from reptile stores as well as on line.
Other Raw meats
A variety of raw meats can be fed as part of a raw diet. Turkey, Lamb and Pork being good examples. Due to the risk of parasites if feeding raw pork make sure that it is British. It is also best not to feed the intestines.
Pre-made raw (for cats)
If you don’t wish to do it yourself there are a variety of pre-made raw mixes on the market. When buying pre-made ensure that the product is specifically for cats, as dogs have different nutritional needs.
Natural Instinct sell a variety of raw foods with bones and organs added which just need to be defrosted. These contain all the nutrients a cat needs. Natural Instinct foods
Purrform is another supplier that comes highly recommended. Purrform use human grade meat so you can be confident of the quality. They even make individual raw sachets making feeding your cat raw as easy as feeding cat food. Purrform foods
Cats tend to really enjoy fish and it is good for them, but their diet must be mainly meat as too much fish can cause deficiencies in other nutrients (see cat nutrition below). It is also important to make sure that it is cooked properly, as raw fish can cause health problems.
We feed white fish cooked in the microwave with a bit of water added. You can buy this frozen from supermarkets quite cheaply and the cats seem to love it. White fish is high in Iodine so a good treat to feed once or twice a week.
Tinned fish (pilchards, sardines, mackerel, etc)
Oily fish is good for cats but not in excess, fish in spring water/tomato/brine is all acceptable as long as it is properly drained. The oils help to keep cat’s coats shiny and joints supple. Tinned fish can also be added to raw mixes to improve the smell and taste for the cats. Tuna is high in mercury and therefore should only be used very occasionally.
A great treat to be fed occasionally. Shrimp also contains high amounts of iodine.
We add raw eggs to our raw food mixes as these are full of nutrients. Raw egg white can cause biotin deficiency, but as egg yolk contains biotin, together they are fine.
It is important to make sure that cats get enough water in their diet and if making your own raw mixes you can add water to ensure that they get enough.
Some people like to add fibre to their cat’s diet to replicate the fur, feathers and stomach contents of prey. We don’t personally but tinned pure pumpkin is a good choice if you wish to feed it.
Feeding cooked meat
Cats can enjoy cooked meat as part of their diet but, as with fish, cooked meat cannot be used as a complete diet. Remember to take any bones out first as cooked bones can splinter and cause internal injuries. If you are feeding leftovers, be very careful to avoid anything with sauces or gravy, as these often contain things which are toxic to cats such as onions or garlic. For all meats, make sure that any fat is trimmed off as this can cause health problems.
Chicken is high in protein, nutritious and not too fatty. We cook chicken breasts or thighs, and they also enjoy leftover chicken from a roast dinner.
If you are having roast meat cats can happily have a little of that too. Cold meat such as ham is fine for an occasional treat but can be very salty and processed so is best not to be a major part of their diet.
I believe it makes sense to feed a whole prey or prey model diet as this is the closest to what cats are designed to eat. Replicating a diet your cat would eat in the wild requires a mix of meat, bones and organs in the approximate ratio 80:10:10.
If you are feeding your cats yourself it is important to do some research into cat nutrition. When I started I began to realise how much I didn’t (and still don’t) know. I am by no means an expert but the following posts contain some things that I have found out.
Firstly a few things to remember- don’t feed your cat cooked bones as these can cause internal injuries. Weight bearing bones are not recommended. Large quantities of salt should be avoided and don’t feed fat off meat as this can cause health problems such as pancreatitis. Do not give any nutritional supplements without checking that they are OK with your vet first. Cod liver oil in high amounts can cause an overdose of vitamins A and D and fish oils of any kind can cause vitamin E depletion. If you are looking for a good supplement particularly for cats Kitty Bloom is a good example.
High protein/low carbohydrate
Cats source most of their energy from protein and fat, rather than carbohydrates, therefore cats require a high protein, fairly high fat, low carbohydrate diet.
Cats are carnivores and require a predominantly meat based diet. Unlike people and dogs they require some nutrients that they can only obtain from eating meat.
In the wild cats would eat more of an animal than we would feed them, for example the feathers/fur and stomach contents of prey. Because of this some people believe that some carbohydrate (grains, some vegetable matter, rice) is helpful to them, particularly for digestion. This is highly debated in the raw feeding community!
Amino acids and other organic acids
Proteins are composed of amino acids. Not all are present in all meats, but meat is the best source. Cats cannot convert many of these in their body as we can and so need to obtain them from meat. Organic acids can frequently be manufactured in the body from other nutrients, but not in all cases.
Taurine is an essential amino acid (one that cats cannot make themselves). It is vital to cats for good health and it can only be found in meat. Red meats are high in taurine as is heart. A lack of taurine can cause heart problems and blindness in cats.
Ornithine is another amino acid that cats require. It is important for sorting out the ammonia produced from the breakdown of protein. Without it cats can become very ill. In order to produce Ornithine cats must convert it from Arginine (an amino acid found in meat).
L-lysine is an amino acid which helps guard against the herpes virus.
There are many more essential amino acids all found in meat and not getting enough of any one of them can cause health problems. They also should be in correct ratios to one another.
Cats cannot turn beta carotene into Vitamin A in their bodies as we can and so need the pro-retinol form found only in meat. Too much vitamin A can be dangerous.
Vitamin E is mainly found in oils, but also in liver and eggs. It can be depleted by fatty acids, so it is best not to feed too much fish or to supplement with fish oil or cod liver oil.
It is believed that cats can make their own vitamin C from glucose in their liver and so not much is required.
Fish is a very good source of vitamin D but it is also found in liver and eggs. Too much vitamin D can be dangerous.
Vitamin K is found in meat, particularly liver.
Most B vitamins are found in meat or meat products. All are necessary for your cat’s good health. B vitamins include:
• Thiamine (B1) – Thiamine is found in meat. When cats eat large amounts of raw fish they can become deficient in thiamine. This is because some raw fish contains thiaminase, an enzyme which depletes thiamine. Thiaminase is destroyed by cooking, and therefore cooked fish causes no problems.
• Riboflavin (B2) – Riboflavin is found in organ meats.
• Niacin – Niacin is found in meat and meat products. Cats can’t convert tryptophan to niacin and so it is required from food.
• Biotin – Biotin is found in liver and egg yolk. Raw egg whites can cause biotin deficiency as they contain avidin (a protein which binds to biotin). This is one of the reasons raw egg white should not be fed to cats. Egg yolk contains a high amount of biotin so it is generally considered safe to feed cats egg white and yolk together. Cooked eggs are fine as cooking the egg white denatures avidin and prevents this.
• Vitamin B12 – B12 is only found in animal products; organ meats are a good source.
• Folic acid – Folic acid is found in organ meats and products.
• Pantothenic acid (B5) – Pantothenic acid is found in meat and eggs. Though it is abundant in raw foods, cooked and processed foods are much lower in B5.
• Pyridoxine (B6) – B6 helps the body to use amino acids. It is found in most foods but is easily damaged during the processing of foods.
• Choline/Inositol – These are commonly regarded within the B vitamin complexes, but are not actually B vitamins themselves.
Calcium and Magnesium
These are required in relatively low doses in cats and can easily be obtained from their food. Kittens, however require larger amounts for bone mineralisation. Calcium is found in large amounts in bone and egg shell but low amounts in meat.
Phosphorus must be in the correct ratio to calcium to help bone formation.
Iodine is found in the thyroid gland of animals. Some raw feeders add iodised salt to replicate this, but iodine is also present in liver, turkey, fish and shrimp so if feeding a balanced diet your cat should be getting enough.
Other minerals are also required, these include potassium, sodium, chloride, sulphur, and in lesser amounts zinc, selenium, manganese and iron. These are by no means the only ones and research is continuing all the time.
Omega fatty acids
Omega 3 acids such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) help immune system function, reduce inflammation and help vision. Fish is a rich source of Omega 3.
Omega 6 fatty acids such as linolenic acid and arachidonic acid help your cat to obtain good skin health, brain function and growth. In humans arachidonic acid can be obtained from linolenic acid found in vegetable oils, however cats cannot do this conversion, therefore it has to be obtained from meat. Chicken fat is a good source.
Other fatty acids
Gamma linolenic acid (GLA) is found in oils such as evening primrose. It can be derived from linolenic acid, but it is difficult. It isn’t considered necessary in a cat’s diet, but can help inflammatory problems.
Water is an obvious but incredibly important part of a cat’s diet. Fresh drinking water must always be available and ideally food will be high in moisture content to insure that they don’t become dehydrated.
Lots of foods that are suitable for us are not suitable for cats. These are some of the foods that I believe to be toxic to cats, there are probably many more so always check what you are feeding to your cat.
Onions, garlic, mushrooms, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, citrus fruits, raisins, currants, grapes, macadamia nuts, rhubarb, yeast dough, paracetamol, aspirin.
When researching nutrition I found these articles and sites particularly informative:
The Association of American Feed Control Officials Dog and Cat Food Nutrient Profiles: Substantiation of Nutritional Adequacy of Complete and Balanced Pet Foods in the United States, DAVID A. DZANIS. http://jn.nutrition.org/cgi/reprint/124/12_Suppl/2535S.pdf