How to Make Your Own Cat Food

By , February 4, 2010

Ingredients for raw cat food, ready to be mixed.

Several months ago, as I dug deeper into researching nutrition and nourishing foods for myself and my family, I started getting suspicious about the bagged cat food we were feeding the family cat. Feeding her dried kibbles day after day seemed similar to feeding someone nothing but breakfast cereal (high-heat processed “meal-in-a-bag”), and I wondered how much nourishment our precious Liz was really getting.

As I began my research, I realized that the pet food industry has done a really great job of tricking us into thinking that all we need to do is buy bags of their “nutritionally complete” food and our pets will be set for life.

But as you might imagine, optimum nutrition cannot be obtained from something in a bag, no matter how good the brand may be. And although there are some good, responsible manufacturers out there, much of the pet food sold is made from very low-quality (read: “scary”) ingredients including animal parts that are left over from the meat packing industry, and sick animals that are not fit for human consumption. It’s garbage, really, that they are hawking to us…under the guise of “complete nutrition” for our precious animal companions. Just do a google search on “what’s really in pet food” to read all the gory details. (Or not! :) )

Pets need real food, just as the rest of the family does. In the wild, the ancestors of today’s cats and dogs ate raw meat, gnawed on bones, and ingested the stomach contents of their prey (which rounded out their diet with small amounts of plant matter). Bagged/canned pet food is a new invention; elderly members of my family remember simply feeding their pets “scraps from whatever the family ate.” Many people out there (including myself) feel that processed pet foods cause disease in our pets, just as processed foods cause disease in humans.

And while some premium brands of pet food might list some wonderful, whole-food ingredients on the label, the fact is that the food has been highly processed with heat, which kills or denatures many of the beneficial components of each ingredient, such as enzymes, amino acids, beneficial bacteria, and heat-sensitive vitamins.

So after realizing that Liz probably wasn’t getting a whole lot of health-promoting benefits from her food, I began experimenting with raw, homemade cat food. Admittedly, I was a little reluctant to do the whole homemade pet food thing, and there were some rough patches of trial and error while I was getting the recipe just right so that Liz would be excited about eating it. Right now, half of her diet is homemade raw food, and half is kibbles-from-a-bag (we usually feed Katz-n-Flocken brand, purchased at the local health food store). Even with just half of her diet being the homemade food, we have seen definite improvements in her energy level (she is 9 years old, but has gotten that kitten energy and playfulness back), and her coat is also more lustrous. Now that I’ve finally gotten her “custom recipe” ironed out, I would like to ease her into eating a 100% homemade-food diet.

And yep, it’s more work, and if your cat only tolerates straight meat and doesn’t like the addition of grains or eggs (which are much cheaper than meat!), it will probably be a little more expensive than a good quality bagged food. However, I really do believe the benefits are worth it.

Here’s my cost breakdown for Liz’s raw-meat-only diet:

The supplements and vegetables add a small cost, of course, but in terms of the main ingredient (turkey) … 2lbs of turkey (mixed with 10-20% vegetables) makes about 43 rounded tablespoon-sized biscuits. Liz is a 10-lb cat, and if she were eating a 100% home made diet of turkey (and other meats & fish), she would eat about 3.5 – 4 biscuits a day. This means that the 43 biscuits would last about 10-14 days. I stock up when the natural, antibiotic-free turkey is on sale for $3/lb, but normally it is $6/lb. This means that it could cost anywhere between $3 and $6 a week to feed Liz a 100% raw turkey diet. At most, that would be less than a dollar a day! Of course, variation in meats is highly recommended, but this is just to give you an idea. And if your cat likes grains in their food, then you can certainly stretch your meat further and the meals would be less expensive. To me, though, this is actually not expensive — and besides, Liz is SO worth it! :-)

If you’d like to read further, this is a good article to begin with: Trends in Home-Prepared Diets for Pets.

Of the books I read on this subject, these were my two favorites:

Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats, by Richard Pitcairn, DVM, PhD

Herbs for Pets, by Mary Wulff-Tilford & Gregory Tilford

This is also a very interesting book:

Pottenger’s Cats, by Francis M. Pottenger, M.D. (For a concise synopsis of the book, click here.)

Here are two other books that have information on feeding a homemade diet:

Cat Care, Naturally, by Celeste Yarnall

The New Natural Cat, by Anitra Frazier

Armed with information and ideas from the books mentioned above, I have finally developed a recipe that Liz really likes. Each cat is different and each one will have likes and dislikes. Liz doesn’t like grains or eggs added to her food. Her stomach, like mine, doesn’t do well with overly rich foods. She enjoys beef but barfs it up immediately, so she doesn’t get beef anymore. She tries to like lamb, but just can’t bring herself to eat it, so we pretty much feed her just raw turkey and chicken (frozen for at least 2 weeks to kill any nasties), as well as fresh and canned wild salmon. Of course, a variety of meat and fish is recommended, but if your cat is picky, do the best you can! Luckily if your cat won’t eat a particular meat concoction you’ve developed, you can enjoy it instead! (Thus my recipe for Italian-Style Lamb Meatloaf!)

One trick I’ve learned is that replacing about 1 teaspoon of the fat in the recipe with bacon grease is a great way to make the raw food more appealing, if your cat is having trouble loving it.

Also, if you decide to “go homemade” then that’s wonderful! But if you don’t, that’s okay too. If you decide not to go homemade, one thing you CAN do is give your kitty some healthful table scraps that s/he really enjoys: meat, fish, eggs, cream, cheese, fruits, and vegetables. (Liz loves corn and edamame, and can never have enough cantaloupe!) I think that our modern-day veterinarians have led us astray in telling us not to give table scraps to our animals. I think it’s a wonderful treat for them, and also much more nourishing to their bodies than kibbles or canned food. And it’s what household pets have lived on for hundreds of years!

Liz

Here’s my recipe:

Lindsey’s Basic Homemade Cat Food Recipe

1 lb ground turkey or chicken or a 15-oz can of salmon with juice. (You can feed the meat either raw or cooked, but raw is definitely the preferred choice. I buy organic or at least humanely-raised, no-antibiotic meat. It costs me about $5 to $6 a pound, but if it’s on sale, I stock up! I also freeze mine for at least 2 weeks to kill any bacteria.)

1 1/2 tsp KAL brand Bone Meal (comes from bones of New Zealand cattle)

1 tsp Healthy Powder *see end of post for Healthy Powder recipe

1 or 2 Tbsp fat (I use olive oil, coconut oil, butter, or a mix. Replacing about 1 teaspoon of fat with bacon grease will often make biscuits more appealing to your kitty!)

300-400 IU vitamin A, crushed to a fine powder

1/3 of the contents of a Taurine capsule (optional if feeding raw meat, but I usually add it anyway)

Contents of 1 vitamin E capsule

10%-20% vegetables (optional). I just eye the amount, compared to the amount of meat that’s in the bowl. For Liz, I use very finely shredded raw zucchini (frozen works too), or steamed & mashed winter squash or carrots, or cooked organic corn (since she loves corn). Vegetables aren’t actually necessary, if the cat won’t tolerate them. Unless your cat loves veggies, you’ll probably have to chop them very finely or puree them in order to sneak them in. Other vegetable ideas are potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, peas, green beans, etc.

Fish Oil: No matter what kinds of meat I’m using, I also squeeze in a few capsules of good quality fish oil (Carlson’s brand is nice) or add about 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon of Blue Ice Royal Fermented Cod Liver Oil/Butter Oil blend flavor-free gel (I definitely prefer & recommend Blue Ice brand Fermented Cod Liver Oil/Butter Oil blend. The Weston A. Price Foundation website has good information about that, here.)

I mix all this up (with my hands…it’s easier), and drop by tablespoon-sized scoops onto a cookie tray, and freeze. Once frozen, I transfer the “biscuits” into a freezer bag.

Each day, we take a couple biscuits out of the freezer and put them into a small tupperware container in the fridge. By the next morning, they’ve thawed and are ready to eat. We generally feed one biscuit in the morning, and one later in the day (although if we were feeding her 100% on the home made food, we’d likely feed 3.5 – 4 biscuits a day). At the morning feeding, we then transfer a couple more biscuits from the freezer to the fridge, so they’ll be ready for the next day.

Meat "biscuits" ready to be put into the freezer

My recipe above does not include grains or eggs because Liz doesn’t like those in her food. But your cat might! Below is one of the actual recipes from Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats:

Dr. Pitcairn’s Poultry Delight

1 cup dry millet (3 cups cooked) (cook in chicken broth for more flavor)

2 large eggs

2 lbs (4 cups) ground turkey or chicken (or lean chuck, lean heart, lean hamburger, liver, giblets, fish, or other lean meats)

1 Tbsp Healthy Powder *see below for Healthy Powder recipe

1 Tbsp Animal Essentials Calcium, or a rounded 1 ½ tsp of powdered eggshell, or 2 tsp KAL brand bone meal

4 Tbsp fat: butter, lard, olive oil, virgin coconut oil, or a combo

10,000 IU vitamin A

100-200 IU Vitamin E

1 tsp fresh vegetable with each meal (optional)

500 mg taurine (optional)

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add the millet; cover, simmer 20-30 minutes or until the water is absorbed. You may need to add a little more water during cooking. When millet is soft, stir in the eggs to let them set a bit from the heat. Mix in the remaining ingredients. Yields about 8 cups. Each day, feed Small cats about 2/3 cup…Medium cats, 1 cup..Large cats, 1 2/3 cups.

*Dr. Pitcairn’s Healthy Powder

2 cups nutritional yeast

1 cup lecithin granules

1/4 cup kelp or alfalfa powder

1/4 cup KAL brand bone meal or 5 tsp eggshell powder

1,000 mg ground vitamin C

Mix together and store in the fridge or freezer.

One final word — if your cat doesn’t seem to like the homemade food, don’t despair. In Dr. Pitcairn’s book, there’s a great chapter (“Helping Your Pet Make the Switch”) about introducing homemade food and what to do if your pet turns up its nose!

I do hope you’re inspired, as I have been, to incorporate some nourishing foods into your pet’s diet — or if you already feed home cooked meals, please leave a comment and tell us more about that! I’d love to hear feedback from people who have made the switch!

*****

22 Responses to “How to Make Your Own Cat Food”

  1. Jane Gateman says:

    Where do you get the vitamins, and bone meal.

  2. Lindsey says:

    Hi Jane,
    I get mine at my local health food store, but if you don’t have a local one, the best place I can recommend online is http://www.vitacost.com!

  3. Laura says:

    That is fascinating, Lindsey. I’ve thought about making my own cat food in the past, but couldn’t find much info that was easy to follow. My 2 little guys are picky and also throw up a lot. I’ve switched to an expensive pet store brand (Blue Buffalo) and they do much better with the kibble than typical store brands, but don’t like the canned pates. The do really seem to like the yucky store gravy & leave the meat behind. They makes me cuckoo. I’m going to push myself to make up a batch of one of your recipes. I wonder if they don’t just look at each other & decide to turn their noses up because they know it frustrates me. Great information here. Thanks.

  4. Laura says:

    Forgot to say how much I love your photos. They add so much to your stories and make it all come alive to me.

  5. Lindsey says:

    Laura,
    Picky cats! That is so frustrating. Usually my kitty is pretty forgiving, but she definitely has her picky moments! Do your kitties like table scraps? Maybe use that as a clue to what they’d rather be eating… I dunno, just one idea. I’ll be curious how they like the turkey. But I’d introduce it in little bits at a time; a friend of mine’s cat went nuts for the raw turkey, but it was too much too fast for her tummy, and she threw it all up. As with introducing other new foods, go slowly. :) I hope they like it!

  6. cat stuff says:

    Saved as a favorite, I love your blog!

  7. Lindsey says:

    Thank you SOO much for this! I am getting a kitten this week, and am scared to feed him kibble and canned food – I don’t even eat proccessed junk like that, and certainly don’t want my precious new kitten getting sick on that stuff! I have tried to find a few recipies, but they all seemed so hard, and involved buying expensive meat grinders! This is simple and easy. Thank you so much! :)

  8. Lindsey says:

    Hi Lindsey! Yay! How fun, a new kitten! I hope s/he likes the raw food, and good for you for giving your little one only the best!
    Thanks for dropping by to say hi :)

  9. Shan di says:

    Hi Lindsey,
    My owner’s friend just sent your site add. thru as she knows I get freshly cooked chicken fillet and rice each day!
    Mine comes with special dog biscuits designed By Hills – J/D Prescription Diet for Canine Mobility – supplying Chondritin and other stuff good for bones and joints.
    When I was a puppy my knee caps kept slipping and they couldn’t keep one of them in the right place despite several operations; the vet said it was a congenital condition unusually affecting both back legs. Rather than be a permanent ‘peg-leg’ the vet recommended amputation for my best mobility and you should see me go! At full pelt I can still clear any stray cat out of the garden faster than anyone!
    I am still a puppy at heart at 12 years old and looking good on my low fat diet and handful of biscuits each day.
    Your pictures look good Lindsey, but they don’t smell as appetizing as my garden?
    I look forward to trying out some of your other suggestions, but agree with the cat that broccoli and some other green veg stuff and fruit is awful!
    Love
    Shan Di

    (Shan means mountain in Cantonese (from my Mother, Bonnie’s side of the family, Labs used to pulling people up hills in Scotland) and Dee means roughly, good dog. ‘Hoi Dee’

  10. Carolyn says:

    Dr Pitcairn says alfalfa is ok? I keep reading how toxic it is for cats
    http://holisticat.com/cat-herbs.html
    “an ingredient in it – canavanine – can lead to abnormal blood cell counts and spleen enlargement as well as interfere with arginine uptake in the body. Arginine (abundant in meat) is critical for cats, and inadequate amounts of arginine can cause serious problems. See article titled “Why does the cat require a high protein diet?” by Rogers QR & Morris JG (1980) Journal of Nutrition 109, 718–723 for details on the deleterious effects of inadequate L-arginine in kitten diets. Last but not least, Alfalfa contains coumarin derivatives that can inhibit blood clotting. There is no reason to use this herb, none. “

  11. Talena Post says:

    I am just wondering how many servings does this recipe yield? I am currently looking up the ingredients and I am trying to configure the difference in cost from the food I now purchase in comparison to this recipe. I have 5 cats and have been contemplating on transitioning to a more holistic method of feed for my kitties, especially seeing how my only female cat is now 25lbs and has been steadily gaining weight over the last 5 years since we spayed her. I feed her the same as I do all the other cats and have even put her on a diet which did nothing but make her depressed and miserable. I believe the only thing that may help with her condition is to change her diet to holistic feed completely. It is SO sad, because I have to give her regular booty baths as she can not reach there to clean herself. I have been able to find most of the ingredients on nuts.com and puritan.com for very good prices, yet forgive me if I am wrong, but did not see the amount of servings the recipe yields total listed anywhere. Thank you for your wonderful information and putting it so simply to make it much easier for those of us that have read so many other forums/sites on this subject matter only to come out more confused as to actually how to prepare and serve these holistic meals to our furbabies! :)

  12. Lindsey says:

    Hi Talena,
    Thanks for your comment!
    How sad about your dear kitty. I wonder if her thyroid is wonky. Poor baby.
    I made more food over the weekend and counted up how many servings. I form the food into roughly teaspoon-sized balls, and a pound yields about 30-35 balls it seems like. I feed our 10-lb cat 5 balls a day (plus a bit of fill-in if she’s hungry, like some cooked chicken or some sardines, or cantaloupe, etc.) So a pound of food lasts our cat about a week. I hope this helps.
    Blessings to you and your furbabies,
    Lindsey

  13. Shamim says:

    This is a great article – thanks so much for the instruction as well as the inspiration. I was just wondering if you get the biscuits to room temperature before serving. I am assuming they are still pretty cold once thawed.

    Thanks!

  14. Lindsey says:

    Hi Shamim,
    You’re right, the biscuits are fridge-cold once they’re thawed. My cat doesn’t mind, but often (especially in winter) I will add a little boiling water to the bowl and mash it with the biscuit. That way it warms it up more and adds a little more water to my kitty’s diet at the same time.

  15. Hi! I am a college student on a budget. I still want to feed my cat the most nutritious diet possible, while not breaking my piggy bank. He is currently almost 6 months old. Do you have any advice?

  16. embers'flame says:

    I do not at the present have a kitty or dog however, I have had it on my mind lately. I found your information very good and would make my own food for either. I would get a puppy or kitten so I could train. Since I would be starting with a baby, would there still be that picky eater problem? Also, do you have any information on making homemade dog food? And would it be ok to feed a kitten the same food as you have printed or not? Thank you in advance for any possible help. I have never really had either I have raised a parrot for 23 years and also hamsters.
    sincerely,
    embers

  17. Caroline says:

    Hello, great ideas. I just want to point out that felines are obligate carnivores, unlike canines, and should never have grains. I have seen too many cats develop diabetes in response to grains in their diet! Especially some of the wilder breeds.

  18. Priscilla Fair says:

    I make my cat food with raw chicken thighs and similar ingredients to this recipe except no grains. I also use 3/4ths of the bones of the thighs using a high powered meat grinder that can handle it. I have 3 cats; 1 cat (a Savannah) this is all she gets (since she has moved wild cat in her and insisted by the breeder it’s best for her). The other 2 cats eat this on the side of high quality kibble. I make about 8 to 10 pounds about once a month.

  19. [...] Trends in Home-Prepared Pet Food – and How to Make Your Own Cat Food. [...]

  20. SableS says:

    Might want to look into http://www.catinfo.org/?link=makingcatfood before following the recipes cited. ;-)

  21. Demi says:

    Hi! Thank you for this great information.

    One quick question.. Do you freeze the ground meat for 2 weeks BEFORE making the biscuits or are the biscuits frozen for 2 weeks?

    Thanks again!

  22. Lindsey says:

    Demi,
    It wouldn’t matter…

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