How To Make The Best Homemade Cat Food (Including Raw Diet And Cooked Recipes!)
Let’s face it. There’s just something special about home-cooked meals that no restaurant – even the fanciest – can replicate. Nothing compares to the delicious taste of a personal feast.
Why should kitty be left out? After all, she’s part of the family too! Giving her leftovers from your plate isn’t the same as making a healthy dish of her very own – created with her unique nutritional needs in mind.
It’s a lot easier than you might think to feed your cat a homemade, DIY diet. You can make excellent cat food from simple ingredients you may already have in your kitchen. It’s fast, affordable, and extremely satisfying.
In this article we’ll explain everything you need to know to become the ultimate feline chef – from ingredients and tools, to recipes and useful tips.
- 1 Why Should You Make Your Own Cat Food?
- 2 Should You Use Raw Food or Cooked?
- 3 How To Transition To Homemade Food
- 4 Popular Homemade Cat Food Recipes
- 5 Tools Necessary To Do The Job
- 6 The Best Ingredients…Do You Go Organic? (And What To Avoid)
- 7 Supplements
- 8 Storing The Food
- 9 How Much Do Your Cats Need To Eat?
- 10 Fresh, Homemade Food Delivery Services
- 11 FAQs / Things To Consider
Why Should You Make Your Own Cat Food?
Besides the pride you’ll feel in creating tasty treats, there are numerous real benefits to homemade cat food.
- It’s more natural. Cats are highly-evolved predators. A diet made entirely of commercial cat foods can meet their nutritional needs, but will not satisfy their carnivorous instincts as well as the best home recipes.
- It’s healthier. Kitties have sharp, pointy teeth that were meant to slice and tear through raw meat. Processed foods don’t provide the same oral health benefits. There are countless health benefits to natural foods.
- It’s easier to digest. As your little predator chomps and chews her way through your delicious meal, signals are sent to her stomach to prepare essential gastric acids to aid in digestion.
- It’s more fun. Kitty will have a lot more fun eating the recipes we’ve prepared on this list – and you’ll have a lot more fun watching her eat!
- It’s easier to control. The fact is, by sourcing your ingredients and owning the process, you will have complete control over your cat’s diet.
These are just a few reasons to make your own cat food, but you’ll find many more as you dig deeper into the world of feline cuisine.
However, there is one fundamental question to answer before you get started!
Should You Use Raw Food or Cooked?
This is a more complicated question than it seems.
Many feline experts advocate one or the other. Dedicated cat guardians often draw a line in the sand and defend their position religiously.
The truth is that both types of homemade cat food – raw and cooked – can offer benefits to your little furball.
Making sure kitty gets a well-balanced diet that fills her nutritional needs is the most critical factor in protecting her health.
The prospect of giving raw cat food to your beloved critter can be daunting. Cooking food removes many natural proteins and nutrients found in the wild. However, it also removes bacteria and other microorganisms that can pose a risk to kitty’s health. Since childhood, we’ve been told about the dangers posed by eating raw foods. It’s easy to think about negative consequences.
Your cat’s biology is entirely built around the consumption of small animals caught in the wild. What seems dangerous to you is perfectly natural to her. The truth is that you can prepare a raw diet that is entirely safe for your cats. You just need to be selective about your ingredients and pay careful attention to food safety.
As long as the meat comes from a healthy animal, it’s almost certainly free from any pathogens. The bacteria exist only on the surface – which can be thoroughly and safely cleaned. Internal muscle tissue in healthy animals is free from dangerous microbes. They have the same strong immune systems that you do.
This is why raw pre-ground meat is never recommended for kitty. The grinding process introduces surface bacteria into the muscle tissue. This bacteria is impossible to clean away. Keep in mind that grinding at home is excellent because there’s no time for the bacteria to form.
You don’t have to choose one or the other. A controlled baking process aimed at providing just enough heat to eliminate surface bacteria without breaking down nutrients is a possible compromise to the raw/cooked controversy.
The bottom line is that raw is completely fine if you get quality ingredients, keep everything very clean, and do not let meat sit out. If you’re very diligent about this kind of stuff, then you can certainly feel free to go for it! If you prefer to be extra sure or aren’t 100% confident in the kitchen, maybe cooking is right for you.
Remember: Your feline friend depends on you for all her needs. Make sure you consider her quirky personality before you make any rash decisions!
How To Transition To Homemade Food
Pets are often like children, and they all come equipped with their own unique personalities.
Some are whimsical and capricious – they flit from one thing to the next and prefer a life of excitement and rapid change. These adventurous predators might take to a new diet as if they’ve been waiting for it their entire lives.
Others prefer a set, ordered routine – and they’ll learn quickly how to interpret your daily life in a way that best suits their purposes. They’ll require more structure and patience.
A gradual change in how you feed your cat is best for both you and the cat. Instead of going whole-hog right away and dropping kitty into the deep end, why not try the occasional homemade feast on certain select days?
You could begin offering kitty your newest recipe once or twice a week and gauge her reactions.
Another idea is to mix in the new food with her old, gradually replacing it in higher proportions as she becomes accustomed to the new diet.
Don’t be discouraged if she’s less than enthusiastic about your new culinary masterpiece! She knows for sure what she likes, and many cats are more stubborn than toddlers. Getting her to try something different could take some time.
Also, consider your cat’s age. If it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, imagine how difficult it is to get a mature kitty to change her habits!
Again, to properly care for your beloved pet requires patience and authority. Show her the way forward with calm assurance, and she will eventually come around. Even the most stubborn kitties can be persuaded.
Don’t worry. You’ll have a wide variety of exciting dishes from which to choose. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular recipes, tested and proven on cats of all ages and tastes.
Popular Homemade Cat Food Recipes
So, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. What exactly are you going to feed little kitty?
Remember: The benefit of homemade meals is that you can create dishes that more closely mimic the healthy, natural diet that allowed kitties to evolve over thousands of years into the perfectly pristine little predators they are today.
This means the meals you create will be made primarily of three primary ingredients: Meat, bones, and organs.
Meats are the foundation of every cat diet. All cats of any age and breed want healthy, natural meat. A kitty’s diet needs to be from 60-80% meat so she gets enough animal proteins and amino acids. Taurine, lysine, arginine, and cysteine are the most important.
Bones are an equally important source of essential minerals for your cat. While health animal meat provides a good source of phosphorous, the bones are rich in calcium and other minerals.
Organs provide amino acids and nutrients not found in lean muscle or bone. eTo recreate’ your kitty’s natural prey (such as mice), you should be including healthy fats found in organs. Organs are also an important source of water, which is important for kitty (cats tend to be lazy drinkers!)
We’ve looked all over for recipes, and although many websites and cat owners give a wide variety of information regarding what foods you can use, very few have unique recipes that are sufficient for your cat’s nutrient needs.
Rather than give you a list of sub-par recipes, we’ve chosen two – just two, on purpose – to recommend. These are both high in protein, low (or no) carbs, and trusted by many raw-fed experts. In fact, you can find the raw chicken recipe on almost any reputable homemade cat food page.
I typically use the chicken recipe listed below, but I know many people love to experiment with rabbit or a cooked meal as well, which is why I included the stew recipe, too.
Did you know that rabbits are the most common food for most wild/feral cats?
Best Cooked Cat Food Recipe: Rabbit Stew
With credit to Natural Cat Care by Christopher Day.
- 1/2 lb rabbit meat – cut into small pieces
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- A dash of parsley, thyme, rosemary, and marjoram
- Unsalted vegetable stock
- No more than 20 grams of sweet potato, carrot, celery, and peas
- Sautee rabbit in the olive oil
- Sprinkle with herbs and add vegetable stock, bringing to a boil.
- Reduce heat and cook through.
- Add chopped veggies and return to the oven for another 45 mins.
- Let cool to room temperature and serve.
- (optional) You may opt to put it through your food processor to “pre-chew” it for your cat. This might aid in the digestion process and help her consume the veggies.
- Store leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days in the fridge, or freeze
Best Raw Cat Food Recipe: Raw Chicken Cat Food (The Gold Standard)
- 4.5 lbs chicken thighs (including bone and skin!)
- 14 oz chicken hearts (or extra meat/bone source with 4000mg taurine supplement)
- 7 oz chicken livers
- 2 cups water
- 4 egg yolks or whole eggs (optional)
- 200 mg Vitamin B supplement
- 200 IU Vitamin E
- 1.5 teaspoons of light iodized salt (be sparing! Too much salt can be dangerous for kitty.)
- 2000 mg taurine
- Roughly half of the skin and 20% of the bone should be removed and discarded.
- Slice and dice most of the thighs into small bite-sized portions.
- Grind the rest of the thigh meat, bones, liver, and hearts at home (avoid buying pre-ground meat products if possible!) Stir very well.
- In a large bowl, combine all vitamin supplements, salt, and eggs, and add the 2 cups of water. Whisk the eggs well.
- You should now have three main mixtures – the sliced/sheared meat, the ground meat/bone, and the supplement bowl. All of these should now be combined and mixed thoroughly.
- Store in an airtight container that allows room for expansion as the food freezes. Leave a day or two’s worth of meal in the fridge and freeze the rest.
This recipe will make about 100 ounces of food, and the average cat eats around 4-5 ounces of food per day.
To reheat frozen food, thaw with warm water to room temperatures.
Never use the microwave to thaw kitty’s food! The microwave unevenly cooks ingredients and will break down many vital proteins your cat needs.
As you can see, preparing your kitty’s food isn’t much different from preparing your own. Some recipes call for cooking. Other recipes rely on healthy raw ingredients.
Whichever recipes you decide to utilize, there are important tools you will likely find necessary to enjoy the full benefits of homemade cat cuisine.
Tools Necessary To Do The Job
As you may have noticed, there is more preparation and care that goes into the meat products than you might have experienced cooking for yourself.
This is because unlike cats, which are obligate carnivores, we can live on an omnivorous diet and have a wide range of choices when it comes to satisfying our nutritional requirements.
If you’re serious about kitty culinary excellence, these are some additions to your kitchen you must have.
You can find excellent meat grinders online at affordable prices. A well-made grinder is the foundation of homemade cat food, because you will want to avoid generic pre-ground foods like ground beef that are meant for human consumption and intended to be cooked.
You will also be grinding up bones, so don’t skimp on quality.
Heavy-Duty Meat Cleaver
Yes, you’ll be taking on the role of kitchen butcher as well. A sharp, sturdy cleaver will be an essential tool in your arsenal as you slice and dice raw meat into dainty, bite-sized morsels for your cat.
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Some bones (such as turkey) will have to be cut down to smaller pieces before you put them into your grinder.
Mortar and pestle
You will likely have to grind up supplements in pill form and sprinkle them into the meals so kitty can get the full range of vitamins and minerals.
Air-tight storage containers
Whether you use Ziploc bags, glass containers, or Tupperware, you will certainly need to freeze food for long-term storage.
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Of course, you will also need to use normal kitchen implements like bowls, whisks, etc.
The Best Ingredients…Do You Go Organic? (And What To Avoid)
A good dish is only as healthy as the ingredients you use to make it.
The main ingredient source you’ll need to consider will be protein. No recipe should have more than 10% carbs.
The decision to use organic ingredients is totally up to you and your lifestyle. If it’s important, absolutely go with organic, but if you don’t, it’s not a huge issue!
Poultry (especially chicken) is the staple of most homemade cat diets. Whole chicken (with skin!) will be the go-to source of protein for your kitty; just make sure you get a fowl source of meat that isn’t foul. Turkey, quail, cornish hens, and other small game birds are ideal because they have small delicate bones and low fat content.
Small game like rabbits suit a cat’s unique digestive system perfectly. You’ll likely have to find a source of healthy rabbits from an online provider – unless you’re lucky enough to live on a farm, in which case you can raise them yourself! There are also sites that sell whole, frozen small game animals, ready to eat if you want your cat to have the real experience.
Beef is less common in kitty diets. Ground beef for human consumption is not recommended, and bovine muscle has much more fat in general. Your feline pet is not a fan of too much fat; her natural diet has very little. Also, most beef you find today is loaded with antibiotics and growth hormones. Who wants to drug their delicate pet with nasty human chemicals?
Fish is not recommended as a general rule, mainly because safe sources of raw fish are not easy to find. Some species, like tuna, have concentrations of mercury that are unsafe for cats, plus cats often get super addicted to fish because it has such a strong scent and taste. In other words, they won’t want to eat anything else. Oops. Fish contains an enzyme called thiaminase which can lead to vitamin B deficiencies if too much is consumed.
Pork should be avoided. Raw pork has a rare but serious parasite called trichinosis which can cause serious problems in your pets (and people). What makes this particular organism more dangerous than most is that it actually exists within muscle tissue, meaning that it’s impossible to control with food safety procedures. Besides, pork is very high in fat – no thanks!
The general idea with meat for your kitty is that it should be from animals that she would likely hunt in the wild.
Your kitty shouldn’t have many carbs…in the wild they eat roughly 2% of their calories from carbs.
But remember…the cat will often eat their prey’s stomach (including plant-based stomach contents) first, so a few greens and veg are acceptable to replicate this minimal carb requirement.
In the perfect world, kitty would get all vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and amino acids from natural sources in her diet.
However, in the real world, it is often impractical and difficult to ensure she gets the full spectrum from your food ingredients.
This is why you will likely need to purchase supplements to fill in the gaps.
Calcium is a crucial addition to her diet only if you’ve decided not to include bones in your recipes. Otherwise, it isn’t necessary to add any calcium to her dishes.
Iodized lite salt is a necessary supplement if your cat isn’t getting any thyroid organs in her meals. Kitty is very sensitive to salt, so a source with less sodium than normal is recommended.
Taurine is the most critical protein supplement your kitty needs. Buy some to sprinkle over dishes to ensure she gets as much of this critical ingredient as she needs.
Fish oil provides a source of omega acids that are normally found in the eyes and brains of her wild prey.
Vitamin E and Vitamin B complex should be in pill form so you can grind them up. These are essential vitamins and must be a part of any homemade feline diet.
When you add supplements, be careful not to go overboard – err on the side of caution. You can add capsules directly to the grinding process, but I prefer to remove the cap of capsule supplements like fish oil and pour them in directly.
Usually it’s recommended to mix the supplements when you’re mixing all other ingredients together in the mixing bowl.
Storing The Food
Yes, food always tastes better when it’s fresh.
It’s healthier, and is richer in healthy enzymes and proteins that begin to degrade over time.
However, the modern lifestyle will probably make it difficult for you to find the time to make meals from scratch every day.
The homemade kitty diet is best when it’s done consistently and over a long period of time. The more trouble and inconvenience it is to prepare, the less likely you’ll stick to a healthy diet for your little furball.
That’s why storage is crucial! This is where your airtight containers come in handy.
Food can be stored in a fridge for no more than 3 days, and I personally throw food out after 2. The cold environment in your fridge does not kill or stop most organism growth; it simply slows it down.
You don’t want freezer burn, so when you store the extra food after preparation, do it as quickly as possible and with the tightest possible seal.
How Much Do Your Cats Need To Eat?
So how much food do your cats need to eat?
Notice I said need, not want!
This depends on the weight of your cat, its lifestyle and activity level, and its age.
You can check out our article on the subject here: How Much Food Should I Feed My Cat?
As a general rule, most cats need 30 calories per pound per day. The math here should be fairly simple. If your cat is 10 pounds, she’ll need 300 calories, which is, in dry food terms, about a cup. Though we’re obviously not going to be feeding dry food, it’s a good way to make the comparison in your head, since you may have fed dry food in the past. In the same vein, it’s about 6 oz of wet cat food.
Make sure you’re figuring out the calories and macronutrient profiles of the recipes you’re making and adjust the feeding sizes based on your cat’s health and weight.
Feed no more than twice a day and be sure to only put as much food down as she will eat. Throw away anything uneaten and do not be tempted to store it – this is a very bad idea from a food safety standpoint.
We definitely recommend chatting with your vet about your cat’s exact food needs.
But remember, you can always adjust! If you find your cat is meowing all through the night and is obviously hungry, try increasing the amount. If you increase the amount but notice your cat is gaining weight, she’s eating too much, so tone it back a bit.
Fresh, Homemade Food Delivery Services
This is a new one to me, but I was recently contacted by the folks at NomNomNow to let me know that their veterinary-formulated recipes are created by their in-house chef, and that they ship to all 48 contiguous US states. Oh and by veterinary-formulated, I mean by the leading veterinary nutritionist in the United States.
Basically, it’s like those human-food delivery services that allow you eat healthy, NOT spend your time having to go to the grocery shopping, and NOT spend your time cooking…but for your cat.
It’s refreshingly simple, with 2 high quality recipes.
Their Chicken Chow-Meow is:
- Chicken thigh, breast and liver: Tasty source of protein, vitamins, and minerals (iron, copper, vitamin D)
- Asparagus: Excellent source of vitamins and minerals, including potassium to keep your cat’s heart healthy
- Carrot: Beta carotene serves as an antioxidant
- Spinach: Superfood that boosts the immune system and strengthens the digestive system
- Cantaloupe: Packed with beta carotene, potassium, amino acids, and antioxidants—plus that melon flavor cats can’t resist
- NomNomNutrient Mix: Expertly formulated nutrition blend
Love the use of multiple parts of the chicken, plus each vegetable and fruit are picked for their vitamin and nutrient profile. Their nutrient mix covers all the rest of the vitamin/mineral bases.
Their Flavorful Fish Feast is:
- Tilapia: Protein, vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids for a luxurious coat
- Salmon: More omega-3s, vitamins, and minerals—plus a tasty flavor cats love
- Beef fat: A source of choline and unsaturated fatty acids for a healthy coat and skin
- Yuca: Calcium, vitamin C, and minerals galore for strong bones
- Carrot: Beta carotene serves as an antioxidant
- NomNomNutrient Mix: Expertly formulated nutrition blend
I love both recipes due to the fresh foods used, and the fact that the macronutrient profile for each is spot on for what your cat biologically requires. 50% or higher protein, 10% or lower carbohydrates.
They’ll send you samples of each one with your first order so you can decide what one is right, in case you want to order some of both.
As for the company, they’re absolute pet lovers. In fact, the team member who first got in touch sent me a picture of himself with his cat! I LOVE getting things like that that shows just how dedicated they are.
The meals are delivered fresh, not frozen, and the packaging is recyclable.
Speaking of the packaging, each meal is prepackaged in individual bags, so you just open one, serve it to your kitty, and recycle the bag. One bag is one meal, and each weekly order will provide 14 tailor-made meal portions to give to your cat, based on the cat’s weight, age, and target weight.
You can read our full review of NomNomNow here.
So, if you’re convinced that homemade is the way to go, but are kind of scared to do it all yourself, I highly recommend checking out NomNomNow. It’s a pretty affordable way to make sure your cat is eating an optimal diet, based on his or her needs as an obligate carnivore.
And right now, they’re offering 50% off your first order!
FAQs / Things To Consider
So now you’ve gotten all the ingredients and supplements you need, the tools, freezer space – everything to begin an exciting journey into the world of homemade cat food.
I was super stoked when I first began. It’s natural to be enthusiastic – after all, this is healthier, more natural, and it certainly tastes better for my kitties.
So I guess it should be no surprise that I ran into problems almost immediately. My cats were both older and stubborn; they were used to a commercial cat food diet and weren’t impressed by my culinary competence.
Mixing a little of the new recipe with the older food was the key to my success, gradually weaning them off their older diet.
Another idea is to start it as a once or twice a week treat, and increase the frequency over time.
Be more patient than your cats, and be firm. They count on you to make the right choices – they’re pets, not owners! (I have to keep reminding myself of that.)
Sourcing raw ingredients is extremely important. Meats that are prepared for human consumption are not given the same strict antibacterial treatment as raw meats that are raised for pet consumption. Meat for you is meant to be cooked – so the standards are more lax.
Many providers exist that offer organic, healthy sources of meat like rabbits, ducks, chicken, etc. for your kitty. This will make it safe to feed raw ingredients.
Should you add any vegetables to their food?
The short answer is no, and the longer answer is no, not really, but you can if you’d like – in very small quantities. Your homemade cat food should be made from less than 10% carbohydrates.
Kitty’s digestive system is not equipped to deal with plant matter. A few sprinkles of parsley, a human-grade little corn, rice, or squash, etc, is fine to round out the meal, but it isn’t required.
Do different breeds need different recipes and ingredients?
No, the recipes and ingredients discussed here are appropriate for all breeds of pet kitties. However, like everything, if you have particular concerns about your cat, please consult your vet!
What about kittens?
These recipes are just as good for your baby cat as they are for an adult. Kittens are growing, so they’ll need more calories and vitamins per pound of body weight than your adult cat; but the ingredient needs are identical for cats of all ages, once they’re eating solid foods.
Why is my cat drinking less water?
Finally, you may notice that after you switch to a raw/homemade diet, your cat is drinking less water. This is normal, and it’s a good thing!
Homemade cat food contains a lot more water than commercially prepared pet food. Most mammals get the majority of their liquid requirements met in their food.
Remember: The foremost concern you must have when preparing food for your cat is safety! Raw ingredients are perfectly safe only if you maintain strict standards! Don’t worry, it isn’t as much work as you think – and it will pay huge dividends in the long run.
The pride you feel when your cat comes running, excited and eager to eat the fresh meal you just prepared from scratch is awesome! So what are you waiting for? Get started today and soon you’ll be more connected to your little furballs than ever before!