You can save yourself a good deal of time and frustration by organizing your supplies, taking a little time to plan storage, and balancing patience and stubbornness in feeding a home-prepared diet. I’ve learned a great deal from buddies like Lee and Michelle. This is my compilation of the tips and timesaving shortcuts that I’ve found most helpful.
Keep all your dry ingredients together in ONE place in the kitchen, so you can easily find everything and not have to hunt it all down every time you make cat food.
Poultry shears or a good tough pair of kitchen scissors can sometimes be easier than a knife for cutting and chunking the meats. Slightly frozen meat is easier to chop. Personally, I’m a hopeless klutz with poultry shears and have never figured out how to use them with ease. But many experienced raw food makers swear by them. Good luck with that. I use regular old cheap kitchen scissors.
For any of the ingredients that you can buy either in capsules or tablets, go for the capsules. If you start spending too much time on little things like crushing tablets in a mortar and pestle, there’s a danger you’ll give up making your own cat food. That would be terrible.
Buy the vitamin E in dry powder form in capsules. It’s much easier to deal with than those little oil-filled capsules. Really, if you buy those oil-filled capsules, you’ll be cussing me.
Use a needle to pierce or small scissors to open the salmon oil capsules, or let them dissolve in warm water.
If opening capsules is driving you nuts, you can simply put all the capsules in some of the water (warmed up just a bit) and give them about 20 minutes to dissolve. Make sure they’re completely dissolved and mixed in with all the water – you don’t want kitty biting into a capsule of B-complex and deciding she doesn’t like the taste of raw food any more. If you’re impatient, use an immersion blender to speed things up.
Keep your knives sharp. Dull knives make the whole process last too long and can be more dangerous to use than sharp ones. If you really want a treat, buy a set of Wusthof knives. They rock. By the way: try not to cut yourself. Try really hard. Cats need meat, yes, but not yours.
An egg separator can make things a little easier and faster too. They’re cheap. Just buy one. If you have a good sense of humor, buy this one.
Don’t try and “guess” weights of meats or organs – use a scale. You can get them very inexpensively at some stores, and there’s absolutely no need to buy a fancy one for your cat food-making purposes.
- That said, don’t lose your mind about weights either. Inevitably, if you buy a chicken or rabbit, it’s rarely going to weigh exactly the amount the recipe calls for. You may need to adjust a bit and add more or less water and adjust the supplements accordingly. But don’t get your undies all in a bundle over this. Cats in the wild don’t always get exactly the precise amount of B-complex needed in every mouse meal. The big thing to watch is to make sure to adjust the water to the amount appropriate for the weight of meat you’re using – you don’t want the final product too dry or too soupy. Unless your cat likes it too dry or too soupy.
Buy quality salmon oil. Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are extraordinarily important to overall health for cats. Cats in the wild get it from eating the brains and eyes of their prey. You’re probably not feeding brains and eyes, and that’s why you’re using salmon oil. Don’t let anyone try and tell you flaxseed oil is the “same.” It’s not. It works for dogs but not cats. Cats cannot process the EFAs from flaxseed oil into something that’s bioavailable to them.
When you chunk the meat, go for chunks that are as big as your cat will eat – bigger is better. Try not to leave much or any skin on the chunks, as the fat is hard for kitty to tear through; if the cat gets a piece of fat stuck on her teeth she may become an “anti-chunk” cat altogether. The more tearing at muscle meat they do, the better for their teeth and gums. Some cats are fussy and eat around the chunks at first. Leave them out for a little while. Many cats will go back and eat them a bit later. If that doesn’t work, make the chunks smaller and slowly increase their size over time. Remember – cats eat mice and most cats I’ve met don’t go hunt down a grinder to process their mice into a pulp first. Mother Nature has cats eating mice and birds whole for a reason – not just the nutritional value, but for the overall health of the cat’s mouth. Don’t underestimate the value of the mechanical action of eating for these carnivores.
Chunking the muscle meat by hand goes faster if the meat is semi-frozen. If the time spent hand-chunking some of the meat is keeping you from enjoying life, buy a larger grinding plate for your grinder and use that for grinding up the meat. You may still want to use the smaller grinding plate for grinding bones if you’re concerned that the size of bone bits is too big. I learned about this amazing timesaver from a loyal site visitor and raw feeder, Kimi Thomas, who runs the very cool New Conceptions website. You can get a special 3/4-inch grinding plate with large holes for grinding the meat here. This tool is a timesaver.
If you are doing something you find particularly distasteful -like hacking up a whole rabbit, turn on some loud Sinatra and sing your heart out.
Store the prepared food in something that is of a manageable size. Some folks store in freezer baggies. Others like those one-cup plastic freezer containers from Ziploc or Glad. A really nice touch is to use wide-mouth Ball Mason glass freezer jars; they keep the food fresh longer and it’s always nice storing in glass instead of plastic. Be certain to buy the “can-or-freeze” jars–not the plain canning jars.) I find the one-pint size of the can-or-freeze jars (the wide-mouthed type) work perfectly for one- or two-cat households.
I live with two cats, and I always have two containers in the refrigerator: the one we’re using currently and another “on deck.” When the first one is finished, I immediately take a new container out of the freezer and put it in the refrigerator to begin thawing.
This works out well for two cats. How you opt to do this, of course, depends on how many cats you’re feeding and how much they eat daily, which varies greatly from cat to cat. Another option some folks use is to freeze individual servings in ice cube trays, then remove and portion into individual baggies. If the food is a little frozen when you want to serve it, it’s a snap to thaw it quickly in a baggie under hot water as you warm it. I think it’s better to have the food on the frozen side rather than the “starting to turn bad” side.
Put a small label on each container with the food type (i.e., chicken, rabbit, whatever) and the date you made it. My rationale for doing this is that if I ever did end up with a batch that I suspect, for some reason, is bad, I can know which containers contain the questionable batch.
Don’t serve the food cold straight from the refrigerator. Some cats will hurl up their raw food if it’s very cold when it hits their stomach. Buy some cheap plastic snack-size zipper baggies, portion the food into them, and run it under hot water until it’s warmed to at least room temperature or slightly higher (i.e., mouse body temperature).
I don’t suggest microwaving this food. This is especially true if you’ve used bones in your recipe. Why would you want to cook something that’s supposed to be served raw? Cooking is the enemy of all the lovely nutrients and life-giving enzymes in raw food that you’ve just taken the time and trouble to prepare. Just warm the food under warm water in a baggie.
Never risk feeding food that is slightly “off” or spoiled. Chances are your cat won’t touch it in that condition, but to be safe, you can try my trick: work out a thawing routine whereby the food you’re about to serve is still just ever-so-slightly frozen. It’s easy enough to complete the thawing quickly by running the food in a baggie under warm water to take off the chill, and this way you’re assured that the food has not gone “bad” from being thawed for too long.
If your cat turns up her nose at the stuff, try not to fret too much. Do not give up. Just start sneaking teensy amounts into canned food and increase the amount slowly. Some cats take to raw food instantly, never look back, and seem relieved that you’ve finally figured out how to properly feed them. If that happens to you, count your blessings and don’t worry about making some arduous, slow transition. However, some cats, especially older ones, are especially serious, dedicated, and stubborn kibble addicts. Don’t give in! Do whatever it takes to get the cat eating her great new food – sprinkle ground up kibble on top if you must, but persist. Also remember: an otherwise healthy cat will NOT die from missing a few meals. Hunger can work in your favor. Don’t be afraid to be a little stubborn.
Don’t over-do the use of “bribe foods” on top of raw to get your cat eating the raw food, however. Lots of tuna juice, for example, is a big no-no, as the flavor is so powerful that your cat may refuse anything that isn’t tuna flavored later on. But a sprinkle of their favorite old commercial food is fine. Another trick is to crumble some Bravo freeze dried treats on top of the new food.
Remember the important thing is to eventually make the transition, not to make it overnight.
I took three full weeks to transition my first cat to raw, and I know of other people who have taken months to get their carbohydrate-addicted felines fully switched to this diet. It’s all much easier if we start feeding this way when they’re young, adaptable kittens. There is no need to change the diet if you’re feeding a kitten or an older cat. There is no such thing as special “life stage” food for cats in the wild, like those you see on the shelves of many pet food superstores. A kitten will need definitely need more raw food and more frequent feedings, but not a different food. A senior cat that isn’t too active might need less food. But they all can thrive on good, healthy, fresh raw food.
A bit of variety is helpful in keeping house cats interested in their food. Good options include: rabbit, chicken, Cornish Game Hen, turkey, and guinea fowl. Some cats also love beef and lamb, but not all cats that have been eating commercial food for a long time digest beef or lamb easily at first.
For even more suggestions and ideas on successfully transitioning cats to a raw diet, please see my FAQ entry this issue.
by Eunyoung Lee and Eunsoo Lee