Like its oldest and closest ancestor, the African wildcat, domestic felines are natural born hunters. Tom and Jerry, Itchy and Scratchy—cats' obsession with catching and eating mice is iconic for a reason.
Turns out, those tiny rodents are a one-stop nutrition shop for cats: Raw fat and raw protein from their flesh, organs, and bones; raw enzymes, vegetables, seeds, and probiotics from their intestines, plus fiber. All of which makes you wonder—if fresh meat is so great for cats, why do commercial kibbles have such a high starch content?
The story is the same for dogs. Although they thrive on fresh, protein-heavy diets, most traditional dog food is packed with carbs and byproducts.
“Once you figure out that fresh whole foods are the way to go for a human diet, you can pretty much transfer that to dogs and cats,” says holistic veterinarian Dr. Jean Hofve. That's where a Paleo pet diet comes in. For animals, that means giving them ingredients that closely resemble what they've always eaten in the wild throughout their evolution. For cats, this is strictly raw meat, and for dogs that raw meat is supplemented with some vegetables.
But there are drawbacks. One of the primary concerns is the bacteria found in raw meat, but dogs and cats have a more acidic digestive system than humans do, which helps to eliminate most food-borne pathogens. It's humans who should actually be concerned about handling raw meat—pathogens like e.coli can be extremely dangerous.
However, Dr. Hofve says we shouldn't shy away from it. After all, many of us work with raw meat in the kitchen all the time. "With a modicum of consciousness over hygiene, it’s not a problem,” she says. Some tips: Opt for organic meat, and always practice safe handling by washing hands thoroughly before and after touching meat, and washing all dishes and utensils with soap and hot water.
Another controversy is whether or not pets can get proper nutrition on a raw Paleo diet. While there hasn't been definitive research declaring whether or not this diet is, in fact, healthier than one of typical commercial pet food, some pet owners who've made the switch have noticed their pets have more energy, shinier coats, improved dental health, and better odor.
For convenience, there are frozen, dehydrated, and freeze-dried raw foods that contain all the necessary nutrients for dogs and cats. But for Paleo pet parents who want to whip up a seriously nutritious raw meal for their animals, try these recipes developed by Dr. Hofve for cats and dogs.
Take two pounds of organic grass-fed or pasture-raised meat or free-range poultry (never use pork or fish because there’s too high of a risk of contamination and parasites) and half a pound of organic organ meat like liver, kidney, heart, or gizzard and chop everything into small bite-sized chunks. (Make sure these have been previously frozen for 72 hours to kill parasites, then thaw in the refrigerator.)
Add one to two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and the contents of an omega-3 supplement capsule (pierce and squeeze it into the mixture). Also add 500 milligrams of taurine (from a powder or capsule), which is necessary for providing amino acids that cats need. A calcium supplement is absolutely essential for bone health—add one to two tablespoons per pound of meat.
OPTIONAL: Add two to four ounces of non-starchy organic vegetables and/or fruits (steamed or raw pureed for easier digestion) like zucchini, sprouts, broccoli, sweet potatoes, yellow squash, kale, turnips, chard, spinach, apples, berries, and bananas for fiber. If pets have digestive difficulties on this diet, add ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon of a digestive enzyme supplement.
Refrigerate this food for up to four days in a tightly sealed glass container. Feed cats two to four ounces at a time, two to three times per day. Only leave the food out for 30 minutes or less since it is raw. Introduce kittens to this diet at about five weeks with one half to one full teaspoon four to six times a day while nursing.
For the most part, dogs can eat the same food as cats, but a healthy cat diet is a little more particular. Follow the same recipe as above for dogs, making these modifications if necessary:
-Taurine is not necessary for dogs, but not harmful either.
-Consider adding up to 16 ounces of the same vegetables, since dogs are more omnivorous compared to carnivorous cats.
-Feed small dogs up to a cup of food at each meal. Medium to large sized dogs can eat up to a pound a day. Feed puppies and pregnant and lactating females three to four times a day, or on demand.
It can take about two to four weeks on this diet for pets to get used to it since their pancreas may not be prepared for raw food. Just like humans, pets should be eased into a Paleo diet. Have patience!
Photo credit: Cara Slifka via Stocksy