Balanced homemade diets are the best for our cats and dogs. By making your pet’s food at home, you control the quality of the ingredients, and commercial food additives such as colorings and preservatives can be avoided. Once you get the hang of it, homemade food is both time and cost-efficient. It’s definitely worth the effort!
Before you put your companion animal on a home-prepared diet, please discuss your decision with your veterinarian, or a holistic veterinarian who understands nutrition and is comfortable with home-made diets. For a list of holistic veterinary practitioners by state, visit AHVMA.org.
For more complete and detailed information on preparing your cat’s food at home, see http://www.catinfo.org. You might also want to read the following books, so that you have a more complete understanding of feline nutritional needs.
It is essential that you follow any diet’s recommendations closely, including all ingredients and supplements. Failure to do so may result in serious health consequences for your animal companion.
- The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care. Celeste Yarnall, PhD and Jean Hofve, DVM. Available from Amazon.com — or if you’d like an autographed copy, from Celestial Pets.
- Paleo Dog: Give Your Best Friend a Long Life, Healthy Weight, and Freedom from Illness by Nurturing His Inner Wolf. Dr. Jean Hofve and Celeste Yarnall, PhD. Available from Amazon.com and many other booksellers.
- Raising Cats Naturally. Michelle Bernard. Available from Amazon and many other booksellers.
Meat may be fed cooked, raw, or in between. Meat amounts are given in raw weight. Freeze raw meat for 72 hours at -4 degrees F to kill encysted parasites.
Please note that feeding bones presents risks; even raw bones can and do splinter. Bones may cause teeth to fracture, and may also cause life-threatening perforations, impactions, and obstructions. However, bones are a good source of nutrition, are fun for your pet, and can be fed safely if proper guidelines are followed (see below).
FOR ALL PETS: Please pay attention to your animal companion’s health: weight, energy level, skin condition, odor, coat quality, stool consistency, and oral health. If these are not maintaining or improving, consult your veterinarian about changing elements of the diet.
The following recipes were created by nutritionist Dr. Celeste Yarnall and Dr. Jean Hofve.
The Basics: READ ME FIRST!
#1 – Please read and understand all of these points before beginning!
- While pre-ground meat is fine, it’s even better to buy whole cuts of meat if possible, and have your butcher grind it fresh, or grind it yourself at home. Any grocery store will do this for you. Never use non-organic ground beef; the conventional beef industry’s chronic lack of hygiene creates an unacceptably high level of bacterial contamination. Do not feed raw fish.
- Ideally, part of the meat should be coarse ground or cut into bite-sized chunks (based on the size of your pet’s mouth. For cats and small dogs, that means small, even pea-sized.
- Bone-in meats or whole poultry should be run through the grinder three times to reduce bone chunk size.
- All raw meat, organs, and bones should be be treated with a solution of 4 drops of grapefruit seed extract (GSE) diluted in 8 ounces of purified water to help reduce (not eliminate) microbial contamination. NEVER use straight, undiluted GSE: it will cause severe chemical burns! For ground meat, use enough solution to obtain a consistency like thick chili. For whole cuts, meat chunks, necks, and bones, defrost them in this solution in the refrigerator.
- As much as possible, use organic products, 100% grass-fed meat, eggs from 100% pastured hens, and raw organic dairy products.
- All liver must be organic.
- Meat may be fed cooked, partly cooked, or raw. There is not a significant difference in nutrient quantities between raw and cooked meat. (While many holistic veterinarians, including myself, generally recommend feeding meat raw because it is more nutritionally bioavailable and contains hundreds of enzymes, there are potential risks, especially to chronically ill animals. Please discuss this issue with your veterinarian before feeding raw meat.)
- Raw meat be frozen for at least 72 hours at -4oF prior to feeding to kill Toxoplasma and other protozoa, as well as worm larval cysts. (Dubey 1996) Most meats can be refrozen twice safely, so once you mix the meal, it can be put back in the freezer until thawed for feeding. (However, a great deal of commercially packed meat has already been frozen once, so ask your butcher!)
- Freezing does not kill bacteria or viruses. GSE is anti-microbial and is used to reduce (but not eliminate) such contamination. Raw meat should always be considered highly contaminated with bacteria, and good hygiene practices must be followed.
- Raw ground beef must be organic, and processed separately from commercial non-organic beef (butchers will know about this).
- Do not feed raw pork or raw fish due to parasites and anti-nutrient factors.
- Always follow safe meat-handling procedures. Safe handling of raw meat is imperative. Thoroughly wash hands, dishes, and utensils in hot soapy water. If you have a dishwasher, use it! Clean all contact surfaces with pet- and environmentally-safe cleaning products.
- If desired, feed raw bones for “dessert” (bones are eaten last in the wild) once per week. Use whole raw chicken necks, turkey necks, or oxtails (depending on size of the pet’s jaws). Cut between vertebrae, and if necessary, further cut into appropriately sized chunks.
- It’s a great idea to pound necks with a mallet to crush the bones before serving, especially for small pets or those who are not accustomed to chewing bones. This greatly reduces the risk of damage from sharp bone chunks.
- If you are grinding whole (bone-in) meat or poultry, then it is not necessary or advisable to feed additional bones. Ground bones provide the same benefits.
- Feeding bones presents many risks; even raw bones can crack teeth, perforate the gut, and cause intestinal impactions. Because bone meal contains as much phosphorus as calcium, I now recommend a plain calcium supplement instead of bone meal; there is enough phosphorus and magnesium in meat to balance it. However, if bone meal is all you have available, that’s fine; it has been used successfully for many years. (However, pets with impaired kidney function should not be given bone meal due to the high phosphorus.)
- Do not feed long bones (arm, wing, rib, or leg), whether raw, cooked, or otherwise processed. They are the most likely to splinter. (Ostrich bones are the exception; their bone structure is very different from other animals.) Vertebrae are safer.
- Always supervise your pet when you give bones in case of choking.
- Discard leftover bones at the end of the day.
- Carnivores don’t have the enzymes to digest raw fruits and vegetables, so to get the maximum nutritional value from plant products, they must be “pre- digested” by cooking (preferably steaming) or pureeing. Adding a digestive enzyme supplement is also helpful.
- Cats and dogs do not need vegetables, but mixing all the supplements together with organic baby food (and the oils) before adding the meat makes the process faster and easier. The baby food contributes a few nutrients, antioxidants, a minor amount of carbs, and fiber; and, according to my cats, the finished product tastes better.
- For dogs, you can add extra vegetables as well as fruits. However, limit high carb fruits like bananas and watermelon. Cats should not get fruit except as a rare treat. Cantaloupe and asparagus are popular kitty treats.
- Some dogs seem to do better with more starch. Including organic grain ingredients may be helpful for them. Buckwheat and quinoa, which are not true grains, or sweet potatoes, may be good options if you wish to avoid wheat, rice, and barley, and corn. Corn and wheat must be organic due to genetic engineering and pesticide use. True gluten allergy has only been reported in Irish Setters.
- NEVER SKIP VITAMINS OR OTHER SUPPLEMENTS—THEY ARE CRUCIAL TO YOUR PET’S HEALTH!
- When choosing a vitamin-mineral supplement, be SURE it is intended to create a complete and balanced diet when added to meat or meat+veggies. The vast majority of supplements do not fulfill this criterion. How can you tell? The most important mineral is calcium, and calcium is quite bulky. A truly complete supplement will require at least a tablespoon per pound of meat in the recipe. If the directions are for less than this, then it isn’t an appropriate product for this purpose (see Recipe for suggestions).
- Alternatively, use a human vitamin/mineral supplement. Quality counts! Some of the cheaper (and most heavily advertised) human supplements, particularly those with a heavy coating, are not digested even by people, and should not be used for animals. Try to avoid synthetic vitamins, such as dl-alpha-tocopherol (synthetic vitamin E), and products containing artificial colors, sweeteners, or preservatives. Cats and small dogs (up to 25 lbs.) should get about 1/4 of a human supplement per day. (A good trick: many human supplements require multiple capsules daily; if the serving size is 4 capsules per day, your small pet can just take one. However, you will probably need to add additional calcium, because there isn’t much in human daily supplements.)
- You can grind up the supplements with a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle to add to the food; or buy capsules, and just open the capsule and empty the powder into the food.
- Probiotics include L. acidophilus and other “good” bacteria. They help maintain your companion animal’s normal bacterial population and prevent colonization by disease-causing bacteria. A great product is Felix’s Flora by Adored Beast. It must taste good because my cat not only eats it without quibbling, but prefers food with it added! Prebiotics (good fiber) are needed to feed the probiotics.
- Digestive enzymes are important to keep the pancreas happy, and to aid digestion so your pet gets the greatest nutritional value from the food.
- Human probiotic and enzyme supplements may be given at 1/2 to a full human dose.
General Instructions (READ ME, TOO!)
- If you want to make substitutions or try other ingredients, see UC Davis’s Balance IT program and use their Autobalancer EZ to make sure you are getting amounts at least close to what’s needed.
- Variety is essential to your pet’s health! (This applies to any and all diets and recipes!) Do not get in the habit of feeding just one or two combinations of ingredients.
- Prepared food can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Store it in a glass jar, bowl, or other container with a tightly fitting lid (Pyrex® makes good ones). Do not use plastic, metal, or non-food-grade glazed bowls.
- To make a large batch of food, increase portions and mix all ingredients together. Freeze in meal-sized portions. It is okay to add enzymes when making the food; it may even be beneficial to do so, because the pre-digestion process will have a little extra time to work, and reduce the stress on the pancreas. It is okay to freeze in plastic baggies or containers, since freezing minimizes off-gassing and odors from the plastic.
- Do not re-freeze meat more than twice (bearing in mind that most commercial meat has already been frozen once before you bought it; ask the butcher about this).
- When you thaw meat to make the food, refreeze within 24 hours. You may add all supplements before freezing.
- Always defrost in the refrigerator.
- Never microwave anything!
The following recipe is as balanced as I can make it without the $5,000 computer program used by nutritionists; but please be aware that it has not been formally analyzed or tested for long-term use as the sole diet. Variety is critically important to maintain a proper amino acid, vitamin, and mineral balance.
BASIC FRESH RAW FOOD RECIPE FOR CATS & KITTENS
- NutriBiotic Grapefruit Seed Extract (diluted in water)
- 1 pound meat or poultry, preferably organic, 100% grass- fed or pasture-raised raw diced beef, or ground organic poultry, up to 20-25% fat. Also try venison, elk, bison, rabbit, ostrich, quail, and other poultry, and alternate and/or combine meats for variety; coarse ground or cut into bite-sized chunks (based on the size of your cat’s mouth)
OPTIONAL: 2 chopped hard-boiled or scrambled eggs may be substituted for 1/4 of any meat
- 4 oz. organic liver or equivalent glandular supplement
- 1 tablespoon organic flaxseed oil, hemp seed oil, or walnut oil (2 tablespoons if using beef, venison, elk, rabbit, or white meat poultry). Organic safflower or organic sunflower oil may be substituted.
- Omega-3 supplement: 3 – 4 capsules of Moxxor green-lipped mussel oil, pierced and squeezed into the food OR Nordic Naturals Pet Omega-3 OR Nordic Naturals Pet Cod Liver Oil
- Pinch of Himalayan or Celtic finely ground pink salt
- 500 milligrams taurine (powder or capsule)
- A dash of Kyolic Aged Liquid Garlic (refrigerate after opening)
- Complete Vitamin-Mineral Supplement made specifically for homemade diets, such as Dr. Bob Goldstein’s Raw Complete Powder, Balance IT Carnivore Blend for Dogs & Cats or Balance IT Feline OR 1/4 adult dose of a good quality human multiple vitamin-mineral supplement (NOT One-a-Day or Centrum). Whole food-based products from companies such as Mega-Food or New Chapter are best. Dose based on meat+liver weight so you don’t over- or under-supplement.
- THE ABOVE SUPPLEMENTS ARE NOT OPTIONAL! FAILURE TO ADD RECOMMENDED SUPPLEMENTS CAN LEAD TO SEVERE, EVEN FATAL NUTIENT DEFICIENCIES!
OPTIONAL #1 but highly recommended: Probiotic + prebiotic supplement
OPTIONAL #2 but highly recommended: 1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon Digestive Enzyme supplement (such as Only Natural Vital Digest), mixed into the food at serving time
OR instead of #1 and #2, use a digestive enzyme-prebiotic-probiotic supplement such as Only Natural Complete Gut Health, mixed into the food at serving time
OPTIONAL #3: 2 – 4 oz steamed and/or pureed non-starchy vegetables, preferably organic, such as zucchini, sprouts, broccoli, yellow squash, kale, chard, spinach; OR 1 jar of organic baby food vegetables or veggie-meat combo. (Avoid high-oxalate vegetables for cats with a history of calcium oxalate urinary crystals: beans, beets, beet greens, collards, okra, parsley, soy, sweet potato, spinach, Swiss chard).
OPTIONAL #4: Up to 1 tablespoon ground Chia seeds for cats who need more fiber
- All meat should be pre-frozen and treated with diluted GSE.
- Cut organ meats into bite-size chunks. If not using ground, chunks should be minced into appropriate size for kittens or cats with dental problems (Note: this means tiny); larger chunks may be fed to healthy adults.
- Mix all ingredients together and serve with love!
- Leave food down for 30-60 minutes (less in hot weather). Kittens, pregnant queens, and lactating mothers should eat at least 3-4 times daily, or on demand.
Tips for Cats:
Cats and kittens like their food very fresh. Prepared food can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Feed cats 2-5 times per day; preferably at least 3 separate meals (e.g., morning, right after school/work, and bedtime). Once fully transitioned to this diet, the average cat will eat 4-8 oz. of food per day. Kittens may be introduced to this diet at the age of 5 weeks. Start with one half to a full teaspoon 4-6 times a day while they are still nursing. You may introduce mashed chicken necks to kittens at 8 weeks of age. If using any raw meat be sure to include digestive enzymes and probiotics.
BASIC FRESH RAW FOOD RECIPE FOR DOGS & PUPPIES
NutriBiotic Grapefruit Seed Extract (diluted in water)
2 pounds meat or poultry, preferably organic, 100% grass- fed or pasture-raised raw diced beef, or coarse-ground organic poultry, up to 15 percent fat. (Do not use pork or fish; limit ground lamb because of its high fat content.) Also try venison, elk, bison, ostrich, quail, and other poultry, and alternate and/or combine meats for variety. (All meat should be frozen for 72 hours to kill parasitic cysts prior to feeding.) Meat should be coarse ground or cut into bite-sized chunks (based on the size of your smallest dog’s mouth)
1/2 lb. organic liver (occasionally can substitute kidney, heart, gizzard, etc.)
OPTIONAL: Up to 16 oz. steamed and/or pureed non-starchy vegetables, preferably organic: zucchini, sprouts, broccoli, sweet potatoes, yellow squash, kale, turnips, chard, spinach, apples, berries, bananas OR 2 jars of organic baby food vegetables or veggie-meat combo. (Avoid high-oxalate vegetables for dogs with a history of calcium oxalate urinary crystals: beans, beets, beet greens, collards, okra, parsley, soy, sweet potato, spinach, Swiss chard). Do not use starches such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, or fruit for cats.
OPTIONAL for Dogs: Substitute organic grain, buckwheat, quinoa, or starchy vegetables (white potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, beans, etc.) for other vegetables and meat, up to 1:1 veggies/grains to meat.
OPTIONAL: 2 scrambled or chopped hard-boiled eggs may be substituted for 1/4 lb. of any meat. Eggs must be cooked to inactivate the anti-nutrient avidin.
1 tablespoon organic flaxseed oil, hemp seed oil, or walnut oil (2 tablespoons if using beef, venison, elk, rabbit, or white meat poultry). If you cannot get either of these, organic safflower or organic sunflower oil may be used. (If extra oil is needed for working or sport dogs, you can use extra virgin olive oil.)
Pinch of Himalayan or Celtic pink salt
A dash of Kyolic Aged Liquid Garlic (refrigerate after opening)
Complete Vitamin-Mineral Supplement made specifically for homemade diets, such as Dr. Bob Goldstein’s Raw Complete Powder, Balance IT Carnivore Blend for Dogs & Cats, OR 1/4 adult dose of a good quality human multiple vitamin-mineral supplement (NOT One-a-Day or Centrum). Whole food-based products from companies such as Rainbow Light, Mega-Food or New Chapter are best. Figure the dose based on meat/liver weight so you don’t over- or under-supplement.
THE ABOVE SUPPLEMENTS ARE NOT OPTIONAL! FAILURE TO ADD ALL RECOMMENDED SUPPLEMENTS CAN LEAD TO SEVERE, EVEN FATAL NUTIENT DEFICIENCIES!
OPTIONAL but highly recommended: Probiotic supplement
OPTIONAL but highly recommended: Digestive Enzyme supplement (such as Only Natural Vital Digest), mixed into the meal at serving time
1 -2 tablespoon ground Chia seeds if constipation becomes an issue
500 milligrams taurine for breeds (Newfoundlands and certain spaniels and retrievers; possibly other giant breeds) predisposed to taurine deficiency-related cardiomyopathy (heart disease)
Treat all meat and organs with a solution of 4 drops of Grapefruit Seed Extract in 8 oz purified water. For ground meat, use enough solution to obtain a consistency like thick chili. For whole cuts, meat chunks, and necks, defrost them in this solution in the refrigerator.
Mix all ingredients together, add digestive enzyme supplement, and serve with love!
At first, leave food down 30-60 minutes at dog’s mealtime. A healthy, adult dog may eat once or twice a day. Small dogs may eat up to a cup of food at each meal. Medium to large sized dogs can eat up to a pound of food a day. Puppies, pregnant and lactating females eat may as much as they want; and feed more often (3-4 times daily, or on demand).