November 1st is “National Cook for Your Pets Day”. The cats we had when I was growing up ate table scraps. My mother would never consider BUYING food for them, but of course they were also indoor/outdoor cats (acceptable back then) so they supplemented the bad diet at home with the frequent mouse or bird or whatever else they managed to get their claws on. Now, of course, we know better and for their health and safety we keep our fur babies indoors so a balanced diet that is nutritionally sound is very important. When I saw "National Cook for Your Pets" day on the calendar I got a little excited about the idea of cooking for cats. I’ve baked homemade treats for dogs several times and found them fun and pretty easy to make, with the added satisfaction that my grand puppies (and the neighbour’s two dogs) seemed to really enjoy them. The first year I gave them as Christmas gifts and we all learned that they have to be stored properly (freeze ‘em!) because, even in airtight containers, without preservatives they spoil much faster than commercially prepared treats.
So I took that initial excitement and started researching some recipes for cat food ~
And my excitement waned a little bit!
Then, I carefully read through the some of the more credible looking articles ~
And my excitement waned A LOT!
For those of you who are braver souls than I, some sample recipes for homemade cat food follow at the end of this article. I’ve also included a few recipes for treats, which I find a lot less intimidating if were going to tackle cooking for kitty.
One piece of advice ALL the articles did agree upon was …
“IF YOU ARE GOING TO DO IT, DO IT RIGHT OR DON’T DO IT AT ALL”
The main reasons that many veterinarians recommend against making homemade pet food, cat food in particular, is that (1) people jump in before they do all their homework, (2) they don’t familiarize themselves with what is considered a “balanced diet” for cats and, (3) it’s in our nature to “tweak” recipes which leads to the second most important rule …
“DO NOT GET ‘CREATIVE’ AND START ADDING/OMITTING INGREDIENTS FROM A BALANCED RECIPE”
After reading more than a few of the articles my head started to spin and I began to wonder how we all manage to keep our little fur babies alive at all? First the articles made me question any form of dry food for cats … that quickly moved to questioning any kind of commercially prepared food for any pet or, for that matter, any living thing (including humans) … until I came to the third rule of feeding your kitty homemade food…
“IF YOU ARE NOT GOING TO FOLLOW A BALANCED RECIPE, THEN PLEASE FEED A BALANCED COMMERCIAL FOOD DIET”
What does a homemade diet consist of? Most importantly, it is more than just meat. Homemade diets for cats consist of meat, organs, bone, fat, egg yolks, water and supplements. All of these are necessary to make the diet balanced. The goal is to mimic the natural prey-based diet of cats. Notice the lack of any carbohydrate-based ingredients. These are not needed in the diet of an obligate carnivore.
There’s that term that keeps coming up when discussing cats and their eating needs – “obligate carnivore”. Cats are obligate carnivores meaning they are a little bit different from almost any other carnivores. Obligate means “by necessity”. Having evolved to eat a protein only diet means that cats can no longer produce certain vitamins and chemicals essential to life within their own bodies so they must eat food that provides already converted forms of essentials such as Vitamin A, fish oils, bone meal, Vitamin E and Vitamin B complex. For example, mice and/or birds eat the grains and grasses; their bodies convert the carbs and vegetable matter into vitamins, minerals and chemicals and then the cat eats the mouse or bird. Of course, indoor cats do not hunt so the essentials need to be included in anything fed to your feline fur baby.
If you are considering making your own cat food you need to ensure that the essentials are incorporated into the food you make.
After looking at some of the recipes I have come to the very firm conclusion that in my household a very good commercially produced cat food is going to have to be what my kitty eats. If you want to dip your toe into the “homemade cat food pool” instead of jumping right in to the deep end, offer your kitty some fresh food every now and again as a treat. These could include such things as raw organ meat (chicken or beef liver) or some raw turkey or chicken chopped up. Kitty might be a little picky and prefer its meat lightly braised on each side, but remember, cats can eat raw chicken without adverse affects. Some cats even beg for it.
If you want to try a “homemade” food diet but, like me, are a little intimidated by the process – don’t worry – you can buy frozen cat food at some larger pet stores (especially the holistic ones). It is almost as good as the homemade stuff. Remember, whatever you decide to do, always have fresh, clean water available for your cat. Of course, checking with your vet is always recommended before making any serious dietary changes.
RECIPE USING CHICKEN THIGH WITH BONE
(for the following recipe complete wit how to pictures and much more information visit www.feline-nutrition.org
4.5 pounds (about 2 kg) chicken thighs with bone. Remove about 20 to 25% of the bone from the total amount of meat used. For example, if you use ten thighs, then take out the bone from two of them. This keeps the calcium/phosphorus ratio correct. Remove the skin from half of the thighs. If your cats are chubby you can remove all of the skin before weighing it. Don't remove the fat from the meat. Weigh the meat after you have removed these skin and bone amounts. You should purchase about 5 pounds (about 2.3 kg) to start with.
7 ounces (200 grams) raw chicken liver
14 ounces (400 grams) raw chicken heart. If you can't source chicken heart, then substitute with 4000 mg Taurine. If you do omit raw heart, remember to make up the missing 14 ounces of heart with additional chicken thigh meat.
8 ounces (.24 liter) water. Use bottled spring water, not tap water which can have too many chemicals.
4 raw egg yolks
2000 mg Taurine. This is in addition to the taurine you may have added if you didn't use hearts. Taurine is water soluble so you don't have to worry about your cat getting too much.
4000 mg wild salmon or wild caught small fish oil
200 mg Vitamin B Complex
200 IU Vitamin E
1 ½ teaspoons (8.4 grams) Lite Iodized Salt
4 teaspoons (8 grams) Psyllium Husk Powder (optional)
Be organized, it will save a lot of time. Cover your work surface with paper or plastic. Set up your grinder, cutting board, tools, supplements and bowls. Oh, and it's probably a good idea to put your four-footed "helpers" in another room at this point, especially if you're going to use the meat cleaver.
Put your gloves on. Remove the skin from half of the chicken thighs, or from all of them if your cats are chubby. Don't remove the fat. Remove the bone from 20-25% of the thighs. Next, weigh out what you will need (image A). Rinse the meat with water to help remove any surface bacteria. At this point, either weigh out exactly the amount the recipe calls for (4.5 pounds) and follow the amounts given in the recipe for the other ingredients or weigh how much meat with bone you have, enter it into the calculator, and then use the amounts shown in the calculator for the rest of the ingredients. If you do use the calculator, you will have to round off the supplements to the nearest capsule. This is okay, it will all even out over the batches you make.
In a small mixing bowl, open up the supplement capsules and discard the empty gelatin caps (image B). Leave the fish oil capsules, these you add later when grinding.
Add the egg yolks and water to the bowl, and whisk until mixed. Use a fork if you don't have a whisk. Don't add the psyllium yet. This is your "slurry" mixture.
Weigh out the liver and heart; remember to add in an equivalent weight of additional chicken meat if you aren't using heart.
Chunk up meat from the thighs. Cut the meat from the side of the thigh with the most meat, and then cut it into roughly ½ inch pieces. Start with smaller chunks if your cats are still getting used to eating meat pieces. You don't have to be very precise; it's okay if some pieces are larger and some smaller.
Put your ear plugs in now. Set your medium bowl under the grinder outlet. Start feeding the thighs through the grinder. You may need to trim meat off the bone to fit it through the tube. Add the liver, heart and fish oil capsules at intervals to the grinder. You can add the entire fish oil capsule, the gelatin capsule is edible (image F). Tip: if you don't have a bowl that fits well under the grinder outlet, set the grinder at the edge of the sink and put a larger bowl in the sink itself, below the outlet. This also works great if you are making an extra-large batch and are using oversize bowls.
When it's all ground, transfer it to a large bowl if it isn't already in one, add the slurry mixture, the chunked meat and the psyllium husk, and mix thoroughly. Don't overfill the bowl; you need room to mix it all thoroughly without it overflowing. Using too small of a bowl at this point just makes it difficult to mix. You can use a large plastic tub for this step if that is easier.
Portion out the mixture into glass or plastic containers or freezer Ziploc®-type bags, label them, and freeze. You can refrigerate any portion that you are going to use the same day or the next.
Serving variation: Place the mix into ice cube trays and freeze.
Pop them out after a few hours and you've made your own nuggets. These can be really handy as they thaw more quickly than a larger container. They also come out to a mostly uniform size of about 1¼ ounces, so portioning is easier.
RECIPES FOR TREATS
For more treat recipes visit HERE.
I did notice that the cat treat recipes contain grains, which we’ve learned are not necessary in the cat’s diet. I am assuming the addition is because they treats are baked. “Treats” are just that – treats” so serve in moderation.
CRUNCHY TUNA CAT TREATS
Makes about 3 dozen treats
1 (5 ounce) can tuna, no salt added and packed in water, drained
1 cup oat flour*
1 large egg
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 heaping tablespoon dried catnip
*It’s easy to make your own oat flour. Simply grind old-fashioned oats in a spice grinder (or a super clean coffee grinder) until it is transformed into a light powder. There you have it — oat flour!
1. Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
2. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade attachment, combine drained tuna, oat flour, egg, olive oil and catnip. Blend until mixture is smooth. It will be thick but pliable and not terribly sticky.
3. Roll dough into 1/2 teaspoon balls and place on prepared cookie sheet. Use a skewer to press an X-shape into each cookie ball.
4. Bake cookies for 10 to 12 minutes until they are dried on top and slightly browned. Allow to cool completely before offering to your kitty.
5. Place treats in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to seven days.
HOMEMADE TUNA CAT TREATS
1 can tuna in oil, drained
1 1/4 cups of flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 cup water
dash of parsley
bottle cap for cutting out treats
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. In a food processor mix tuna, egg, flour, water and parsley until a dough forms. If the dough looks too sticky, add a bit more flour.
3. Dust a surface with flour and roll out dough to 1/2 inch thick.
4. Use a bottle cap to cut out treats from the dough.
5. Bake for 20 minutes on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
6. Let cool and serve to your cat.
ORGANIC TREATS WITH CHICKEN AND SPINACH
Approximately 200g of organic boneless and skinless chicken thighs (or breasts)
1 organic egg
1 cup organic quick-cooking oats
1 tbsp organic catnip
1/4 cup organic flour
1 cup fresh organic spinach leaves
NB: If your cat doesn’t like chicken you can always substitute for organic tuna or salmon.
Preheat your oven to 180°C (160°C fan-forced).
Steam the chicken until it’s cooked. Set aside and allow to cool.
In a blender or food processor, combine the spinach, oats, chicken, egg and catnip. Pulse on a low setting until the mixture is blended. It should still be a little chunky once combined.
Put the mixture in a bowl, and add the 1/4 cup of flour. Knead the dough with your hands until it’s no longer sticky before placing on a flour-dusted work surface.
Use a rolling pin to spread the dough into a rectangular shape that’s about 1/2 inch in thickness. Use cookie cutters to turn the dough into shapes.
Put the treats onto a biscuit tray that has already been lined with baking paper, and bake in the oven for approximately 20 minutes.
Remove treats from the oven, and allow to cool before feeding to your beloved cat. Store in an airtight container in the fridge, and use within 7 days.
I’m including the following recipe because I think its an excellent one to try if you have a kitty that is not a big water drinker.
1 cup of warm water
3 tbsp. fresh or dried catnip
1/4 tsp. chicken stock powder
Pour the water into a sealable container, and then add the catnip and stock powder.
Close the lid and shake briskly until the stock has totally dissolved.
Pour into a bowl and serve.
So you cook for your kitty? Are you tempted to try some of these recipes? I'd love to hear how it turned out and what your kitty thought of it? Let me know!
Special thanks to the following sites for being excellent sources of information