Why Veterinarians Say No to Raw Cat Food Diets


There is ongoing debate within the veterinary community about the risks and benefits of feeding raw meat diets to domestic cats. While some pet owners and smaller veterinary organizations advocate for raw diets, larger mainstream veterinary associations tend to recommend against them.

Proponents of raw diets argue they are more natural and nutritious for cats, claiming benefits like healthier skin, shinier coats, cleaner teeth, more energy, and reduced allergies. However, most veterinary nutritionists and organizations like the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and British Veterinary Association (BVA) officially advise against raw meat diets due to concerns about safety, nutritional balance, and a lack of scientific evidence for health benefits (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6515799/).

This article will examine the key reasons why many veterinarians and experts caution against feeding raw diets to cats, and the evidence behind their recommendations.

Potential Risks of Raw Diets

One of the primary concerns veterinarians have with raw diets is the risk of bacterial contamination, especially from pathogens like Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli, and Campylobacter (1). Raw meat, poultry, fish, and eggs can naturally carry these bacteria, which are then passed on to the pet when consumed. Cooking food kills most of these organisms, but they remain active in raw ingredients.

According to one study, over 20% of commercial raw pet foods tested positive for Salmonella and over 15% tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes (2). These bacteria can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal issues in pets who eat contaminated raw food. Some pets may not show any symptoms but can still shed the bacteria in their stool and saliva, potentially infecting humans in the household.

While healthy adult pets may not become ill from raw diets, puppies, kittens, senior pets, and those with compromised immune systems are at higher risk for developing foodborne illness. This is why many vets recommend avoiding raw diets, especially for these vulnerable populations (3).

(1) https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/avoiding-raw-food-in-cats
(2) https://hare-today.com/feline-nutrition/nutrition/spooked-by-salmonella-raw-food

Nutritional Imbalances

One of the biggest concerns veterinarians have with raw food diets is the potential for nutritional imbalances or deficiencies. According to BJ’s Raw Pet Food, commercial raw diets are formulated to meet all of a cat’s nutritional needs. However, homemade raw diets can be difficult to formulate properly to provide complete and balanced nutrition for cats. Cats require certain levels of protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals in their diet. If these nutrients are not provided in the correct amounts and proportions, it can lead to vitamin deficiencies, metabolic disturbances, and other health issues over time.

For example, according to Bella & Duke, cats have high requirements for arginine, taurine, arachidonic acid, vitamin A, vitamin B3, vitamin B12, and other nutrients. Meeting these requirements through homemade raw food is difficult without expert formulation. Deficiencies in these nutrients can negatively impact organ function, immune health, vision, reproduction, and more.

Overall, vets caution against homemade raw cat food because of the risks of inadvertent nutritional imbalances. They recommend either sticking to commercial complete raw diets formulated by experts, or feeding a high-quality conventional cat food that has already been formulated for nutritional adequacy.

Food Safety Concerns

One of the biggest worries from veterinarians about raw food diets is the risk of foodborne illnesses. Raw meat can contain harmful bacteria like Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli and more that can make cats sick. According to the FDA, both raw and cooked pet foods have been recalled due to contamination with these bacteria – https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/get-facts-raw-pet-food-diets-can-be-dangerous-you-and-your-pet. While healthy adult cats may not get sick from ingesting these bacteria, kittens, senior cats, and immunocompromised cats are at higher risk of serious illness.

There is also a risk of cross-contamination from raw meat touching kitchen surfaces, utensils, and human hands. This can spread bacteria around the home and potentially cause food poisoning in humans, especially children, the elderly, and pregnant women who handle the food. Proper food handling and sanitization practices are essential, but mistakes can still happen. For these reasons, many vets consider raw diets a public health concern.

Lack of Scientific Evidence

When it comes to raw cat food diets, there is limited scientific evidence available on their potential health benefits compared to conventional commercial cat foods. Most of the claimed benefits of raw diets come from anecdotal reports from pet owners and raw food companies. However, there have only been a few small-scale studies conducted on raw diets for cats so far.

According to one 2019 veterinary review, there is “minimal research evidence” that raw diets provide health benefits for cats compared to cooked commercial diets. Some vets argue that more rigorous, large-scale studies are needed to determine the true effects of raw diets on cat health and nutrition. The lack of scientific research makes it difficult for vets to recommend raw diets when the evidence is still preliminary.

Increased Public Health Risks

One key concern among veterinarians regarding raw pet food diets is the potential for transmission of infectious diseases from pets to humans, also known as zoonotic diseases. Several studies have found evidence of pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli present in commercial and homemade raw pet foods (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6952838/). These bacteria can cause gastrointestinal illness in humans if transmitted through contact with contaminated pet food, pet saliva, or pet feces.

According to the CDC, raw pet food diets could pose an increased risk to vulnerable populations such as young children, the elderly, and immunocompromised individuals if proper food handling and sanitation practices are not followed. Proper hand washing after handling raw pet food is crucial. Raw pet food should also be kept separate from human food during storage and preparation to avoid cross-contamination.

While the risk of disease transmission from pets fed raw diets is still considered low, veterinarians caution that raw feeding does increase public health risks compared to cooking pet foods to eliminate potential pathogens (https://aai-int.org/aaii-raw-diet-policy/). More research is still needed to fully understand the public health implications of raw pet food diets.

Veterinary Concerns

Many veterinarians caution against raw diets because they make it more difficult to monitor a cat’s health and nutritional status. Unlike commercial pet foods that have been rigorously formulated and tested, the nutrient content of raw food ingredients can vary widely (Source: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/avoiding-raw-food-in-cats). This variability means vets can’t reliably assess if cats on raw diets are getting proper nutrition. Deficiencies or excesses of certain nutrients can develop over time and be hard to detect.

Additionally, raw diets may alter parameters in bloodwork and other diagnostic tests, making it challenging for vets to interpret results and detect underlying health issues. Subtle changes caused by nutrient imbalances or infectious agents may be missed. Since cats hide illness very well, vets already rely heavily on diagnostic testing to uncover problems. Raw diets further complicate this process.

Expense and Inconvenience

Many veterinarians warn that preparing a nutritionally complete and balanced raw food diet for cats can be expensive and time-consuming. According to Pawesome Cats, the ingredients for a homemade raw cat food diet can cost between $1.22 to $1.93 per day for one cat. That adds up to $36 to $58 per month, which is more than many commercial wet or dry foods. It also takes substantial time to research feline nutritional needs, shop for ingredients, prepare the food, and store it properly. With busy lifestyles, some cat owners may find it impractical to make homemade raw cat food daily.

Even commercial frozen raw cat food, which simplifies some aspects of raw feeding, comes at a premium cost compared to other options, as explained by CatCentric. Feeding a nutritionally complete commercial raw diet costs over $2 per day on average, adding up to $60+ per month for one cat. For owners of multiple cats, these costs can be prohibitive.

While proponents point out that raw diets are more economical than some premium canned or dry foods, most vets argue raw cat food requires an investment in time and money that many owners may not be able or willing to make.

Commercial Interests

Some veterinarians are skeptical of the health claims made by commercial raw food companies. These companies have a financial incentive to promote the benefits of raw diets, but do not always provide rigorous scientific evidence to back up their claims. According to this article, “Per AAFCO, pet food manufacturers are required to provide evidence/proof of all claims.” (They have to Prove It) However, some vets feel that the studies presented by raw food companies are insufficient or biased. More independent, peer-reviewed research is needed on the potential benefits and risks of raw pet food diets.

Additionally, some vets caution that just because a food is raw or natural does not automatically make it healthier. The key is ensuring the food is nutritionally balanced and safe for long-term consumption. So vets encourage pet owners to be critical consumers when evaluating marketing claims about raw pet foods.


In conclusion, most veterinarians have concerns about raw food diets for cats due to potential risks such as nutritional imbalances, foodborne illnesses, and contamination. While some proponents claim health benefits of raw diets, there is currently a lack of scientific evidence to support these claims. More research is needed to fully understand the pros and cons of raw diets for felines. Until then, vets typically recommend avoiding raw foods due to safety concerns, especially for vulnerable populations like kittens and elderly cats. They advocate sticking to balanced commercial cat foods that have undergone stringent quality control and testing. While the debate continues, vets urge cat owners to carefully weigh the potential risks versus unproven benefits when considering a raw diet.

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