Q: We’ve heard about the Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (BARF) diet for dogs, but less has been talked about its suitability for cats. If I want to start my kitty on a BARF diet, how should I go about doing it?

A: Felines have evolved closely alongside their canine counterparts, but have developed different dietary requirements as a result of their own unique dietary intake. Cats, unlike dogs, are obligate carnivores, which means they must have meat in their diet to live. Cats also require significantly larger amounts of protein in their diet—as well as fats—and less carbohydrate and vegetable matter. Feline diets must have the amino acid taurine, which is only found naturally in meat (but is easily destroyed by cooking), and the essential fatty acid arachidonic acid—also found in animal fats.  

Cats always prefer fresh meat/prey, and as such, are rarely poisoned or take baits. This is also why they can be fussy eaters, and will rarely be tricked into taking medication mixed in their food. A diet based on high levels of fresh raw meats that are high in protein and fat, and include organs, with a correct small amount of carbohydrate and vegetable matter, is the ideal BARF diet for cats. It is important to remember that felines do ingest grass and other green matter as part of their natural diet, so this must be accounted for. Cats also need to chew on soft raw bones—just like dogs—to keep their teeth clean and healthy. Raw chicken necks or chicken wings are a perfect choice. 

There are now several commercial BARF diets for felines available that come fresh, freeze-dried or frozen (all based on fresh meats, organs and balanced supplements), but just offering your cat small amounts of fresh meat along with its regular diet is a great starting point. Any diet changes need to be slow and steady, not only because cats are creatures of habit, but also to make sure you don’t upset the gut with a sudden change in diet. I propose the 10-day changeover—increasing the new diet by 10 percent each day (mixed with the regular diet), and decreasing the old diet by 10 percent. The full conversion will be made over 10 days.

Naturally, many cats put up a fuss if their regular food is changed, but if you are serious about good health and long life for your cats, persevere with the new diet and you will eventually convince your feline companions that fresh is best. 

Note: Always try to make sure you serve the food at room temperature because cats don’t usually like cold meat. You can add some flavour by initially mixing in some sardines or tuna to your kitty’s BARF.