Supporters of raw meat based diets for cats claim it improves coat health, cuts back on odor, and reduces medical conditions. So, it’s probably not a surprise that feeding raw diets, including raw chicken, to cats is on the increase.
In 2018, 4 percent of cat owners were feeding raw cat food to their cats, and it’s likely that more were buying ‘human’ food from supermarkets with the intention of sharing it with their pets.
But humans are advised against eating raw chicken due to Salmonella and other potentially harmful pathogens. But can cats eat raw chicken? We’ll take a closer look at whether raw chicken is safe for cats and whether this trend could spell trouble for your feline friend.
Can Cats Eat Raw Chicken?
Yes, cats can eat raw chicken, but there are health risks associated with feeding cats raw meat.
Chicken, whether raw or cooked, is a good source of protein for cats, and you’ll find it in most pet foods. However, cooked meat is much safer than uncooked meat. Uncooked meat can host nasty bacteria that can cause illness. This is especially true for chicken, which is why humans should never eat raw or undercooked chicken.
Having said this, cats do show some resistance to the effects of eating raw meat. While most humans will get ill if they eat raw chicken, cats are less likely to show immediate signs of illness. Sometimes they’ll show symptoms of illness such as vomiting and diarrhea, but more often than not they simply carry on as normal.
However, it’s still very difficult to say that raw chicken is safe for cats. While we know they don’t get as ill as we do, some cats will still get ill, and some illnesses carried by raw meat can be serious and long lasting.
Those that recommend raw-feeding suggest that cats receive a lot of benefits from raw meat that they don’t get from cooked meat. Raw food enthusiasts believe it’s more digestible and more nutritious because it’s “biologically appropriate” (in other words, what cats evolved to eat). Unfortunately, there are no studies that demonstrate a clear improvement in any aspect of a cat’s health when being fed a raw diet.
As a vet, I wouldn’t ever purposefully feed raw chicken to my cat. Cooking meat makes it safe, so I usually recommend boiled chicken for cats. But, if a piece of raw chicken fell on the floor and the cat ate it, or if the cat got into the fridge and ate a few pieces of raw chicken breasts, I wouldn’t rush to treat them for illness, either.
The Dangers of Raw Chicken for Cats
Raw chicken is commonly contaminated with Salmonella, E.coli, and other bacteria.
In one small study, 80 percent of chicken-based raw meat diets were contaminated with Salmonella. While cats are naturally a little resistant to becoming ill with these pathogens, they aren’t immune. What’s more, the bacteria are then on their food bowls, in their mouths, on their fur, and in their poop, from where they can easily infect humans.
To get around this, some raw food companies freeze their food or even freeze-dry it. Unfortunately, this does not necessarily make it safe. Salmonella can survive freezing (otherwise we could all eat raw chicken as long as it had been frozen first) and it has been isolated from freeze-dried diets too.
The only way to stop chicken meat from being contaminated is to practice really good hygiene in the farm and abattoir, as well as any post-slaughter processing. But, as we know from the frequent cases of human illness, pathogenic bacteria slip through the cracks even in the human food chain. In fact, about 1 in 25 packs of chicken at the supermarket are contaminated with disease-causing bacteria.
To avoid potentially exposing your cat to Samonella, E.coli, or other dangerous bacteria, it’s best to cook chicken before giving it to your feline family member.
Raw Chicken for Cats: The Breakdown
Although humans prefer chicken breasts and occasionally the legs and wings, raw cat food with chicken could contain a whole host of different chicken parts. Chicken livers, chicken meat and other organs (like lung) are all regularly used in cat foods.
Can Cats Have Raw Chicken Breast?
Chicken meat, including chicken breasts, is the most common type of raw chicken your cat will be exposed to. Cats can eat raw chicken breast, but uncooked chicken breasts pose the same risks as other raw parts of the chicken.
Can Cats Eat Chicken Bones?
Chicken bones are generally a no-no cats. Bird bones are thin and easily break into sharp shards, which can cause damage to the mouth and soft tissues of the throat and gullet.
However, the risk is far greater with cooked bones than for raw chicken bones, as raw bones are much softer and less likely to splinter. The ‘long’ bones of the legs are also more risky than other bones – so if you’re going to try bones for your cat, opt for the bones of the neck which tend to be softer and less brittle.
Ground chicken bones – such as the ‘bone meal’ – might be included in cat foods. This is fine for felines. Bone meal provides valuable calcium and phosphorus and is the safest way for your cat to eat chicken bones.
Remember that bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella can be on raw bones just as on raw skin or meat, so the same risks apply as discussed above.
Can Cats Eat Raw Chicken Liver?
Raw chicken liver is another common ingredient in commercial raw cat foods. Like other raw chicken portions, raw liver does pose some threats to cats – mostly the risk of bacterial contamination, or the spread of parasites.
However, liver is a nutritious food and contains lots of iron, vitamin A, and protein. It’s a good food to include in your cat’s diet as long as it only makes up a small portion of the diet – too much vitamin A can cause illness. Other organ meats are also nutritious.
However, as with all the other portions of chicken, I would never feed raw chicken liver to my cat, preferring instead to gently cook it to increase its safety. If you’re wondering “can cats eat raw chicken hearts” then the answer is the same – it’s best to cook the hearts to make them safer.
Can Cats Eat Raw Chicken Fat?
Cats get much of their energy from fat and have a high tolerance for it. Fat is also important in the diet for fat-soluble vitamins. However, fat is high in calories, and this can cause a problem if your cat struggles with their weight. It can be really hard to spot when your cat is getting overweight so make sure you ask your vet at every visit.
For most normal-weight cats, chicken fat isn’t likely to be harmful. However, the same warnings about raw chicken fat (possible contamination with Salmonella and other pathogens) apply.
Can Cats Eat Raw Chicken Skin?
Raw chicken skin, like other forms of raw chicken, is not recommended due to the risk of bacterial contamination. Chicken skin is the fattiest part of chicken and should only be fed to cats who are not overweight.
How to Feed Cats Raw Chicken
If you decide to feed raw chicken to your cat, there are some things you should do. Firstly, it’s very important that raw chicken is not the sole ingredient in your cat’s diet, as it is not complete and balanced. It needs to be mixed with other ingredients to ensure your cat is getting everything they need.
If you want your cat’s diet to be raw, it’s best to buy an AAFCO-formulated complete food that contains raw chicken. Don’t make a diet at home. Cats can quickly become ill with nutritional deficiencies. In addition, making raw food at home increases the risk of bacterial contamination for you and your family, as you’ll be preparing several raw ingredients.
If you’re just feeding raw chicken to your cat as a one-off or as a treat, just make sure it’s not more than 10 percent of their daily calories – the other 90 percent of their calories should come from a balanced source, like their usual diet. You may need to reduce their dinner to take into account the extra calories.
Precautions When Feeding Cats Raw Chicken
When feeding raw chicken to cats, there are a few precautions to consider.
Practice safe handling. Firstly, the risk of bacterial contamination with disease-causing bacteria is high. It’s therefore important that you handle your cat’s raw food with the same care you’d handle raw chicken. Wash your hands and any utensils thoroughly after handling any raw chicken for cats, and clean their food bowls immediately after use. Remember that your cat’s saliva and fur could be contaminated too – don’t allow your cat to lick you and wash your hands after touching your cat. This is especially true if there are any immunocompromised people in the house.
Start with small amounts. Secondly, raw chicken won’t suit all cats. Some cats may have a chicken allergy or intolerance, while others might struggle with the ‘raw-ness’ of it, or simply the change to their normal diet. It’s possible that some cats will get a digestive upset, such as vomiting and diarrhea, after eating raw chicken.
A sensible precaution would be to start off with just a tiny amount of chicken (a teaspoonful) to give your cat the chance to try it and observe for any reactions for 48 hours before slowly increasing the amount of raw chicken in your cat’s diet.
Keep an eye on your cat’s calories. Thirdly, you should ensure your cat’s calorie intake stays within their recommended daily allowance. If you’re adding raw chicken to your cat’s diet as an addition to their usual diet, you should make sure you aren’t feeding too much by reducing your cat’s meal accordingly. Remember that any non-balanced additions to a diet (like raw chicken and any other treats) should not make up more than 10 percent of your cat’s daily calorie allowance or they risk unbalancing the whole diet and resulting in nutritional deficiencies.
Feeding raw chicken to cats doesn’t have any proven benefit over feeding cooked chicken, but it does come with some additional risks. As a vet, I would never feed raw chicken to my cat or recommend raw meat for cats. However, if you do decide to feed your cat raw chicken, there are important precautions you should take so that you do so as safely as possible.