Cats are hardwired to sustain themselves on meat. Chicken, fish, beef, and turkey are common flavors for processed cat food.
Cats can eat raw chicken, but there are risks. Raw meat is a breeding ground for bacteria. The bones can also be sharp or jagged. If a cat’s digestion is not used to raw food, it may cause stomach upsets.
If you do wish to feed your cat raw chicken, get it from a reputable source. Have the chicken deboned and wash it thoroughly before serving. Even then, be mindful of the risks involved.
Table of Contents:
- 1 Is Raw Chicken Good for Cats?
- 1.1 Risks of Feeding Cats Raw Chicken
- 1.2 How to Prepare Raw Chicken for Cats
- 1.3 Is it Better to Freeze Raw Chicken?
Is Raw Chicken Good for Cats?
In theory, raw chicken is the ideal diet for cats. After all, as explained by Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, cats are obligate carnivores. Cats need to eat pure meat to grow and thrive.
Eating raw meat, including chicken, replicates the diet of a wild cat. A domesticated cat will rarely attack and eat a chicken due to its size.
There are certain health benefits to a cat eating raw chicken. It offers pure protein and taurine. Unlike processed cat food, raw chicken contains no fillers or empty carbohydrates. With no cooking involved, nutrients are also not killed by heat. Parts of a chicken that can be served raw include:
|Heart:||Taurine, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, iron, and niacin.|
|Liver:||Vitamin A and iron|
|Giblets:||Vitamin A, vitamin B12, riboflavin, niacin, and iron|
If you plan to get your cat onto a raw diet, order from a reputable source. A butcher is recommended. The chicken sold in supermarkets is not intended to be eaten raw as it is created with cooking in mind.
While there are benefits to serving uncooked chicken to cats, these are matched by risks. Opting to place a cat on a raw diet is not a decision to be taken lightly. Ensure your cat can cope with this lifestyle.
Risks of Feeding Cats Raw Chicken
For every benefit of offering raw chicken to a cat, there is a danger. Humans are often warned of the dangers of raw poultry. These are less pronounced in cats, but they are still present.
Consider whether the cat even wants it. While it’s true that wild cats eat live prey, domesticated cats are comparatively pampered.
If your cat is a hunter, it is likelier to enjoy raw chicken. Cats that eat mice will have hardy dispositions, capable of withstanding the associated health risks. If your cat has a more sedate lifestyle, raw chicken may cause digestive issues.
Stomach Upsets and Food Poisoning
Not all cats are capable of processing and digesting raw chicken. Always be prepared for the possibility of your cat rejecting the meat. This is especially likely if you offer a large amount of chicken. Cats unused to eating raw meat need to transition into this diet gradually.
Never serve your cat spoiled chicken. If you have any doubt about a chicken’s freshness, throw it away. Chicken past its sell-by-date is dangerous. At best, your cat will experience a serious stomach upset.
If your cat cannot cope with raw meat, it will be expelled as a matter of urgency. This will typically involve vomiting and diarrhea. If this is a one-off, it’s not a major issue. Just clean up the mess and comfort your cat. If it continues for 24 hours or more, see a vet.
Vomiting and diarrhea don’t necessarily mean your cat cannot cope with raw chicken. You may have just offered too much, too soon. Follow up your cat’s stomach upset with a bland meal. Cooked chicken and rice are fine. Let your cat’s stomach settle before trying again.
Arguably the biggest risk in offering uncooked chicken to a cat is bacteria. While thoroughly washing the chicken should resolve this issue, nothing is certain. Bacteria can be stubborn and withstand water. You could parboil the chicken, but even low heat can kill nutrients.
Some cite toxoplasma gondii, the cause of toxoplasmosis, as a risk of raw chicken. According to the Journal of Parasitology, the problem is less prevalent than it seems. Pork is likelier to cause this illness.
This does not mean that raw chicken is devoid of bacteria. Poultry is breeding ground for unwelcome intruders. With this in mind, avoid offering raw chicken to felines with compromised immunity.
Salmonella is the most commonly associated risk of raw chicken. There are over 2,000 forms of salmonella bacteria, so it remains an ever-present hazard. According to the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, raw meat can cause two forms of salmonella.
Salmonella gastroenteritis is the most common diagnosis. This is a serve stomach upset. If a cat has salmonella septicemia, the issue has reached the bloodstream. Generic salmonella symptoms include:
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Fever (body temperature above 100 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Sudden weight loss
- Lethargy and depression
Salmonella gastroenteritis will also lead to dehydration, caused by an electrolyte imbalance. Salmonella septicemia has even more worrying symptoms. These include trouble breathing, a sharp drop in body temperature, jaundice, and a swollen, distended abdomen.
Salmonella will typically be treated with medication. This must be handled with care. Antibiotics are indiscriminate. While they kill unwelcome bacterial invaders, antibiotics also kill ‘good’ bacteria in the gut. This can lead to an imbalance and worsen an infection.
If you suspect that your cat has salmonella, seek immediate help. Salmonella bacteria are zoonotic, passed on through cat feces. Humans and other animals can catch salmonella from cats. Get your cat treated, and regularly clean its litter tray.
Staphylococcus aureus is an opportunistic bacterium. It is possible for a healthy cat to live with staphylococcus and show no symptoms. Felines with compromised immunity will struggle, though. When the bacteria start to attack, it causes a staph infection. The symptoms of this issue are usually aesthetic. They include:
- Swollen skin that is hot to the touch
- Painful sores, lumps, and bumps
- Blisters on the skin
- Redness around the eyes
Left untreated, staph infections can become increasingly problematic. Blood poisoning becomes likely.
With this in mind, get a feline staph infection inspected ASAP. Staphylococcus aureus can be tricky to treat. These bacteria are smart, and quickly become resistant to antibiotics.
Like salmonella, staph infections are zoonotic. PLoS One explains how humans and animals frequently trade this infection. If your cat has a staph infection, be mindful of handling.
Campylobacter jejuni leads to an infection known as campylobacteriosis. The American Journal of Epidemiology describes eating chicken as the likeliest way that a cat will ingest campylobacter jejuni. Symptoms of campylobacteriosis include:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Sudden weight loss
Again, campylobacteriosis is zoonotic. It is primarily shed in a cat’s feces and can infect owners and other pets.
The food news is that campylobacteriosis rarely impacts older cats. It is most common in kittens. Senior cats with limited immunity will also be at risk, though. Treatment is usually restricted to a course of antibiotics.
Listeria monocytogenes are found in all forms of cat food. They may even be present in the processed food that you buy from a pet store. Foodborne Pathogens and Diseases assessed 1,056 cat foods over two years, finding listeria monocytogenes in 66.
Most cats process the bacteria without trouble. It’s older, younger and pregnant cats that find themselves at risk. These felines develop a condition called listeriosis. This concern displays the following symptoms:
- Stiffness and lameness in the muscles
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Facial paralysis
- High fever
Treatment will typically involve antibiotics. How aggressive the treatment needs to be will depend on the severity of the issue. In most cases, listeriosis is no more debilitating than a respiratory tract infection.
Chicken bones can be dangerous for cats. A chicken’s stature leads to small bones that easily break. When we consider that a chicken has 120 bones, this is a lot of hazards. Choking is the first and most obvious concern.
Chicken bones are also brittle. When a cat bites into a chicken bone, it will invariably splinter. This will lead to sharp edges that the cat may not notice. This, in turn, leads to 3 potentially dangerous outcomes:
- The cat cuts the inside of its mouth
- The cat cuts the back of its throat
- The cat swallows a jagged edge, causing damage to internal organs
When getting chicken from a butcher, ask for it to be deboned, if possible. If a butcher is unwilling or unable to do so, tackle this task yourself. Deboning a whole chicken requires the following steps:
- Get a sharp knife, ideally designed for deboning
- Turn the chicken upside down
- Open the chicken up by cutting alongside the ribcage
- Remove the wishbone, taking care not to snap this
- Continue cutting and follow the ribcage to find the remaining bones
- Turn the chicken over and repeat the process
Chicken bones in and of themselves are not necessarily bad for cats. They are packed with calcium. Extracting a chicken’s bones and grinding them into a bone broth is a healthy meal for cats.
Biting into raw chicken and crunching bone is another matter. Never feed a cat raw chicken if you cannot be certain that all bones are removed. The risks are too great.
If you have removed bones from the raw chicken, your cat will not break its teeth. This does not mean that your cat is free of dental issues, though.
When a cat eats raw chicken, it tears the meat apart in strips. Stringy, gristly parts of the meat may become trapped between the teeth. This will attract bacteria, eventually leading to plaque, tartar, and gum disease.
If your cat enjoys a raw food diet, regularly brush its teeth. Failure to do so will cause no end of painful dental problems. This will leave your cat reluctant to eat anything at all, which is dangerous.
How to Prepare Raw Chicken for Cats
If you are going to transition your cat to a raw meat diet, do not do so suddenly. This will upset your cat’s digestion. Make this a gradual process.
When choosing your chicken, ask the butcher to remove as many bones as possible. Next, ask the butcher to wash the chicken thoroughly before bringing it home. Keep it wrapped tightly to protect it from further bacteria.
Once you get the chicken home, keep it refrigerated until ready for use. Do not season the chicken. Spicy food can cause digestive problems for cats. Excessive levels of sodium are also dangerous, so avoid adding any salt.
When the time comes, let the chicken reach room temperature. Wash it again, thoroughly. Sprinkle a little chicken on your cat’s usual food. Aim for a ratio of 90% familiar food, 10% raw chicken. Offer raw chicken hearts as treats in the meantime to increase tolerance.
Over time, you can steadily change these ratios. Eventually, you can get your cat onto an entirely raw diet. Continue taking these safety precautions every time you serve uncooked chicken.
Is it Better to Freeze Raw Chicken?
Some cats enjoy eating certain parts of a chicken frozen. Chicken necks, in particular, make an ideal frozen treat to chew on. Do not offer frozen chicken as a health choice, though. Freezing chicken does not kill bacteria. Your cat will still face all the same risks.
Many cats will also reject the opportunity to eat frozen food. Meat straight from the freezer has no smell. To cats, this makes it wholly unappealing. Felines eat with their nose as much as their mouth. If they cannot detect an aroma to their food, they instinctively distrust it.
If your cat does enjoy frozen food, shop from this section in the pet store. Many brands specialize in such meals. These will typically be frozen immediately after preparation. In theory, this minimizes bacterial risk. The freezing process preserves freshness.
Do not buy frozen chicken and then cook it. This kills nutrition and renders the freezing pointless. You can defrost if this is how your cat prefers their chicken. If this is the case though, you may as well just buy fresh.
Cats can eat raw chicken. As the old saying goes though, just because they can it doesn’t mean they should. Raw chicken is sometimes inadvisable in senior cats, as the impact of illness can be severe. If your cat is in excellent health, it could be worth considering.