Can I Give My Cat Raw Chicken?
Most pet owners see their animal companions as members of their family. As such, they approach their nutritional needs with the same love and care that they would use for their own kids—and, with the current rise in Paleo diet trends and a strong emphasis on ‘natural’ foods, many pet owners find themselves looking for how to feed their cat the same diet that their own Paleolithic feline ancestors would have consumed.
A quick Google search is enough to reveal that our cats share a common ancestor with lions, leopards, and tigers. They are, in fact, obligate carnivores who thrive on high-meat diets. Left to their own devices, our cats would subsist entirely on the raw flesh of the prey animals they managed to catch. So, our intuition tells us that we, as our pets’ guardians, should try to give them a diet that is as close to ‘natural’ as possible. This means raw meat, and, since our cats kill birds, raw chicken seems like the best answer.
So, is it a good idea to feed our cats mostly uncooked chicken? What about as a supplement? Can cats have raw chicken?
The answer: no, cats should not eat any quantity of raw chicken. Chicken flesh on its own is unlikely to cause your cat any harm—after all, they are carnivores whose bodies are designed to process uncooked meat—but the chicken we buy at supermarkets is often so contaminated that it poses a serious poisoning risk for our cats. Chicken is a safe, nontoxic treat choice for cats, but it should be cooked thoroughly to kill any dangerous bacteria that may be present. This also means that it would be wise to refrain from tossing your feline friend any of the raw chicken scraps you have left over.
But isn’t chicken a great source of nutrition for cats? Well, yes and no. Because cats are obligate carnivores, it is true that they will be able to extract nutrients far more efficiently from a chicken breast than from foods like corn or wheat. Chicken makes an excellent treat for cats because it is well suited to their digestive systems. Poultry is low in carbohydrates, which means it will be less likely to cause digestive problems, insulin resistance, or weight gain. It is also quite high in animal proteins, which contain many of the amino acids necessary for feline health.
Chicken cannot, however, serve as your cat’s main source of nutrients—a cat who lives mostly on chicken (raw or cooked) will wind up with potentially dangerous nutritional deficiencies. Chicken is lacking in several key nutrients, one of which is the amino acid taurine. Whereas humans can produce enough taurine to meet their daily requirements, cats absolutely have to get this amino acid from their diet. If they don’t eat enough taurine, cats can suffer from a wide range of health problems, from hair loss and oral infections to cardiovascular and reproductive problems.
To make sure all their nutritional needs are being met, you can opt for specially formulated cat foods that use chicken as one of the main ingredients. This will give them the taste of chicken without the risk of nutritional imbalance.
By far the biggest reason to avoid feeding your cat raw chicken is the risk of poisoning. There is no doubt that, in some ways, raw meat is more nutritious for cats. Certain nutrients are destroyed by cooking, and feline bodies are more than capable of digesting uncooked meat.
It is true that the cat’s “natural diet” would consist entirely of raw meat, but here’s the reality: the chicken we buy at the supermarket is far from natural. Commercially raised chickens are often kept in crowded, unsanitary conditions that provide an excellent breeding ground for bacteria like salmonella and Listeria, which can be dangerous for your cat.
Things to Consider
There are only very minimal benefits to feeding your cat raw meat, but there are a lot of very severe potential drawbacks. This is why several groups of experts, including The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Companion Animal Parasite Council, The American Animal Hospital Association, and The American Veterinary Medical Association, have advised against feeding raw meat to pets. If you want to give your cat chicken as a treat, make sure that it is fresh and fully cooked—do not give your cat any raw or spoiled meat.