Raw Cat Food: 7 Top Picks for Your Hungry Carnivore
We all know that processed or preserved foods — no matter how tempting — are rarely as beneficial to our health as fresh options. And that doesn’t just apply to the human members of your household. In fact, many pet parents are choosing fresh, nutritious foods and ingredients over traditional processed diets — not just for themselves, but for their pets, too.
That shift away from traditional, highly processed pet food has opened up a variety of exciting new meal options for cats and dogs. Raw pet food is one such category that’s on the rise…and cats, in particular, are eating it up!
According to global healthcare knowledge provider BMJ, a recent international survey of pet owners found that more than 53 percent of cat owners give their feline friends raw food as part of their diet, either exclusively or in combination with traditional cat food.
If you’re interested in exploring the benefits of raw cat food — but don’t want to DIY raw meals for your kitty daily — there are plenty of raw cat food options on the market. Here’s everything you need to know about this tasty and intriguing trend in cat food.
What is Raw Cat Food?
Just like it sounds, a raw cat food diet involves feeding your pet uncooked animal products similar to what they would eat if they lived in the wild. As obligate or “true” carnivores, cats require only the nutrients found in prey animals to survive. From their razor-sharp teeth to their shortened digestive tract, everything in your cat’s body is designed to break down and metabolize raw, animal-based ingredients for optimal nutrition.
To replicate a natural feline diet, most commercial raw cat foods are made from raw muscle and organ meat, as well as ground bones. Some formulas also include fruits and vegetables — though this is more for taste appeal, as cats don’t require any plant-based ingredients to thrive.
Because raw cat foods contain no artificial preservatives, manufacturers use a variety of methods to retain their nutritional benefits while making them easy and convenient to serve. Some raw cat foods are frozen, while others are freeze-dried for shelf stability.
As for forms and styles of raw cat food, take your pick! You can choose raw cat food that comes in blocks of meat (similar to the ground beef you might buy in the grocery store) or pre-formed into patties or kibble for easy portioning. If you don’t want to transition your pet to a fully raw diet, there are also raw treats and raw meal toppers, which are designed to be fed in addition to traditional cat food.
Pros and Cons of Raw Cat Food
Many raw cat food manufacturers claim uncooked, meat-based formulas are easier for cats to digest and help improve their skin and coat. Further, these foods are made without any of the preservatives found in traditional cat food, so they are closer to the natural foods cats would eat in the wild. Yet, while many pet parents rave about the health benefits their raw-eating cats enjoy, science is still on the fence.
“There are no published benefits of raw diets,” explains Brian Evans, DMV, Medical Director at Dutch, a telemedicine service for pets. “Most of the benefits that are ascribed to feeding raw diets are anecdotal, and this type of evidence does not tend to translate to universal truths.”
According to Evans, though individual pets may respond well to a raw diet, that doesn’t necessarily mean a raw diet is right for every dog or cat. And even if a pet’s health does seem to improve after switching to a raw food diet, it’s difficult to say whether that’s due to the raw nature of the food or some other factor, like the quality of the ingredients.
Further study is required to prove whether raw diets are better for pets than conventional food options. In the meantime, if you’re interested in feeding your cat a raw diet, your pet’s own preferences, palate, and overall health outcomes will best determine whether raw cat food is the right fit.
Raw Cat Food: What to Look For
If you decide to feed your cat a raw diet, be sure to choose a product that meets all their nutritional needs. “As with feeding any diet, it is important to ensure the diet is ‘complete and balanced’ nutrition,” says Evans. “The best way to assess this is by looking for the AAFCO Nutritional Adequacy Statement, which will let you know that the diet has been formulated or tested to meet the nutritional needs of the life stage of your pet.”
Ideally, you’ll also want to look for food that has undergone feeding trials and been formulated or recommended by a veterinary nutritionist.
Finally, keep in mind that cats eating a raw diet sometimes require supplemental taurine, an amino acid that’s key for proper eye and heart health. While this nutrient is abundant in muscle meat and organ tissues, its levels can be depleted during grinding, freezing, and thawing. Be sure to ask your veterinarian whether your cat will need this or any other nutrient supplement once you switch to raw food.
Which Raw Cat Foods Ranked Highest?
Taking all key factors into consideration, we rounded up our favorite raw food options for cats. Curious about what made our list? Here it is:
- Best Overall Raw Cat Food: Nature’s Variety Instinct Raw Meals Freeze-Dried Cat Food
- Best Freeze-Dried Raw Cat Food: Smalls
- Best Grain-Free Raw Cat Food: Stella & Chewy’s Freeze-Dried Raw Dinner Morsels Cat Food
- Best Frozen Raw Cat Food: Tiki Cat Raw
- Best Raw Cat Food Delivery Service: Darwin’s Natural Selections Raw Cat Food
- Best Raw Cat Food Topper: Instinct Raw Boost Mixers Freeze-Dried Cat Food Topper
- Best Raw Cat Treats: PureBites Freeze-Dried Raw Cat Treats
7 Top Picks for Best Raw Cat Food
All featured products are chosen at the discretion of the author. However, Vetstreet may make a small affiliate commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Best Overall Raw Cat Food
|Protein (Ingredients)||Chicken, chicken liver, chicken heart|
|Protein Analysis||36% min|
|Meets AAFCO Standards?||Yes|
For raw cat food that’s nutritionally complete, delicious, and easy to serve, you can’t go wrong with Instinct Raw. For 15 years, Instinct — known as “the raw brand” — has been perfecting a variety of raw cat food options. But we like Instinct’s Freeze-Dried Raw Cage-Free Chicken Meal best overall because it combines unbeatable quality and convenience with complete and balanced nutrition. The recipe is packed with 85% raw animal proteins, including responsibly sourced chicken meat and nutrient-rich organs like chicken livers and hearts. Plus, it features GMO-free apples, carrots, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash, so the meal is super tasty, too. The ingredients are never cooked to ensure your cat gets the full nutritional benefit and are freeze-dried right in company-owned facilities in Lincoln, Nebraska. The kibble-shaped morsels are shelf-stable, making this food easier to store and serve, whether you opt to feed it to your cat as-is or mix it with water for a moist, tasty meal. Best of all, Instinct is the ONLY raw pet food company in North America with an “Excellent” Safe Quality Food (SQF) Food Safety rating, so you know you’re getting the best of the best.
- Complete and balanced nutrition for all life stages, according to AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles.
- Convenient kibble shape for easy portioning.
- Shelf-stable freeze-dried formula.
- No fillers, by-product meals, artificial colors, or preservatives.
- Satisfaction guaranteed or full refund/exchange.
Things to Consider:
- Though appropriate for all life stages, Instinct also offers a recipe formulated for kittens.
- Only available in chicken flavor.
Best Freeze-Dried Raw Cat Food
Our pick: Smalls
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|Flavor||Raw Bird (Chicken)||Raw Other Bird (Turkey)||Raw Water Bird (Duck)|
|Protein (Ingredients)||Raw bird: Ground chicken with bone, chicken heart, chicken gizzard, chicken egg, goat’s milk, water, eggshell membrane, herring oil||Raw other bird: Ground turkey with bone, turkey heart, turkey liver, turkey gizzard, goat’s milk, turkey egg, water, egg shell membrane, herring oil||Raw water bird: Ground duck with bone, duck heart, duck liver, duck gizzard, duck egg, duck blood, goat’s milk, water, eggshell membrane, herring oil|
|Protein Analysis||45% min||49% min||45% min|
|Meets AAFCO Standards?||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Smalls’ freeze-dried cat food is minimally processed dehydrated food with the water removed before packaging. It stores easily and is high in protein, natural micronutrients, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. This premium freeze-dried cat food can be stored unopened for up to 18 months. Once opened, serve your cat within 30 days. Every Smalls recipe is freshly made in the United States and tested for bacteria before shipping. Based on your cat’s daily caloric needs, scoop one or two portions from the 12-ounce bag into a dish and serve.
- Very nutrient-dense with a low moisture level to prevent bacteria from growing
- Choose from three bird proteins.
- Every ingredient and recipe is made in the United States
- Rich amount of protein from various birds
- Contains goat’s milk as a probiotic to support a cat’s digestion
- Contains no artificial additives, fillers, or by-products
- Convenient home delivery so you’ll never run out of cat food.
- Exceeds AAFCO’s standards of taurine levels required
- Packing is recyclable.
- Food should be stored in a cool, dry place. Requires no refrigeration.
Things to Consider
- Most freeze-dried cat food is meant to be rehydrated by adding water, but Smalls’ cat food is to be served as-is without additional water.
- Check the phosphorus level on some of the recipes if your cat has kidney issues.
- Cost is $30 for a 12-ounce bag.
- Requests for a refund are approved after a two-week trial period is completed.
- Follow the feeding guidelines provided in each bag (on average, a 10-pound cat should eat ⅝ cup of Smalls freeze-dried raw per day; double for kittens or pregnant/nursing cats)
Best Grain-Free Raw Cat Food
|Flavor||Chick Chick Chicken||Yummy Lickin’ Salmon & Chicken||Duck Duck Goose||TummyTicklin’ Turkey||Sea-liciousSalmon & Cod|
|Form||Freeze-Dried Raw||Freeze-Dried Raw||Freeze-Dried Raw||Freeze-Dried Raw||Freeze-Dried Raw|
|Protein (Ingredients)||Chicken, chicken liver, chicken gizzard||Salmon, chicken, chicken liver, chicken gizzard||Duck, turkey, turkey liver, goose, turkey gizzard||Turkey, turkey liver, turkey gizzard||Salmon, cod, cod liver oil|
|Protein Analysis||45% min||45% min||40% min||40% min||45% min|
|Meets AAFCO Standards?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
It’s hard to beat the convenience of this freeze-dried cat food from Stella & Chewy’s. It offers all the nutrients your cat needs to be happy and healthy. And, because it’s freeze-dried, it won’t take up any space in your fridge or freezer. The food is made from 98% meat, organs, and bone, and it’s fortified with vitamins and minerals, as well as added taurine. The fruits and vegetables in the formula are all certified organic, and the food comes in the form of large morsels that you can either feed to your cat as-is or soak in water to reconstitute. Plus, the food comes in a variety of flavors, including turkey, salmon, and duck, so you’re sure to find a flavor that your cat loves.
- Complete and balanced formula with added taurine.
- Several protein sources available.
- Shelf-stable formula for easy storage.
- Made with organic fruits and vegetables.
- No fillers, artificial preservatives, or colorings.
Things to Consider:
- The morsel size may be too large for some cats to eat.
Best Frozen Raw Cat Food
Our Pick: Tiki Cat Raw Frozen Cat Food
|Flavor||Turkey with Turkey Bone Broth||Chicken with Chicken Bone Broth||Duck, Turkey Bone Broth & Pumpkin|
|Form||Raw Frozen Puree||Raw Frozen Puree||Raw Frozen Puree|
|Protein (Ingredients)||Turkey, turkey bone broth, turkey liver||Chicken, chicken bone broth, chicken liver||Duck, turkey bone broth|
|Protein Analysis||13% min||11% min||11% min|
|Meets AAFCO Standards?||Yes||Yes||Yes|
If you’ve got plenty of room in your refrigerator or freezer to share with your cat, Tiki raw cat food is a great meal solution. It’s made from high-quality protein with no added vegetables, fillers, or hormones, and it comes in a range of flavors. The variety pack includes turkey, duck, and chicken, so your kitty can sample a smorgasbord of tasty, protein-packed options. The pureed formula is soft and easy for cats to eat once it’s been thawed, and the plastic containers have resealable lids to help maintain freshness.
- Complete and balanced meal for adult cats.
- Several flavors are available.
- Soft, easy-to-eat textures.
- Resealable containers.
- No fillers or preservatives.
Things to Consider:
- Food must be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.
Best Raw Cat Food Delivery Service
Our Pick: Darwin’s Natural Selections Raw Cat Food
|Flavor||Natural Selections Chicken||Natural Selections Turkey||Intelligent Design Kidney Support (Rx)|
|Protein (Ingredients)||Chicken, chicken necks, chicken gizzard, chicken livers, chicken hearts||Turkey necks, turkey gizzards, turkey meat, turkey livers, turkey hearts||Chicken thigh meat, turkey hearts, chicken hearts, turkey livers, chicken livers|
|Protein Analysis||16% min||17%||15%|
|Meets AAFCO Standards?||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Though raw pet food is becoming more widely available in most pet food aisles, trekking to the store every few weeks to pick it up can be a hassle. With a Darwin’s Natural subscription, feeding your cat a raw diet is easier than ever. All you have to do is take a quiz to determine your pet’s individual needs, then Darwin’s Natural recommends a meal plan for them. In addition to their standard Natural Selections raw cat food, the brand also offers an Intelligent Design veterinary recipe — prescription pet food designed specifically for cats with kidney disease.
Darwin’s Natural foods feature a complete and balanced formula, and they’re made with free-range, cage-free, or pasture-raised meats and organic vegetables. There are no grains, fillers, or preservatives in the food, and the brand’s introductory offer allows you to buy 10 pounds of food for just $14.95.
- Complete and balanced formula.
- Automatic shipments are delivered to your home.
- Formulated with guidance of veterinary nutritionists.
- No grains, fillers, hormones, or chemical preservatives.
- In-house consultants create a meal plan for your pet.
- Discount on first order.
Things to Consider:
- The Intelligent Design formula requires a prescription.
- Minimum order is 10 pounds.
- Food should be kept frozen and consumed within 48 hours of thawing.
Best Raw Cat Food Topper
|Flavor||Cage-Free Chicken||Farm-Raised Rabbit|
|Form||Freeze-Dried Raw||Freeze-Dried Raw|
|Protein (Ingredients)||Chicken, chicken liver, chicken heart, turkey liver, turkey heart||Rabbit (including Ground Rabbit Bone), Pork, Pork Liver, Pumpkinseeds, Carrots, Apples, Butternut Squash, Rabbit Liver, Rabbit Kidney, Rabbit Lung,|
|Protein Analysis||36% min||40% min|
|Meets AAFCO Standards?||For supplemental feeding only||For supplemental feeding only|
Not sure if your cat is ready for raw? With this freeze-dried food topper from Instinct Raw, you can test the waters without having to worry about transitioning to a whole new diet. Just add the shelf-stable raw nuggets to your cat’s current food at mealtime. They’re also great as tasty, protein-packed treats. The toppers, which are meant to complement conventional cat food, come in both chicken and rabbit flavors. The recipes feature nutrient-dense proteins, like chicken, rabbit, and pork, and non-GMO fruits and vegetables. Even if you’ve never considered feeding your cat a raw food diet, these tasty toppers are a great way to get picky eaters interested in mealtime again!
- More affordable than a fully raw diet
- Add the power of raw to traditional cat food
- Available in cage-free chicken and farm-raised rabbit varieties
- No fillers, artificial colors, or preservatives
- Shelf-stable freeze-dried formula
- Made in the USA
Things to Consider
- These toppers are formulated as a complementary food and should not replace a complete and balanced cat food
- You may need to reduce your cat’s regular food to accommodate the extra calories in these toppers
Best Raw Cat Treats
Our Pick: PureBites Freeze-Dried Raw Cat Treats
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a simpler (and more delicious) cat treat than these freeze-dried pieces of chicken breast. They have just one ingredient, and the bite-sized pieces contain just 2 calories per piece. The treats are ideal for cats of all ages, and the brand recommends them for pets with sensitive stomachs or allergies thanks to their extremely limited ingredient formula. Because the raw meat is freeze-dried, the treats can be stored at room temperature, and there are several package sizes available, all of which are reasonably priced.
- Just one ingredient — chicken breast.
- Only 2 calories per treat.
- Suitable for all life stages.
- Freeze-dried formula is shelf-stable.
- Ideal for cats with sensitive stomachs.
Things to Consider:
- Treats can be crushed if they’re shipped with other heavy items.
Raw Cat Food FAQ
When it comes to raw cat food, pet parents have plenty of questions! Here are some helpful answers to the ones that tend to pop up most frequently.
Should cats eat raw food? Is it safe?
Raw cat food is generally considered safe for adult cats, and some pet owners find that a raw diet improves digestion, promotes healthier skin, and boosts energy. However, because these foods contain raw meat, there is a risk of you and your pet being exposed to bacteria such as salmonella.
To protect yourself and your family, handle refrigerated or frozen raw cat food like you would any raw meat — wash your hands, countertops, utensils, bowls, and any other surfaces it comes in contact with. To protect your pet, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines when it comes to discarding uneaten food after a recommended time period.
Is raw food good for cats?
While raw food is more like the food cats would naturally eat in the wild, there’s no scientific proof that it’s better for cats than cooked food. “There is nothing inherently better about raw meat,” explains Evans. “The same nutritional value can be harnessed by simply cooking the meat.”
What foods can cats eat raw?
Commercial raw cat foods are made from ingredients that are safe for cats to eat in raw form — primarily raw animal proteins, organs, and bones, as well as various cat-safe fruits and vegetables.
If you’re considering prepping raw meals for your cat yourself, be sure to steer clear of ingredients that are harmful or toxic to cats when raw, like eggs.
How much raw food should you feed a cat?
Most commercial raw cat foods provide specific feeding guidelines, so always check to see what is recommended for your cat’s size or weight. But in general, you’ll want to feed your cat between 2 and 4 percent of their ideal body weight, split into two or three meals a day. So if your cat’s ideal weight is 10 pounds, you’d feed them 0.2 to 0.4 pounds of food per day.
How do you transition a cat to raw food?
“As with any diet change in cats, always transition the food slowly, ideally over 1 to 2 weeks,” Evans recommends. You should begin by mixing a small amount of the new food into their existing diet and increase the amount over several days.
Can cats get salmonella?
According to the National Veterinary Institute, cats can get sick if they eat food with salmonella bacteria in it, and they may suffer a variety of gastrointestinal side effects. “Even if the cats do not become ill with bacteria such as E.coli, listeria, or salmonella, it is a household risk for the humans, especially those that are young, old, or immunocompromised,” says Evans.
Raw Cat Food: Tips and Advice
Not every cat is a good candidate for a raw diet. Many veterinarians do not recommend feeding raw food to kittens or cats with medical problems: “I strongly advise against feeding a raw diet to kittens as raw diets are not always nutritionally adequate [for this stage]. And if kittens do not get all of the nutrients they need when they are growing, they can have a lifetime of issues,” says Evans.
He also cautions against feeding raw diets to very old cats, immunocompromised cats, and diabetics.
When feeding your cat a raw diet, it’s important to take proper safety measures to keep you and your pet safe. The CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and water after handling any raw pet food, as well as cleaning and disinfecting all surfaces the food touches.
Keep raw foods frozen until you’re ready to use them, and store these foods out of reach of children. For freeze-dried raw cat foods, follow the manufacturer’s serving and safety recommendations, especially if you plan to rehydrate the food, which can impact the amount of time it is safe for your cat to eat.