Lucy Cat (the lesser known family member of Team Colorado Canine) was actually the one who first blazed the trail for Bella into the world of raw food. Lucy had suffered from IBD (irritable bowel disease) for years, and after several vet visits I was finally told that her digestive system problems needed to be resolved or her outlook might not be good. She had a couple of bad teeth that need to be removed, including a big canine with exposed nerves, but the vet was unwilling to put her under anesthesia until her health improved. I left that vet visit feeling like I had been given an ultimatum, along with a quote for thousands of dollars worth of sonograms and bloodwork and a $40 bag of “prescription cat food,” in which the main ingredients were chicken-by-products and corn.
Lucy Cat was a stray I discovered stuck in the basement of an abandoned house when I was living in New York. After prying the storm door up with a crow bar and pulling emaciated Lucy out, I found an organization willing to spay, vaccinate, de-flea and de-worm her free of cost as long as I would agree to foster her and take her to adoption weekends at PetsMart. Needless to say she was an immediate foster-failure and never made it to a single adoption day. I was going through a tough time, and I figured Lucy came into my life because we needed each other. I bought a book on Cat health and nutrition , and was impressed with how logically and convincingly the author laid out her arguments for feeding cats raw food. However, like many pet owners, I bought premium high-protein and grain-free kibble instead, playing into the common fears that true raw food is too expensive and inconvenient.
Seven years after Lucy’s initial rescue in New York, walking out of the vet’s office with what I felt deep down was kitty poison in a 5 lb bag, I felt helpless. I’d tried grain free kibble, limited ingredient diets, expensive wet foods, everything. Maybe I was wrong and just needed to give this food a shot. Feeling sorry for both Lucy Cat and myself, something told me that I needed to try one last resort before I fed Lucy what every fiber of my being was telling me not to feed her. I headed to The Happy Beast, a local pet food shop in my neighborhood. I knew that owner Natalie was a huge proponent of raw food (they’ve actually stopped selling cat food in kibble form altogether as of this past July). Natalie explained how many processed foods still contain high levels of carbs and other irritants to cats, and how cats in particular are designed to be dedicated raw meat carnivors. Cats are picky eaters and don’t scavenge quite like canines might in the wild. The Happy Beast hooked Lucy up with some samples of Small Batch Raw Blends, and we were off.
It took about two days for Lucy to have literally no more symptoms of IBD, and after about 4 years of horrible bouts of digestive woes, she has been symptom-free for about eight months now. My fiancé, Pat, a pretty huge skeptic of raw food (It’s too expensive! You are just giving into yuppie pet food trends!), is now one of the biggest believers in feeding raw after Lucy’s miraculous recovery. Lucy has also successfully had her bad teeth removed, and Pat’s only current gripe is the borderline manic energy that our kitty now possess.
While raw food has been amazing for Lucy, Bella has begun to reap the benefits as well. Being a 60lb dog versus a 7lb cat, it does cost quite a bit more to feed Bella raw, but we are working on at least a rotation schedule for her meals. Ideally we would like to get Bella to be 100% raw fed.
Getting a system down for feeding raw is important, because it can be messy if you don’t have a plan. I’ve outlined the system we’ve developed that works very well for us, along with what we hope are a few helpful tips if you are planning on trying out raw food for your furry friend.
What Type of Raw?
Raw food is sold in a few different forms. Freeze-dried raw is convenient and great for treats and travel, but tends to not be the most economical. Frozen raw food is oftentimes sold in patty form, which is also quite convenient. We prefer bulk rolls or “chubs”, which are very economical and we find are almost more convenient for us in the end, because once we divide up the food we can store it in any shape of container we desire.
Small Batch Pets is our favorite brand. They use high quality, locally sourced foods. They prize quality over quantity, and for this reason are currently only available in the Western United States. Small Batch sells batches (patty forms, sized both for cats and dogs, with added vegetables and supplements), as well as blends (bulk, pure frozen raw meat). We use both, but have primarily used blends because of the economic advantage.
No matter what brand you choose, it’s important to rotate out the meat you feed your pet. Price can vary depending on the type of meat you are feeding, however only feeding one type of meat can create intolerances.
Storage and Cross-Contamination Considerations
When handling raw meat, it is important to be conscientious. You don’t want to spread any bacteria from raw meat to your own food or bodies. We bought a plastic bin for storing and thawing raw meat in the refrigerator. This keeps raw meat separate from our own food, and we line the bin with a paper towel which we replace every so often to catch any drips or leaks. As an extra precaution, store raw food on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, so that any accidental leaks wont drip onto human food. As always, make sure to disinfect any surfaces you cut or prepare raw food on, and wash your hands after handling raw meat!
We find that the easiest way to thaw frozen raw food is to place the portion you want in a glass container (plastic can leach chemicals), and place the container in the fridge to thaw slowly on its own. For Lucy, we place the entire “chub” in the fridge to thaw. Ideally you want to divide up the roll about 24 hours later, when it is only partially thawed. More thawed than just partially is still ok, but it is messier to slice and divide at that point. I bought small, 4 ounce Ball jars for Lucy’s regular meals, which I wash and reuse. One Small Batch blend divides into 14 jars for Lucy’s weight, enough for 2 weeks. I also give Lucy a daily “lunch” of freeze-dried food, which has added vitamins and minerals, and I often use it in her feeder when I am gone (see the next section). Once the roll is evenly divided into jars, I put most of the jars in the freezer, and keep once or two in the fridge at any given time. I simply keep rotating jars into the plastic basket in the fridge to thaw as I use them. I’ve also heard of people using ice cube trays for cats with success!
Treats, Travel, and Vacation
For backpacking, camping, and traveling, freeze-dried food is a great option for Bella. I also crumble freeze dried raw food into Lucy’s automatic timed feeder when we go away on adventures. Ideally, you want to soak freeze dried food in water first, but this method is great for short weekend trips away. For longer trips, I like to have someone come by the house to supplement dry meals with her regular frozen raw food.
Freeze-dried meat treats are a great, healthy, and lightweight treat option on the go! I particularly love Small Batch’s meat treats to reinforce Bella to stay close when on horseback rides.
Thinking about making the switch to raw? Still not convinced? Make sure to stop by your local pet store and ask the shop owner for a consultation. We’ve discovered that small pet food shops are more than thrilled to help people figure out budgets and customized systems that work for them as individuals! They will also have suggestions for issues that may come up such as transitioning finicky felines to a new type of food. In the end, your dog or cat will thank you, and you will be additionally rewarded with fewer vet bills!