Can Cats Survive and Thrive on Chicken Alone?

  • by RawRoar
  • 29 Jun, 2017
Single protein feeding is something frequently discussed online, and when it comes to cats that generally means chicken.

Whilst the general consensus is multiple proteins are needed, some raw feeding group on Facebook disagree; instead they argue variety is "optimal" not "compulsory"
This is an interesting position, because when it comes to nutrition diet is either "optimal" and provides all the required vitamins and minerals; or it's "sub-optimal" - meaning it doesn't.  The question is, does chicken alone meet the nutritional requirements of a cat?

We can't argue it's natural for cats to eat a single prey.  

A study exploring  this feral colony, highlights that 93% of requirements were met by three proteins:  rat (readily available and a big chunk of their diet), supplemented with rabbit and a type of sea-bird.  In Spring and Summer their diet extended to include insects, reptiles and migrant birds.

We can't argue it's natural for a cat to eat a large amount of chicken.  Cats rarely hunt prey bigger than themselves, to have an abundant source of small, young chickens would be extremely unusual.

I decided to explore more...

First the official recommendations

MSD Veterinary Manual  (MVM) produced for vets reads:
"Nutritional problems occur most commonly when dogs and cats are fed imbalanced homemade diets, when cats are fed diets formulated for dogs, or when dogs or cats are fed certain human foods. Dog or cat foods or homemade diets derived from a single food item are inadequate.

"Unlike dogs, cats require dietary sources of vitamin A, arachidonic acid, and taurine. Cats also require higher quantities of fat and protein than dogs, as well as of the amino acid arginine and the vitamins niacin and pyridoxine (vitamin B6)."
Healthy Pets by Mercola , a website which writes extensively about the benefits of raw feeding and the risks of processed foods acknowledges:
Canned diets are the type most commonly deficient in thiamine because of the way they are processed, but dry foods exposed to air, humidity or heat can also lose thiamine content. An  imbalanced raw or homemade diet can also be thiamine-deficient.  
I decided to explore the nutrient content of chicken in more detail, initially exploring three key areas:  
  • Thiamin
  • Essential Fatty Acids
  • Vitamin D

Thiamin (B1)

Since Thiamin (previously spelt "Thiamine) is mentioned by Mercola let's start with that.  Thiamin or B1  is a water-soluble vitamin, which means the body doesn't store it welland  so it needs to be regularly consumed; any excess is excreted via urine rather like taurine.   Thiamin levels are not tested when vets run standard bloodwork as it isn't that simple .

Cats require three times the amount of thiamin that dogs do .   Pet Guru explains :
"Thiamine helps your pet metabolize fats and proteins, and help them also to convert food, or carbohydrates, into fuel, which in turn is then turned into the energy that runs their body. This critical vitamin is also essential for healthy skin, hair eyes, and the liver.   Vitamin B1 is also extremely helpful to both dogs and cats in that it assists the nervous system to function properly as well as helping your pet cope with stressful situations as it improves the immune system."
We do know that cats who consume carbs need more thiamin, as it plays an essential role converting them to glucose.  This means the official RDA set by the pet food manufacturers, may be higher than a non-carb eating cat would need.  

However what we don't know his how much less?   This paper highlights how a lion not eating carbs, became thiamin deficient when he was fed only beef muscle meat - which shows even without grains, adequate thiamin is still crucial.

Organs that use a lot of energy like the brain and heart, suffer first when there is deficiency.   A lack of thiamine can also lead to a buildup of lactate, resulting in acidosis.   Cats who have conditions such as malabsorptive intestinal disease, may decrease the ability to absorb thiamine from the diet, while use of medications such as diuretics can lead to increased thiamine loss in the urine.

Progressive symptoms of a thiamine deficiency can take time to show; typically symptoms include lethargy, lack of appetite, weight loss and bouts of sickness or diarrhoea.  As symptoms progress, cats will experience neurological symptoms which can include altered reflexes and seizures, neck flexion and ultimately death.   This page covers the symptoms and provides more information .

A further problem with thiamin is you can't just run a quick blood test to check levels as is explained here  and here .  This means it's prudent to ensure cats fed a homemade raw diet, meet the recommended levels just like those manufacturing grain free food do.

How much?

According to guidelines, the average cat weighing around 4.5 kg (9lb) needs 280 calories per day.

According to AAFCO for every 1000 calories consumed, a cat needs 1.40mg of Thiamin.

Based on the above average cat this is a daily requirement of 0.392 mg or 392 mcg

Raw feeding guidelines are 2-4% of body-weight, with 3% being the figure we'll use for this example.  

This means a 4.5 kg cat can be expected to eat approximately 135 g per day.

The standard recommended online for raw feeding is:
  • 80 % meat
  • 10% bone
  • 10% secreting organ, 5% of which must be liver
In our example this means the 4.5 kg cat will receive:
  • 108 g meat
  • 13.5 g bone
  • 13.5 gsecreting organ, of which 7g must be liver
Using nutritional data for raw chicken - we can see 108 g delivers varying amounts depending on which parts we use.

  1. Half of chicken, raw with skin:  64.5 mcg
  2. Thigh meat, raw with skin:  114 mcg
  3. Thigh meat, raw with skin 90% + 10% heart: 127 mcg
  • Bone: 0
  • Secreting organ (liver): 40 mcg
Total:  104.5-167 mcg depending on chicken used.  Remember in this example the recommended amount was  392 mcg

We hear lots of talk of adding eggs to the mix to give an additional boost; adding 1 egg per 1 kg provides an additional 4 mcg of Thiamin in the 135g mix.  Sardines (tinned) adds around a further 10, if we add one 150g can to a 1kg batch.  However as the cat won't eat more food and eat the sardines on top of their 108 g meat allowance, we'd then have to deduct some from the chicken amount thus negating any benefit.

Result:  Less than half the RDA of Thiamin.

We should also consider that the amount of thiamin the chicken contains, directly correlates with his status - that is how much the food he ate consumed.  Chickens fed a low quality feed with inadequate levels, will contain less than the above amounts in their meat.

All these calculations are also based on chunks of food.  Thiamin is one of the most unstable B vitamins and is sensitive to  air .  When meat is ground this increases surface area and thus exposure to oyxgen, plus further loss may occur in the "run off" liquid.

What can be done?

  • Don't grind meat prior to freezing: 
Instead grind when thawed and serve, including any liquid

  • Add small, species appropriate prey: 
The smaller the animal, the more concentrated in the tissues vitamins like thiamin are.  One average sized quail (meat and skin only) which is around 100 g, provides 300 mcg of thiamin.  That's nearly the whole RDA without adding organs and more than double that of chicken.

Fatty Acids

Fatty acids are interesting as they also depend a lot on what the chicken was fed when alive ( Gyles, 1988Du et al., 2000) .  Whilst it can quickly get complicated when discussing fatty acids, in simple terms we can group them into omega-3 and omega-6.  Different types of fats enable different functions within the body and some are considered "essential", that is they need to be consumed for vital processes within the body such as clotting and inflammation.

Inflammation is essential for our survival. It helps protect our bodies from infection and injury, but it can also cause severe damage and contribute to disease when the inflammatory response is inappropriate or excessive.

A diet that is high in Omega-6 but low in Omega-3 increases inflammation, while a diet that includes balanced amounts of each reduces inflammation ( 1 ).  Current recommendations find a 6:1 Omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is ideal.  

This ratios researchers say:

"May reduce the incidence of some diseases, such as cancer and sudden cardiac death. Furthermore, the use of fatty acid supplements has proved to be beneficial in the treatment of several pathogenic conditions, such as chronic inflammatory diseases, atopy, chronic renal insufficiency, and some types of cancer. Therefore, particular attention should be paid to the type and quantity of fat sources that are used when diets for dogs and cats are formulated, in order to assure the optimal amount and balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the food."

The problem when considering a single protein chicken diet, is that chicken is considered to not only have the highest levels of omega 6 of any meat, but also the lowest of omega-3.  A standard supermarket chicken can has an average ratio of 15:1 (USDA).  Let's not forget that an average is in the middle and some were found to have levels as high as 20:1 .

The above study states:

"The large use of grains and oils rich in omega-6 fatty acids as feedstuffs for farm animals has led to the production of meat and eggs rich in  omega-6 and poor in omega-3 fatty acids. 
As a consequence, diets for humans as well as homemade diets for dogs and cats are very likely to be high in omega-6 and low in  omega-3 fatty acids."

The reason chickens are more prone to excessively high levels is because of their forced rapid growth. A "standard" chicken lives for around 30 days, compared to double that time for "heritage breeds" - typically with feeds very high in omega-6.   Meat fromfree range, organic chicken and slower-growing chicken breeds contains less fat than fast-growing breeds, with up to 50% difference noted.

Some propose adding oily fish to a batch to increase Omega-3 levels, particularly small fish like pilchards.  Whilst a tin does deliver a couple of grams of omega 3 (along with several grams of other fats), added to a 1 kg batch, the amount per day doesn't make a dint in the ratio.

Some propose adding fish oils.  In theory this is a good idea, except to offset such a ratio you'd need a hefty dose, which as is outlined here  and here  is in itself problematic and carries risks.

What's more as both fats compete for the same pathways within the body, it's a race to who gets there first, simply adding lots of omega 3 isn't the same as reducing the intake of omega 6.  Over supplementing of omega-3 may also potentially trigger infection, as the natural inflammatory response in the body is hindered.   Lastly this all assumes we have a source of quality, non-contaminated, non-rancid source of fish oil, which isn't as easy as many assume .  Rancid fats are extremely harmful to the body and linked to adverse health effects such as cancer.

What can be done?

  • Switch to organic, grass-fed, wild or soya free
Yes they're more expensive, because decent food and a half decent "chicken-life" cost more than intensively farming a large flock with cheap feed.   Pastured birds had, on average, an 8-to-1 fatty-acid ratio. Meat from birds fed no-soy rations was even better: 3-to-1, read more here  and here .  Some companies now produce chickens advertised as omega rich, however they may not declare the levels making it very difficult to compare.

  • Add another protein or three

Grain fed pork and beef have an overall much better ratio than chicken.   

A typical 100 g portion of grain-fed pork should contain about 690 mg of omega-6 fats, and 120 mg of omega-3 fats. A typical 100 g portion of grain-fed beef should have about 234 mg of omega-6 fats, and 12 mg of omega-3 fats. It does not take that much omega-3 to counterbalance the omega-6 obtained from grain-fed pork or beef, even if one eats a lot of them."

That said again grass fed, organic or wild are preferable if they're an option, a review found omega 3 levels were consistently to be around 25-50% higher.

Read more about Essential Fatty Acids here

Find the healthiest chickens in the UK here

Vitamin D

Vitamin D levels in meat also correlate with the animal's diet prior to ending up on in your pet's bowl.  

The legal requirement for cat foods is a minimum of 70 IU per 1000 calories and a maximum of7520 IU per 1000 calories, meaning there's a massive scale, resulting in potential significant difference between processed products.  As vitamin D is fat soluble and stored in the body, excess amounts can be toxic, however the regulations state their maximum is significantly below levels linked to toxicity.

Vitamin D via diet is really important for cats, they can't synthesise through their skin like humans and a low vitamin D level is  linked with increased morbidity and mortality  - for example  Vitamin D status has been shown to be associated with HIV-related disease progression .   Crucially D also helps regulate levels of calcium and phosphate in the cat's body.

In our example cat of this article consuming 280 cals per day, this equates to a range of19.6 - 2106 IU, which converts to 0.5 -52 mcg

A typical raw whole chicken is referenced as containing 0.2–0.3 mcg of vitamin D3/100 g (thigh per 100 g is referenced as trace amount only).  If the above cat eats 108 g of meat and 13 g of chicken offal (which again has trace amounts ), that's  0.3  mcg

Adding an egg?  A battery egg has 1.7 mcg, whilst an organic has around 2.2mcg( 1 ).  If we add one organic egg to a 1 kg batch, for every 135 g of food (the daily total), we add a further 0.3mcg; bringing the total to 0.6mcg - just over the minimum requirement for a healthy cat with optimal vitamin D conversion taking place.

Adding fish?   100 g of tinned sardines adds a whopping 6.3mcgof vitamin D.  For our example cat this provides an extra 0.9 mcg per day , bringing the total to 1.5mcg .

It's also unfortunately not quite as simple as provide and cat will absorb.  Being fat soluble, fats (as discussed above) the balance of fats has to at the correct ratio (as discussed above) and in sufficient amounts, to enable effective absorption .

Conditions like IBD have a significant correlation with vitamin D levels.   In humans rates of vitamin D deficiency as high as 70% in patients suffering IBD.  Researchers explain this is due to:

" impaired absorption, impaired conversion of vitamin D to its active products, increased catabolism and increased excretion. [ 5 , 7 ]"

Can we apply this to pets?  Cats absorb  Vitamin D from the intestinal tract just like humans do, and he studies we have so far suggest so.   Animal wellness magazine tell us we can. 

Cats with liver issues and kidney disorders are also shown to have reduced ability to convert D.

If we dig further we also discover Vitamin D and Magnesium are synergistic, meaning they use and need each other to work effectively.  If you don't have enough magnesium, you can't effectively utilise vitamin D.  Why might pets be magnesium deficient when sufficient is in their processed food?  

Flouride decreases magnesium and chicken and other by-products ( like those used by companies such as Royal Canin ) was found to be a significant source in processed dog foods, resulting in levels higher than those linked with bone cancer in children, gastrointestinal illness and other problems.  For those with a history of eating processed pet food, or in a fluoridated water area this may be significant.

Calcium interacts with magnesium and vitamin D too, so the more we pick it apart the more we see the potential impact of imbalanced food profiles.

What can be done?

  • Add other proteins and ensure appropriate/adequate fats are included
If we examine slow rendered organic lard from grass-fed pigs (not the white supermarket special block),   one tsp provides 4-8 mcg depending on diet and sunlight exposure.  Adding some fatty raw pork of this quality could help to provide a significant boost to RDA

  • Add wild, whole, species appropriate prey
  Analysis of wild potential prey of cats shows they supply adequate vitamin D to meet the requirement of growing kittens.

  • Ensure adequate levels of co-factors
Such as calcium and magnesium are included in the diet.  For cats suffering conditions known to impact vitamin D status, speak to your vet about whether a supplement may be beneficial.


In line with public guidance, feeding a single protein of chicken is   not   an adequately balanced diet for a cat long-term.  Intensively farmed (supermarket standard) chickens, increase risks further due to the imbalanced fatty acid profile and reduced vitamin D content.

Roar Raw

by RawRoar 17 Jul, 2017
We often read online that crunching biscuits helps to clean cats' teeth; yet despite the majority of cat owners now feeding some dried food, i t is thought that as many as 85% of cats aged three years and older have some sort of dental disease ( 1 ).

Clearly this is a problem for more than just elderly cats, the big question everyone should be asking is why.

First, is it even logical biscuits clean teeth?   It's comparable to suggesting wolfing down half a packet of Hobnobs will give us humans pearly whites.  Simply eating something hard doesn't clean teeth - particularly if you have massive canines that cut through biscuits like a knife through hot butter.   For this theory to even be on the table, cats would have to chew their biscuits.

Cats (unlike humans) don't chew food to mix it with saliva before swallowing.  The acidity of their gut is such that saliva and mastication would destroy their teeth.  Instead cats only use their teeth to rip something small enough to be swallowed whole - their digestive system takes care of the rest.

This means kibble is swallowed not chewed.
by RawRoar 13 Jul, 2017
Due to the glorious weather across the UK recently, there has been much discussion online about helping cats through the heat.

I was surprised to read how many noted their cats vomited or didn't eat well when the temperatures soared, after all we're always hearing cats originate from the desert.

 What confused me more is that we didn't experience any issues from the heat,despite the fact one is a long coated and extremely thick, fluffy feline; on the contrary they both basked in the sunniest and hottest room (on back legs akimbo to help keep themselves cooler) despite repeated attempts to lure them out. 

I mentioned this to a vet friend of mine and after a chat I decided to dig more.  I'm quite shocked at what I found and think it should be more widely shared with pet owners.
by RawRoar 29 Jun, 2017
Single protein feeding is something frequently discussed online, and when it comes to cats that generally means chicken.

Whilst the general consensus is multiple proteins are needed, some raw feeding group on Facebook disagree; instead they argue variety is "optimal" not "compulsory"
by RawRoar 03 Jun, 2017
Many of us have had it drilled into us you should  never  feed bones to your pets, and they're absolutely right that you should never feed cooked bone to your pet.   They splinter easily even when chewed appropriately and can become lodged in a cat's throat or stomach.

Raw bones however are a different ballgame.

Whereas many of us are used to seeing the image above, many of us forget our  domestic cats are basically tiny lions .

Whereas humans have molars (creating a flat surface for grinding plant materials),  along with canines  - cats have a completely different configuration.
by RawRoar 17 May, 2017
They informed their Facebook readers that when you dehydrate fresh meat (a process which involves removing water from food), the resulting product contains less water.
by RawRoar 09 May, 2017
What the TV programe did:
As an experiment  they swabbed a dog owner's (unwashed) hands, the dog's tongue and the dog's bowl following a raw meal.  They did this in association with Liverpool University, who claim to have an unpublished study showing the following:

 "The faeces of 114 dogs fed a variety of raw diets and 76 fed cooked diets (which includes kibble and tinned) were tested for the presence of some pathogens known to be harmful to human health. The percentage of dogs carrying antibiotic-resistant E. coli and Salmonella was significantly higher in the raw-fed cohort of dogs, compared to the cooked-fed cohort."    

As a result of this the authors claim:
 "This suggests that the spread of resistance to antibiotics used in human medicine is encouraged through the feeding of raw food diets, and supports existing research that there is a higher risk of coming into contact with potentially harmful pathogens if you feed your pet a raw food diet. " (BBC Scotland)
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