Venison, or deer meat, can make a tasty treat for cats. As obligate carnivores, cats thrive on a protein-rich diet with plenty of meat.
Venison offers a lean source of protein and nutrients. However, there are some important factors to consider before feeding venison to cats.
An Overview of Feeding Raw Venison to Cats
Feeding any raw meat to cats carries potential health risks, mainly from bacteria like salmonella. However, the rich protein and nutrients in venison can benefit cats when prepared properly. Many cat owners successfully feed raw venison safely by taking precautions. Others may choose to cook venison before feeding to eliminate risks. As with any diet change, consult your veterinarian first.
Key Takeaway: Raw venison can provide nutrients but also poses health risks to cats if not handled properly. Cooked venison is safer and still offers benefits.
The Benefits of Venison for Cats
What makes venison a potential healthy addition to a cat’s diet? Here are some of the main benefits this meat can provide:
Cats need plenty of protein from animal sources. As obligate carnivores, protein should make up at least 30% of their diet. Venison is typically about 20% protein, giving it a higher protein level than beef or chicken. The amino acids in venison protein help maintain muscle mass and provide energy.
Lower Fat than Other Red Meat
Compared to beef and other red meat, venison contains less saturated fat. The leanness makes it appropriate for cats who need to lose weight. For healthy cats, venison provides a good balance of protein to fat.
Rich in Vitamins and Minerals
Venison contains higher amounts of many vitamins and minerals compared to traditional meats like chicken. It is high in iron, zinc, potassium, phosphorus, selenium, and B vitamins including niacin, B6, and B12. These vitamins support immune health, metabolism, skin health, and energy levels.
Variety in the Diet
Adding venison can provide more variety to a cat’s diet. Rotating different protein sources may help prevent allergies or food sensitivities. The unique flavor of venison may entice picky eaters.
Natural Source of Taurine
Venison contains taurine, an amino acid essential for cats’ health. Taurine supports heart function, vision, digestion, and reproduction. Most commercial cat foods are supplemented with taurine, but venison provides it naturally.
Concerns About Raw Venison for Cats
While venison offers clear benefits, feeding it raw poses some health risks. Here are the main concerns with raw venison:
Raw meat may contain dangerous bacteria like salmonella or E. coli. When meat is cooked, the high temperatures kill off the harmful bacteria. Feeding raw venison puts cats at risk of food poisoning or other bacterial infections.
Deer can harbor certain parasites like tapeworms or toxoplasma in their muscle meat. Freezing or cooking venison destroys any parasites present. Feeding fresh raw venison, though, could expose cats to parasitic infection.
On its own, raw venison does not provide complete and balanced nutrition for cats. Essential vitamins and minerals like calcium and taurine may be lacking. It should not replace a nutritionally complete cat food.
Bones and Choking Hazards
Small bones in venison can pose a choking risk or damage a cat’s digestive tract. Venison should be cut into pieces and bones removed before feeding to cats.
Too Much Fat for Some Cats
While venison is lower in fat compared to beef, the fat content may still be too high for some cats, like those who are overweight or have pancreatitis. Excess fat can also cause digestive upset.
Safely Preparing Raw Venison
Cat owners who want to feed raw venison should take steps to reduce the risks. Here are some tips for safely preparing raw venison for cats:
- Choose fresh, high-quality meat from a reputable source. Avoid meat that is past its expiration date.
- Check for parasite cysts or abnormalities. Discard any meat that looks abnormal.
- Freeze meat for at least 3 weeks before feeding to kill parasites.
- Thaw slowly in the refrigerator to prevent bacterial growth.
- Wash hands and tools thoroughly after handling raw venison.
- Remove all bones and cut into bite-size pieces. Monitor cats closely when eating.
- Sanitize bowls after each use to prevent bacterial spread.
- Rotate venison with other proteins and complete cat foods.
- Start with small amounts to allow cats’ digestive systems to adjust.
- Discontinue venison if any signs of illness or digestive upset occur.
Health Risks of Raw Venison
While proper handling reduces risks, feeding raw venison still carries potential health hazards for cats:
Dangerous strains of bacteria like salmonella, E. coli, or listeria commonly contaminate raw meats. These can cause vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, or even death in severe cases. Raw food diets have been linked to increased risk of salmonella in cats.
Parasites like Toxoplasma gondii may be present in raw venison. Toxoplasmosis infection can cause fever, digestive issues, breathing problems, organ damage, and birth defects in fetuses. Other parasites like tapeworms can infect cats who eat raw venison.
Excessive amounts of raw venison or relying on it as a sole food can lead to nutritional deficiencies in cats over time. It does not provide all the essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients cats need.
Injury from Bones
Small, brittle bones can lodge in cats’ throats or intestinal tracts, causing choking, obstructions, or internal injuries. Cats’ teeth can also be damaged by gnawing on raw bones.
The fat content in venison could trigger pancreatitis in some cats. This painful and potentially fatal inflammation of the pancreas is often linked to high-fat diets in cats. Obese cats or those prone to pancreatitis should avoid fatty venison cuts.
Safer Ways to Feed Venison
To gain the benefits of venison while avoiding the biggest risks of raw meat, cat owners have a few options:
- Cook venison thoroughly – Cooking to an internal temperature of 165°F kills any potential bacteria or parasites present. Avoid seasonings and bones.
- Purchase commercially prepared venison cat food – Many cat food brands offer cooked or freeze-dried venison formulas that are safe and balanced.
- Limit amounts – Restrict venison to occasional small treats or mix small portions into their regular cat food.
- Feed as a powdered supplement – Dehydrated venison sold as a supplement can provide nutrients without the same raw risks.
- Try venison broth – Make broth from venison bones, then remove bones before serving to avoid choking hazard.
No matter which option you choose, have any new food or diet approved by your veterinarian before feeding. They can ensure it will meet your cat’s nutritional needs. Monitor for any signs of digestive upset or allergic reaction when first introducing venison.
Can kittens eat raw venison?
Kittens under 12 weeks old should not eat any raw meat, including venison. Their immune systems cannot handle the bacteria risks. Cooked venison or commercial cat food is safer for kittens.
Is venison okay for senior cats?
The rich protein in venison makes it appropriate for senior cats who need more protein as their bodies age. However, venison’s higher fat content may be unsuitable for seniors prone to weight gain or pancreatitis. Check with your vet before feeding venison to senior cats.
Will raw venison hurt dogs?
Raw venison generally does not pose any additional risks to dogs beyond other raw meats. However, be very cautious to keep raw venison away from dogs. Deer carcasses can carry dangerous chronic wasting disease, which is transmissible to some animals like dogs. Raw venison should not be fed to both cats and dogs.
How much raw venison can cats eat per day?
Ideally, raw venison should be fed occasionally or in small portions to cats. As a treat, provide pieces adding up to less than an ounce per day. For cats eating raw venison as their primary protein source, up to two ounces per day may be appropriate if balanced with other nutrients. But large amounts of exclusively raw venison can lead to nutritional imbalance over time.
Can I freeze raw venison for cats?
Freezing raw venison for at least 3 weeks at 0°F or below can kill off any parasites present in the meat. Freeze venison in portion-sized amounts for feeding over time. Thaw required portions slowly in the refrigerator before feeding. Refreezing previously frozen raw venison is not recommended, as it allows bacteria to multiply.
In moderation and with proper handling, raw venison offers cats a natural source of quality protein, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. However, raw meat also comes with risks from contamination and nutritional imbalance.
Feeding raw venison is ultimately a personal choice for cat owners after considering the benefits and risks. For those who choose to feed it, strict safety measures must be followed to avoid potential health hazards.