Nutrition

Can Cats Eat Raw Chicken?

We all know that eating raw meat is dangerous for humans, but what about our furry friends? Can cats eat raw meat—in particular, raw chicken? Technically, yes, but it doesn’t come without risks. We’ll tell you everything you need to know about cats and eating raw chicken.

Tara Maurer holding cat smiling

Last Updated: January 12, 2024 | 5 min read

A cat looking at counter woman slicing raw chicken.

This article should not substitute contact with a veterinarian. Contact your local vet immediately if your cat is reacting poorly after consumption.

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Chicken is one of the most widely consumed proteins in the world. It’s considered a healthy option for humans because of its higher protein and lower fat ratio than other meats. At the same time, poultry is a common cause of severe food poisoning outbreaks. Raw chicken can host two particularly harmful bacteria that can result in health complications like typhoid fever and bacteremia (bacteria in the bloodstream).

You’ve likely seen pet food marketed as “raw” or “freeze-dried raw” when visiting your local pet supplies store. Since the 1990s, the raw food diet for pets has slowly grown in popularity, with proponents saying it’s healthier than processed kibble. Raw food diets emulate how felines ate before commercial food was created. They contain vitamins, minerals, and enzymes inherent in meat proteins like chicken and beef in unprocessed forms, whereas they’re often altered or destroyed upon high-heat cooking. Even so, most veterinarians discourage raw feeding for our companion pets.

So, what’s the truth? Should you be concerned if your cat sneaks a nibble of raw chicken? Or, maybe you’re considering the addition of raw foods to your cat’s diet. Is it truly healthy and safe? With benefits and drawbacks on each side of the argument, there’s no definitive answer to whether cats should eat raw chicken or a raw diet. We bring you the pros and cons of feeding raw chicken to cats.

Can My Cat Eat Raw Chicken?

The raw pet food movement began in 1993 with the publication of “Give Your Dog A Bone,” written by veterinarian Dr. Ian Billinghurst. In his writing, Billinghurst suggested that many ailments seen in our companion pets are due to the commercial food they are fed. For ultimate health, Billinghurst said cats and dogs should eat Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (BARF) in the form of raw muscle meat, organs, bones, vegetables, and fruit.

In contrast, the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), and US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) all discourage the feeding of raw diets due to safety concerns. Raw meat, if not handled correctly, can harbor harmful pathogens. These bacteria can pose a health risk not only for furry friends but also for owners who handle the food while preparing it.

While cats can technically eat raw chicken as part of a complete and well-balanced diet, it increases their risk of developing food-borne illnesses.

Can Kittens Eat Raw Chicken?

Kittens begin eating solid foods around 3-5 weeks. While your kitty may have a growing interest in human foods, keeping a strict diet while your pet is very young is best. A kitten’s diet is crucial for proper development, and feeding them raw chicken could upset their digestive system, causing diarrhea and dehydration. Worse, raw chicken could pose an immunity risk. 

At birth, kittens have a partially-functioning immune system, making them vulnerable to diseases. While drinking mom’s milk, kitties ingest colostrum, which provides antibodies to protect from infections and aids in the establishment of the gut microbiome. During the transition from milk to food, the combined loss of colostrum and the kitten’s still-developing immune system increases the risk of your pet’s immune system being compromised. This makes fighting off invading pathogens even more difficult for your kitty.

Even commercial raw pet food could pose a risk to your kitten. A CVM study of 196 raw pet foods found that nearly 25 percent tested positive for harmful microbes, including Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes

Is Raw Chicken Good For Cats?

A cat sniffing whole raw chicken.

Felines are obligate carnivores, which means that their bodies require nutrients that are only found in meat. Chicken contains protein, vitamins, and minerals easily digested and absorbed by a cat’s body. But does raw chicken really provide more benefits than cooked? Eating raw meat can provide many advantages, so long as it’s prepared safely and is part of a complete and balanced diet.

Benefits Of Raw Food Diet For Cats

A raw diet is considered the ancestral diet of pets, thus the best choice for our carnivorous cats. Various types of raw diets are available to felines, including home-prepared and commercial raw frozen, freeze-dried, and dehydrated meats.

Raw diets are higher in enzymes and certain antioxidants. Heating food produces toxins, such as acrylamides and nitrosamines, which cause oxidative stress and are carcinogens. In contrast, the antioxidants in raw foods have been shown to reduce oxidative stress in cats and support immune function.

Other advantages of a raw food diet include:

  • Better digestion
  • Better urinary tract health
  • Healthier coats
  • Improved dental health
  • Increased energy
  • Increased water intake
  • Reduced stool odor
  • Weight management

What Are The Hazards Of Feeding Raw Chicken To Felines?

Cat eating chicken bones off a plate.
A raw diet that includes bone pieces can also be a choking hazard.

The two primary safety concerns of feeding raw chicken, and the BARF diet overall, to cats are microbial contamination and nutritional imbalances. A raw diet that includes bone pieces can also be a choking hazard.

Parasites & Bacteria

Both felines and humans can get sick due to bacteria and parasites living in raw meat. Cats have a shorter digestive tract and higher acidity levels in their stomach, making it less likely that microbes spend enough time in the feline’s system to make them sick. Still, infections like salmonellosis from Salmonella bacteria can affect cats and can be transmitted to humans.

Nutritional Deficiency

Raw chicken does not provide all the nutrients your cat needs to survive. Most prepackaged raw pet food is complete and balanced; however, those making homemade meals risk creating a nutrient deficiency in their cat. Feeding a homemade, raw, balanced diet is possible by incorporating the right amount of organs, bones, vitamins, and supplements.

Choking Risk

Small bones in your feline’s raw chicken could cause choking and intestinal blockage. The bone can also splinter once swallowed and cause intestinal damage.

How Should I Feed Raw Chicken To My Cat?

Despite the drawbacks of feeding your cat raw meat, there are ways to make this food safer for your pet.

  1. Choose quality meat from a reliable source.
  2.  Wash your hands with soap before and after handling meat.
  3.  Disinfect surfaces and food bowls that have come in contact with raw meat.
  4.  Properly store raw chicken. Keep the package tightly sealed to avoid cross-contamination.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about feeding raw chicken to cats. Don’t see yours? Ask us in the comments.

Can Cats Get Salmonella From Raw Chicken?

Salmonella can affect cats. Symptoms commonly seen in felines with salmonellosis include:

  • Anorexia
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea
  • Fast heart rate
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Mucus in stool
  • Shock
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss

If you notice these symptoms after your cat eats raw chicken, visit your vet for diagnosis and treatment.

Can Cats Eat Raw Chicken Bones?

Yes, cats can eat raw chicken bones. Unlike cooked bones, which are soft and brittle, raw bones are less likely to snap into tiny shards and cause damage to your kitty’s intestinal tract. Bones are an excellent mineral source and are a good addition to a raw diet. Still, raw bones could be a choking hazard.

Consider Pet Insurance

While you may not think pet insurance is worth the cost when your feline is healthy, investing in a quality plan can save you thousands of dollars in future vet bills. Pet insurance can help cover the cost of accidents and illnesses related to eating raw chicken. View our picks for the best pet insurance for felines.

A cat sleeping on top of an open book.

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