Poultry products are very versatile for feeding cats. Meats can be ground with bone for homemade recipes, egg yolk is a nutritious staple for cats, and chicken necks or small, dressed game birds like quail are likely the most effective and safest “tooth brush” for cats. Day old chicks can be fed (dead) as whole prey and represent a staple for many small captive kept wild cats, and can also be obtained frozen for domestic cats. Cooked chicken as meat choice is an excellent stepping stone to a homemade diet and sometimes the only meat some cats will eat initially. Pureed cooked chicken and raw egg yolk are excellent food choices for nursing sick cats and for tube feeding.
For those who are interested in more self reliance, poultry such as chickens are easy to raise. They grow relatively fast and require little infrastructure and can easily be butchered at home. A dual purpose flock can keep your cat well supplied with eggs and meat. When feeding poultry by grinding the whole carcass with bone and skin, food waste is kept to a minimum, which makes poultry a very efficient choice for feeding cats.
Chicken appears to be by far the most popular meat choice made by cat owners when making or buying cat food. The reasons for doing so are mostly idealistic instead of factual, however. Despite the efficiency and versatility of feeding poultry to cats, I am not an advocate of feeding chicken as the first and only choice, and here is why:
SALMONELLA: cats are naturally resistant to many pathogens, including E. coli, but not to Salmonella. It appears that reptiles and birds, including chicken, are the foremost hosts for this pathogen. When I submitted wild-caught mice for a microbiology screen they found Coliform/E.coli and Staph. aureus, but not Salmonella.
ANIMAL WELFARE: chicken, turkey, quail, Cornish game hen, or duck available at the grocery store was reared in a factory farming situation which raises many animal welfare and environmental concerns. To feed a cat on meat coming from a small animal like chicken, many chickens have to be killed, whereas the meat from a beef steer can feed one cat for years.
CONTAMINATION: factory farmed chicken is fed on processed GMO soy and corn based feeds that are fortified with antibiotics to prevent illness in the birds. The chicks are kept in such unnatural and crowded conditions, that medicating them daily through their feed or water is often the only way to keep them alive for the few weeks until butchering. Recently, it also has come to light that feed for commercially raised chickens is also “fortified” with arsenic. Once butchered, the chicken carcasses are often washed with a bleach solution.
NUTRITIONALLY IMMATURE: commercial chicken at the grocery store comes from birds selectively bred to mature unnaturally fast. At an age of 5-8 week old the chicks have reached a size and weight ready for butchering. This is often accomplished at the expense of the birds health and quality of life. By that age, commercial meat breed chicks are at a high risk of dying from a heart attack or are often completely immobilized because their legs can not support their rapid weight gain. Traditionally, domestic chicken breeds were not ready for butchering before 6 months old. Some heritage breeds can reach mature size by 12-16 weeks. However, commercial fryer or broiler meat chicks are not mature at 5-8 weeks old, have not reached full bone density, and have not received enough physical exercise for natural development of muscles and organs. The chick was deprived of sun and fresh air, and it is unlikely that the nutritional profile of a bird raised under these circumstances resembles any prey cats would naturally hunt.
NOT NATURAL: feeding chicken is actually not a natural choice. The African Wildcat (ancestor of our cats) is to a certain degree opportunistic and will catch birds as prey when it is too good to pass up, but it is not its main prey. Chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus) would certainly not be on the menu, because chickens are from Thailand and India, whereas the African Wildcat and our domestic cat has its origin in the Near East and Africa.
MAMMALS: most of the prey hunted by the African Wildcat and our domestic cat are small mammals. The meat of mammal prey is red. Although the African Wildcat does not hunt deer, cattle, or sheep either, nutritionally, meat from these species comes closer than chicken to what the cat is naturally dependent on eating.
Poultry products and chicken make an excellent and often indispensable contribution to the diet of cats. Ideally, cats should eat a chicken neck or 1/2 quail or 1/4 Cornish game hen or day old chick at least twice every week for good dental health. Choosing chicken, turkey or other type of poultry meat to make cat food offers vital variety. If you are inclined to do so, grinding a whole chicken and rendering it into cat food is an excellent, efficient and easy way of taking care of cats’ nutritional needs, but I do not believe that chicken is a superior choice for feeding cats or that it should make up 100 percent of a diet for cats.
Knowing how to turn a whole chicken into cat food is good knowledge to possess. Owning the tools to do so renders you more self-sufficient. Every serious raw feeder should be familiar with this recipe in case of emergencies. As radical as it might sound to some, having the ability to render a backyard chicken into cat food offers great peace of mind.