Updated: Dec 16, 2021
If you are a breeder and you want the best not only for your breeding stock but their offspring, the best that you can provide is a raw diet. Not only is this the most natural diet, but a raw diet is the most supportive for all over health, to handle stress, for growth and development and for nutrient density to ensure the continued health and weight of females and young.
Proof Diet is Essential for Growth and Development
While there are few studies performed on reproducing animals for long periods of time in which not only the breeding stock and the young are documented, we do have a 10-year study available to us. Dr. Francis Pottenger documented the development of over 900 cats during a 10-year period mainly studying the effects of a cooked diet vs. one that was raw. Although the study isn’t really one we can condone in regards to the components of the diet there is much to learn.
Originally Pottenger was feeding his cats a diet of raw milk, cod liver oil and cooked meat scrapes but was heavily concerned with various health concerns as well as an unfavorable survival rate in the young. So Pottenger began feeding half his cats raw meat scrapes and the other half cooked. After being intrigued by the results he continued to experiment with University of Southern California pathologist Dr. Alvin Foord. Their results were as follows in the first through fourth generation of raw fed cats:
Adults produced healthy kittens, with average litter sizes and great birth rates.
All cats including offspring where healthy with uniform size, development, fur, tissue and skeletal structure.
Calcium and phosphorus was balanced within the body
Mental status was friendly and organ and other system function was fantastic.
Cats and kittens were both fairly resistant to disease.
The results were as follows in the first through fourth generation of the cook fed cats:
Although the first generation was healthy at birth by the end of their life they developed illness, in the second generation this occurred at midlife, while the third generation developed illness at the start of life and several suffered premature deaths by 6 months of age. There was no fourth generation, either the parents were sterile or the offspring died.
The following illnesses and conditions were also observed:
“Increasingly poor eyesight - nearsightedness or farsightedness, heart problems, thyroid and bladder problems, nervous system problems, meningitis and paralysis, infections of various organs, ovary and testis problems, liver problems, inflammations, uterine congestion, atrophy of various organs.”
With each successive generation skeletal structure abnormalities developed until the third generation where the bone structure was soft and “rubbery”
With each generation increasing instances of allergies, lesions and parasites were observed.
With each generation, increasing instances of aborted offspring. 25% in the first and 70% in the second. Often the birth itself was difficult and at times resulted in the death of the mother. Kittens that did survive had on average 16% lower birth weights than the kittens from raw fed parents.
The study was taken one step further when Pottenger took the remaining cats fed the cooked diet and fed them the raw diet. While the offspring of these cats eventually developed normally, it took four generations to do so.
A third study was performed on Pottenger’s cats. This study replicated the study of the raw versus cooked foods except this time he fed 1/3 raw meat and 2/3 of the diet as milk (pasteurized, sweetened condensed or corporate milk) to all the cats. The milk was the only processed component of the diet. The results mimicked those of the study of the raw versus cooked fed cats even though there was raw meat in the diet.
These studies have been replicated in some capacity in rats as well as pigs with similar results. The conclusion here is that cooked foods cause a degeneration of the body, however over time this degradation is reversible over several generations.
As one can see a quality diet is essential to the development, growth and wellbeing of not only the mother, but the proceeding generations.
What to feed
A standard raw diet consists of 80% muscle meat which can include heart (essential for cats for taurine content) gizzards, lungs, any organs that are non-secreting, 5% liver, 5% other secreting organs such as pancreas, spleen, kidney, reproductive organs, brain etc. and 10% bone (your main source for calcium). This is the ideal balance not only for non-breeding adults, but kittens, puppies and pregnant or lactating mothers. There is no need for supplements or increasing the calcium load (2, 3 ,4).
If you are feeding based off this ideal ratio AND providing a rotation of proteins, your females will be provided everything they need to thrive and produce amazing offspring.
A raw diet provides plenty of folate (folic acid being the synthetic form) (5) known to be essential for creating DNA, cell division and growth, produce red blood cells and may contribute to heart and brain health (6, 7, 8). Folate is readily found in liver but can also be found in most meat, organs and eggs (9, 10).
Fat is also another important aspect of a raw diet. Fat is essential not only as a quality energy source (10,11) but most important for brain development (12, 13). It also helps to absorb vitamins A, D, E and K (14) , aids in good birth weights of the young and essential for quality nutrient rich milk production (15, 16). Great sources of fat are not only meat, but eggs and krill oil (17, 18).
Finally, variety is essential for providing all the right nutrients to your breeding females. Different proteins as well as organs and bones from various animals contain varying nutrient profiles. Just like humans it’s important to feed a varies diet so that we are getting the nutrients we need over a period of time. This also prevents food imprinting, intolerances, allergies and deficiencies.
Many breeders believe that because mothers need to produce milk to sustain their young, that extra calcium should be supplemented into the diet. This actually is not true and can be detrimental to the health of your mother and that of the offspring. Too much calcium can cause malabsorption of many other nutrients as well as have deleterious effects on the kidneys and other bodily systems (20). Furthermore, it can actually cause development issues in the bone structure. In general, it is essential to have the right ratio of calcium to phosphorus levels (21, 22, 23, 24). This ensures the proper growth, development and maintenance of bone and teeth in the body, release of hormones, muscle movement and much more. By feeding the 80% meat, 10% organs and 10% bone ratio, you are ensure a proper balance.
The best way to provide proper calcium levels to your mother and her growing young, is via raw meaty bones. The ideal ratio for bone is 10% of the diet. This whole foods source of calcium and trace minerals not only will keep your female’s teeth looking fantastic, but will give her the right ratio of calcium to support milk production.
Powdered eggshell is another valid option and may actually be more readily absorbed in nursing young. Supplementing with vitamin tablets or powders like bone meal is not ideal. As with many supplements, calcium supplements are often artificial and made in a laboratory setting. Many supplements are loosely regulated and often are sourced from China. Bone meal is often suggested as well but actually is not raw bone ground into a powder, often the bones are cooked, mashed and dried to form the powder. This denatures many of the nutrients found in bone that are sensitive to heat and processing. Furthermore, many bone meals contain contaminants like hard metals that can be harmful to your female’s health especially while pregnant or nursing.
How much to Feed
Until 4 weeks into the pregnancy there is little need to increase the food intake of your pregnant female. Although development and growth is occurring, energy needs are not increased until around the fourth week (25, 26). Simply continue feeding 3% of her adult weight until this point. At around 4 weeks, while still creating meals and batches that are 80% muscle meat, 5% liver, 5% other secreting organ and 10% bone, feed the mother as much as she would like to consume at each meal. As the young are developing and growing it is ideal to feed 3 or more meals a day. Continue feeding in this manner until the young are weaned.
PLEASE remember it is essential that a variety of proteins be provided on rotation throughout adulthood, pregnancy and lactation for optimum health for both mother and offspring.
To feed variety, all meat and organs are interchangeable. 3.4 lbs. of beef chunks are the same as 3.4 lbs. of lamb or 1.1 lb. of rabbit and 2.3 lbs. of chicken. Same goes for organs. 8.1 oz of Chicken liver is the same as 8.1 oz of rabbit liver, as 8.1 oz. of beef kidney is the same as 8.1 oz. of goat pancreas or 3.1 oz. of bison brains and 5 oz of beef eyes. Just remember 5% of the organ requirement MUST be liver. Bone is a bit different as the ratio of bone to meat in a chicken neck is not the same in a turkey neck or even a chicken wing so please check meat to bone ratios before adding different bone.
It is recommended to also add krill oil (a great source of fat and omega 3s) when you serve a meal. In the past Grizzly brand Krill Oil seems to be a great product that I personally have used. Recommendations are as follows:
If you are already feeding a raw diet fantastic! Keep doing so. There are little changes you need to make to an already balanced raw diet. As demonstrated above in numerous studies, processed and cooked diets are not ideal for any breeding queens or bitch. So if you are not already feeding a raw diet, before your female breeds is the perfect time to start raw feeding. Keep in mind though it is always ideal to raw feed at the start of life. Effects of commercial food is cumulative and just raw feeding during pregnancy or lactation will have little long lasting effects on your female’s health and on the kittens’ or puppies’ health. If you want to be producing the best kittens or puppies from the best
*Note it is not recommended to start raw feeding a bitch or queen who has just given birth or is nursing who has never been fed a raw diet. At this time she is expending a large amount of energy and her immune system may be lower as a result leaving her more susceptible to illness. RESOURCES
1. Pottenger, Francis M., et al. Pottenger's Cats: A Study in Nutrition. Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, 2009.
2. Chew, Dennis J, et al. “Hypercalcemia in Dogs and Cats--How Much Should I React? - WSAVA2007 - VIN.” Powered By VIN, World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2007, www.vin.com/apputil/content/defaultadv1.aspx?meta=Generic&pId=11242&id=3860879
3. Rey, Evelyne et al. “Hypercalcemia in pregnancy - a multifaceted challenge: case reports and literature review.” Clinical case reports vol. 4,10 1001-1008. 17 Sep. 2016, doi:10.1002/ccr3.646
4. Fontaine, Emmanuel. “Food Intake and Nutrition During Pregnancy, Lactation and Weaning in the Dam and Offspring.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd (10.1111), 24 Dec. 2012, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/rda.12102.
5. Choi JH, Yates Z, Veysey M, Heo YR, Lucock M (December 2014). "Contemporary issues surrounding folic Acid fortification initiatives". Prev Nutr Food Sci. 19 (4): 247–60.
doi:10.3746/pnf.2014.19.4.247. PMC 4287316. PMID 25580388.
6. "Fact Sheet for Health Professionals – Folate". National Institutes of Health. Archived from the original on 2 April 2011.
7. Bibbins-Domingo K, Grossman DC, Curry SJ, Davidson KW, Epling JW, García FA, et al. (January 2017). "Folic Acid Supplementation for the Prevention of Neural Tube Defects: US
Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement". 110 JAMA. 317 (2): 183–189. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.19438. PMID
8. Bailey LB, Caudill MA (2012). "Folate". In Eardman JW Jr, MacDonald IA, Zeisel SH (eds.). Present Knowledge in Nutrition, Tenth Edition. Ames, IA: ILSI Press/Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 321–
342. ISBN 978-0-470-95917-6.
9. "Folate content in micrograms per 100 g, All Foods; USDA Food Composition Databases". United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. Release 28. 7 May 2019. Retrieved 27 May 2019.
10. "Folate". Micronutrient Information Center, Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University. 2014. Retrieved 17 March 2018. Folate is a water-soluble B-vitamin, which is also known as vitamin B9 or folacin.
11. Wiseman, J. Fats in Animal Nutrition. Butterworths, 1984.
12. Drewnowski. Fats and food texture: sensory and hedonic evaluations. In: Moskowitz HR, editor. Food Texture. Vol. 1. New York: Marcel Dekker Inc; 1987. pp. 251–272.
13. Riediger ND, Othman RA, Suh M, et al. A systemic review of the roles of n-3 fatty acids in health and disease. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2009;109(4):668–679.
14. Coletta, Jaclyn M, Stacey J Bell, and Ashley S Roman. “Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Pregnancy.” Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology 3.4 (2010): 163–171. Print.
15. National Research Council (US) Committee on Diet and Health. Diet and Health: Implications for Reducing Chronic Disease Risk. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1989. 11, Fat- Soluble Vitamins. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK218749/
16. German, J Bruce, and Cora J Dillard. “Saturated fats: a perspective from lactation and milk composition.” Lipids vol. 45,10 (2010): 915-23. doi:10.1007/s11745-010-3445-9
17. Daly SEJ, DiRosso A, Owens RA, Hartmann PE. Degree of breast emptying explains changes in the fat content, but not fatty acid composition, of human milk. Exp Physiol 1993;78:741-55.
18. Liu, Ann G et al. “A healthy approach to dietary fats: understanding the science and taking action to reduce consumer confusion.” Nutrition journal vol. 16,1 53. 30 Aug. 2017,
19. Cimatti, Anna Giulia et al. “Maternal Supplementation With Krill Oil During Breastfeeding and Long-Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (LCPUFAs) Composition of Human Milk: A Feasibility Study.” Frontiers in pediatrics vol. 6 407. 20 Dec. 2018,
21. Kovacs CS. Calcium and Phosphate Metabolism and Related Disorders During Pregnancy and Lactation. 2018 Dec 4. In: Feingold KR, Anawalt B, Boyce A, et al., editors. Endotext
[Internet]. South Dartmouth (MA): MDText.com, Inc.; 2000-.
Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279173/
22. Bone Development and Mineral Homeostasis in the Fetus and Neonate: Roles of the Calciotropic and Phosphotropic Hormones Christopher S. Kovacs Physiological Reviews 2014 94:4, 1143-1218
23. Elliott, D. (2012) Nutritional considerations for optimal puppy growth. Veterinary Focus 22 (2): 2-10. Galvao, J., et.al (2011) Hypercalcaemia: diagnosis and treatment options in the dog and cat. Veterinary Focus 21 (1): 27-34.
24. Kallfelz, F. (2004) Calcium and phosphorus requirements of puppies and kittens. Veterinary Focus 14 (3): 4-9. Martin, L. (2004) Classic pitfalls in puppy nutrition. Veterinary Focus 14 (3): 23-27. Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats (2006): National
Academies Press, Washington, USA.
25. Fantaine, E (2012). "Food Intake and Nutrition During Pregnancy, Lactation and Weaning in the Dam and Offspring". Reproduction in Domestic Animals. 47: 326–330. doi:10.1111/rda.12102. PMID 23279530.
26. Syufy, Franny. “Cat Pregnancy Stages: Fetal Development Through Birth.” Edited by Lauren Smith, The Spruce Pets, The Spruce Pets, 22 Oct. 2019, www.thesprucepets.com/cat-