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A cat eating raw chicken from a dish

The essentials

  • Cats eating raw meat is a controversial topic — Some pet lovers claim this gives a cat more protein, while others say the health and safety hazards outweigh potential benefits.
  • Should a cat eat raw meat? — Technically, it’s possible for a cat to digest raw meat without getting sick.
  • There are quite a few risks, though — Even though a cat’s digestive system can handle breaking down raw meat, cat owners should evaluate if this is the best diet for their feline friend.

Cats are carnivores by nature, and thrive on a diet that primarily consists of protein. Some pet parents ask themselves why their kitty can’t just dine on raw meat like their ancestors?

Raw food diets have become a trend in animal nutrition, and a common question for pet parents is “Can cats eat raw chicken?” It is true that feeding your kitty raw meat may not cause them immediate physical harm. However, there are risks involved with this kind of diet – and many experts agree that a raw diet is not a good idea.

Can cats eat raw chicken? 

The short answer is yes, it is possible for cats to eat raw chicken. A cat’s digestive enzymes are able to break down raw meat without a high risk for danger. Felines such as lions and tigers subsist solely on raw diets, as did their ancient ancestors. In the same way people praise the Paleo diet, cat parents who support feeding a cat a raw diet point to this for evidence, claiming raw diets give kitties the food they’re evolutionarily designed to eat.

However, there’s a big difference between a lion and a Siamese house cat. There are also differences between a cat’s ancient ancestors and today’s domestic cats. The more important question pet parents and experts should be asking is not can a cat’s diet consist of raw meat, but should it?

A cat’s dietary needs, explained

Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they rely on meat from animal protein to survive. A cat’s body doesn’t digest plants properly, and they can’t get enough essential nutrients from plants for a healthy diet. From the fuzzy furball in your home to the king of the jungle, all cats are obligate carnivores.

Because wild cats consume raw meat, bones, and organs, supporters of raw food diets argue house cats also get the best possible nutrition from this kind of diet. The American Animal Hospital Association countered this idea in 2012, with a statement against serving uncooked meat to cats and dogs.

The risks of feeding cats raw chicken

Unlike the raw meat predator felines track and kill in the wild, the main concern with retail raw chicken meat is that it can be contaminated. There are important differences between a cat in the wild hunting for her own dinner and a cat parent purchasing raw chicken that may contain E. coli or listeria.  Parasites and bacteria hiding in packaged meat from the grocery store can make a cat sick or even transmit contaminants to humans.

Bacterial contamination

When cats consume harmful bacteria that are found in raw protein diets, it can cause bacterial infections with symptoms such as GI distress and other systemic and potentially life-threatening issues.

  • Salmonella – Probably the most well-known bacteria by name, salmonella is a type of bacteria that can live in intestines and spreads through stool. Salmonella poisoning typically upsets the digestive tract, causing issues such as diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.
  • Campylobacter – This equally hazardous bacterium comes directly from eating raw or undercooked poultry or eating food that touched it. Campylobacter can cause food poisoning in pet parents and illness in felines. If a cat is pregnant, it can cause her to abort her kittens.


Raw feeding can introduce harmful parasites into your cat’s system that could potentially make them sick. These parasites can also be passed on to and infect a cat’s human parents.

  • Toxoplasma gondii – Also known as T. gondii, it has the potential to cause disease in both felines and humans. All mammals can be infected by T. gondii, but felines are the only known mammal to act as a definitive host of the parasite.  In humans, this parasite can potentially cause miscarriages or birth defects in human infants.
  • Trichinella spiralis – These parasites are roundworms that are most often found in undercooked pork and raw bacon. They can lead to trichinellosis, a gastrointestinal infection that attacks the stomach and intestines and is very uncomfortable. Trichinella spiralis is most commonly found in raw pork, not raw chicken.

Nutritional imbalances

Cats who just consume raw chicken or raw meat are in fact not getting a fully balanced diet. If your kitty is malnourished, this can of course cause other health issues. There are two essential qualities of raw meats that throw off a cat’s nutrition.

  • High in phosphorus – Cats who eat an abundance of raw meat have been found to have high levels of phosphorus in their system. Too much phosphorus can mess up your cat’s bones and cause them to get weaker over time. It can also lead to an increased risk of heart attacks.
  • Low in taurine – Taurine is an amino sulfonic acid essential to a cat’s healthy diet. While it is found in animal tissue, there isn’t enough taurine in a raw diet to give your cat the needed nutrients. Cat food approved by veterinarians is specifically formulated to include taurine.

Bones and choking hazard

Potential safety concerns with eating raw meat is the risk of choking hazards. Raw bones or bone fragments present in raw meat could get stuck in a kitty’s stomach, intestines or esophagus and cause them to choke. If a piece of bone is especially sharp, it might pierce your cat’s intestinal tract. In a worst-case scenario, small pieces of bones in your cat’s system could cause sepsis, which is life threatening.

What do proponents of a raw diet argue? 

Despite the concerns with raw diets, there are pet owners and even some animal nutritionists who argue for its benefits. There are a few positive things about raw foods that advocates point out to vouch for a raw diet’s credibility. However, the general consensus from the veterinarian and animal nutrition community is that a raw diet is not the best choice for your feline.

  • Close to their natural diet – Because pet cats are obligate carnivores who need a heavy diet of protein to survive, supporters of a raw food diet say it is the most natural way to feed a cat. Proponents point to a wild cat’s diet, which consists entirely of raw meat.
  • Higher protein and moisture content – Raw meat does contain more moisture than when it is cooked. Theoretically, this is helpful to cats and their renal health. The added moisture flushes out kidneys and helps encourage healthy bowels. Although supporters of raw diets argue raw meat contains higher protein levels, there is no known scientific study that supports this claim.
  • Dental health benefits – Some advocates for raw diets claim that feeding a cat a raw chicken bone helps clean plaque from your cat’s teeth and improves their overall dental health. Raw chicken bones have also been found to be high in potassium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus.

What about cooked chicken?

The safest way to feed chicken to your cat is when it’s fully cooked. Small quantities of cooked, plain chicken are a great occasional treat for your feline. The best way to prepare cooked chicken for your kitty is to boil it to make sure any bacteria or parasites are removed. Whenever possible, feed your cat chicken that was produced from a free-range, grass-fed farm. These chickens are less likely to have the pesticides and bacteria found on other factory farm chicken.

It’s also important to be sure your cat is eating chicken without any added spices. Spices or too much salt can be harmful for your cat’s system. There are some spices, such as garlic and onions, that are highly toxic for your kitty to ingest. A small amount of plain, skinless chicken is the best recipe to whip up when giving your cat this special treat. Be sure to always consult your vet before changing up your cat’s diet.

Frequently asked questions

What happens if my cat eats raw chicken?

If your kitty consumes raw chicken, it’s not likely they will be in immediate danger. However, there are health concerns such as parasitic infections, bacteria and other safety concerns that come with feeding a cat raw chicken.

Can I give my cat raw chicken breast?

Pet parents can give their cat raw chicken without any immediate fears of their health and safety. But the better question isn’t can a cat owner feed their kitty raw chicken, but should they?

Do cats prefer raw or cooked chicken?

Your kitty’s tastes are just as varied as a human’s. What a cat prefers is entirely up to them. As their human parent, your job is to keep your cat on track with a healthy, balanced diet.