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Why don’t we feed cats raw mice?

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By Josh Loeb

There is a case for feeding cats raw mice, a vet and academic researcher specialising in infectious diseases has suggested.

Conor O’Halloran – a sceptic about raw feeding – told delegates at the official veterinarian (OV) conference last week that small rodents were the natural prey of cats and, therefore, might be considered a superior raw food source (compared with pork, beef and venison).

He was speaking at a presentation about so-called ‘biologically appropriate raw feeding’ (BARF) diets.

Such diets – which typically involve feeding cats and dogs raw meat, bones, skin and organs – are increasingly popular with owners who believe this constitutes a more ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ diet for their pets.

However, O’Halloran said this belief was not rooted in scientific proof, ‘especially when we’re talking about feeding cats species that they wouldn’t actually eat in the wild’.

Your domestic moggy is probably not taking down wild boar in the Black Forest

He said: ‘For example, if the cat is munching down on a nice bit of pork, well, your domestic moggy is probably not taking down wild boar in the Black Forest – or deer in Scotland, or bovids in Wales.’

Raw feeding has increased exponentially in the past five years but could pose a risk to cats – and potentially also their owners – because of infectious diseases, O’Halloran said.

He used the example of a brand of wild venison cat food that was recalled last year after it was linked to a tuberculosis outbreak in multiple cats.

‘The biological appropriateness of the protein source is, I think, questionable,’ O’Halloran remarked.

He went on to suggest that BARF diet enthusiasts might want to consider feeding their cats raw mice instead.

‘Cats have adapted fantastically and have coevolved hunting [and eating] small rodents and all the diseases they carry,’ he explained. ‘We don’t see clinical leptospirosis in cats, for example, even though they hunt the reservoir species, but we do see dogs die of leptospirosis.

‘There’s been this coevolution with these pathogens of the species that cats naturally hunt, so if there was a raw diet for cats that was [made of] mice…that would probably make a lot of sense.’

He later told Vet Record there was a ‘case to be made’ for cat food made of mice.

European Scientific Counsel for Companion Animal Parasites UK & Ireland head Ian Wright, who also spoke at the OV conference, said O’Halloran’s suggestion was ‘a good point well made’, agreeing that, if feeding a BARF diet, mouse meat would be a ‘less problematic’ protein source than the likes of beef, pork or venison.

Wright added: ‘That may circumvent some of the problems we see to do with pathogens in raw food – but it’s complicated.’

Raw Feeding Veterinary Society (RFVS) president Nick Thompson told Vet Record that, while he was ‘not against’ the mouse idea in principle, ‘the RFVS position would be to feed formulated raw food from one of the recognised Pet Food Manufacturing Association manufacturers.’

Danielle Gunn-Moore, personal chair of feline medicine at the University of Edinburgh, said it was ‘fascinating’ that makers of pet food had not yet produced cat food made of mice.

If mice were farmed, hygiene checks could be carried out to ensure the meat was safe for cats to eat. The nutrition provided would be equivalent to that contained within several existing brands of cat food, she said.

Rabbits are already farmed to make cat food, Gunn-Moore added.

‘You’d be breeding the mice purely to be eaten by cats, and people would prefer to think that cats are being fed using just leftover bits from the [human consumption] meat trade – but an awful lot of the meat that goes into pet food is already developed purely for pet food,’ she said.

‘We feed cats rabbit-flavoured stuff all the time, and humans don’t eat that much rabbit nowadays. Rabbits are being raised purely to be put into pet foods.’

Vet Martin Whitehead, a BARF diet critic, said mice and rats are already farmed for food for pet snakes and other reptiles, adding: ‘Why is it worse to farm mice or rats than it is to farm cattle or sheep?’

He also said day-old chicks could be used in cat food, adding that the natural diet of a wild cat also consisted of lots of insects and, in some parts of the world, lizards.

On farming mice, Thompson said: ‘We’re doing it already with other species. It would be speciesist to say it’s OK to do it with chickens but it’s not OK to do it with mice.’ •

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