With record demands of pet foods during this pandemic, shortages of finished product and raw ingredients are developing, alongside increasing prices. To help my clients supplement their commercial foods responsibly, I revisited my nutrition and recipe resources and drafted veterinary nutritionist, Dr. Stephanie Clark, for help and some cautions.

Many of the ingredients in the diets below you may already have in your home and will only need to add a few supplements. As with any new food, introduce slowly, be patient, and look at this as an opportunity to introduce diet variations. Concerned your cat may not like your new culinary efforts? Try just the meat initially as a snack and increasingly add to or replace the current diet.

I’ll start with a complete and balanced recipe from Dr. Barbara Fougère, a recipe I’ve used myself and recommended for years with clients. You can find the complete recipe and instructions at the link below. Remember, cats need high-protein meat-based diets and do best when fed a variety of meat proteins to prevent monotony. Because cooking destroys essential amino acids, like taurine, cats will benefit from raw meat. If the foods are cooked, additional amino acids must be added to prevent deficiencies that can lead to health issues. Just as some people do better on some types of diets and foods and not on others, we must recognize each animal is an individual and what works for one may not work for another. It’s a good idea to discuss and outline any diet changes with your veterinarian first.

For dogs: https://terrigrow.com/basic-recipe-for-dogs/

  • 1 cup of this diet = ~285kcal. Compare to the caloric density on the back of your dog food label. For example, a 20lb dog would need roughly 1 and ¼ cup daily to meet its resting energy requirements. This could vary depending on your dog’s weight and activity.

For cats: https://terrigrow.com/basic-recipe-for-cats/

  • 1/3 cup of this diet = ~95 kcal. Compare to the caloric density on the back of your cat food label. For a 10lb cat, two meals would roughly meet its resting energy requirements of ~190kcals per day. This could vary depending on your cat’s weight and activity.

Something Maybe Better Than Nothing
With these challenging times, you may need to either supplement your cat’s commercial foods or find there are ingredient shortages for making homemade. That’s where a walk in the grocery aisles gave me an idea. Foods we often overlook may be just what you need to supplement your cats’ foods. While Dr. Fougère’s recipes offer some ingredient exchanges, you may still find yourself at a loss. My goal is to help you stretch your resources knowingly. First and foremost, it’s important to understand these recommendations are based on “emergency mode: something is better than nothing,” and are designed to be used periodically—not long-term—or as healthy snacks. If your cat is on a special diet be sure to discuss it with your veterinarian.

The Canine Food Connoisseur
Since dogs can be a little more forgiving, let’s start with some creative options for your canine friend. As you may have seen on the above diet, a rule of thumb with dogs is 1/3 protein, 1/3 fat, and 1/3 carb. So, if you are making baked salmon for dinner with pasta and some dark green veggies, then save combined equal proportions and serve. If your dog currently eats ½ cup kibble per meal, then a ROUGH recommendation is 1 cup of the fresh prepared foods. This is because of the moisture content in the fresh foods.  If you have access to some liver, whether fresh or freeze-dried, add to the above combination: 1 oz of fresh or an added freeze-dried liver treat. Remember, you can overdo organ meats. As with humans, be aware of the glycemic index of carbohydrates, the lower the better. This is why whole wheat or egg pasta would be the first choice. Dark green veggies can include kale, spinach, collard greens, beet greens, and bok choy. Meat options can include chicken, turkey, ground bison, pork, and beef stew meat. Canned options include many of the same proteins, packed in water and low sodium. The same canned meats (if available) can also serve as a meat-only meal or mix with grated or lightly cooked broccoli or grated zucchini.

What about a meatless option or a breakfast treat? Mix 1 grated apple with one cup of cooked, rolled oatmeal, 2 oz of plain yogurt, and one lightly scrambled egg.  Add 1/4 tablespoon of sunflower oil (or flaxseed oil) and ¼ tablespoon of nutritional yeast (not brewer’s yeast), mix well and serve. This recipe provides 360 calories. To help give you an idea of how many calories this equates to for your dog: 360 kcals is enough to feed a 20lb dog with a normal activity level for a day. You can replace 1 cup dry food or 7 oz of canned food. Or divide and serve as a snack.

This is a great time to offer low-sodium broths or bone broths. If making your own, leave out the salt for your canine and add to taste for yourself. Toss in some chopped carrots and celery (no onion), and simmer until soft for a quick “soup.” Bone broths are especially nutritious, but those for humans can be too high in salt, so stick with pet versions. Many companies now offer a variety of formulas, Nuggets, Primal, and Open Farm to name a few. Offer a bowl of nourishing “soup” as a replacement meal.

The Finicky Feline
Cats do not choose to be finicky to challenge your patience. A cat’s palate is impressive and is designed for survival. There are three things to remember when offering cats new foods, 1) cats require high protein meat-based diets, 2) they are imprinted with tastes early in life, and 3) they will accept or reject foods based on whether they fulfill their nutritional needs. Therefore, with our emergency mode assignment, we must put on our meat-based glasses to peruse the aisles. Don’t forget your commercial canned and dry foods are flavored with platants, so you might have to up your game with flavor enhancers too, such as freeze-dried meat treats. Many companies now offer these treats, but some feline favorites are Small Batch, Whole Life, Bravo Cat Treats, and Nature Variety Mixers.

This whole emergency mode idea started when I was shopping and saw the empty meat cases, all except for the dozen or so containers of chicken livers! Now, we can’t feed only chicken livers for a cat’s meal, but we can sure use it to enhance palatability and liver offers a range of beneficial nutrients. For instance, we can take a pound of ground turkey, add an ounce of chicken liver for a tasty appetizer or snack. For additional nutrition, add two sardines (packed in water) and mix well. This combo can be used as a meal replacement once or twice a week.

Always watch the calorie count. Remember, our goal is to help offer meal replacements or stretching meal supplies, not to bulk up our feline companions!

While I know there are many recipes and recommendations for using rice or potato with our cats, I prefer to keep carbs close to 5% and adding these types of carbohydrates blows that easily. Even legumes, while low carb, and yes, are used in many commercial foods, must be processed properly and do not offer a complete amino acid profile for obligate carnivores. Used in levels for meal supplements, may set your cat up for problems.

Let’s stay focused on meat-based snacks and food replacements:

Meat type Serving Calories
Canned sardines (w/ bones,packed in water) 2-3 sardines 25kcal/sardine
Canned salmon 2 oz 41kcal/oz
Canned tuna (packed in water) 2 oz 33kcal/oz
Canned mackerel 2 oz or a smear of Anchovy paste 44kcal/oz
Anchovies 2 oz 37kcal/oz
Clams ½ thigh or 1/3 of breast 21kcal/oz
Rotisserie chicken, no spices 1-2 average eggs 67kcal/oz
Scrambled eggs 2 oz 78kcal/egg

Tofurkey Toss
There is one exception to the meat-only recommendations I will share, but honestly not sure many cats will accept. In talking with Dr. Clark, we bantered with a semi-vegetarian option because of the access to tofu, and here’s what we came up with. No, soy is not an optimal protein choice, and understand neither of us recommends a vegetarian or vegan diet for our cats. And in my opinion, we are the omnivores with GI tracts to handle non-meat diets and it is our responsibility to feed our cats as close to their natural diet as possible. But in difficult times and for emergency use only, this option may help some owners and their cats get through some tough times. Tofu is high in protein, low carb and even though it does not have a complete amino acid profile, it has been used successfully over decades when balanced properly. Again, I suggest this for a snack or short-term meal replacement, and only if your cat accepts and it doesn’t cause GI issues.

10 oz Tofu, extra firm, chopped in small cubes
1 oz Chicken liver, chopped
1 cup Turkey broth, low sodium
2 Tablespoon cold Water
1 ½ – 4 teaspoons Gelatin (depends on how thick your cat may like)

Stir gelatin in cold water and let sit. Lightly cook liver in ¼ cup of broth, add tofu. Add remaining broth. Slowly add gelatin. Gelatin thickens as it cools. This recipe makes a little less than 1.5lbs. (~5.5cup) with a total kcal count of ~494kcal. ~89kcal/cup

Beyond the Practicality
Many of my clients share they are more worried about their pets’ food resources, than their own. Hopefully, this information will help alleviate some of that anxiety. However, I encourage you to look beyond the practicality of adding to the stockpiles of your cats’ foods, as you just might find:

  1. You like having better control of the ingredients going into your cat’s dish,
  2. You learn and understand more about your cat’s nutrition and nutrient needs, and,
  3. You discover a greater appreciation of what goes into our food resources.

However, don’t be surprised you get back more than you bargained for when preparing your cat meals and I’m not talking puke. Like celebrity chef Art Smith illustrates in his book Back to the Table, “As you share the meal, the warmth and love will be felt by your family.” In this case, your furry feline family.

My thanks to Dr. Stephanie Clark, a comrade in helping create more awareness and advocacy of our pets’ nutritional needs.


© Terri Grow, 2020
Terri Grow writes and speaks on pet health and welfare, working with veterinarians, trainers, shelters and manufacturers to empower canine and feline health through diets, herbal therapies, supplements and environmental adjustments.