If you're just not ready to feed raw, why not give cooking a try? Done properly, it's superior to a commercial diet.
Why bother with cooking?
- Control over the quality of ingredients unlike with commercial food
- Use of real bones, not commercial bone meal or recreating bones via eggshell powder and trace minerals etc.
- If you have concerns about salmonella & e.coli in raw meat, cooking takes care of it.
- Uncertainty about supplementation amount due to lack of comprehensive information at this time as to what is lost in the cooking process
- Cooking changes the nutrients in meat; at the very least, there is reduction in the levels of fat, taurine, and water-soluble vitamins and minerals as well as enzyme activity.
How do I cook for my cats?
Start with your choice of whole rabbit, chicken, game hen, turkey, etc. Stick to whole animals and birds, as different parts of an animal/bird have different nutrient composition. Include all organs. Per lb of meat add in 1 Tablespoon of vegetables at the very end so as not to cook them to mush.
* Bake it in the oven - Coat the outside of the meat (skin) with ghee or butter. Depending on your oven and altitude, you will need to adjust baking time. Bake covered at 350F for 3 hours (some people have told me it took 5 hours in their oven, YMMV). Remove cover and bake for an additional 15 - 30 minutes to crisp the outside a bit. Along with chicken or any meat broth (without onions), add to a food processor or blender. Grind/blend and serve.
* Pressure cooker - uses less water than crockpot. You can use the plate/base/trivet that comes with the cooker to place the meat. This way less water will be required and the meat will not burn. Please note time required for cooking will vary widely based on the type of cooker you have, so these are very general guidelines.
Although I've come across similar timings at various sites saying a whole chicken will cook in 20-25 minutes, depending on how many chickens will be coooked at one time, the lbs of pressure, etc. you can expect it to take as much as 1 - 1.5 hours before the bones will be soft enough to grind and as long as 2 hours if you want them to turn to mush. Cornish game hen takes a lot less time but rabbit, venison, and lamb can take longer because the bones are harder. Add in 1-2 teaspoons real (not from a bottle) lemon juice (apple cider vinegar can be used as a substitute) in the pressure cooker for every 4 to 5 lbs of meat to help this process along.
If your pressure cooker takes longer than a couple of hours to cook say 2 whole chickens around 4 lbs each, rather than cooking the living daylights out of the meat, it's better to remove the meat off the bones as soon as it's possible to do so, and continue to cook the bones in the same water.
* Crockpot - In general, same as with pressure cooker with 2 differences - when the meat and bones are put in, add water till the meat is covered. In addition to more water, there's one more big difference - a crock pot typically could take approximately 7-8 hours (note -- some members have told me they had to cook for 12 hours), after which one can then leave unplugged overnight for another 7-8 hours. As with pressure cookers, time can vary greatly.
For both pressure cooker and crockpot, bones are usually soft enough to mash with a potato masher or back of a spoon. Even better, to be on the safe side, run cooked bones, all the meat, organs, and broth/liquid through a blender or food processor. No special meat grinder is needed. If you wish to get a meat grinder, a hand-crank grinder works quite well.
What about supplementation?
Here's an example using USDA information on raw chicken thighs - meat and skin (no listing for whole chicken):
As a comparison, the exact same amount of cooked thighs skin and meat contains:
Presumably the method of cooking would make a difference. Baking could possibly cause different amounts of nutrient loss than say using a crock pot or pressure cooking (closest to what they have listed as "stewing").
In the above comparison, the protein amount is a tad higher presumably due to moisture loss, but everything else is pretty much lower in cooked vs raw chicken thighs e.g. fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E. By saving the liquid if using crock pot or pressure cooker, this issue becomes less critical. How much so is anyone's guess. :shrugs
Also, water-soluble B vitamins as well as Macro minerals - Ca, Mag, Phos, etc. are lower for cooked meat. They don't list all the trace minerals but what they do doesn't seem to be all that different.
So basically you'd have to supplement more with a cooked diet. How much would determine on cooking method and type of meat, but the above data is the best objective guideline I could find. For pork loin, as an example, comparing Vitamin B amts for raw:
Vs cooked - http://www.nutritiondata.com/facts/pork-products/2252/2
There is not quite 1/2 of the B vitamin amount left after cooking. We don't know if they include cooking water in it or not. So many unknowns:(
As for taurine, since it's not supposedly as critical for humans (we can produce it in our bodies from other amino acids), it's not listed at the USDA site. However one academic paper (Spitze et al 2004) found baking caused a 60% loss in taurine and boiling led to 80% loss.
All this of course is for meat and skin alone, which is tricky enough. To complicate matters, there is no published information at least not that I have been able to find on what happens to bones after cooking. In other words, are macro and trace mineral amounts affected? How does it change structurally? All unanswered questions at this point. For what it's worth, no commercial canned or dry food contains bones. All contain either calcium carbonate or Di/Tricalcium phosphate plus trace minerals to mimic bones.
Not to discourage home-cooking, but since we don't quite exactly what is lost in the cooking process, adding it back in is a bit tricky. One can follow the recipes in the raw area of the site as a base and be more aggressive with supplementation of taurine and B-complex. For each type of meat, consult the USDA/nutritiondata site and compare values of all items for raw vs cooked. A cooked diet is still head-and-shoulders above a commercial diet, so go for it :)
In-between options - if you're not quite ready to rawfeed just yet, here are some baby steps:
* Mix of raw and cooked, that is, feed a mix of raw meat and organs mixed with cooked bones, all blended up:
Remove raw meat from bones, but then instead of discarding the bones, cook the bones alone. Grind the meat raw and the bones in cooked form. Cooked bones are very easy to grind in a regular blender/mixer.
* Quick sear at feeding time:
Prepare the cats' raw mix, and at feeding time, heat up ghee or any animal fat in a pan such as bacon, add in the mix, and do a quick sear (i.e. 10-15 seconds, 30 seconds max) on each side or even on just one side. Serve with the cooked side up so your cats can get the aroma of cooked meat. Over time, decrease cooking time until your cats are on all-raw.
* Serving warmed, but not cooked meat: (thanks to Clarence's mom Brenda for this great idea which allows one to use a raw recipe, and not have to worry about loss of nutrients due to baking/stewing):
At feeding time, measure out each kitty's meal onto an oven-safe plate. Place plates into a toaster oven for about 2 minutes. Any longer would cook the meat, and like many other cats Brenda's like their food warmed but not cooked. Initially if your cats refuse this, you can leave their dishes in the oven for just a few seconds longer to bake the meat. Remove the plates from the toaster oven, and let them cool for 1-2 minutes. Add taurine, fish/krill oil, and any other supplements, and serve to your feline masters.