Raw diets are often compared to the natural diet a wild dog or cat would consume. Whole prey is defined as a small prey animal that a wild dog or cat can physically hunt, catch, kill, and consume. Consumption of a small prey animal includes all of the organs, skin, head, and fur or feathers with very minimal remains.
Whole prey is taboo for many pet parents who are sensitive to viewing dispatched whole prey animals. However, it is important to know that whole prey is not required in order to feed a balanced fresh food diet if the pet parent is not comfortable with the concept. While there are many benefits to feeding small whole prey, there are also some drawbacks to consider.
Types of Whole Prey
Feeding whole prey is often viewed as the gold standard of fresh feeding among many raw pet food circles because it is considered the most “natural”. However, there are two main categories of whole prey which includes farmed domesticated prey animals and wild prey animals.
Farmed Whole Prey – Domesticated Species
The most common whole prey available is domesticated species that are raised in farming conditions. These options are commonly used to feed falcons, reptiles, and other large predatory animals living in captivity. Farmed whole prey animals include:
Cornish Hen & Chicken
Wild Whole Prey – Wild Species
It is uncommon for most pet parents to have consistent access to wild whole prey animals unless they hunt, trap or have connections with hunters. However, there are many wild whole prey species that can be incorporated into a raw diet if the resources are available. Wild whole prey animals include:
Whole Prey Nutritional Content Variables
Whole prey refers to the entire animal. This includes the skin, feathers/fur, organs, glands, blood, and intestinal tract which is not found in raw meat sold for human consumption at a supermarket or butcher. There are many variables that play a role in the nutritional content of whole prey and how that fulfills a dog and cat’s individual requirements for essential nutrients. Therefore, feeding a diet entirely of whole prey may or may not provide a well balanced diet. Factors that affect the nutritional content of prey animals include:
Due to the many variables affecting the nutritional content of whole prey and the incomplete nutritional data on whole prey, it is recommended to rotate domesticated whole prey with other balanced feeding methods. Pet parents can feed domesticated whole prey 1x a week in rotation with other complete and balanced pet foods without sacrificing essential nutrients. However, the frequency of wild whole prey can be increased if the fat levels are accounted for.
Benefits of Whole Prey
Raw meat, bones, and organs for human consumption have gone through the production and inspection process to adhere to the regulatory guidelines for resale. This means the skin, fur/feathers, glands, intestinal tract, and blood is removed from all prey animals in preparation for sale and human consumption. In this process, many valuable nutrients are removed along with these items as well.
Natural Dietary Fiber
Fiber is important for gut health, aids in digestion, stool regularity, weight management, blood sugar regulation, and more. Traditional PMR ratio guidelines for dogs and cats fail to include fibrous foods, which is present when feeding whole prey. Therefore, whole prey or animal parts that include fur or feathers are beneficial to include in a fresh food diet.
Fur and feathers from whole prey are a source of animal-based fiber in homemade diets that do not include vegetables. Fur and feathers provide insoluble fiber which resists water absorption in the colon and cannot be enzymatically digested. Therefore, insoluble fiber passes through the initial stages of digestion and ferments in the colon where it increases fecal bulk. The increase in fecal bulk is beneficial for correcting constipation, regulating stool frequency, and expressing anal glands.
It is important not to overfeed fiber. Too much fiber can result in choking, gas, constipation, or obstruction. It is recommended to avoid feeding wool or large quantities of only fur or feathers.
The inclusion of all internal organs, glands, and blood in whole prey provides a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals in comparison to plain muscle meat. “Frankenprey” ratio diets that utilize a combination of store bought meat, bones and organs will not include certain body parts that are removed when processing an animal for human consumption.
Mental & Physical Enrichment
Whole prey provides more than nourishment alone. It also enriches the mind and allows pets to express their species and breed tendencies in a controlled and safe way. Dogs and cats are predatory animals and can receive mental enrichment benefits from consuming whole prey. Whole prey provides the opportunity for dogs and cats to engage in their instinctual eating behaviors of shredding and chewing on an animal carcass. This can never be achieved by feeding individual cuts in a bowl. These behaviors have a profound change on a dog’s and cat’s mental enrichment. It increases serotonin and oxytocin in the brain which are known as the “feel-good” hormones.
Drawbacks of Whole Prey
There are several potential drawbacks that should be considered when choosing to feed whole prey. Many pet parents make the mistake of assuming that any whole prey is automatically a complete and balanced diet. This assumption comes from the premise that wild canines and felines survive off of whole prey animals. However, wild carnivores often experience nutrient deficiencies and starvation due to lack of ideal food choices and unfavorable conditions.
Domestic dogs and cats can live longer and healthier lives in captivity due to the protection and care they receive from their human caretakers. While the natural diet of wild dogs and cats can be a starting point for a healthy diet, providing optimal nutrition requires careful consideration.
Feeding Whole Prey
Many pet parents have questions on how to portion and feed whole prey. Whole prey can be treated as a partial or entire meal with little to no prep necessary.
It is important to note that all feeding recommendations are based on feeding whole prey that has been humanely dispatched or acquired through hunting. Live prey feeding is unethical and unsafe – these guidelines are not intended to promote or encourage feeding live prey animals to dogs or cats in any way.
Select Appropriate Whole Prey
It is helpful to choose whole prey that is an appropriate size for the pet. Examples can include but are not limited to:
Cats & Small Breed Dogs
Medium & Large Breed Dogs
Large & Giant Breed Dogs
Introduce Whole Prey
An introduction to whole prey is not necessary if the dog or cat naturally accepts the item. However, there are three ways to introduce whole prey to pets who are hesitant to consume whole prey. This includes feeding a whole prey grind; gradually increasing prey size over time; and removing some or all of the skin, fur or feathers.
Whole prey grinds include the whole animal and can be used to introduce a dog or cat to whole prey meals because the grind will have a different smell and texture in comparison to the same protein cut into individual pieces. There are a few pet food retailers in the US that sell whole prey grinds.
Another introduction method involves feeding very small whole prey such as Day Old Chicks (DOCs) because they are often small enough to mix into other food or cover with bone broth to encourage consumption.
The final introduction method involves cutting open or partially removing the skin to encourage the pet to eat the item. Alternatively, the prey may need to be fully skinned at first in order for the pet to accept it. Once the skinned prey item is being consumed, the amount of skin, fur or feathers left on the prey can be gradually increased over time. However, some pets may never accept whole prey regardless of the introduction process.
Whole Prey Meal Options
If a whole prey item is smaller than the pet’s normal daily meal weight, the prey can be combined with a reduced portion of balanced homemade or premade fresh food. If a pet normally eats 16 ounces (454g) of home prepared raw per day, then a 16oz (454g) whole prey item can be fed as a meal. Pet parents who wish to raise their own whole prey can choose to dispatch larger prey when it reaches the appropriate size before it has fully grown.
Whole prey will not increase a dog’s or cat’s desire to hunt live prey. Many pet parents worry that feeding whole prey will increase their pet’s to desire to hunt other small pets as prey. However, the diet a dog or cat consumes does not dictate the instinct to stalk, chase, catch, kill, and consume prey animals. This instinct is driven by genetics and is only reinforced if the dog or cat is allowed to actively participate in the full hunting sequence.
There are multiple factors and benefits to consider when feeding whole prey to a dog or cat. Therefore, feeding a diet entirely of whole prey may or may not provide a well balanced diet. It is recommended to rotate whole prey with other balanced feeding methods.
There are many ways to feed a balanced raw diet and there is no need to stick to one style. Whole prey can be rotated with other balanced diets such as Do-It-Yourself recipes, formulated recipes, or balanced premade raw pet foods.