Raw Food is Causing Tuberculosis in Cats (TB update)

If you're feeding your cat a commercial raw diet, or any sort of raw food, could it be giving them tuberculosis? It sounds crazy, but it's potentially true!

While the initial investigation by Edinburgh University into a TB outbreak in cats only involved a small number of individuals, the recent situation update paints a much more serious picture.


How many cats are affected?

To start with, 83% of the initially infected cats have died, a fact that's pretty serious in itself. Also though, the outbreak has now been found to actually include 30 clusters of cats involving over 90 individual cats, with about half of these having become infected with TB.

What do they have in common?

The common factor is that all of these cats were exclusively indoor only, and they were all fed a commercially available raw food diet. This diet was produced by a single manufacturer.

the common factor in this TB outbreak is that all of these cats were exclusive indoor only, and they were all fed a commercially available raw food diet

Natural Instinct. More specifically, the Natural Instinct wild venison variety raw diet.

The response from the manufacturer for this outbreak was that an internal investigation, they say, led to the voluntary withdrawal of the venison variety of their food from sale:

“Because some of the ingredients were not inspected in line with EU requirements, that absence of inspection means that the safety of the product cannot be confirmed and may therefore carry a potential risk.”

If you're feeding the Natural Instinct venison variety, then the batches that have been withdrawn have a best before date of between March, 2019 and August, 2019. They were withdrawn many months ago, but you may still have some in the house given this long expiry.

Is Cat TB Serious?

TB in cats can spread to humans, as well as being a problem in the cat's themselves. This is incredibly rare, with there only having been a handful of cases of this transmission, but it's still a potential risk.

TB symptoms in cats

If you're wondering about what TB looks like in cats well, when it's passed on in this way in the food,  it mainly actually infects the intestines and the lungs. It can cause a swollen abdomen and enlarged lymph nodes. If the TB goes to the lungs, causing lesions and abscesses there, then tuberculosis can also cause coughing. TB can also cause joint problems and lameness, and it can also affect the eyes.

As well as these symptoms, the signs your cat has tuberculosis can be quite subtle. Instead, you might just notice that your cat becomes a bit more tired than usual, or it may be that they're starting to lose weight as the infection develops in their body.

One complication is that while infected cats usually develop symptoms within about six months of contracting the infection, in some cases TB will actually lie dormant in the body. It can then cause illness much later on in a cat's life.

raw food is causing tuberculosis in cats

Is your cat affected?

If you feed, or have fed, the venison Natural Instinct raw cat food then you should get in touch with your vet. Have a chat to them about decide on the best course of action for checking that your cat is healthy.

This whole situation highlights the infection risk of raw diets, something that is a significant issue. It’s not just a risk to our pets, but also an infection risk to us, their owners. Now, of course, kibble and tinned food are not completely risk-free (as I’ve discussed in my posts about grain-free diets and vitamin D overdose).

If you’re interested in the safety, risks and benefits of the diet you are feeding your cat then you should be sure to download my free ebook comparing the feeding of raw food vs kibble. By understanding all the facts you can be better informed and allow you to make your own informed decisions about the best diet to feed your cat.

Read on to find out more about the original announcement.


Today I just wanted to bring you the news that in England, there have been reports of five outbreaks of cats developing TB, all of which have been fed a raw diet. There is also another sixth case that is just in the early stages of being investigated.

Why worry about a tiny TB outbreak?

But why is this concerning? 5 incidences in a country with as many cats as England (around 11 million!) sounds pretty insignificant, right? Well, not only is TB an incredibly serious disease, it was also an intestinal form of TB that they suffered from. This is actually a really uncommon form of TB in cats. They normally get skin lesions. They don't get intestinal problems.

This intestinal form of TB is not common and can be difficult to diagnose. Firstly because it's not something that we're really looking for. But also because it can mimic other serious diseases like Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) or lymphoma (which is a type of cancer).

The form of TB though is not really the concerning factor. These were also indoor cats which shouldn’t be at any serious risk of exposure to TB. Cats normally developed TB as a result of bites from prey that then get infected with tuberculosis. These were indoor cats whose opportunity for hunting was likely pretty limited. There is a suggestion that they were also more likely to be pedigree cats.

If we think about the environmental risk of a cat developing TB we have to consider how much is present in a particular area. As for the level of TB in the areas that the outbreaks have occurred in, tuberculosis in cattle is a problem in different parts of England, with it being a higher problem in certain locations compared to others. Looking at these outbreaks, three are in really low TB areas, one was on an edge zone and one was in a high risk.

Is a raw diet to blame?

The other main (and concerning) commonality is that they were all fed on a commercial, frozen, raw food diet.

We don't know for certain that the diet is involved. This is something that's being investigated. The suspicion has to be though, that it is the diet that has resulted in these cats developing intestinal tuberculosis.

Sure breed and age may play a role with a particular warning being given about young, purebred cats. It might instead be that these cats are just more likely to be receiving the type of diet that has been implicated, whereas your standard moggy is more likely to be an outdoor cat fed on a commercial biscuit or wet food diet.

What’s the bottom line then? Well, if you're feeding your cat on a frozen raw food diet (or potentially any raw food diet) this investigation highlights that there is a risk of infection with feeding these kinds of diets. This risk might be incredibly low, but incredibly low doesn't mean no risk. It's definitely something to consider. Weighing up the pros and cons of any diet.

Can you draw any conclusions?

Before you jump angrily into the comments section (do let me know your thoughts though!) this is not meant to say that all raw diets are bad and will definitely give your cat (or your dog) tuberculosis or any other form of illness. It might be that a certain batch of food is bad, it might be a certain brand affected or it may end up having nothing to do with the food (although this seems pretty unlikely).

It does though highlight that there are some risks with feeding a raw food diet. Now those risks might be negligible in your eyes. And that's fine if you've taken those all on board.

If you think I'm just having a go at raw feeding in general then you need to check out my article where I discuss the potential risk between feeding grain free diets and heart disease in dogs, or more specifically dilated cardiomyopathy.

For me, the one take-home message is that there are a lot of fad diets out there that don't necessarily have a lot of testing behind them or evidence of benefit.

As for raw food? Well, I've got a post planned very soon where I will discuss the pros and cons of raw food feeding compared to commercial diets. It's a heated subject. It's something that stirs up lots of passion but I just want to have that discussion with you and give you my thoughts.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the news about the potential link between raw feeding and TB in cats in the comments down below. Are you feeding these diets? What were your thoughts behind giving them? I'd love to hear from you (and have a civil discussion!)

Our Pet's Health: because they're family.