Dr. Pottenger’s Cats


 Pottenger’s Cats  



IMAGINE THAT YOU ARE A JUNIOR HIGH school science teacher. Scary thought though it be, I was one. Now let's say you want to try nutritional experiments with animals in a seventh grade biology class. Let me clue you in: you can forget about any hopes you might have for either control or objectivity. Take two cages of hamsters, mice, Guinea pigs or what have you, and feed one group a really good diet and the other group a really bad diet. You, the teacher, know exactly what results to expect. So do the students. The moment you are not looking, they will smuggle nuts, raw vegetables and probably vitamin tablets into the "deficient diet" cage. They cannot stand to see those little mammals suffer the ravages of malnutrition, and they will make quite certain that it does not happen.


Junior high students, like everyone else including even the youngest of children, know that junk food leads to junked bodies. Yet these very same kids will eat the most gosh-awful food they can find in the school cafeteria, if they eat anything there at all, when so many schools still have competing snack and drink vending machines.


Knowing clearly does not make it so. Consider food preparation. We know that animals in the wild never eat cooked food, yet we feed nothing but to our dogs and cats. If it's in a can, pouch, bag or box, that pet's food has been cooked.


And along with it, perhaps its goose as well.


Between 1932 and 1942, Francis M. Pottenger, Jr., M.D., conducted his now classic ten-year, multi-generation nutrition study on cats. This decade of data has been neatly condensed into a concise, inexpensive 119-page book entitled Pottenger's Cats: A Study in Nutrition, also incorporating summaries of some two dozen of the doctor's nutrition papers.


Pottenger's cat experiments were, in a nutshell, a decade-long, scientifically controlled "Supersize Me" experiment. Basically, there were two groups of cats: the cats who daily ate the kitty equivalent of Burglar King and McNothing foods, that is, nothing but cooked food. The other group was fed raw food.


What do you suppose was the result?


OK, class; let's not always see the same hands.


Yes, you're right. The raw food cats thrived. The cooked food cats did not, and there were no merciful middle-schoolers there to save them.


I have a cat; her name is Dolly. She is asleep on my lap as I write this. Dolly was cast off in a rural store parking lot. We brought her home hungry, and to this day she retains the most amazing kitty appetite I have ever seen. We have repeatedly discovered that she is inexplicably partial to fresh Italian bread. [We do not feed her bread, ever. She raids the countertop when we are not looking.] She will energetically eat cooked green beans, zucchini squash, and beets. As for raw vegetables, she is famous in cyberspace as the Carrot Cat (photos at http://www.doctoryourself.com/cat1.html). The Carrot Cat will eat raw carrot pulp left over when I make carrot juice. (Of course, she is also fed a variety of animal foods.) As I write these very words, she is using her forehead to lift my hand away from the keyboard and go feed her. Again.


Even for the cat-lovers among us, the larger question must be, To what extent do the Pottenger Cat Experiments apply to people? Chapters 11 and 12 specifically address this, focusing on children's skeletal development. Chapter 9 provides an excellent validation for breastfeeding. I am particularly intrigued with Pottenger's observations that cats fed on cooked meat and milk develop "all kinds" of allergies, and hypothyroidism. When fed raw foods, the cats' symptoms go away. (p 33) I personally have seen a case where a 67-year-old woman, who was on a prescribed low dose of Synthroid, no longer needed it after just a few weeks of raw vegetable juicing. She is 87 now and her doctors have confirmed that still does not require any thyroid supplement.


At the very least, the Pottenger Cat Experiments show what an unsupplemented lifetime diet of cooked meat can do to a carnivore. But the more important message of the experiments is that they also show recovery on a raw-food diet. I think we can reasonably infer that this applies to people. And for those bound and determined to go Atkins, well, maybe you'd better consider eating your meat raw.


Repellant though this thought be, I'd better be careful what I say. Once I had a reader who took an offhand comment like this seriously. He wrote to me that he'd started eating wild game, uncooked. While, in truth, he also claimed he'd never felt better, I cringe at the bacterial and parasite load one might incur in eating raw animals.




Though Pottenger does recommend "raw beef hors d' oeuvres three times weekly" (p 105), it would be inaccurate to imply that Dr. Pottenger expected people to eat meat raw. His instructions for cooking brains are on page 108; recipes for cooking kidneys, p 109; preparing heart and tripe, on p 110. He advocated minimal cooking (p 103), but even that is difficult to avoid seeing as a philosophical inconsistency in his writing. Minimally cooked is still a far cry from raw.


More to my taste is raw bean and grain sprouting, of which Pottenger said, "To enhance their protein value, sprout before cooking." (p 106) There it is again: cooking. However, he also recommended uncooked sprouts for salads. (p 111) Dr. Pottenger advocated clean, raw milk. As a former dairyman and college clinical nutrition instructor, so do I.


Just how lifeless is cooked food? Well, Dr. Pottenger even tested the value of cat excreta as fertilizer. Guess what? He found that plants would not grow in the presence of waste from cooked-food cats and cooked milk cats.


Evidently, neither did bones, jaws and teeth. Malocclusion was prominent among the defects and disorders Pottenger saw in cooked-food fed cats. The problem has not gone away. A MEDLINE search for "malocclusion cats" brings up a dozen and a half papers on the subject . . .and 133 papers on the condition in dogs. You can see more at these web locations:


Orthodontics for housepets



Specifically for cats



When it comes to people, I strongly support Pottenger's stance in favor of a whole food, whole grain, low sugar diet. However, I do have a bone to pick with the good doctor, and here it is:


In recommending his High Protective Diet, Pottenger calls for an adult human to consume 225 grams of fat per day, and an equal amount of protein (p 103). I am tempted to try to dismiss this as a misprint, but it is not, as he has previously presented this opinion on page 94. Pottenger states (p 99) that "Fat is the energy fuel of the body." There are many complex-carbo fans who would sharply disagree with this statement, especially to the tune of 225 grams of fat per day. For an adult, 60 to 80 g/day total dietary fat is usually recommended. According to the US government, even an eating machine such as a teenage boy, chowing down a 3,000 Calorie/day diet, should get no more than 100 g/day. Dr. Pottenger would seem to suggest that we should eat well over twice that amount of fat, every day.


There is, in fact, no US RDA for fat. Technically, we do not need to eat much fat at all; we do need some to help absorb fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D and E. What we absolutely must have are the essential fatty acids: linolenic and linoleic acid. To his credit, and to my relief, Pottenger says, "The primary source of man's fats is vegetable; the secondary source is animal." (p 98)


My interpretation of Pottenger's work is this: It is not about eating more meat and fat; it is about eating more raw food. Raw for cats and carnivores means raw meat. Raw for people, who cannot be reasonably expected to eat raw meat, must emphasize foods other than meat.


Differences aside, I submit that Pottenger's essential and enduring message might best be expressed in his own words:


"We have shown that allergic manifestations and dental disturbances comparable to those seen in human beings result from changes in food preparation. . . We find animals that receive raw meat show consistent facial development and normal dentition. . . We also find the converse to be true. Those kittens that receive cooked meat instead of raw develop all types of malformations of the face, jaws and teeth. . . (When) cats put on the cooked meat diet and are allowed to become pregnant, their kittens' skulls show marked variations from the normal . . . (O)nce such deficiencies are produced and maintained by a faulty diet, they become progressively worse through the second and third generations. . .  The cats fed cooked food may produce a premature or full term litter of stillborn kittens. One cat proves unable to deliver her kittens even after 72 hours of labor. If a mother cat is kept on cooked food for more than two years, she usually dies during delivery. Delivery complications such as these have not been found in cats placed on raw food.


"Deficient cats exhibit progressive allergic symptoms from generation to generation. They show most of the common respiratory, gastrointestinal and constitutional problems as well as various skin disorders. . . Hypothyroidism is prevalent and contributes to marked disturbances in the osseous development of some deficient cats and to apparent disturbances in their reproductive efficiency.


"The elements in raw food which activate and support growth and development in the young appear easily altered and destroyed by heat processing and oxidation. . . All tissue enzymes are heat labile and so destroyed. Vitamin C and some members of the B complex are injured by the process of cooking and minerals are made less soluble by altering their physiochemical state." (pages 39-42)


Surely these observations demand our most serious consideration. They are a powerful argument in favor of minimal food processing, maximal raw food intake, and in my opinion, the use of vitamin supplements. I would like to see a new 10-year cat study in which one multi-generational group of cats gets cooked food with supplements, another group raw food with supplements, another cooked and no supplements, and another raw and no supplements.


In a way, this experiment is already underway, and you and everyone you know are part of it. But in our unintended, uncontrolled, world-wide version of the study, we find that even Pottenger's all-cooked-food test animals had advantages over us: 1) they did not eat junk food; 2) they did not eat sugar; and 3) cats (like practically all other animals) make their own vitamin C. We have none of these advantages.


What this means is that the unsupplemented human race's health can be expected to be even poorer than Pottenger's sickest cats.


And it is. The lesson of Dr. Pottenger's work, nearly 80 years ago, is yet to be learned.


Pottenger FM Jr. Pottenger's Cats: A Study in Nutrition. Elaine Pottenger, editor, with Robert T. Pottenger, Jr. Lemon Grove, CA: Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, 1995. (http://www.price-pottenger.org)



In one of my newsletters http://www.doctoryourself.com/news/v3n15.txt I wrote:


"Cornell University's extensive nutrition studies in China have shown that people eating little or no animal protein are less likely to get either cancer or heart disease. "These diets are much different from the average American diets, containing only about 0-20% animal-based foods, while the average American diet is comprised of about 60-80% animal based foods. Disease patterns in much of rural China tend to reflect those prior to the industrial revolution in the U.S., when cancers and cardiovascular diseases were much less prevalent. Decades earlier, researchers such as Dr. Francis Pottenger and Dr. Weston Price have repeatedly shown that "primitive" peoples or laboratory animals eating a natural, nearly vegetarian diet simply do not have serious diseases."


For this, I caught a little flack. Here's a typical reader's comment:


"Dear Dr. Saul: I am sure you will get lots of e-mails about your comment linking Weston Price with vegetarianism. You must be kidding! All of Dr. Price's writings, from years of traveling the world and finding out why people were healthy or sick clearly point out the fact that animal foods are essential and the prerequisite to good health. Vegetarians are not healthier, they don't live longer, and the fact that you are a vegetarian doesn't change these facts. I enjoy your newsletter as you provide tons of good information; however this one is a boo-boo."


Readers' feedback shows a genuine interest in attempting to keep me honest, and I appreciate receiving it. Though my use of the word "vegetarian" is presumably the source of contention, I think my use of the qualifying word "nearly" must be the focal point for discussion.


The Cornell China studies clearly support near-vegetarianism ("0-20% animal-based foods"), which is my preferred long-term dietary maintenance plan. And I would be pleased if everyone followed Pottenger's dictum and ate pretty much raw everything, especially raw milk, which I have long advocated. My reading of Price's work says to me, "eat unprocessed foods." If people want to eat the seafood and organ meats that Dr. Price advocated in his book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, they will do well nutritionally to do so.



Dr. Pottenger's emphasis was on the nutritional value of raw foods, and he got it right. Pottenger knew that carnivorous animals, normally, would never be in a position to hunt a cooked meal. His studies were primarily on cats, and most felines are carnivores. But even "carnivores" are not strictly carnivorous. Lions and similar predators gobble up the predigested vegetable material from an herbivorous prey animal's digestive organs in preference to any other part of the kill. I caught my cat up on the kitchen counter the other day. She was eating carrot pulp left over from the morning's juicing. Plain carrot pulp. Years ago, I had a cat that would stand up on her hind legs and beg for cooked green beans. But this is in addition to an appropriately-meaty kitty diet.


For humans, if a vegetable, fruit or dairy food can be eaten uncooked, then it should be. As for raw meat, well, no thank you. The Natural Hygienists have what is at heart the same message: eat fresh and raw. I admire and seek to emulate such knowledge to the maximum practical extent. However, I do not apologize for having a stove. A whole-food, good food diet including legumes (peas, beans, lentils), grains and potatoes clearly needs some cooking. But there is definitely no need to make one's home on the range.



Americans consume at least twice as much protein as they need. Worldwide, 30 grams of protein daily is usually adequate. The US RDA of protein is about 60 grams daily for a man and about 50 g daily for a woman. We generally eat over 100 grams of protein daily, mostly from meat. Chronic protein excess can overload and irreversibly damage the kidneys by middle age. (Williams, S. Nutrition and Diet Therapy, 7th ed, Mosby, 1993).


When in doubt, eat like other primates do. Chimps, gorillas, orangutans and that crowd are very strong, very smart, and mostly but not entirely vegetarian. By moving TOWARDS a vegetarian diet, you automatically reduce your too-high intake of protein, fat and sugar. It is just that simple. There is no diet plan to buy. I think dairy products and eggs and fish must remain occasional options for most of us. My kids did so well as lacto-ovo-vegetarians that they never had a single dose of an antibiotic, not once. Had they NOT been healthy, the State and the school board would have been on our backs instantly.


To avoid all animal products makes one a vegan. I am most certainly not a vegan, and I do not universally advocate it. I have many good friends who utterly and totally reject animal products. For this I admire them. I also observe that their conviction is, at times, more admirable than their health is. Ethical issues aside, veganism truly is an excellent transition diet. As limited-term treatment for overweight, constipated, drug-soaked people, veganism cannot be beat. I think a few months without animal products is worth a therapeutic trial for most illnesses. But long term, for most people, I think some animal foods are necessary as the decades pass. 


The majority of vegetarians are actually near-vegetarians, eating some animal products, such as milk products. My readers know I am something of a cheese and yogurt fan. As a former dairyman, what do you expect? I also use eggs now and then for cooking, and I make a mean broccoli quiche. But I am not really much of a milk-drinker, and typically do not go through even half a dozen eggs in a month.


Albert Einstein wrote, "Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet."  Evolution, a key word, means gradual change with time. "Vegetarianism" is a process, not an absolute.


For my children, the process began in infancy. http://www.doctoryourself.com/toddler_health.html


Okay, so they were not fed meat. What exactly DID they eat? Here's an example of some basic meal plans, on which you can (and we did) build a tasty meatless meal.



Meatless most certainly does NOT mean "zero animal products." The two are far, far apart. And when considering the moral arguments on the dialectics of dietetics, we are humbled when we recall that Mahatma Gandhi ate dairy products, and Jesus ate fish.


I regularly took my three-year-old son with me when shopping at the local supermarket. We inevitably passed through the meat department. My son pointed to the blood-red packages and loudly asked me, "What's that Daddy?" I replied, much more quietly, "That is meat." He then said, just as loudly as before, "We don't eat meat, do we, Daddy!" He was correct, of course, and I told him so. He smiled, and in a voice that could easily be heard in the Produce department on the other side of the store, declared for all to hear:


"We don't eat meat! We're not Italian!"


I think he meant to say, "We're vegetarian," but I kinda like it better his way. And very few three-year-olds can say, "We're lacto-ovo-vegetarian, aren't we, Daddy!"


In truth, I cannot even be described as an lacto-ovo-vegetarian (eggs and dairy), for I also eat seafood. Not often, and usually not directly in front of my aquarium.  But I maintain, in the face of animal-rights adversity, that fish and their oceanic roommates are valuable nutrition sources. After millennia of changes to human civilization, the world's number one animal protein source in 2003 is still seafood. By the time we come up with a definition of "fishatarian," we are very close to the natural animal-products percentages that Price found again and again in his travels amongst "primitive" (aka "healthy") cultures back in the 1930's. I have no shame whatsoever in eating like a south sea island native.



I am quite willing to eat along the dietary lines of other traditional cultures that Dr. Price visited and wrote of. Price found that isolated, healthy Swiss communities ate cheese and raw milk daily, plus a lot of whole-grain bread.  But they only ate meat once a week. The basic foods of the islanders of the Outer Hebrides, Price wrote, "are fish and oat products with a little barley. Oat grain . . . provides the porridge and oat cakes which in many homes are eaten in some form regularly with every meal." (p 44) Even traditional Eskimos, often held up as the ultimate example of human carnivorism, also eat nuts, "kelp stored for winter use, berries including cranberries which are preserved by freezing, blossoms of flowers preserved in seal oil, (and) sorrel grass preserved in seal oil."


In short, most vegetarians are not, and most carnivores are not. Optimum human diet is not to be found at either extreme. The issue is natural food more than where it comes from. Unprocessed foods, whether animal or plant origin, are the healthiest. This is the enduring message of Price and Pottenger.




Dunderbeck, oh Dunderbeck

Oh how could ye be so mean

To ever have invented

The sausage-meat machine.

Now all the rats

And puddy-cats

Will never more be seen;

For they'll all be ground

To sausage meat

In Dunderbeck's machine.


(Author unknown, fortunately)

Andrew Saul, who is certainly not a poet, is however the author of the books FIRE YOUR DOCTOR! How to be Independently Healthy (reader reviews at http://www.doctoryourself.com/review.html ) and DOCTOR YOURSELF: Natural Healing that Works. (reviewed at http://www.doctoryourself.com/saulbooks.html )

Copyright 2003 Andrew W. Saul. Revised 2018.

Andrew W. Saul


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