Will everyone with a picky cat, please raise your hand? Okay, I can feel the breeze of millions of hands waving all over the world. Most cats are very finicky about their food and trying to switch an adult cat to a new diet can be a frustrating experience for even the most loving owner.
Cats Are Imprint Eaters
Foods that have not been introduced to them within the first 3 to 6 months of their lives are often not recognized as edible by our felines. So, if you are trying to switch an older cat from a kibble diet to a raw food diet your cat may not be acting picky, he simply may not recognize the new food as something he can eat! Think of your reaction if an extra-terrestrial offered you a box of tissue or a car headlight for dinner. What the heck? Same feeling for your cat.
Transitioning Cats to Raw
Both young kittens and cats that have survived by hunting will be the easiest candidates for switching to a raw diet. These two groups can usually be transitioned within a single feeding, or a quick week or two of mixing the raw food with the old diet should do the trick. These are the lucky ones.
For Cats Over 6 Months Old
If your companion cat is over 6 months old and has been fed kibble all their life transitioning them to a raw diet may be a challenge. The key word in this endeavor is patience. Below are a few methods that may take some time but will eventually be successful.
This is the slowest but most reliable way to transition requires three distinct steps.
Step 1: Switch from free-feeding to two scheduled meals a day.
Grazing on a food bowl all day gives the cat too much control over his eating preferences and schedule. Put his current food down for half an hour then remove. Cats are smart and will quickly figure out that they need to eat at mealtimes or will be hungry. The purpose behind this is to encourage your cat to eat complete meals twice a day in a timely manner. And when you have successfully moved your cat to a raw food diet, you will not want to leave raw food unrefrigerated all day.
Step 2 Switch from kibble to canned food
This will probably be the hardest step and can take quite a bit of time. If you have been feeding an inexpensive grocery store kibble to your cat he literally may be addicted to the fillers and flavoring agents in his food. Even though those chemicals are, or will eventually cause problems for your cat, breaking that physical dependency can be stressful.
Cats fed a more holistic kibble may not have the addiction problem but may still be resistant to change because cats are imprinted on the smells, shapes, textures, and tastes of their current foods. The best advice is to simply add the canned food slowly in with the kibble at a ratio of around 10% canned to 90% kibble. You may need to do this for a month or more before you reduce the kibble to 80% and increase the canned to 20%. As your cat adjusts keep slowly reducing the kibble until your cat is accepting 100% canned. Make sure the canned cat food is natural meat with no chemical additives or fillers. Use your local holistic pet supply store as a resource, choosing the best canned food you can afford. This will make the next step easier.
Step 3 Switch from canned to raw food
Once your cat is comfortable eating canned food you may gradually begin adding raw food mixed in with the canned at about the same 90%/10% ratio. Often this step goes fairly quickly as the canned food texture is similar to raw texture. Again, go slowly, remembering your cat’s digestion is making a powerful adjustment during this time.
Another method for switching cats to a raw diet is to simply begin adding freeze-dried raw to a cat’s kibble. The texture is dry, and often kibble fed cats respond well to freeze-dried raw instead of frozen raw. The downside to this is that cats have a critical need for moisture in their diets. Some owners add water or a salt-free meat broth to their kibble/freeze-dried mixture, but additional fluids must be available and consumed. Careful monitoring of water dishes is advised. Once your cat is eating a kibble/freeze-dried raw diet with ease, begin adding frozen raw at a slow ratio until all kibble can be eliminated.
Some people try a quick transition and it can work for some cats. They put some raw food in a bowl and leave it in the cat’s food area for half an hour. It the cat doesn’t eat it they replace the raw meal with a small amount of the cat’s regular food. The cat will be hungry for their next meal and may eat the raw food which will be left down for a half hour and then removed if uneaten. Again, a small amount of regular food will be offered. By the third meal the cat will be hungrier and hopefully will try the raw food. This method of transition can work but owners must be careful trying it. Hepatic lipidosis can result if your cat decides to go on a hunger strike and you don’t want that to happen as it is a fatal liver condition. Quick transition or slow each cat is an individual and you will be the best judge of which style works best for you.
Obligate Carnivores – Tips & Tricks to Raw Feeding
Eventual switching to a frozen raw is the standard goal for most cat owners. However, there are limited health benefits by using raw or freeze-dried raw as a topper on a canned food diet. And some people simply like to give freeze-dried raw food as special treats which can provide some useful digestive enzymes for cats, too. As a general rule, the more raw food your cat consumes the more health benefits you will notice. Below are some tricks clever cat owners have used to help the process move more smoothly.
- Smear some food on top of the cat’s front paws and he will eventually lick it off, discover it is food, and begin eating it out of their bowl.
- Put some food in a bowl and hide it under your bed, behind a couch, under a bush. Cats are natural hunters and will hunt the food and may eat it.
- Put water with the cat’s kibble and smash in gradually increasing amounts of raw food.
- Find a flavor topper your cat likes on their kibble, i.e., canned tuna water, and add that to the raw diet.
- Slightly warm the frozen raw food as temperature changes can be worrisome to cats. Be careful not to cook the food.
- Some cats are very sensitive about having their whiskers touch their food bowl. You may need to switch to a broader, flatter more plate-style of bowl when feeding raw.
Don’t hover or act stressed when switching your cat’s diet. Feed him and walk away for the half hour. Most cats are cautious about their feeding habits and can react negatively to your heightened concern.
Always think in small increments when changing your cats’ diet. A few rare cats transition easily but most take time, so above all remember that patience is a virtue, and your cats’ health is worth it.