So you want to make the switch to a raw diet, but you’re not sure if your cat will eat it. Maybe you offered raw food and your cat ate it with gusto once, then reverted back to pleading for kibble. “Nice little novel experience you offered me there, staffer, that was interesting, but let’s get back to the status quo now.” Like that.
Or you’ve bent over backwards selecting a good pre-made raw food – or toiled in the kitchen making it yourself and you’re so proud of your efforts and care and certain that no cat in their right mind would dare to turn down this remarkable offering of hand-crafted carnivorous love.
Instead your cat gives you a hostile, hairy eyeball stare and won’t have anything to do with the new food. “Nice try you clueless biped. You had your fun, now fill up my kibble bowl and be quick about it.” What to do?
Know that the speed at which you should switch your cat will depend a great deal on your cat’s age, temperament, health, and the diet s/he has been eating up to this point.
Keep in mind the “three Ps”: patience, persistence, and pandering.
- Patience. Devoted kibble addicts often have a difficult time accepting the new food, so you have to employ some tough love, and gather your own patience while honing your feline manipulation skills to get your cat eating healthier food. Be realistic – not every cat is going to dive in to a new food with enthusiasm, so be prepared to take your time with the switch.
Remember, if your cat has been eating dry food for a good while, s/he’s become addicted to all those yummy and good-kind-of-stinky animal digests that are sprayed on the dry food. (Remember – no cat would eat what’s in most kibble without those flavoring additives).
Don’t be in a crazed and impatient rush to get your cat switched over. I hear an awful lot of stories of people who abandon the idea of a better food, whether quality canned or raw, when their cats don’t instantly take to the new food.
The idea is to make the transition. Not to make it overnight. Proceed steadily in the right direction and be willing to be at a plateau for a while. Don’t rush things. When I first dove into raw feeding a gazillion years ago with two former kibble-addicted cats, I took three weeks to get them moved over to the new diet. Other people with more cats or older animals took two months or even longer to fully get their crew on all raw. Take the time you need and don’t hurry.
The single biggest misstep I see people make time and again? “My cat won’t touch the new food, so I panicked and filled up the bowl with dry food.” Then, shock of shocks, kitty won’t be hungry when the next raw meal is offered.
There really is no easy one-size-fits-all answer here, but as a general rule of thumb, I suggest to people that unless they have a very young cat or kitten, it’s best to go slowly. Take at least a week to ten days to fully transition an adult cat, and that’s presuming the cat is at least already off of all dry food. Raw food is very different from commercial food in many ways, and it’s best to give your adult cat’s digestive system a bit of time to slowly adapt to the new food.
Kittens? That’s a different story altogether. They’re magnificent at devouring raw food in remarkable quantities relative to their body weight. And switching them over is usually fast and relatively painless.
- Persistence. Paradoxically (oh my, look, another ‘p’ word), the problem is the dry food and simultaneously can be the key to making the switch. Exploit dry food to your non-dry-food benefit. It can be your temporary ally. Here’s how that goes. Dr. Lisa Pierson has a great tip on her website and that I discuss in a little more detail on my feline obesity page:
- Offer two or three meals a day of a very small amount of dry food (perhaps 1/8 to 1/4 of a cup) and, after 30 minutes, take up the food she hasn’t eaten. Then do not give in if she pleads for a between-meal snack. You want your cat to get accustomed to eating on a schedule this way, at meal times.
- Please stop free-feeding kibble. This is essential. If you’re still leaving dry food out all the time and allowing Mr. or Mrs. McStubborn Fluffybuns to “free-feed” off that, then you’re not letting hunger work in your favor. You already know, most likely, that you’re not doing your cat any favors by feeding dry food.
- Having food available 24/7 is not a good idea for any cat, and if your cat has constant access to that food, you’ll have a very hard time getting her weaned onto a healthier diet – whether it’s raw food or a good quality canned food.
- Next, after you’ve established set meal times for a few days or a week, begin setting out meals of only good canned food. If your cat refuses to touch it, take up the food and try again a few hours later. (Patience factors in here again). Don’t fret about it or throw in the towel. Just pick up the food with a smile and tell your cat, “We’ll try this again later, Monsieur Fluffybuns, when you’re in the mood. Now go back to scratching sofa or whatever it is you do. I love you and please don’t break another lamp.”
- Pandering. Yes, Señor Fluffybuns worships the flavors in the kibble. So pander temporarily to that – use that to help your cat make the switch. One way to get that flavoring on to the new food is to crush some of the kibble and sprinkle it on top of the new food.
A trick that can miraculous wonders? Buy some Purina Fortiflora – a probiotic powder. I’m unconcerned here about its alleged probiotic properties, but I am a super-big fan of how much cats love the flavor. It’s made using animal digest – the same thing the pet food companies use to coat dry food and make it tasty to cats. Use just a teensy bit on top of the new food – as if you were very lightly salting your own food. See if that doesn’t help entice Mr. or Mrs. Stubborn Fluffybuns to dive in.
Once the transition is moving in a successful direction, get the dry food out of your house. Your cat can probably smell it and will hold out stubbornly if s/he knows it’s there. Find a new home for the food or maybe use it on an icy sidewalk to get better traction in winter weather.
Think it through and “see” the situation from your cat’s perspective. If you have a fully grown cat that has been eating nothing but meat-flavored cereal (dry food) for several years, suddenly expecting her to be able to enjoy and easily digest a much richer food based on animal proteins, as opposed to all those plant-based proteins and carbohydrates, is often unrealistic. Slow and steady is what usually wins the race.
Never ‘starve’ an obese cat into submission. Ever. For a cat that’s been on a high-carbohydrate diet, the risk of a cat getting hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease) from going for too long without any food is too high for my tastes.