TRANSITIONING YOUR CAT TO A FRESH, RAW DIET
Hi there! Transitioning your cat to a healthier, less processed, species appropriate diet is simple, but it can be confusing at first. Whether you're starting with kibble or canned food, the options, marketing and manufacturer promises are overwhelming. Cats are obligate carnivores. They must eat meat to survive. The less processed, better quality and more more balanced a food is, the stronger your cat will be. FOOD = FUEL.
Most people want to feed their cat a healthy diet. Commercially processed pet food companies know this. So, they market their packaging to appeal to us. They trick us into thinking their food is the healthiest. They use words like "natural", "holistic", "grain free", "no artificial preservatives". They use premium matte packaging instead of shiny and photos of ingredients that we would put on our plate. They use healthy looking cute cats and wild ancestral cat images and anything that might trick us into believing that their food is the most natural and nutritious. They bank on pet parents standing in the aisle and choosing foods that "look healthy". Because after all, we want the best for our cat. They're family! Most pet food is absolutely terrible quality, packaged in marketing.
Not everyone can afford a better food. And the ones who can, often choose something they think is "premium", paying more for the same old crap. The best thing a pet parent can do is become educated on cat nutrition. No matter what your budget, most people can improve or completely transition their cat to a species appropriate diet.
UNDERSTANDING AN IDEAL DIET
Where is your cat food on this list? Most people are at a 10 or 11
There isn't one perfect way to feed your cat. Currently, Mikita eats mostly at a "3". I will be mentioning several brands in "THE GUIDE" which will help give direction when picking out foods. Visit Mikita's Tips & Favorites to understand more about the food brands we've used and like. There are many comparable brands that I haven't tried so don't limit yourself! Just read the ingredients and know what you're feeding.
Cats are obligate carnivores. They eat mice and other small animals in the wild. Feeding a SPECIES APPROPRIATE NUTRITIONALLY BALANCED RAW HOMEMADE DIET is ideal cat food for the cats in our homes. If you want to go straight to feeding homemade raw, I encourage you to join Facebook Groups and find reputable websites with education and recipes or speak to your holistic veterinarian about making balanced meals. Because I want to encourage and not overwhelm, I am going to be recommending commercially produced high quality brands that I believe are a great alternative to homemade. Nothing is better than homemade, but it is often easier to begin with prepared raw.
If you can get your cat on a commercially prepared raw, you can easily transition to a homemade raw diet.
Even if you don't plan on feeding raw meals you can still incorporate fresh, raw snacks. Consider offering your cat some muscle meat, a chicken wing or some heart muscle as a snack! Always monitor your cat. Make sure you buy meats from good quality sources meant for human consumption. Organic is best! Educate yourself on how to properly feed raw. Cats often need to learn how to gnaw on meaty bones. The goal is to make the best educated choices you can and always aim to learn more and feed better. I believe most people can provide better options and not go broke doing it. Of course, it does require some creativity and patience. It's hard to compete with a super cheap bag of kibble.
WHAT'S IN YOUR CAT'S FOOD?
EXAMPLES OF COMMERCIALLY PREPARED CAT FOODS
Just add water
Ingredients typically come from the human food supply. Shelf stable.
Pour from bag to bowl
Ingredients vary wildly. Not species appropriate. Typically WAY too many carbs. Most kibble uses poor quality, feed grade ingredients.
Open and serve
Ingredients come from the human food supply. Less processed than canned. No rendered ingredients.
Open and serve
Ingredients vary wildly. Some are human edible, most are poor quality, feed grade. Good moisture level. Typically over processed.
Warm slightly and serve
Ingredients typically come from the human food supply. Formulations vary. Minimally processed.
Just add water
Ingredients typically come from the human food supply. Shelf stable, powder form. Minimally processed.
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KIBBLE ADDICTS & CANNED FOOD FANACTICS
SWITCHING TO A WET FOOD OPTION: Some kibble fed cats may take to raw, freeze dried, dehydrated, canned or another kind of wet food right away. Many won't. Since canned foods are often engineered to be more "flav-o-blasted", they tend to be more enticing than an elemental raw food. For many, it's easier to transition your cat to a canned food first, then to a more fresh diet.
CATS THAT WON'T TOUCH WET FOOD: These are called kibble addicts. Kibble aka "kitty crack". Approach a kibble addict much like a cat you're looking to switch to raw. Slowly and a little at a time. Remove the "all you can eat" kibble buffet, create mealtimes and only introduce a new food when they are hungry. A full cat is less willing to try something new. Don't plop down canned and call it a day. Dip a kibble or a treat in some canned and see if they'll try it. Accidentally tasting some canned will familiarize them. Move slow. Get creative. Cats were not born to eat kibble. Be patient and they'll eventually start eating canned and even raw.
STRAIGHT TO FRESH FOOD FROM KIBBLE: If you want to try and transition to raw or dehydrated food straight from kibble, go for it!
FROM CANNED TO RAW: This is the ideal situation. If you can get your cat to eat raw, dehydrated or freeze dried, straight from a canned diet that they already enjoy, it'll likely be a faster transition. If your cat likes the gravy styles of canned food, use that as you transition. If they like the pate, use that.
THE BASIC IDEA: When making any big food changes (going from kibble to raw), the idea is to introduce the new food slowly. Start by adding 1/2 tsp to their food and see how they react. If your cat is adventurous and eats it, add more next time. If they're hesitant, stick with 1/2 tsp for at least a few days.
DRIZZLE ON KIBBLE: With water added, a small amount of dehydrated food can be drizzled on kibble. Start with 1/2 tsp. of new food like Honest Kitchen. This is what we used to transition Mikita. It worked great because it's very smooth and easy on the their system. There are some carbs in the food so it wasn't something I wanted to feed forever. But since the ingredients are such high quality, I think it's great for transitioning and for occasional nutrition.
MOVE SLOW: Look for changes in bowel movements. Don't rush it. Once they accept 1/2 tsp of new food in their current food, increase the amount of new food and decrease the old food, slowly. If your cat is all about the new food, awesome! Let your cat be the guide.
MIXING KIBBLE WITH RAW FOODS: Be mindful of mixing. Some cats that eat raw and kibble together experience GI upset. This is why using a dehydrated food for transitioning is sometimes helpful.
PUT IT ON THE SIDE: Another option is to put a little dehydrated Honest Kitchen or raw food like Rad Cat or Darwin's on the side. Next to the food or on a separate plate. Even if they don't try it right away, they will become familiar with the smell and hopefully curious enough to taste it. If they don't try it after a week, drizzle a little on their food. They may be more inclined to try it since it's not a stranger anymore.
INVOLVE THE TREATS: If your cat is extra stubborn, don't hesitate to dip a treat in the new food. Or crumble a treat or two on top. They may be more inclined to try. Even if they don't eat the new food, they may accidentally taste it which will help their taste buds become more familiar with it, making it less scary next meal.
INCREASE THE NEW FOOD: Whether your end goal is raw, cooked human grade, dehydrated etc, gradually increase it until your cat seems cool with the new food. At this point you might be at 3/4 kibble and 1/4 new food. If they're doing well, try serving only new food. Hide the kibble! If they eat it, consider it a success!
GETTING CREATIVE VS. GETTING PUSHY: Encourage your cat to try any new food by providing it to them when it's mealtime. They'll be hungry. If you leave a bowl of "old familiar kibble" out, they'll know they have another option. Put that bowl of kibble away for good! Still, some cats will go on strike. Try to hide a tiny amount of new food in their current food. Dab tiny amounts on a plate so they sniff each one and eventually get curious. Tiny piles of food induce more curiosity and are less intimidating than a large new scary pile of food. If at any point they feel pushed, they'll often become more skeptical. Consider trying another protein. If your cat isn't liking the raw turkey, maybe they would like the raw venison. Also, just because they didn't try it in 3 minutes doesn't mean they won't try it later, tomorrow or next week.
FOOD TIPS: In my experience, mixing dehydrated food with raw did not cause stomach upset. Again, this is why for some, transitioning from processed kibble or canned, to dehydrated, then to raw can be less stressful than going straight to raw.
VARIETY: It doesn't have to be right away, but make sure you are incorporating at least a few different protein options into their diet. For example, Mikita might eat chicken for breakfast and lamb for dinner. You can feed turkey for a week and then venison the next week. There isn't one way to provide variety. The idea is to make sure they aren't eating the same thing for years. A healthy GI is built with a variety of fresh foods. With a strong GI, most cats should be able to handle new, raw foods regularly. Of course, ease into new foods at first. Once you start providing variety, you'll begin to trust yourself.
PRO TIPS: Move slow. Get creative. If they decide they love raw one day and don't like it the next, take a step back and remember to move slow. There is no correct way other than to move at the pace of your cat which is likely SLOW. Encourage, don't push. Be consistent and open minded. Toss a treat into the new food. Maybe they'll fish it out and accidentally taste the new food and like it. If you're moving slow, it's hard to go wrong. Celebrate the small steps and don't give up!
HOMEMADE DIETS: Mikita eats mostly a raw prepared diet that we purchase. We plan to transition Mikita to a homemade diet eventually, at least partially. In the meantime, while I continue to learn about making my own food I occasionally cut up meats from the butcher or grocery store to give as snacks or to add to meals. This includes gizzards, hearts, muscle etc. I am trying to train Mikita to accept chunks of meat which will hopefully prepare him to chew on meaty bones like chicken wings and necks. This will help with cleaning his teeth. These are very inexpensive ways to incorporate some fresh foods into their diet. Note: It is recommended to freeze any meat from the store for 24 hours before defrosting and feeding.
REMEMBER WHY YOU WANT TO FEED YOUR CAT A HEALTHIER DIET
FOR PREVENTION: Consuming less processed foods with higher quality animal proteins is one of the healthiest things you can do for your cat and for yourself! Food is fuel. It can help build a strong immune system or it can break it down.
FOR SOFT, FLAKE FREE FUR: Wet food in general provides the needed moisture that cats don't get from kibble. A water bowl is never enough for a kibble fed cat. But a water fountain can be enticing and result in more water consumption. Balanced, raw food is minimally processed, offering extra moisture and fantastic protein quality. A raw fed cat is soft like a bunny and almost entirely flake free!
MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS: Raw food is amazing. But there is no guarantee that it will prevent certain diseases. Some cats are more prone to certain ailments than others, no matter what you do. What it CAN do is build a strong body to help prevent disease. Raw animal protein keeps inflammation in the body low and that is essential for fighting and preventing disease. In the event that anything bad does arise, your cat will have a stronger body to fight it.
BECAUSE YOUR CAT IS A CARNIVORE: Meat, meat, meat and more meat. That's what a cat needs to eat! Kibble has lots of carbs. Carbs are not good for cats because they don't need them. They also don't need super processed, poor quality canned meat. They need real, whole meats, organs and animal parts that are fresh, high quality and minimally processed.
BECAUSE THE VET IS EXPENSIVE: Vet visits aren't cheap. But we don't always think about that until it's too late. Feeding a better quality food may be a little more expensive but it is much cheaper than treating diseases. Prescription diets are expensive, terrible quality foods with medicine added. There are other options. Like REAL FOOD and adding your own supplements. You can do it!
AND IF YOU JUST CAN'T PROVIDE A BETTER QUALITY FOOD?: Don't feel bad. Some people really want to feed their cat better. They just can't afford to. But don't assume you can't if you haven't taken advantage of all the amazing free information out there. Feeding a better diet doesn't have to be all or nothing. Do your research and if you can't find a way to incorporate even a small amount better foods into their diet, then make it a goal to do the best you can and always aim to do better. Homemade diets are the most cost effective and some people are able to make it for the price of kibble.
WE JUST WANT THEM TO BE HAPPY AND HEALTHY: Clean, minimally processed foods provide the best nutrition for all of us. Humans are the only animal that cooks their food, and even we don't need to. Why are we cooking, extruding, processing, pulverizing, extracting our pets food when it doesn't need to be that complicated? Commercially processed kibble and canned foods will help your cat or dog survive for awhile but they certainly do not help them thrive.
STEPS TO TRANSITION YOUR CAT TO A HEALTHIER DIET
There isn't one magical way to transition your cat to a better diet. If it's new to them, they'll likely resist. Cats are skeptical and yet simultainously curious. The idea is to get creative. What works for one may not work for another. Some may be excited about a new food and some may require a very slow transition process lasting several months to a year. Keep that in mind throughout the process.
REGARDLESS OF WHAT YOU FEED, START WITH THIS
REMOVE THE "ALL YOU CAN EAT BUFFET": If you leave a bowl of kibble out, remove it entirely and put the empty bowl away.
CREATE MEALTIMES: Feed your cat at specific times. Cats are carnivores. They kill, they eat, they leave. If your cat does better with more meals, split them up into 3 meals instead of two. Or offer a small snack before bed.
LIMIT MEALTIMES: If your cat doesn't finish their meal within 15-20 minutes, put it away. Just like our cats learn to remind us it's time to eat, they'll learn to eat within a timeframe. This will also help monitor how much they are eating.
MAKE SURE YOUR CAT ISN'T GOING ON A HUNGER STRIKE: When changing foods, fasting isn't really an option for cats. A little hunger may breed curiosity but it is dangerous if they go too long without food. If they are refusing to eat the new food, make sure you provide them with something they will eat, even if it's a little less than their normal amount.
GETTING IN THE RIGHT MINDSET
GET TO KNOW YOUR FOOD OPTIONS: A homemade raw balanced diet is best but it's not for everyone. Work backwards from there and decide what is best for you and your cat. A cat with a compromised immune system may not do well on a raw diet but would be suited for a human grade dehydrated diet. Work with your holistic veterinarian to determine your best option. Remember, you can always change your mind and make even better choices! Use this transition guide when changing food types whether it be raw, dehydrated, cooked homemade etc. I'll mostly be referencing raw for ease of explaining.
ALWAYS AIM FOR VARIETY: Do not feed your cat the same thing every single day year after year. This is how severe allergies and other diseases develop. It is important to feed a variety of proteins with different ingredients. This keeps their body running clean. Mikita eats a total of 6 different proteins from mostly two raw cat food manufacturers.
CATS DON'T NEED CARBOHYDRATES AT ALL: Grain free doesn't mean carb free. Keep that in mind. Peas and lentils are carbohydrates often used in grain free foods. They are used as a filler and to bump up the protein content. Cats have no need for carbs; grains or non-grains. They are difficult to digest as cats lack the appropriate enzymes to make carbohydrates an effective form or fuel.
DON'T BE INTIMIDATED: Moving away from typical bagged and canned foods may seem strange but if you think about how engineered pet food is, feeding a less processed diet starts to make sense. We are not required to feed our pets anything from big box stores.
EVERYTHING DOESN'T HAVE TO BE "FLAV-O-BLASTED": We live in a time where pet food is so over-engineered that extra flavors are the norm and necessary to make highly processed pet food palatable. Our cats and dogs are living on fast food and they're addicted. Fresh foods are not engineered to blast with extreme flavors. They are meant to fuel the body. That being said, we have to re-train our cat's taste bud expectations to crave fresh foods.
APPRECIATING THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RAW AND PROCESSED FOODS:
Raw: Feeding your cat a diet with identifiable animal parts includes a large spectrum of nutrients. A commercially available raw diet can do a good job with this. Wild prey animals are essentially perfect nutrition, but farmed, even the best kind still have some shortcomings. Typically a small amount of nutrients needs to be added back into a homemade or commercial raw diet. Raw foods are nutrient dense, clean and Species Appropriate.
Processed: A heavily engineered, processed diet (kibble and most canned) is very denatured. Animal proteins are typically poor quality to begin with and cooked under extreme heat. Many vital nutrients are lost so they are put back in to form a complete food. It might be balanced, but it's a poor substitute for actual nutrition, not to mention all those unnecessary carbs. Kibble is dry. Cats, by nature get most of their water from food. Kibble unfortunately keeps a cat at a constant mild state of mild dehydration when fed regularly.
BE PREPARED TO ADJUST YOUR PLAN: Some cats may go from eating a kibble diet to raw almost immediately. But many can take months. My best advice is to move slower than you think. It will ease frustrations and hopefully keep you from having to back track. If you have a plan, don't give up. You may need to make adjustments so keep an open mind.
YOU DON'T KNOW UNTIL YOU TRY: Cats are meant to eat meat. With a little encouragement, your cat might surprise you. Give it a try!
THE QUICK GUIDE
NO FRILLS. JUST TIPS.
Remove the "all you can eat buffet"
If you leave a bowl of kibble out, remove it entirely and put the empty bowl away.
Feed your cat at specific times, typically 2-3 times a day
Get Kibble Addicts on Canned
For many, it's easier to transition your cat to a canned food first, then to a fresh diet.
Dehydrated or Raw for Transitioning
Whether you switch from kibble or canned, drizzle 1/2 tsp of a dehydrated food like Honest Kitchen onto their current food. Or, put a small amount of the dehydrated or raw, like Rad Cat food on the side so they can become curious.
Transition with tiny amounts of food. Look for changes in bowel movements. Don't rush it. If they'll eat 1/2 tsp of new food in their current food, stick with that for a week, then increase the amount of new food and decrease the old food, slowly.
Mixing Canned or Kibble with Raw Foods
Be mindful of mixing. Some cats that eat raw and canned together experience GI upset. This is why using small amounts or a dehydrated food for transitioning is sometimes helpful.
Increase the New Food
Whether your end goal is raw, cooked human grade, dehydrated etc, gradually increase it until your cat seems cool with the new food. At this point you might be at 3/4 canned and 1/4 new food. If they're doing well, try serving only new food. If they eat it, consider it a success!
In my experience, mixing dehydrated food with raw did not cause stomach upset. Again, this is why for some, transitioning from processed kibble or canned, to
dehydrated, then to raw can be easier than going straight to raw.
Move slow. Get creative. If they decide they love raw one day and don't like it the next, take a step back, try a new brand, re-try the brand they didn't like the day before and remember to move slow. Celebrate the small steps and don't give up!
FROM KIBBLE & CANNED TO RAW FED
When we transitioned Mikita to a raw diet, I didn't have a guide walking me through and I didn't even realize at first that commercially prepared raw diets existed. I did find some helpful websites though. This helped educate me on the importance of a fresh diet. It gave me a more discerning eye which helped me seek out brands and begin to understand industry terms.
FAVORITE PET HEALTH WEBSITES
MIKITA ATE BOTH KIBBLE & CANNED INITIALLY
When we adopted Mikita, he was already totally cool with both kibble and canned foods. The shelter recommended that we keep feeding canned as it's better for cats. We knew we'd be taking it several steps further.
We discovered that Mikita loved canned food with gravy so we purchased some of those, a small bag of kibble and Honest Kitchen. The plan was to transition him to the dehydrated Honest Kitchen and then begin incorporating some raw from Primal.
First we drizzled some Honest Kitchen onto his kibble and canned. We used a tiny amount. It took some encouraging but he tried it. Little by little, he became more comfortable with the new food. Once he was entirely on Honest Kitchen, we started mixing in some Primal.
Overall, the whole process took a few months. He was transitioned fully to Honest Kitchen within a few weeks and then we slowly added in different raw foods from Primal over the next couple months. We moved extra slow because we were figuring it out as we went along. We had some bumps in the road but it was well worth it. I eventually discovered some additional brands of food that he loved. Darwin's and Rad Cat. These are still his favorite. Had I tried more brands to start with, it may have been a faster process.
WHERE WE ARE AT NOW
I would never want to go back to feeding highly processed foods. I feel responsible for Mikita's well being so I want to provide him something that will fuel his body. Clean and simple is what cats are meant to eat. It's not something everyone can do but I truly believe its something most people can do, at the very least, part of the time.
THE EXCUSE DIARY
DON'T LET AN EXCUSE GET IN THE WAY!
I Can't Change my Cat's Diet Because:
My cat only likes kibble.
I'm not always home at the same time so I can't create mealtimes.
I can't afford raw.
I don't know how to feed raw.
My cat is really picky.
I tried to give them something new and they wouldn't even try it.
When I change their food, they get stomach upset.
My cat has to be on special prescription food.
My vet told me that kibble is fine.
My cat likes to nibble throughout the day.
If your excuse is on this list, give yourself and your cat a chance to prove it wrong!