Mikita's Transition to Raw
Updated: Aug 3, 2020
When we transitioned Mikita to a raw diet, I didn't have a guide walking me through and I didn't realize at first that commercially prepared raw diets existed. I did find some great 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. Once I began to educate myself it all started to make a little more sense. I went from thinking I needed a giant meat grinder in my kitchen to realizing that I could start with commercially prepared raw, balanced meals for cats, available in the freezer section of boutique pet food shops. This made me feel like feeding raw was possible. I knew that in the future I could prepare my own but I just wasn't ready for that. If you'd like to start making better food choices for your cat, read on. I'll tell you how I did it!
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MIKITA ATE BOTH KIBBLE & CANNED INITIALLY
When we adopted Mikita, he already ate 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 further. The fact that he ate canned did make it easier to transition him to raw because he was already comfortable with a softer texture. He was treated for a UTI at the shelter right before we when we adopted him, so we knew how important a moisture rich diet would be.
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.
PHASE 1: TRANSITION TO HONEST KITCHEN
Within a week of adopting him (January 2015), we were already starting to put a little Honest Kitchen into his kibble and canned. Honest kitchen is a dehydrated powdered formula. To prepare it, you just add water. It looks a lot like baby food and it smells fresh. I started by drizzling about 1/2 tsp. on top of his kibble. Mikita didn't understand that Honest Kitchen was food at first. He looked at it, confused. After some coaxing to try the Honest Kitchen topped kibble, he gave it a teeny tiny taste, stopped, thought about it and then decided after several minutes that he was a big brave boy and could give it another taste. He wasn't wild about it at first but each day I added it to his canned or kibble and he "kind of" ate it. I continued adding more and he started to really like it! After a couple weeks, he was pretty much eating entirely Honest Kitchen. He probably would have eaten all Honest Kitchen sooner but I moved extra slow, not fully knowing his personality yet. That bag of kibble I bought? I didn't even use half of the small bag. I was happy to be done with that.
About 3 weeks post adoption Mikita was eating Honest Kitchen. He initially had a UTI at the shelter and received treatment. Unfortunately, it made a comeback. At the same time, he developed ringworm which is a common and difficult fungal infection that shelters deal with. It's unusual for an adult cat to get ringworm (Mikita was 1.5 years old) but since his immune system was still recovering from the UTI as well as a recent knee injury, it wasn't so unusual.
We took Mikita to the vet and she recommended a prescription diet for his chronic urinary issues. I was crushed. I had a grand plan of transitioning him to raw, so she urged us to try it temporarily. Reluctantly, we fed him the prescription food for less than 2 weeks. The night he barfed it up was the last time we fed him canned food. The ingredients were not good quality. How is this overly processed, rendered food prescribed to cats? They need a strong immune system more than ever! I couldn't make sense of it. Our vet understood our desire to give Mikita REAL food so she helped us figure out a way. She recommended temporarily adding DL-methionine to his non-prescription food which would help lower his urine pH. In conjunction with a high moisture raw diet, his bladder issues would hopefully resolve more naturally and his GI would thrive on fresh foods. We added the DL-methionine only for a couple months as we continued on with our transition.
SIDE NOTE: CANNED PRESCRIPTION - NOT AN OPTION
I continued to research idiopathic cystitis in cats (inflammation of the bladder, cause unknown). It is a common issue under the umbrella FLUTD (Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease). Many cats have urinary issues and are treated with low quality, high carbohydrate, prescription food in order to dissolve urinary crystals and lower their urine pH. I did not want to feed a prescription food to lower his urine pH. I was determined to manage his cystitis with REAL FOODS and supplements. A normal cat urine pH is around 6-6.5 which is the perfect pH to keep unwanted crystals and bacteria from growing.
A raw SPECIES APPROPRIATE diet should be able to keep the urine pH in a normal range but some cats are more prone to urinary issues, even if they are eating a raw diet. In some cases feeding a prescription diet could be a temporary solution to help lower urine pH but "temporary" is the keyword here. For me personally, I will do anything to avoid a prescription diet.
Extra filtered water and some supplements can be added to a raw diet to help with bladder issue prone kitties. Water helps dilute urine and keeps things flowing. Although Mikita hasn't had a UTI since we adopted him in December 2014, he is still prone to a high pH. He had a recent pH spike in August 2018 which was discovered when our vet recommended she do a urinalysis. His pH came back at 8.5 with some small crystals! Yikes! Why?! We thought we were doing everything right. Stress is often a factor when it comes to urinary issues. We're not certain what caused the spike but he's shown to be prone to urinary issues. We now pay extra attention to his bladder health. You cannot possibly know exactly how your cat's bladder is doing if you aren't taking them to the vet for a urinalysis. Mikita was acting totally fine during his spike. Maybe he felt fine, maybe it was a short spike that caused no symptoms. Regardless, cats are great at hiding their pain. We can't base all of our assumptions on how they are acting. He had a high pH and it needed to be addressed before it developed into something more serious.
Our vet recommended a cranberry supplement which is a more natural way to control urine pH. We started adding more water to his meals, filtering it with a water pitcher. His follow up urinalysis came back at 6.5 pH and no crystals! The vet said to keep doing what we're doing so we will! If we were feeding him kibble and canned, I can only imagine where he'd be. He's prone to urinary issues and a clean diet with extra water is a huge part of keeping him healthy.
PHASE 2: TRANSITION TO PRIMAL
Since canned prescription food was out of the question for Mikita, I knew that I'd need to get a little creative and ALWAYS add extra water to his food. In February 2015 I started to add some raw frozen Primal to the Honest Kitchen. Mikita seemed okay with it but he preferred the Honest Kitchen. For the next several months we fed a lot of Honest Kitchen and tried to incorporate as much Primal as possible. I liked that Primal was raw and only contained a small amount of plant matter. He warmed up to the Primal and I felt good about the brand.
I wasn't sure how often I should rotate different proteins. At first, I would finish a bag of Primal and then work my way into a different flavor. Then I realized I could keep several proteins on hand and feed a different flavor whenever I wanted. I moved slow and yet I was scared to switch proteins too quickly. Big brand processed pet food industry commercials tell us to feed the same food for like... ever. Wtf? I had been feeding dehydrated and some raw at this point for a few months. Mikita was doing great. His microbiome was likely much more robust than a few months prior and equipped to handle other raw foods without going through a full week transition process. So I began switching between the Honest Kitchen and two Primal flavors more often. Mikita had no stomach upset.
This was great but I wanted something more... raw. Primal poultry foods goes through HPP which is a cold pasteurization process. This is great for eliminating harmful bacteria but a feline's GI is equipped to process certain pathogens that humans can't. I wondered if any companies were processing their foods a little differently. That's when I found Rad Cat and everything changed.
PHASE 3: RAD CAT
In October 2015 I found Rad Cat. (Unfortunately Rad Cat was forced to close because of a very unfair and sloppy handling from the FDA. Read about it here.) They don't use plant material in their foods. I bought the turkey and lamb. It was an instant hit. Rad Cat looks really raw. We scaled back on the Honest Kitchen and amped up the Rad Cat. We still feed Primal on occasion because variety is key but Rad Cat took the front seat.
PHASE 4: DARWIN'S
In January 2017 we went to see the movie Pet Fooled. If you haven't seen it, stop what you're doing and watch it on Netflix. This was the film I was waiting for. I knew the commercial pet food industry used undesirable ingredients and had questionable practices but I could never find a documentary, or a big bulk of info in one place that would actually provide some clarity. When this film came out, we went to the Chicago showing. This is where we learned about Darwin's. Dr. Barbara Royal, a Chicago veterinarian who was in the film and at the showing, briefly mentioned it. Darwin's had been around for years yet I didn't know about them. I just didn't know how to research this beast so I did it piece by piece. I ordered Darwin's and Mikita loved it instantly! It's fresh, sealed and has the raw factor of Rad Cat.
WHERE WE ARE NOW
We've learned a lot since January 2015. We started adding a splash of filtered water to every meal. We also occasionally add a bladder support powdered supplement for a couple weeks when we're going to be in potentially stressful situations. Those include travel, a new foster cat, construction going on etc. New raw brands have popped up and I'm even considering making my own raw food. I don't take that lightly though. Making cat food from what I've heard isn't hard. But it is somewhat precise. You can't guess how much muscle meat, organs, bones and supplements to put in. You have to measure and use recipes from a reputable source. If you feed an unbalanced homemade diet long term, your cat will likely develop a myriad of issues from skeletal to eye health. It's a dangerous game to play. Guessing is not an option. Of course, unbalanced meals from time to time are fine.
Raw meat snacks and meal toppers are absolutely an option and a great way to start working in some fresh foods. We give Mikita diced up pieces of meat and organs, occasionally. I'll toss some in his food and he'll act like he's confused and then eventually start gnawing on a piece of chicken gizzard. Cats get very comfortable in their routine. I see it as my job to provide enrichment in the form of food, toys, treats and activities, even if Mikita doesn't quite know what to make of it at first. I'm persistent. Cats are resourceful. They may take a little while to learn but if they want something or are curious enough, show them the way and they'll surprise you.