When we adopted our second cat, Dahlia, we transitioned her to a raw diet, just as we did with our first cat, Mikita. Excited to see the improvements, we were truly shocked at how dramatic they were. Most notable is her new glossy coat. Read on to find out what changes she had, exactly what she eats, the supplements we give and how you can do it too!
What a body needs
Diet plays a huge role in our overall health, and for the most part we know how important fresh whole foods are. Humans, especially those eating a Western diet, eat a lot of processed foods. But we also eat a lot of fresh foods. Many of us know that shopping the perimeter of the store is essential for keeping our bodies running clean and helping to prevent disease.
Yet somehow we've completely normalized feeding an entirely processed diet to our pets. A lot of history, marketing and junk science have convinced much of the world that engineered pet food, and worse, prescription pet food is actually healthy.
Thankfully, pet food companies are being challenged by consumers who are educating themselves on more appropriate foods for their cats and dogs. A carnivore eats meat. Although processed pet food packaging is great at putting beautiful photos of meat and vegetables on their packages, it hardly represents what's in the bag.
We have to be honest with ourselves about processed foods. There's a big difference between sometimes feeding processed foods and always feeding processed foods.
When we adopted 5 year old Dahlia, she had been eating kibble with canned food snacks most of her life. We introduced a little bit of raw food buried under a spoonful of canned the day we brought her home. She seemed to like it. We slowly introduced more and more until she was fully transitioned to raw. It took about a week. Some cats respond quickly like Dahlia, but most are a little apprehensive at first. If you'd like to transition your cat to a raw diet, have a plan. Visit my transition guide for more direction. Remember that patience, creativity and consistency almost always wins.
What our cats eat
Note: Always introduce new foods slowly. Until both you and your cat are comfy with new raw foods, proceed with thought and care. Use common sense. Yes, a cat should be eating fresh meat. But if they've been eating carbs and processed foods their whole life, their body will need time to adjust to appropriate foods. I always recommend doing your own research. Feeling confident about why you're feeding raw is important.
These are some great websites for doing some of your own research. Many articles are written by veterinarians.
Main meals: We feed pre-packaged frozen raw cat food from a few brands (ground meals for cats are fully balanced with muscle meat, organs, bones and some supplements). These can be purchased online or at boutique pet food stores. Check the freezer section. Variety is key! Always switch up proteins. We mostly feed Darwin's Pet Food.
Snacks: Pieces of raw muscle meat like chicken gizzard, chicken heart, rabbit cubes and venison chunks are great snacks our cats love! They offer jaw exercise and train a cat how to gnaw on a piece of meat. This is great prep for introducing raw meaty bones. One of our favorite places to purchase meats for snacks from is Hare Today. Their meats are immediately frozen which keeps them extra fresh! If you're purchasing from a butcher or grocery store, immediately freeze meats for a minimum of 24 hours to deem any potential parasites inactive. Purchase raw meat as close to the source as you can. A local farm or butcher is best. Ordering online or picking up organic meats from the grocery store works too. Non-organic is less desirable (antibiotics that animals ingest are passed onto anyone who eats them). But I do know some people who buy lesser quality meats from the grocery store. Just be sure you're not purchasing old, bad or questionable meat. Again, do some extra research. It's good to feel confident about your sources!
For jaw exercise and teeth cleaning: Raw meaty bones a couple times per month to a couple times a week! This includes chicken necks, chicken wing tips and other appropriately sized meaty bones. The idea is to make sure you're not giving any weight bearing bones that might be too hard for them to gnaw on. Every cat is different. Do your research. Never toss down a raw meaty bone and walk away. Feeding raw bones requires supervision. Always monitor their poop. Too much bone could cause constipation leading to a blockage. That means, start with less. Dahlia's teeth have some plaque buildup and they might be too far gone at this point, but we're working on addressing her plaque with some raw bones. She'll need a dental, but we'll still give her bones so she can keep those teeth clean as she ages.
Treats: We love single ingredient freeze-dried treats. This is a great opportunity for variety. If you can find less typical meats like duck or rabbit, even better! Mikita and Dahlia get treats daily. We use them for training purposes. It keeps their mind sharp!
Homemade broth: Nutrient packed chicken broth and bone broth is a great way to add extra hydration and healthy goodness to your pet's diet. We made broth from a whole chicken and froze in ice cube trays to feed occasionally. Check out the IGTV video for recipe. You can also purchase bone broth for cats and dogs at pet supply stores. Always make sure it's cat safe, is free of onions, excessive sodium and anything else your cat shouldn't eat.
Probiotic: We've added a high quality probiotic to Dahlia's food to help re-establish healthy gut bacteria. Poor quality foods diminish helpful microbes. We gave Mikita the same probiotic when we first adopted him. It helped boost his immune system to fight several of the issues he was battling, including ringworm and urinary issues. From time to time, we like to get a probiotic and add to meals for a couple months just to make sure their gut health is on point! Another option is a high quality goats milk for pets. You'll usually find this in the freezer section at some pet supply shops.
Coconut oil: We add about 1/4 tsp of cold pressed virgin coconut oil a couple times a week to their food. It's great for gut health, inflammation, hairballs and more. Coconut oil can be given to cats whether they are on a raw diet or not. Always start with less and work your way up. Do your own research to decide if it's right for your cat.
Immune Balance: We included a pre-blended selection of compounds which supports cell and organ repair as well as digestive health and more. This is something we have added daily to Dahlia's diet. Eventually we will discontinue it's regular use as her system rebuilds it's defenses. A blend like this is something we can re-add to their diet anytime we feel necessary. Adding a good digestive enzyme is another option for boosting gastrointestinal health. But remember, supplements are specific. Sometimes less is more. Know why and for how long you plan to give a supplement.
Omega 3s: We've started adding some extra occasional Omega 3s in the form of raw sardines. Dahlia is a fan, Mikita needs a little convincing. Marine oils from sardines and anchovies, or the actual fish themselves, are better sources than larger fish. Larger fish tend to be packed with toxins. Omega 3s help reduce inflammation, are great for cognitive function and arthritis. Darwin's, the food we feed includes Omega 3s in the form of marine oil, in all of their cat foods.
CBD: We've started adding CBD to their meals. Some pets and people have seen great results from using CBD. It has been shown to reduce inflammation, stress, anxiety and more. Always make sure to use a high quality CBD, preferably one that is willing to share third party lab test results.
L-lysine: We added this as recommended by our vet to specifically address Dahlia's watery eye. We don't give this to Mikita. It is something we may or may not use long term but for now we're continuing to use. See "Change #7" for more info on L-lysine.
Dietary dedication changes everything
Placing so much importance on our cat's diet has induced some eye rolling, to say the least. But talking about it has opened the eyes of many people who may not have ever known there are better options out there. At the end of the day, my cat can't tell me when he or she feels sick. I have to watch for signs. I may miss some of those signs because cats are great at hiding pain. I want to give them the best chance possible to have a healthy body inside and out. They are my family and I know other people feel the same way about their pets.
Always remember that we have choices.
In the first 5 weeks of changing Dahlia's diet, we noticed some amazing changes. Prior to adopting her, she ate a processed, mostly kibble diet for about 5 years. Mikita was transitioned at 1.5 years old and has been on a raw diet for over 4 years. I'll focus on Dahlia's much more obvious transformation.
1. Less dandruff
Dahlia had a lot of dandruff when we first adopted her. It took about 4-5 weeks on a raw diet, with extra water added (always filtered), to clear up the majority of her dandruff. It is truly night and day. Kibble and many canned foods are packed with carbohydrates and poor quality processed meats. I've received numerous messages asking how to improve their cat's dandruff. It's especially obvious on black cats. Dandruff may be caused by a few issues including nutrition deficiencies, dehydration, excess yeast and allergies, so it makes sense that a moisture rich, species appropriate diet would do wonders for dandruff.
2. Less shedding
We were used to Mikita's coat. It's sleek, short and doesn't shed a lot. After 4 years on a raw diet, his fur is like velvet. His hydrated fur doesn't shed much but we knew we were in for a change when we adopted Dahlia, a long haired Maine Coon. We spent the first week brushing daily, removing a bit of matting and brushing out excess fur. There would be constant tufts of fur left behind on the carpet and we weren't sure if we'd ever see the end of it. Cats shed. But they tend to shed less when they eat a healthy diet. 6 weeks after we adopted Dahlia, she started shedding A LOT less. We are keeping up on brushing a couple times a week but we aren't finding as many tufts of fur left behind on every surface.
3. Stank-less poops
Cat poop smells like cat poop and it stinks like heck, right? Wrong! Most of us are used to our cats taking a dump and clearing the room. If you don't smell it, you must have a far away litter box. Or, you feed raw too and you know what I'm talkin' about! The first poop Dahlia took when we adopted her was big, bulky and stinky. We were used to Mikita's raw fed, lightly scented small poops. Am I grossing you out? I knew how good Dahlia's poop game could be and we were determined to get her there. It took about 6 weeks before her poops were on point. She was having occasional diarrhea and soft poops for the first several weeks as we treated her for Giardia parasites. Mikita has never had parasites so this was new for us. The parasites cleared and we were left with getting her in the healthiest shape possible. We realized her GI needed some microbe replenishment. We added a probiotic about 4 weeks into her transition and it really helped. Between her new raw diet and a good probiotic, she's pooping light and airy fresh #2s like a queen!
Many long haired cats struggle with occasional butt fur poop dingleberries. It happens. Since her poops have become healthier and drier on the raw diet, they no longer get stuck in her butt fur. I'm waiting for the day when it unexpectedly happens again but so far they are staying in the litter box! Hooray!
4. Drinks less water
Dahlia drank a lot of water when we first adopted her. We heard that many Maine Coons like water in their food. So, we started preparing her raw meals with quite a bit of extra filtered water. She loved it! For the first couple weeks, she was still drinking a lot of water from her water bowl in addition to extra watery meals. We paid close attention to her seemingly excessive water consumption as we wanted to make sure she didn't have any underlying issues, like diabetes. For comparison, Mikita never drinks water. At least, I never see him drinking water. He gets it in his food, like wild cats get most of their needed hydration. We always add a little extra filtered water to his meals.
It took a couple weeks, but all of a sudden Dahlia almost entirely stopped drinking water. It was so drastic, I was almost in shock. Because she seemed to be dying of thirst, lapping up water in the beginning, I couldn't believe how she just suddenly started ditching it! Water in (keyword "in") their food is much more effective at hydrating them than dry kibble and a water bowl. High meat content, and eliminating all those carbohydrates packed in processed foods also helps. I'm so happy I was able to witness this first hand. I couldn't recommend a moisture rich diet more.
5. Increased energy and better sleep
With both cats, we noticed increased energy and more relaxed sleeping. Creating mealtimes with healthy meats has helped create a schedule. Cats love schedules! Dahlia is super playful and very excited for food. But when she sleeps, she's started to become more relaxed. At first, Dahlia didn't understand "mealtimes". She would eat part of her food and walk away. We trained her to accept mealtimes by eliminating any kibble left out and offering several smaller meals at first. This encouraged her to finish her food at mealtime. Once she realized there was no kibble to snack on during the day, she started finishing her meals in one sitting.
6. Hydrated fur and skin
Dahlia feels different. Her coat and skin actually physically feels different. Her paws pads are more hydrated. Her fur felt brittle before and now it is more flexible. Within a few more months I'm certain it will look even better. When we pet her, she's softer. There's a very specific glow to a fully hydrated cat that eats almost entirely meat. Hydration is important for health reasons as well. Cats are susceptible to a number of urinary issues, including crystals and blockages. Many cats suffer from kidney failure, allergies, diabetes and more. A high moisture diet is essential for helping to prevent these devastating issues. A water bowl and kibble (even if your cat drinks a lot of water) simply just isn't enough or ideal for long term health.
7. Clear eyes
Dahlia came to us with a constant, mild weepy eye. It was a bit crusty or goopy in the corner depending on the time of day. We were told it was likely the symptoms of the common virus known as FHV-1, feline herpes. Although not curable, we started treating with it L-lysine, an amino acid that inhibits the virus. Research using L-lysine is inconclusive as some see results and others do not. A strong immune system is the best defense. This applies to just about any illness. Our focus was building up her immune system by feeding a species appropriate raw diet, adding an immune boost supplement, a probiotic, L-lysine, coconut oil and most recently CBD. After 3 months of wiping Dahlia's eye, it has gotten better. It isn't perfect, but it's nowhere near as bad. We may scale back on the L-lysine at some point as I have read about potential adverse affects of longterm use. But for now, we'll keep doing what we're doing.
A high moisture raw diet is magical
Magical might be too strong of a word. Or maybe it's just the right word. To me, a raw diet has been magical for my cats. Many people rule out a raw diet because they assume it is too expensive. Yes, it's more expensive than than a cheap bag of kibble, but some fresh foods are better than none. Chicken hearts and gizzards are cheap, adding extra water to canned food is almost free. Disease and allergy prevention with a cleaner diet saves money at the vet.
When Dahlia came to us, she was dry, flakey, shedding, glassy eyed and dull. Now she's shiny, hydrated, A LOT less flakey, shedding A LOT less and overall more vibrant. I can't wait to see where she'll be in a year!