TRANSITIONING YOUR CAT TO A FRESH, RAW DIET
Hi, there! If you're wondering how to get your cat off kibble or canned food and onto a cleaner, less processed diet, you are in the right place! Whether you're already in the process of transitioning or still thinking about it, read on.
UNDERSTANDING AN IDEAL FELINE DIET
There isn't one perfect way to feed your cat. But, cats are obligate carnivores and need animal protein and hydration, so keep that in mind when assessing your cat's current diet. I always recommend starting with pre-made raw food for cats. Make sure it says something like "complete nutrition". This will ensure the fresh food you're giving your cat is a complete meal, containing all the proper nutrients. Visit Mikita's Tips & Favorites to check out the food brands we've used and like.
Educate yourself on how to properly feed raw. Fresh foods often cost more than processed foods, but you might be surprised how comparable in price some of the raw foods are to certain canned brands. Transitioning to a raw diet does require some creativity and patience, but it's really rewarding to see the healthy changes that happen.
Cat Nutrition Resources
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 cats are 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. Try giving them one of those meat tubes! Sneak in a little canned. 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 than from kibble. 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 daily. But since the ingredients are such high quality, I think it's great for transitioning and 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. Mixing raw and kibble shouldn't be done forever. Just in the beginning, as your cat gets used to the new food.
PUT IT ON THE SIDE: Another option is to put a little dehydrated Honest Kitchen or raw food like 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.
HIDE IT: Put a small spoonful of raw in a bowl and cover it completely with their favorite canned. They are more often willing to try it if they go in thinking it's their familiar food.
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 as they pick out the treats. This 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 a tasty fast-food option nearby. 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. Try feeding in another room, where you give them treats. 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 kibble with dehydrated food or raw did not cause stomach upset. But, for some, transitioning from processed kibble or canned, to dehydrated, then to raw can be less intimidating than going straight to raw. The point is, you have options.
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. If you're moving slow, it's hard to go wrong. Celebrate the small steps and don't give up!
HOMEMADE DIETS: Mikita and Dahlia eat mostly a raw prepared diet that we purchase. We plan to transition them 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, venison, appropriately sized raw meaty bones etc. 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 increase 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 and fight infection. 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.
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 and snacks are very cost effective.
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 an additional 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. Start with more frequent, smaller meals if necessary.
A HUNGER STRIKE IN NOT OK: When changing foods, fasting isn't 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 small snack until you make another attempt with the new food.
GETTING IN THE RIGHT MINDSET
GET TO KNOW YOUR FOOD OPTIONS: A homemade raw balanced diet has it's benefits, but it definitely requires a reputable recipe and some guidance to ensure proper balance. Pre-made raw cat food is easy, healthy and can typically be purchased online or at a boutique pet supply shop in the freezer section. A cat with a compromised immune system may or may not do well on a raw diet but might be suited for a human grade dehydrated or cooked diet. Diabetes, obesity, kidney issues and many other diseases is reason to discuss any diet changes with your vet. Consider working with holistic veterinarian to determine your best option.
ALWAYS AIM FOR VARIETY: Do not feed your cat the same thing every single day year after year. This may be how some allergies and other digestive issues develop. It is important to feed a variety of proteins with different ingredients. This keeps their body running clean. A rotation of 3-6 proteins is great! When first transitioning, don't worry about variety as much. The main goal is getting them on a better quality food first, then incorporate variety.
CATS DON'T NEED CARBOHYDRATES: Grain free doesn't mean carb free. Keep that in mind. Peas and lentils are carbohydrates often used in grain free foods to pump up the protein content. Cats have no need for carbs; grains or non-grains. Carbs are difficult to digest, as cats lack the appropriate enzymes to make carbohydrates an effective form of 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, making 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 buds 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 pre-made 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 added 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. This is terrible for the bladder, kidneys and overall vitality.
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
Put a small amount of raw, like Darwin's, in a bowl. Then cover it with a canned food they like. Or, drizzle 1/2 tsp of a dehydrated food like Honest Kitchen onto their current food. Another option is to put a small amount of the new food on the side and let them sniff it.
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 few days, 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!
Frozen raw, balanced food is the least processed and healthiest. Dehydrated and freeze dried foods are also an option. You may need to try a few foods and approaches. Some cats will instantly eat 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!