Beginner's Luck: Where Do I Start?

Beginner's Luck: Where Do I Start?

Congratulations on taking the first step towards feeding your cat a healthier diet. Just making the decision to change what you feed your cat can be the hardest part. For many people, realizing that a cat should be fed a diet closer to what it evolved eating is a complete shift in thinking. Frankly, it's empowering to take control of what goes into your cat. It's also a bit of a relief. No more mystery ingredients. No more worrying about what "by-products" really means. You now get to skip an entire aisle at the grocery store, well, except maybe to get the kitty litter. You'll join the ever-growing cadre of cat parents who can't believe they ever fed their cats any other way.
But, now that you've made the decision, what next? A lot depends on where you, and your cats, are starting from. It will mean changing some habits, but it is worth it, not only for your own peace of mind, but also for the improvements – which are sometimes dramatic - you will see in your cats. Here are the basics of what you need to do to get started.
Beginners, take special note of the links in this article. These will take you to helpful Feline Nutrition articles or videos that will go into more detail on each subject.
Do Your Homework
You may have already done this, but we need to emphasize it. Get the basics on what goes into feeding a balanced raw meat diet. There are many ways to do it right, but there are also ways to do it wrong. There are basically two approaches: commercially prepared frozen complete diets and homemade diets. But, they are not mutually exclusive; most people end up feeding a combination. Commercially prepared diets are easy, just thaw and serve, and there are many brands to choose from. If you are making a homemade ground diet, make sure you have the ingredients you need, you can't just omit things from the recipe. You can also get ground meat/bone/organ mixes that you simply add the supplements to, if you don't want to grind your own. It is often easier to add the supplements in the form of a premix such as Alnutrin or Feline's Pride Raw Made Easy Kits, rather than individually.
Making your own raw cat food may seem daunting, but we recommend trying it. It's a lot easier than you might think and it will give you a good idea of what goes into a raw diet. Most commercially prepared raw diets are made in a very similar way to what you would do at home, so making your own is educational. Also, cats will sometimes prefer a freshly made food, so it may help with transitioning.
Assess Your Cats
Before you start on a new diet, it's a good idea to get an accurate weight on each of your cats. You need to know if they are gaining or losing weight on the new diet. That can be hard to tell just by looking, especially if your cat is extra fluffy. It's also a good idea to keep notes, not only on their weight, but also on how the transition goes, especially if you have multiple cats.
Another important item: if your cat has medical issues, see your vet before starting a new diet. Changes in diet can have an impact on cats with medical problems. Often these will be positive impacts, but they can be negative, so it's a good idea to work with your vet if your cat is ill. For example, in diabetic cats, a change to a raw meat diet can have an immediate and dramatic effect on the cat's blood sugar. Dosing with insulin without checking the glucose levels could result in giving way too much insulin. Don't be afraid of getting a second opinion if your vet is not versed in nutrition.
Another part of assessing your cats' situation is what they are currently eating. You need to eliminate all dry food from their diet and stop free feeding. Cats should not be grazing all day. If your cats eat dry and canned food, then stop feeding the dry and go to an all canned diet. If they only eat dry food, you will need to get them onto wet food and used to regular mealtimes. You should feed your cats from two to four times a day, depending really on what works best for you. Keep in mind this is for adult cats. For kittens and young cats – those less than one year old – you will need to feed more often. They are growing and require much more food per pound of body weight than an adult cat that is just maintaining.
Figure Out the Logistics
This is a step that isn't hard, but one that people often overlook. You need to determine where you will feed your cats. You will be feeding raw meat, so you need to consider keeping their feeding place away from human food preparation areas. In other words, on the kitchen counter may not be the best place. Find a place that is easy to clean and quiet. Not a high traffic area. Some people will get a set of towels to use in the feeding area. The plates or bowls can be placed on it and then it can be removed after they are finished and thrown in the wash. Quick and easy.
You need to feed on stainless steel, glass or ceramic plates or bowls. Don't use plastic as these can get scratches that can harbor bacteria. You can also use paper plates that you just throw away after use.
Freezer space. You'll need some. Especially if you make homemade food or you are feeding more than two or three cats.
Get the Raw Food
Try to get a few different kinds of raw meat diets and a few different meats. Your cat may like one kind and not another, so when you are just starting it's important to be able to offer different kinds. Plus, you don't want your cat to get used to just one food as variety in the diet is important. You can purchase commercially prepared frozen diets, make some homemade and also get some whole meats to try. If your cat will only accept one kind, it's okay to feed that until you can expand the diet to include other meat types. The idea is to get transitioned to the raw diet; variety can be added after that is accomplished. What types of meat are available will depend on your location, but cats are pretty adaptable, they can eat a wide variety of different meats. From chicken to wallaby, there are lots of choices.
Taking the Big Step
Transitioning your cat to a raw meat diet is the next step. How easy this will be depends on your cat. Some cats will eat a raw meat diet as soon as it is presented, especially younger cats and cats used to canned food. Other cats will take some coaxing to transition. Don't get discouraged if your cat won't eat it at first. This is a big step for them and you need to be patient.
Most people start with a ground diet. The consistency is similar to canned food, so in that respect it is more familiar for a cat who is reluctant. It is also more familiar for the humans. We understand that feeding whole meat chunks or meat cuts with bones may take a little getting used to for the humans too. You can, and should, introduce these at some point. But, it's not necessary at the transitioning stage. Go ahead and feed some though if your cat readily accepts them.
There are many ways to transition your cat. You may need to try more than one. Remember that this is a big change for your cat. Raw meats have only a subtle smell – if they do smell, you probably shouldn't be feeding it – so cats used to highly aromatic dry or canned foods might not recognize it as food at first. Many people will make use of bribe foods to get their cats to try this new food. Do whatever technique works for you and your cats. Above all, be patient and persistent!
Reaping the Rewards
There are lots of benefits of feeding a diet that is close to what your cats evolved to eat. One of the first changes you will see will be in the litterbox. Cats fed a raw meat diet eliminate less frequently and with less volume. The stools will be much drier, this is normal. But, the best part of this is that the poop will not smell. This is also completely normal. Soft, smelly poop is actually a sign that your cat is not eating the right kind of food. If you have multiple cats, this benefit alone can make a big difference in your household.
After a week or two, you will also notice a change in your cat's coat. Their fur will get very soft and silky. It's not only the fur that improves, but the skin as well. Flaking is reduced and shedding is lessened.
You will notice a change in energy levels. Cats fed a healthy diet just have more energy, so schedule in extra play time. Ideally, an energetic play session should precede feeding time. This would mimic a cat's natural behavior of stalking, catching prey and then eating, so it is good psychologically.
After you have successfully switched your cats to a better diet and seen the results, you will likely want to tell everyone. Frankly, that is how many people first hear about raw meat diets – their friend tells them about it. There is nothing better than hearing real world experiences to get people thinking the right way. We encourage you to help spread the message about what cats should be eating.
Margaret Gates is the founder of the Feline Nutrition Foundation.
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