How to Transition Your Cat to a Raw Diet
|Written by Margaret Gates|
|Friday, May 15, 2009 11:46 AM|
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Transitioning a cat to a raw diet is something that the majority of us will have to do until the time comes when people grab a kitten from its mother's teat and start raw feeding from the beginning! But in the meantime, it's a major issue in the raw feeding movement. This step-by-step approach, and patience, will work for nearly every cat.
Kittens need no transition; they take to raw food like ducks to water. Special kitten food is not necessary. They eat the same food as adult cats, just more of it and more often. Kittens need about twice as much food per ounce of body weight as an adult. All that growing to do! Their stomachs are small, so they need to eat more often than adults, about every 4 to 6 hours. If you're getting a kitten(s), start them off right with a raw diet, and you won't have to worry about transitioning them.
Kittens should also be introduced to raw meaty bones, so they learn to eat them when they are young. Most kittens will readily tackle a chicken wing if offered. If you already have an older cat that will eat raw meaty bones, be sure to let the kittens learn from their older housemate. The kittens will copy the behaviors of the adults around them.
Adolescent and Adult Cats
We'll look at this in three stages:
The key to any transition is patience. The transition can be fast or very slow. In my household, transitioning to raw took about 5 seconds for some of them to three whole months for another. I have read about cats that took a year to transition. However long it takes yours, stick with it, it's worth it.
The transitioning tips below use the slow, gradual method. It usually works. Usually. For some cats, nothing seems to work. Give these methods a try and don't give up too soon. I thought Kai would never switch. Gearing myself up for feeding him separately forever, I turned around one day, after three months, and found him with his face buried in a plate of raw rabbit! I don't usually advocate using hunger to help transition your cat, other than the normal mealtime hunger of 12 hours or so, but you can try it if your cat is particularly stubborn. If your cat is adult, healthy and not obese, you can wait her out longer if she refuses to eat either canned or the raw. I wouldn't go longer than 36 hours though. This has worked for some people. Be aware that any cat, especially an overweight cat, is at risk for hepatic lipidosis if they don't eat every day.
Whatever your cat eats at present, it's always worth a try to just offer her some raw. She may surprise you. See if she will eat some cut up raw chicken or turkey, or some raw chicken liver. If she does…well, this may be easy.
From Dry Food to Grain-Free Canned
Cats get addicted to dry food, so this may be the hardest step, especially if your cat doesn't also eat canned food.
For cats that will only eat dry food:
First, stop free feeding dry food. Your cat does not need to have food available at all times. Eating two or three meals a day is fine, as is going 12 hours between meals. You want your cat to associate food with a person — you — not a place.
Start bringing out their food at regular mealtimes. Cats will learn the new routine very quickly. Leave it out for 30 minutes, and then put it away. At first, you may have to have more than two mealtimes a day. Cut back to two or three per day after a week, once your cat gets used to the whole idea of mealtimes. Put out one bowl for each cat, in separate rooms if necessary, so each cat feels relaxed about her meal.
Your cats will get hungry, but that's good. Nothing enhances a meal more than having an appetite. Just make sure each cat does eat, every day.
Once they seem used to mealtimes and are coming to you for their meals, start offering canned food. Choose a quality, grain-free canned food. Avoid foods with fish, as these are overly strong flavors which cats can get addicted to — to the point of refusing other flavors. Fish is not an ideal food for cats and should be fed sparingly as an occasional treat only. Try putting their dry food on a flat plate with a little of the canned food on the side. If they won't eat the quality canned brand you chose, try a different brand of canned. Even a lesser quality type if needed, as the goal at this point is to get them eating canned at all. They may ignore it completely, but it will get them to start associating the smell with dinner. Give this a week or so.
If they still aren't interested, next try putting out a plate of canned food with some of their dry food on top, whole or crushed a little. Being a little hungry makes them more likely to try something new. They may just pick the dry food off — that's okay. They will be getting just a taste of the canned food with it. Keep at this, even if you end up throwing away the canned food. Try different canned foods; your cat may like one more than another. If it looks like your cat is nibbling at the canned a bit, try putting out just the canned next time and see what happens. Some cats can be tempted by the gravy in some canned foods, and lick all that off. That's a step forward for a confirmed dry food addict.