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Beginner's Luck: Where Do I Start?

Updated: Sunday, June 02, 2019 02:35 PM
Published: Saturday, July 12, 2014 03:32 PM
Written by Margaret Gates

Congratulations on taking the first step toward feeding your cat a healthier diet. Just making the decision to change to raw cat food can be the hardest part. For many people, realizing your obligate carnivore should be fed a diet closer to what it evolved to eat is a complete shift in thinking about cat nutrition. 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 some more kitty litter. You'll join the ever-growing cadre of cat parents who can't believe they ever fed anything other than nutritionally-balanced raw food for cats.

But, now that you've made the decision, what next? A lot depends on where you and your cat are starting from. It will mean changing some habits, but it's worth it, not only for your own peace of mind, but also for the improvements – which are sometimes dramatic – you will see in your kitties. Here are the basics of what you need to do to get started.

Beginners, take special note of the links in this article. They take you to helpful Feline Nutrition articles or videos that 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 balanced raw food for cats. 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 meals or homemade. But, they are not mutually exclusive; most people end up feeding a combination. Commercially-prepared meals are easy, just thaw and serve. There are many brands to choose from. If you're making homemade ground food, be sure you have the ingredients you need. You can't just omit things from the carefully-crafted recipe. You also can get ground meat/bone/organ mixes that you simply add the supplements to, if you don't want to grind your own. It's often easier to add the supplements in the form of a premix such as Alnutrin, Better in the Raw or TCFeline, rather than individually.

Making your own raw cat food may seem daunting, but we recommend giving it a try. It's a lot easier than you might think and will give you a good idea of what goes into natural raw food for cats. Most commercially-prepared raw meals are made in a way similar to what you would do at home, so following a recipe is educational. Also, your kitties will sometimes prefer freshly-made food, so it may help with transitioning.

Assess Your Cats

Before you start changing the food they eat, 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, you must see the vet before changing its food. 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 natural 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 to get a second opinion if your vet is not well-versed in cat 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'll need to get them on wet food and used to regular mealtimes. You should feed your cats from two to four times a day, depending 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 food meals, so you need to keep their feeding place away from human food preparation areas. In other words, the kitchen counter shouldn't be used. 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 them. After kitties are finished, throw it all 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 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 Cat Food

Try to get a few different kinds of raw meals and different meats. Your cat may like one kind and not another. When you're just starting out 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 meals, make some homemade and 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 food; 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 meats, from chicken to wallaby. There are lots of choices.

Taking the Big Step

Transitioning your kitty to raw cat food 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's 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 their cats with a ground diet. The consistency is similar to canned food, so in that respect it's more familiar for a cat who is reluctant. It's 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. Use whatever technique works for you and your cats. Above all, be patient and persistent!

Reaping the Rewards

There are lots of benefits to feeding a diet that's close to what your cats evolved to eat. One of the first changes you'll see will be in the litterbox. Cats fed raw food eliminate less frequently and with less volume. The stools will be much drier. This is normal. But, the best part is that the poop will not smell much at all. 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'll also notice a change in your cat's coat. The 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'll notice a change in energy levels. Cats fed a healthy natural diet have more energy, so schedule 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's good psychologically.

After you've successfully switched to raw food for cats and seen the results, you'll likely want to tell everyone. Frankly, that's how many people first hear about raw cat food – their friend tells them about it. There's nothing better than hearing real world experiences to get people thinking the right way. We encourage you to help spread the message about a change to a natural raw diet for cats.

Margaret Gates is the founder of the Feline Nutrition Foundation.