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Tips for Transitioning Your Finicky Kitties

Updated: Saturday, June 01, 2019 02:37 PM
Published: Saturday, September 25, 2010 01:03 PM
Written by Margaret Gates

I have two indoor six-year-old cats. I have had problems with finding foods they love to eat as they are finicky eaters. I have been reading about raw diets and thought I would like to try and switch them. Right now they are eating Purina hairball formula dry food. I know it's probably not the best, but it's one they would eat without much vomiting. They are also used to free-feeding, and I have just realized that was also not a good idea. What would be the best way to switch them over to a raw cat food diet? Should I still offer the dry food and supplement with a good canned food adding small amounts of raw? I am so confused. Any help would be appreciated.

The best way to transition your cats will depend mostly upon them. Some cats will eat raw food right away, while others can be quite unwilling to eat anything other than what they are used to. You didn't mention whether they were already eating any sort of canned food. This may make a difference in their initial acceptance of raw food for cats.

The first step is to establish mealtimes and stop free-feeding. Put their food out two or three times a day for 20 to 30 minutes, and then take it up. Yes, they will be hungry when dinnertime comes, but that is a good thing. A healthy adult cat can easily go 12 hours between meals. It is only growing kittens or cats that are ailing that need to be fed more frequently.

If your cats won't eat canned food readily, then you'll need to work on getting them used to the canned before you completely eliminate the dry. It is best to get a grain-free canned food. One of the major reasons to stop feeding dry foods is to get them away from eating a carbohydrate-laden diet.

Start by offering them the canned at their mealtime. Being a little hungry – they will have gone 8 to 12 hours without eating at this point – will make it much more likely that they will eat. If they still refuse to eat, try crumbling a little of the dry on top. If they eat the kibble off, they will be getting a bit of the canned, too, and this will get them used to the taste. You can try offering bribes as toppings to entice them: Parmesan cheese, bonito flakes or the juice from water-packed canned tuna. Try different flavors of canned to see if there are ones your cats prefer. Hunger will help convince them that the canned is worth trying, but don't let them go longer than 24 hours without eating something. Cats that go too long without eating could develop hepatic lipidosis, which can be life threatening.¹ The goal is to get them used to two or three canned meals a day, with no dry available.

Once your cats are happily eating their canned food at regular mealtimes, it's on to the next step. There are many nutritionally complete, frozen raw foods for cats at pet stores or online. This is an easy place to start. As a test, thaw some of the raw cat food in the refrigerator and then place a few ounces of it in a Ziploc-type bag. Place the bag in a bowl of warm water for five minutes to warm it up a bit. Do not use a microwave to warm or thaw it, as this will cook it. Serve the warmed food at one of your cats' usual mealtimes…and see what happens. Some cats will dive right in and devour it. If that happens, you can switch them over to raw cat food immediately. If they won't eat, you will need to transition them over to it.

There are a variety of ways to transition from a canned diet to raw food for cats. You may have to try more than one. The important thing to have is patience. This can be a challenge for your cats, and you don't want to make mealtime stressful. Take it slowly if necessary. Transitioning cats to a raw food diet can take anywhere from five seconds for some, to months for others.

Here are some of the methods and tips for transitioning:

Mix a little of the raw into the canned. Start small, around a quarter teaspoon per meal. If this gets eaten, continue with this amount for 3 or 4 days and then increase it to a half teaspoon. Slowly increase the proportion of the raw cat food. Plan on getting them to eating 100% raw food over the course of 6 to 8 weeks.

Put a little spoonful of the raw food next to the canned food on their plate or dish. They probably won't eat it at first. But if it is there every time they eat, they will eventually begin to associate the smell with mealtime. One day, they will probably surprise you and casually gobble it down.

Use a bribe topping with the raw food. Not dry food – you got rid of all that – but other enticing foods such as Parmesan cheese or bonito flakes.

Be sure to try different meats. Cats who hate chicken might love rabbit or turkey.

Some cats that won't eat commercial ground meals at first can be enticed into eating raw food by being given small cuts of plain meat. Try various kinds to see what your cats might like. Raw chicken liver, heart, gizzards or breast, turkey, pork loin, beef, rabbit and venison are all meats that might appeal to kitties. Try small, cut-up pieces at first until they develop some jaw strength to eat larger pieces that require some gnawing. Avoid ground meats from the supermarket though, as there is a greater risk of pathogens in meats that are not frozen immediately after grinding. Keep in mind that for the long term, meat alone is not nutritionally complete. As obligate carnivores, cats need a combination of meat, bone, organs and usually some supplements to get a balanced diet.

Cats often prefer to eat their meals from plates rather than bowls. Because plastic can be scratched and therefore harbor bacteria, it is better to use glass, stainless steel or ceramic plates. Another alternative is to use paper plates and discard them after each meal.

If it looks like your cats will require a longer transition, keep notes on the process. This can help you keep track of who likes what and how things are progressing.

Please also read "How to Transition to a Raw Cat Food Diet" for more on this, and the very best of luck with your transition! You've made the right decision.

Note: Feline Nutrition provides feline health and nutrition information as a public service. Diagnosis and treatment of specific conditions should always be in consultation with your own veterinarian. Feline Nutrition disclaims all warranties and liability related to the veterinary advice and information provided on this site.

Margaret Gates is the founder of the Feline Nutrition Foundation.

1. Philip Roudebush, Deborah J. Davenport and Donna S. Dimski, "Hepatobiliary Disease," Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 4th ed. Walsworth Publishing Company, 2000, 822-823.