Cats are obligate carnivores. This is a statement you may have heard once or twice at the Barkery. This means their diets should consist of almost entirely meat. In nature, cats don’t eat grains or carbs of any kind. Many grain-free foods are substituted with starches, which are just as bad but allow pet food companies to market as “grain-free.”
Our furry feline friends evolved from big desert cats which adjusted to staying hydrated from fresh meat of their prey rather than drinking water. Raw food is the best diet you can feed your cat, but many cat owners struggle to make the transition from dry food to raw.
Cats who have eaten nothing but dry foods are often a challenge to switch to fresh food. They are very opinionated and imprint on food at an early age. Cats who already eat other foods (real meat, fruits, vegetables, & cheese) will be much less of a project. It might take days, or even months, but it’s worth the effort! The most important thing to remember with cats is that you CANNOT use the tough love approach. Cats will starve themselves, and some severe conditions can occur if cats don’t eat for an extended period.
This article from Steve’s Real Food will explain best practices for transitioning your cat to raw.
The “Slow and Successful Method”
If you are feeding only dry kibble, introduce canned and reduce the dry. Have specific meal times rather than leaving the food out for them to eat whenever they want. If they are hungry, they are more willing to try something new.
Take some raw food and mix in the regular canned food you know your cat will eat. Test it on your kitty and increase the canned food until they are willing to eat it. Every time you feed, do this, and you will find you can gradually add more raw – though it may take several months. In the meantime offer bits of other kinds of fresh foods they like to eat – bacon, goat milk, salmon, etc. This slow method has proven to be the most successful for cats. However, if you have a cat that needs a little more work, consider the following tricks (in no particular order):
- Expect it to take awhile. Fully transitioning a cat can take anywhere from a week to a year.
- Stop leaving the kibble out to eat whenever they want. Have mealtimes, so they can start getting hungry enough to be willing to branch out.
- Leave raw (or canned as a transition step) out for them all the time to try, but only offer kibble during their specified meal times. If they want a snack, they have to try the raw or canned.
- Don’t just take away their kibble and play hardball, thinking that once they get hungry enough they will eat. Cats can starve themselves or go into shock that can turn fatal before they dare try something new, so this is not a good idea.
- Have one meal available as kibble and one as raw, to see if they will be hungry enough without it getting dangerous.
- Try different proteins to see if they like chicken over beef, etc.
- Take freeze-dried raw food and hide it around the house, or put it in places the cat is not usually allowed. Cats like to feel that they have pulled one over on you, and they like to hunt.
- Place the food in their usual feeding spot, or some other place they consider safe or theirs, like their bed or by their cat toys.
- Take a stopper and (kindly) force a bit of raw meat into their mouth. Sometimes cats will try it once you have jolted their taste buds.
- Tie a freeze-dried nugget to a cat toy and make them play with it. That gets them to put their mouth to it.
- Mix in a tiny crumbly bit of freeze-dried product in with their regular kibble – not enough that they’ll notice, but enough that they can’t work around it. Once they have started eating it as a nuisance, slowly increase and make sure they are still eating their food.
- Warm the food in a container with warm water. Cats like food to be at a warmer temperature, and it releases the smell.
- Use a flat food dish, or a bowl that takes the span of whiskers into account. Cats don’t like their whiskers touching the side of their bowl.
- Mix in raw freeze-dried with some goat milk and wet food, as little as the cat needs to still be interested in eating. Slowly decrease the amount of wet food. Often you can have a larger percentage of raw or freeze-dried if you place a small spoonful of unmixed wet food on the edge of the food, the cat will eat what they like and then just keep going in to the mixed food.
- Offer other types of fresh food and meats to help them recognize they don’t have to eat just kibble. Let them eat other foods off of your plate such as salmon, bacon, chicken, or creamy milk products – you could even try putting a nugget of raw on your plate to trick them into thinking they have pulled one over on you by stealing it.
- Re-hydrate the freeze-dried with something tasty like tuna juice, or beef or chicken broth.
- Put some raw food onto their paws. They hate having dirty paws, and will try to lick them clean, and you have successfully gotten them to taste a little and realize it’s yummy!
You will begin to see improvements right away as your cat begins to receive digestive enzymes and a species appropriate diet. Be patient, your efforts will pay off as you extend the life and vitality of your feline companions!