These instructions presume that you’re going to be transitioning a cat that has already been fed commercial food his/her whole life. Kittens recognize their natural food, so there’s usually no need to transition them at all. If they’ve eaten kibble the day before, simply start feeding raw meat the next day. Adult cats, on the other hand, can get very stuck in their ways, particularly older cats. When transitioning them to a home prepped raw diet, it’s best to make extremely small changes. Be aware that some cats take to raw food readily, so these gradual strategies may not be necessary. Kittens normally eat it the first time it is offered.
Please read this entire list before beginning. Be flexible, according to how your cat progresses. Each step can take from several days to several weeks, depending largely on the age of the cat.
Lay the groundwork
Start by decreasing the amount of food you feed. If you’ve been free-feeding, STOP! Next to commercial kibble, this is the worst feeding mistake cat owners can make. Start by feeding two small meals a day.
If you’re already in the routine of feeding meals and removing food that is not eaten, feed only ¼ to ½ of the cat’s normal amount for a few days leading up to the start of the transition. If your cat verbalizes his desire for more food, remember – you trained him to do this particular behavior, albeit inadvertently, and you can UN-train it, but it can be a noisy process. Never feed your cat while he is vocalizing. Instead, ignore him and wait till he is quiet, then feed him.
Strategies for slow change
- Start with the last thing the cat ate normally. If it was dry food, add warm water and let it soak so that it is fully moist.
- Then, try warming the food up slightly (a microwave can be used but it’s better to put the food in a plastic container and float it in hot water). This is to get the cat used to eating food at body temperature. This is quite a bit warmer than room temperature. Test like you would a baby’s bottle. Once cats get used to eating natural foods, they prefer them at body temperature, and this aids digestion as well.
- Next, try a better type of kibble than the cat is used to, repeating with the moisture and warmth if the cat will eat it. If not, try the new kibble dry. If it is rejected, try other brands. If you’ve already been feeding the best, grain-free kibble, go to the next step.
- After the cat adjusts to the new kibble, soaked and warm, start trying canned foods. If your cat is used to kibble, you may initially want to crush a couple pieces of kibble and put it on top of the new food. If the cat won’t eat it, feed the soaked, warmed kibble with only a very small amount of the canned food mixed in. Gradually increase the canned food over days or weeks, according to your cat’s pace.
- If you have trouble getting the cat to accept canned food, you’ll need to try all kinds. Start with the low quality brands you’ll find in supermarkets and go all the way up to the expensive grain-free canned foods in the pet health food stores. Move up slowly until you get the cat to eat the very best canned food available. If she’ll eat one of the healthier canned foods, you may want to try skipping ahead to the next step.
- The next food to try is the commercially prepared raw foods that are sold ground and frozen in the pet health food stores. If your cat will eat it, great. This will eventually allow you to replace the commercial stuff with cleaner foods you can prepare yourself. If the cat rejects it, there are some things you can try. It can sometimes cause digestive upset if raw and cooked foods are combined, since they digest at different rates. However, the risk is sometimes worthwhile if it allows your cat to get closer to a health-building diet. Add enough of the canned food to the raw to make the cat think he’s eating canned food. Over a period of days or weeks, as determined by your cat, gradually decrease the amount of canned food. If you notice any negative result from feeding raw and cooked together, do the next step instead.
- In order to get the cat completely off cooked food, it is sometimes necessary to slightly cook the new food. Just braise the outside surface of the food in a skillet. Always offer it with as little cooking as possible. But be ready to cook it more if the cat rejects it. It is also helpful to mince the food by chopping over and over with a cleaver. Cats also like their food juicy, so adding a little warm water will make it more appealing.
- The final step is to get the cat on a diet of 100% raw lean meats. The best foods for cats are meats that have consumable bones like game hens or quail. But it’s only necessary to feed these periodically, not daily. Alternatively, you can feed lean beef, buffalo, venison, chicken, turkey, rabbit and organ meats in moderation. You can feed all kinds of fish. Smelt is especially good because it’s whole. These kinds of foods are not only cheaper, they are much healthier than the commercial raw foods. For one thing, commercial producers generally do not get how difficult and taxing it is for a cat to digest fats. They purchase the cheapest cuts of meat they can find. They don’t trim any of the fat (where toxins are stored), and throw all of it into a big grinder. They are not required to disclose on the label the maximum percentage of fat that the product contains. Notice on the labels that it only states “minimum” fat content. This is due to outdated regulations from the days when producers were using non-meat fillers in order to get around the high cost of real meat. Now that meat is so cheap, primarily because of the tricks producers have learned to fatten up animals, those regulations are meaningless.
- NO MATTER WHAT KIND OF FOOD YOU FEED, BE SURE TO TRIM FAT! The fat on agricultural animals is a major departure from what cats evolved eating.
- When you first start with homemade raw foods, you may need to do the same thing with the new food that you did previously, like mixing and warming or cooking. However, it’s important to cook minimally since very high temperatures render bones and other parts of the food indigestible. NEVER completely cook bones! This causes them to become indigestible.
To cut or not to cut
If a cat has shown reluctance to eat new foods, it’s probably asking too much to expect them to eat foods whole. And new raw feeders usually don’t feel comfortable just plunking down a whole game hen leg or half a quail. However, if your cat is game, it’s much better for a cat’s dental health to eat whole foods. This way, they have to use their back cutting teeth to get it into bite sized pieces. If you’re transitioning a kitten, you may be able to feed whole. But not all cats will do this so it’s perfectly fine to cut the food up. You can use a cleaver (which works very well with quail or game hens) or poultry shears. KitchenAid is a good, reasonably priced brand.
Cats are pretty good at regulating their intake. You can start with 4 ounces per day for most cats. But watch your cat’s weight and see if he seems satisfied in order to determine how much to feed. Be aware if you allow your cat to roam that many people feed their cats outdoors. Eating kibble at the neighbor’s house can un-do all the good you’re doing by feeding raw. So best to feed kitty before he goes outside, talk to your neighbors or hang flyers to ask them to feed their animals indoors. You can always use the excuse that it attracts vermin. You can even hang a tag on your cat’s collar asking that people not feed her (I have done this!). Cats are strict carnivores and really require no plant matter at all. I recommend feeding whatever a cat shows interest in, as long as it comes directly from nature. My cat comes around when I’m eating melon or avocado, so I share with him, but he doesn’t eat enough to constitute a meal.
Every time you introduce something new, smear some on the cat’s nose or paws so he has to lick it off. This will often get them started.
If you notice your cat is not going to the bathroom, don’t worry. Not defecating is normal if the cat is not eating much. After s/he starts eating raw, you may notice increased urination and a decreased need to drink water. The new food has much more water in it. You will also see fewer poops. My cat typically only poops a couple times per week. This is normal.
If the cat normally likes catnip, you can put small amount of catnip on top of or near the food. Or you can mix it in.
In contrast to dogs, whose transitioning to a new diet should always begin with a fasting day or two, cats can sometimes have problems fasting. Especially if they are obese. When food is not coming in, the body starts breaking down fat for fuel. This can overwhelm the liver if it is already functioning at a less than optimal level. Cats are not set up to process much fat, even the stored fat which comes from their own bodies. This is probably erring on the cautious side because it probably only applies to older fat cats with compromised organs. But if a cat refuses the new food for more than a full 24 hours, go back to offering small amounts of whatever food the cat was eating regularly. Try transitioning again, using even smaller changes or smaller amounts of the new foods you’re introducing.
Usually, younger cats transition much quicker and easier than old cats. The exception is if an old cat has been used to hunting and eats what he catches.
Canned fish like tuna can be mixed in with new foods to tempt a cat into eating. BUT — be aware that it is very addictive for cats! It can be difficult to get them off it if you use it during transition.
The big picture
Feeding cats raw prevents and even reverses disease. YES! When you feed raw, you are effectively REMOVING the causes of existing disease. If you’d like to understand how and why, consider ordering the Rotational MonoFeeding ebook. It is mostly about dogs, but the information about disease in general and how commercial pet food causes it applies to ALL species. It contains information that is literally not available elsewhere. There are also several other blog articles here about cats, including information on kidney disease.