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How Do I Transition My Cat From Kibble to a Wet or Raw Diet?

How to transition your cat from kibble to a wet or raw diet

Aylen transitioned from kibble to a raw diet overnight

Should you transition your cat from kibble to a raw diet?

What we feed our cats has a huge impact on their long-term health:  kibble diets can cause disease and raw diets can prevent and even cure disease.  I spoke to a friend this week whose cat has developed bladder stones, and the only food he will eat is kibble.  He even turns his nose up to butter and refuses to eat home-cooked food, too!  To make matters worse the prescription diet cat food he eats only feeds his addiction to grains and has no moisture in it.  Cats who develop bladder and urinary tract issues are typically males who eat a dry kibble diet.  It’s like throwing gasoline onto a fire.  It opened the conversation about how to convince her kibble craving cat to eat wet or raw food in order to get rid of the bladder stones.  Is it even worth the effort to make the transition from kibble to a raw diet? 

Is your cat a carb addict?

Most cat parents instinctively know that eating a healthy diet is crucial, but convincing our carb, fat, and salt addicted kitty is not an easy undertaking!  Pet food companies study cats’ tastes and preferences and manufacture food around these results.  Therefore, it’s not your imagination that your cat is a carbohydrate addict; their processed food is full of corn, corn products, wheat, gluten, rice products, and potatoes!  It also has high amounts of fats, salt, and flavor additives (chemicals) that are used to enhance the food even more so that your cat finds it irresistible.  Sound familiar?  Why do you think chips, cookies, crackers, and other “junk” foods are so addictive for people?

Mealtimes in our home

Not all of my cats are eating 100% raw all the time.  The younger three, Rocket, Gunner, and Aylen, transitioned to raw and freeze dried very easily, and I consider myself lucky.  The twins, Rocket and Gunner, ate kibble for the first five years of their lives.  We got Aylen when she was eleven weeks old, and even though we were sent home with some kibble she had been eating, I threw it in the trash and immediately introduced her to raw and human grade canned cat food.  She took to it immediately.
 
Lili has chronic kidney disease, and her kidney function is down to around 25-30%.  In her case because raw foods are so high in phosphorus, she eats a combination of premium and human grade canned cat food with some sprinkles of freeze dried cat food on top.  She also has to have a special supplement in her food that helps to bind the phosphorus so her kidneys have an easier time processing it. 
 
Hershey is complicated.  Depending on the flavor of raw, sometimes he will eat some blended in to his canned food, sometimes he will eat some freeze-dried food that’s been re-hydrated, and sometimes he just wants canned.  It’s usually a combination of these.  Regardless what’s on the menu he insists on having the freeze dried food sprinkled on top.  Hey, we all have our quirks!

A species appropriate diet transition can take time

Cats are carnivores and need a diet of high quality meat, organs and bones.  The best species appropriate diet for a cat would resemble what they would eat in the wild.  Keep in mind there are no kibble stores out in the wilderness!  Dr. Karen Becker, DVM, has put together some great tips and advice on how to transition your cat’s diet to something more species and biologically appropriate.  As I told my friend above regarding her cat, it will take LOTS of patience, determination, and consistency to transition him to healthier food.  And it could take months, even a year, to make the switch, so pack your patience!  However daunting that may sound, know that the end result–your cat’s improved health and longevity–is worth it!

Here’s how you can transition your cat from kibble to wet food:

  • Stop free-feeding!  Pick up the food bowls of dry kibble, and set up specific meal times.  Decide if you want to feed 2 or 3 meals per day and divide up the portions you previously fed.   Your kitty will be hungrier at meal times, and this will ensure she eats on the new schedule.  This can take 1-3 weeks. 
  • Once you’ve set up a mealtime schedule start substituting one of the 3 meals of kibble with wet food.  If you’re feeding only twice a day try mixing in a small portion of wet food into the kibble or at least putting a small bit of wet in the same bowl with the kibble, unmixed.  Eventually your kitty will associate this “new” food with mealtimes.  Once your cat starts eating the wet portion slowly increase the amount of wet food and reduce the amount of kibble.  Do this for a few weeks.
  • The next step is to substitute 2 out of the 3 meals with wet food.  If you’re feeding 2 meals a day replace 1 meal entirely with wet food.  Do this for a few weeks.
  • Finally, replace all the kibble meals with wet food.

The next step is to transition from canned food to raw food:

  • Start by adding a tiny spoonful of raw or re-hydrated free-dried food and mixing it well into the canned food.  You can also blend the freeze-dried food into the wet food without re-hydrating it.  Do this for a week or more.
  • Start increasing the amount of raw and decreasing the amount of wet food.  Go slowly!  It can take some cats a long time to change their palette. 
  • You can also sprinkle the freeze-dried food on top of the wet food as a topper and give freeze-dried food as treats to help your cat grow accustomed to this new food with a positive association.
  • Once your cat develops a taste for raw food you can try introducing items like raw chicken necks and raw quail cut into large or small portions.  Chewing on larger pieces forces the cat to move the food to their back teeth, and this helps to reduce the tartar and plaque. 

It may require a lot of tough love, but stay at it!  By going slowly you can ensure that your cat is getting the proper amount of food and is adjusting to the new tastes and textures.  If your cat stops eating in protest you may have to take a step back.   A potentially fatal condition called hepatic lipidosis can result when a cat stops eating.  No matter how difficult the road, keep the end goal in mind:  a healthier diet makes a healthier cat!

Here’s Rocket in action enjoying some raw quail!

 

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