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How to Win the Healthy Food Battle with Your Fussy Feline – Part 2

Last week, Dr. Karen Becker explained how to switch your cat from dry to canned food. In the second half of this two-part series, Dr. Becker describes the step-by-step process for moving your finicky feline from canned food to an optimally healthy raw food diet.
Dr. Becker's Comments:

If you watched the first video in this series and began following the steps outlined in the accompanying article, you should be well on your way to converting your kitty to a nutritionally sound diet.

In part one, I mentioned there are actually two methods for moving your kitty from dry food to canned. If you’ll recall, method one involved dividing your cat’s daily portion of dry food into three equal servings, and then very gradually replacing each serving – one at a time – with canned food until you’re feeding three servings a day of canned food only.

The second method begins as a variation on the all-day-buffet, but substitutes canned food for dry.

Another Option for Moving from Dry to Canned Food

  • Method Number 2: Divide your cat’s daily dry food allowance into two equal portions and serve one around breakfast time and one at dinner. At the same time, put down a bowl of canned food and leave it.

    If your kitty is used to nibbling on her dry food throughout the day, when she runs out of kibble from either her morning or evening serving, eventually she’ll begin sampling the bowl of canned food that is always there for her.

    As you notice your cat eating more of the canned food, you’ll need to lighten the two portions of dry food according to your kitty’s individual calorie requirements. To determine how many calories your cat needs, you can ask your veterinarian or other knowledgeable person for guidance, or if you want to figure it out yourself, you can view my video and pet food calorie calculator.

    Taking as much time as needed in days, weeks or even months -- and it will vary according to the kitty -- you’ll eventually make the full transition by reducing the amount of dry food according to how much canned food she’s eating each day.

    If your cat is too heavy, this transition period from dry to canned is also a good time to reduce her daily caloric intake to the amount of food she needs to reach and maintain her ideal weight.

    Once the switch to canned food is complete, the all-day-buffet will disappear on its own simply because cats tend to graze on dry food (especially if you’re constantly refilling the bowl), but will gobble up the moister stuff.

    After several weeks to several months of a canned food only diet, you’ll be ready to make the switch to the ultimate goal – a nutritionally balanced, species-appropriate raw food diet. 

A Word About the Quality of Canned Cat Food

The quality of canned cat food is wildly variable. The brands sold at most grocery stores are made from rendered byproducts, and are usually loaded with additives, preservatives and flavor enhancers designed to get your kitty hooked on a particular food.

Human-grade cat food – and it should say it’s made from human grade or human quality meats right on the label – is far superior to rendered canned cat food. Many kitties will reject human-grade canned cat food because they’re addicted to the other stuff. Rendered protein contains waste animal tissue and other byproducts. Unfortunately, a human-grade can of cat food can cost double or even triple the price of a lesser quality food.

If your goal is to transition your cat to human-grade canned food before you go to a raw diet, you may have to step him up, moving from dry to a lower grade canned, then another transition to the human-grade canned food, followed by the final move to raw.

If your kitty has been eating a dry food-only diet, human-grade canned food will likely be about as appealing to him as raw food. In other words, not at all.

The biggest step in the process is from dry to canned, so this is where you want to minimize the struggle as much as possible. Weaning your cat from his addiction to his favorite processed, high fat, sodium and carbohydrate laden kibble to a lesser quality, but flavor enhanced canned food should prove much easier than taking him from dry right to human-grade canned.

You can certainly try to skip the lower quality canned food step and go right to human-grade, but don’t be surprised if your fussy feline refuses to be tempted away from his kibble under any circumstances.

The Final Step – From Canned Food to a Raw Food Diet

Once your cat is consistently eating only canned food, and preferably human-grade canned food since it is both healthier and closer in consistency to raw food, most of the battle is behind you.

At this point, you can begin substituting 10 percent of the canned food for a commercially available raw food. Mix the raw in with the canned portion to encourage your cat to eat the entire serving. Stay at this 90 to 10 combination for several weeks or as long as it takes for your cat to consistently eat the raw along with the canned.

Once kitty is consuming all of the 10 percent raw food along with her canned food, move to 20 percent raw, 80 percent canned. Again, wait weeks or even months – however long it takes -- until she’s showing good consistency in eating the 80/20 mixture.

Continue to gradually step her up to 30 percent raw and 70 percent canned, then to 40:60, 50:50 and so forth until you’re feeding 100 percent commercially available raw food. Remember to transition slowly to insure your kitty is following your lead and more importantly, is getting the proper amount of daily calories.

Once you’re successfully feeding 100 percent commercial raw, you can move to a homemade feline diet if you wish.

What About a New Kitty in the Household?

Recently I rescued a feral cat, and while I have no idea what he was eating before I found him, I do know he was hunting his meals. As a result, I was able to feed him a homemade, raw food diet almost immediately.

As a general rule, feral cats haven’t had a chance to grow addicted to poor quality commercial cat food. So if you take in a feral cat, feeding him a nutritionally appropriate raw food diet right from the start – or starting a transition right from the start -- should prove much easier and less time consuming than trying to transition him later from poor to higher quality food.

And the same goes for kittens. If you bring a young cat home, I recommend you start the transition to a homemade and/or raw food diet right away, before he has a chance to get fully addicted to a grocery store brand that will be hard to wean him away from later on.

If you do bring any new kitty into your home, remember the first order of business is to make sure he gets the calories he requires. If he balks at your efforts to serve him healthy food, go ahead and start him on something that appeals to him – even a dry or inexpensive canned food -- just to make sure he’s eating.

Once the new kitty is comfortable in your home and eating well, you can start the gradual transition to a more nutritionally appropriate diet.

Work with Your Cat’s Personality and Physiology to Achieve Success

From my experience with cat parents, the greatest frustration with dietary changes seems to be that the humans in the household are much more excited about the benefits of a homemade or raw food diet than their persnickety pussycats.

It’s true -- no amount of reasoning with your kitty about the health benefits of a raw food diet will convince him to give up his kibble addiction. That’s why you must go through one of the step-by-step processes I’ve outlined here and in part one, as tedious as it seems, in order to successfully convert your unwilling feline to a nutritionally sound diet.

So to review …

In order to switch your cat to a homemade and/or raw food diet:

  • Have patience. Lots of it. This may come down to a test of wills between you and your cat. Your consistency and patience will win in the end.
  • Refuse to get frustrated or angry, and refuse to throw in the towel. You’re doing the right thing for the health and long life of your kitty, so hang in there!
  • Prepare for the long haul. It may take you a year to accomplish your goal. You may need to sit at a 10/90 combination of raw food to canned food for two or three months. If your cat refuses to eat when you try to step to the next level, you’ll have to draw back down and feed the ratio your kitty will eat.
  • If you bring a new kitty into your home that hasn’t been fed dry food, don’t start a bad habit! You’re already ahead of the game with this new feline member of the family, so build from there.
  • If you don’t know how many calories your cat should be eating or how to tell how much you’re feeding, work with your veterinarian to determine your kitty’s ideal weight and what that means in terms of the food you’re feeding.

Good luck!

+ Sources and References