Free-fed kibble eaters are usually nibblers. For free-fed nibblers, you cannot just pull up the kibble, they need to learn how to eat “meals” as most free-fed cats will not eat enough if offered food only three to four times a day. When transitioning from free-feeding to meals, please see How to Transition Your Cat to Timed Meals.
Where to Start?!
Please make sure to read this guide in conjunction with our article on How To Slowly and Properly Introduce EZComplete fur Cats.
Cats cannot and should not be starved into eating a new food. ESPECIALLY with health-compromised cats, this transition must be done slowly. We repeat this frequently, as we all tend to get impatient if our cats do not like the new food we offer them quickly: either they’re not well, and we want them eating healthier food, or we spent a lot on the food and we want them to get the benefits from it as soon as possible! The problem? They’re cats! Keep reminding yourself: this is not a race. After all – homemade food, especially raw – is a very different experience for a cat. Kittens typically transition very easily. The younger, the quicker.
Adult cats can present more of a challenge. Some take to the new food like ducks to water. But many do not recognize this new food AS food! Why? There’s a very easy explanation.
How old is your cat? Three years? Five? Seven? Nine? Eleven?
At three years old, your cat is the equivalent of 28 human years.
At five, that human equivalent is 36 years old;
At seven years old, the human equivalent is 44;
At nine, it’s 52;
At 11, your kitty is the equivalent of 60 human years.
So if all you’d ever eaten for 20 to 60 or more years is dry cereal or canned stew, how would you feel about a salad when offered one for the first time? It looks funny! It has almost no smell, and yet even that smell is funny! The texture is wrong. The temperature is wrong. Yuck. Have you ever gone through a pizza binge – and then craved “real” food? Fruit, salad, fresh, homemade food?
If being introduced to fresh real food for the first time, after years of processed food saturated with fake flavoring (think the cheese sprayed onto Cheetos, the taco flavor sprayed on to Doritos, “sour cream and onion” flavored potato chips, or the “flavor blasted” gold fish), it’s only natural to expect it will take some time to accept a salad without a pile of dressing, cheese and bacon bits or whatever “toppings.” With time, you’ll likely come to LOVE salad. And you most likely know from your own experience that you’ll feel FAR better eating salad. You sleep better, your moods are more stable, you’re … happier! Many of our cats feel just like this about that weird stuff you’re offering them as “food.” Yet with time, they come to love it.
The goal is the long term health of our cat. So whether it takes two weeks, two months, 12 months or two years, take it at your cat’s pace. That said, the goal of this guide is to help transition them in a timely fashion.
The basic steps to encourage them are simple:
- Turn off your clock. There is simply no way to predict when a cat will go from “not liking” or being cautious about a new food to gobbling it up. YOUR patience is the most important ingredient in transition success or failure.
- Feed meals. Transition to timed meals and phase out free-feeding. With free access to food, kitty has no motivation to try the new food. Use hunger as a motivator (but ensure they eat their daily required calories). For switching to timed meals, please read our guide.
- Be consistent. If you are serious about transitioning your cat to raw or home cooked, offer just a little bit with every single meal you give your cat. If she won’t eat the food she normally eats with the SMALL BIT of new food mixed into the old food or in the same dish, put it next to the old food, or on a separate dish. But have it within smell and sight at EVERY meal.
- Use enticement toppers if they do not “like” the new food at first.
- Introduce new proteins properly. Treat each new protein as a new introduction. Introduce each new protein slowly. Once introduced, you can rotate at will. Our cats might have eaten the same kibble or canned food for years. With raw, they need the variety, so introduce at least three proteins, and switch it up!
- Go at your cat’s pace. Watch the litter box. If the new food or the amount of it as a proportion of the meals does not agree with your cat, back up a bit and slow down. Again – if you ate only dry cereal or canned stew for years, and then all of a sudden started eating only fresh fruit and salad, or switched very quickly, your body will most likely freak out. So take it slow, and don’t be surprised if there are a few problems along the way. It doesn’t mean the food isn’t good for your cat or doesn’t agree with your cat. It means you need to slow down.
How to Begin Introducing the New Food
Many cats are addicted to kibble. This is for one reason only: the flavor enhancements sprayed onto it. If it were not for these "palatability enhancers," cats would not eat kibble. Having eaten kibble, they are accustomed to the strong flavors. Even canned food has a potent smell, often due to the fat content and added flavorings. The foods kitty has been eating have strong smells, are room temperature, and are a different texture than you will now offer them in this new food. With that in mind, don’t just put the new food in a dish, set it down, and expect your cat to eat it. If she does? GREAT. But it is still important to transition slowly, giving her system time to adapt. If she doesn’t?
Experiment with texture (ground, minced, shredded, chunks);
Experiment with temperature: warming a food by putting a baggie of the new food in lukewarm water to heat it up can enhance the smell.
Experiment with smell: add your own “palatability enhancers.” To do this, simply use enticement toppers on the new food. We recommend freeze dried meat or liver treats. Some use Bonito Flakes. The Orijen Singles treats are a hit with many cats. Switch them up to help create new taste experiences for your cat while introducing each protein.
The transition options:
1) Use the current dry cat food, having already transitioned to at least some timed meals.
2) Transition to canned first, then homemade. Please note, one of our own kitties was a kibbles addict transitioned directly to raw, and us at Food Fur Life have subsequently helped many kitties transition directly from kibble to homemade. There often is no need to waste the time transitioning to canned food first. Eating timed meals, however, is a critical step in the process.
Transitioning directly from kibble
Put a small amount of the new food in the dish you will serve the kibble. Crush some kibble by smashing it in a baggie with a hammer, or crush it in the baggie with a rolling pin. Sprinkle “kibble powder” on top of the new food, then add kibble to the dish, next to the blob of new kibble-coated food rather than on top of it. Follow the “New Food Next-to-Old Food Method” instructions, below.
Transitioning from canned/Commercial Raw
1) Mix the new food into the canned or commercial raw food. Slowly increase the amount of new food and reduce the amount of old food (“Food Mixing Method”).
2) Put a bit of new food next to the canned or commercial raw food. Place it in the same dish if kitty will eat the canned/commercial raw food with the new food present. Place it on a separate dish next to the food they are eating if they won’t (“New Food Next-to-Old Food Method”).
Food Mixing Method. Add a very small amount (as in 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon) of raw to the canned/commercial raw. If your cat eats her canned food commercial raw like this, simply SLOWLY increase the amount of EZ Complete raw while decreasing the amount of canned/commercial raw. Specific instructions are in our file How To Slowly and Properly Introduce the new food made with EZcomplete. If kitty rejects the food with raw mixed into it, use method #2.
New Food Next-to-Old Food Method. Place a small dollop, about 1/8th to 1/4 of a teaspoon, of the new food in the same dish but next to the regular food. Cover it in an enticement topper. If kitty will not eat with the new food in the same dish, place it on a dish (covered in enticement topper) NEXT to the regular meal. Simply do this at every single meal you serve your cat. You can change the toppers, unless you are using a treat you KNOW your cat loves. Eventually your cat will get curious and taste a lick of the powdered treat, and accidentally get a little bit of the new food along with it. That’s all there is too it. Keep at it, she’ll eventually start eating it! Once she starts to eat the new food made with EZcomplete, then please follow the Slow Introduction instructions.
REMINDER: keep an eye on the litterbox. If there is any soft stool, mucous, or diarrhea, go back to the amount of new food vs old food you used two days ago. If kitty vomits, again, just back up a bit.
INTRODUCE ONE PROTEIN AT A TIME. Poultry is usually better (more easily) tolerated over red meats. Though pork is technically a red meat, pork loin is *usually* tolerated as well as poultry. Do not introduce a new protein until your cat is successfully eating each one, introduced one-by-one.
It is VERY important that your cat eat enough food during the transition. Starving cats into eating does not work and is dangerous. Cats are not metabolically designed to use fat stores, and their livers easily get overwhelmed with fat, causing a disease called Hepatic Lipidosis (fatty liver). The way to avoid this is to ensure your cat is eating enough calories during any transition. This is essential. THAT they eat is more important than WHAT they eat until they are reliably eating enough food at timed meals.
Help! My cat is now tossing hairballs! Please see our article How to Best Manage Hairballs.
How Much Does My Cat Need to Eat During the Transition?
According to Dr. Lisa Pierson at www.catinfo.org, she has never seen a cat develop fatty liver disease if consuming at least 15 calories per pound per day. This number is figured on lean body weight, not fat weight. So if your cat weighs 18 pounds but really should weigh 12 pounds, your cat needs to consume at least 180 calories per day. (12 pounds lean body mass X 15 calories/pound/day = 180 calories/day).
Of course, at Food Fur Life, we hope you ensure your cat is eating the full daily caloric need during the transition. You should not begin a weight loss program for your cat until you have determined the amount of food made with EZcomplete fur Cats maintains a stable weight. Any weight loss program should be undertaken with the knowledge and supervision of your vet.
The Role of Hunger in a Transition
While cats are metabolically designed to eat many small meals a day (think hunting mice or other small mammals), their GI systems perform best when they have periods when they are hungry. According to the Nutrition Research Council's Nutrient Requirement of Dogs and Cats (2006),
“Indigestible solids are retained in the stomach until digestion of other food components is completed. They do not exit the stomach until powerful, propulsive, gastric contractions in the fasting state take place.”
This means that in order to pass ingested hair, kitties need those hunger pangs. This isn't to say that all free-fed kibble kitties have problems with hairballs, nor does a switch to timed meals resolve hairball problems in all cats. This is only to assuage worried parent concerns about kitty being hungry. Those hunger pangs are good for them.
Obviously the point of a transition is to get kitty eating a healthier diet. So it’s a good idea to try to find a healthy topper your cat prefers to kibble or Whiskas or Temptations treats or whatever you’ve been using/giving. Many cats love:
Freeze dried chicken
Freeze dried liver (chicken, beef, lamb are the most common, though some cats do not manage red meats or red meat liver proteins well)
Freeze dried duck or chicken hearts
Freeze dried salmon
Freeze dried shrimp
Tuna water or sardine water can be drizzled on the food (not tuna or sardines in oil!)
…And though not the healthiest option in our opinion, the product Flortiflora by Purina is made primarily of animal digest, one of those “palatability enhancers” sprayed on kibble to make it so yummy to a cat. Fortiflora can make a great topper, especially for a kibble-addicted kitty. It’s easy to use a small amount by tearing off a corner and “fluffing” it over the food. This process may need to be repeated during the meal.
For any other questions or problems, you’ll find wonderful support from people with experience in the Facebook group Raw Pet or the group co-founded by the owners of Food Fur Life, Raw Feeding for IBD Cats.