(Originally posted to SFRAW Yahoo Group on Jul 30, 2005; some links have been updated since the original post)
Most healthy cats will take to eating raw foods pretty easily. Almost all kittens and healthy, young cats will switch over to eating a raw diet without any problems at all; you can do so quickly without much of a transition and without any real strategy.
However, some cats are extraordinarily resistant to making a change in diet. These cats are highly addicted to kibble and many of them will even refuse wet/canned food. It may seem impossible to switch these cats over to a fresh foods diet, but we have done so over and over – even very sick or very old cats that have refused anything but their kibbled diet can be switched over to raw foods. This guide is for these cats. Do not lose hope – it absolutely can be done and here’s now…
Here’s Kasie’s kibble addict, “impossible to switch cats” switch over to real, whole foods diet protocol.
First, move from free-feeding to feeding 2-3 meals per day using the kibble they are currently addicted to eating.
Post-2007 Pet Food Recall Note: In recent years and months, many animals have experienced chronic and/or acute serious illnesses and even death from commercial foods and treats that are tainted by dangerous contaminants or toxins. If your cat is currently experiencing serious ailments, side-effects or symptoms from consuming their current diet, and they will not eat anything other than a kibbled food, you may need to initially switch them over to a somewhat safer – though no kibble brands can be ethically recommended by SFRAW for the long-term! – brand of kibble.
- Allow for your cat to consume as much as she wants to in 15-20 minutes for each meal.
- Take away all food in-between meals.
- Store kibble in an area where they cannot smell it (closed cupboard, sealed in a Tupperware bin, closet pantry, etc.)
- Do not leave food out for longer than 20 minutes at a time.
This is a big step alone – so do this, and then let it settle in for a while. Make sure your cat is happy and comfortable with this situation until you move on to the next step.
If at any time throughout the switching process your cat is begging for food in-between meals, allow for her to eat small snacks of cooked or raw fresh organic chicken bits, sautéed or pureed organic liver, cantaloupe balls, bone broth, raw egg yolks, scrambled eggs, or a little plain (unsweetened) yogurt as in-between meal treats. Choose a snack or two that your cat really likes. Do not feed canned tuna or other fish/seafood.
Next, you will want to s-l-o-w-l-y switch from kibble to a high quality canned food.
If your cat already prefers canned food over kibble, you may actually start at this step (or, if you were not feeding kibble anyway, or if kibble was easy for you to drop immediately since your cat did not eat much of it anyway/won’t miss it).
Continue to feed 2-3 meals per day. Use one the “better” canned foods – pick one that your cat will eat or seems to like best.
Note on canned foods: We have put every effort into to finding a processed canned cat food with good/safe/decent ingredients that people could use at this stage in the transition. Unfortunately, we simply cannot find a single canned cat food product that does not include problematic additives, dangerous vitamin/mineral packs, poor quality sourcing, or basic/main ingredients.
So, if you think your cat would genuinely enjoy, and eat with gusto, a non-balanced bridge/transition food before going to fully raw, we will suggest using very little canned cat food/as little as needed to keep the transition as stress-free and enjoyable as possible for your cat, or utilizing a canned, cooked, salt-free, additive-free organic chicken at this step, so long as you do not feed this exclusively, long-term.
We now carry the following two organic chicken bridge/transition foods that we feel comfortable selling and recommending for the transitional period to fully raw:
Remember: If you need to proceed slowly or your cat loves their wet/canned food, proceed as listed below continuing to use a canned/wet cat food they enjoy over a longer transition period. But because there are simply no canned/wet cat foods that we can comfortably recommend, even for just the transition, we now carry these “transitional” bribe foods at SFRAW, which can be used during this step for a month or so – but, please, not for much longer than this.
If you do end up needing to extend the use of the canned chicken product past a few weeks/month, please add taurine (1,000 mg/week) and a calcium supplement (1/2 tsp eggshell powder OR 1 tsp NOW Brand Bone Meal or 1 tsp Animal Essentials Seaweed Calcium or 1/2 TBS SFRAW Healthy Powder with Bone Meal – a fully vitamin/mineral supplement with added bone meal for balancing meals, per 16 oz of the canned chicken/boneless meats), at a bare minimum. These basic added nutrients are vitally important for long-term health, so are not to be skipped if/when you need to take a little longer with feeding the canned chicken product.
Note on Fish/Seafood: Select a canned food that does not have fish or seafood as an ingredient. Fish oil is okay, but no tuna, salmon, or other seafood should be listed on the ingredient list. Please read the labels – most cat foods add fish as an ingredient as a flavor enhancer, and the results include an addiction to foods with fish or seafood as an ingredient. It is also an especially dangerous ingredient for cats that have urinary issues such as FUS. The sooner you completely eliminate this ingredient from your cat’s diet, the easier it will be to switch them to healthy, raw, wholesome foods. It is usually a good idea to start eliminating this ingredient at the canned food phase.
- Add only 1-2 tsp. per meal of the canned (or bribe) food to the kibble meals.
- When increasing the amount of canned/bribe food for each meal, increase by only 1-2 teaspoons at a time each week or each day, depending on how well she accepts the new canned food.
- As you add more of the canned/bribe food, reduce the amount of kibble being offered, tsp.-by-tsp., so that the meals consist of less and less kibble and more and more canned/bribe food as time goes by.
Step Three – Start Adding Raw Meat
Once you get to the point where she is eating 2-3 meals a day of 100% canned/bribe food, then you can start adding small amounts of high quality, unenhanced, raw chopped/diced chicken breast, ground or minced bnls turkey, elk, venison or alpaca meat. Give her at least a week or two on the 100% canned/bribe food alone though, so the change to raw is not too abrupt.
THE NUMBER ONE, SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO REMEMBER…
At each step, give your cat more than enough time to adjust and acclimate to the change. This is a slow process for those that are truly kibble addicted! It’s better to go slow and be safe and successful, than to go too quickly and fail, or put your cat into a health crisis.
Please be aware of a potential dangerous health concern that can happen while switching foods:
“Fatty liver disease” (Feline Hepatic Lipidosis) is a serious health concern for any obese or overweight cat during any time of change or stress that results in anorexia. This can include changes in the household, illness or changes in their routine or diet – anything that results in an overweight cat suddenly not eating. Since a change in diet will cause your cat some stress, it is critical to go slowly and monitor her closely. Make sure your cat continues to eat regular meals – do not allow an overweight cat to fast. We recommend adding Rescue Remedy, Walnut and Crab Apple Flower Essences to your cat’s water throughout the switch. These flower essences will help them emotionally and physically in accepting new foods, and will help them in managing the stress of changes in their routine. You can also add these flower essences to the cat’s food, if they tolerate it well (obviously, if they turn their nose up to food with flower essences added, then don’t add it to their food!) Add 4 drops of each flower essence to the water bowl every day. We recommend providing only filtered drinking water for all animals for the best health.
Incorporating Raw: Tips
The best approach we have found in adding raw food to a finicky cat’s diet is to take about 1/4-1/2 pound of VERY fresh, plain raw ground meat (usually we use turkey), and make 1 tsp. sized “meatballs” out of it.
Updated suggested alternative proteins: We are lucky enough at SFRAW to enjoy a regular supply of some incredibly popular exotic meats that are now proven alternatives to just the plain ground turkey for making this switch to raw. You may want to consider starting your cat on one of the following proteins: plain ground elk, venison, or alpaca. These are all very well tolerated and most cats seem to absolutely love them. You may want to use one of these meats instead of the turkey, as described in the following steps below, especially if your cat is more interested in red meats or game, over poultry.
To make storing/feeding these little meatballs easier, we recommend placing 1 tsp. sized meatballs of the turkey onto parchment paper lined cookie sheets and place this into the freezer so they freeze as individual balls. Once the little turkey meatballs are frozen, toss them into a freezer bag for future use.
- Mix just one defrosted (defrost in the refrigerator, not the microwave, sink or counter) turkey meatball to the canned food per meal to start with.
- Mix the turkey ball into the canned food so that she can’t eat around the turkey meatball.
- Most cats (even the most anti-health food junk-food-junkies) will tolerate 1 tsp. of ground turkey mixed into a meal of 1/8 cup of canned food.
- If she eats more than a 1/8 cup per meal of canned food with the 1 ground turkey meatball in it before the 15-20 minutes feeding time is done, and she is begging for more – then you can offer a second helping.
- Allow for her to eat as much as she wants until the 20-minute feeding time is up.
Next, slowly increase the amount of raw turkey being fed – just one mini-meatball at a time. Follow the same method you used to switch the cat off of the kibble and onto canned food – tsp.-by-tsp. – adding more and more raw turkey and less and less of the canned food until you arrive at meals that are 100% ground raw turkey.
This process usually takes a month to six-weeks to get to the point where a cat is eating 100% ground raw turkey and no more canned food. However, we have known cats that took a lot longer (a few even took up to a year, but this is uncommon). So long as you move slowly and keep at it, it will happen! Don’t give up!
Next Steps: Building a Balanced Diet
Just feeding raw ground turkey is not safe for the long-term because it is not a balanced diet. You will need to add other critical elements to the diet in order to provide a safely balanced diet for your cat.
A balanced diet for cats will resemble their natural food: a whole mouse/rodent or bird. This means you need to feed a base of muscle meat and plenty of heart, 10% bone (or calcium equivalent), 5% liver. We also like to offer elements of whole prey such as feathers, fur or alternatives to these such as pureed pumpkin, psyllium or soaked oat bran. Organs such as brains, eyes, lungs, glands, etc. are parts that may be difficult to source if you are not buying whole prey but remember, cats are meant to eat all of these things so we need to “flesh” out the diet to include nutrients that would be found in these parts of the prey animal. You can keep working on the diet to make it more balanced or modify which raw foods your cat eats until you are eventually feeding whole prey for all or part of the diet. Cats will also eat insects, nibble on nutritive grasses and herbs, and even ingest small amounts of clays or soils. Although these foods make up a small percentage of the diet, it is something we do not overlook when looking at feline nutrition. If your indoor cat does not have free access to these things, you may want to get creative on how to provide these things for your indoor cat. Live insects (mealworms, butterworms, crickets, etc.) can be purchased from reptile food supply companies and you can grow kitty grass and herbs for your cat in a sunny window.
Once you have your cat eating 100% raw turkey meals, you should start to add a bit of bone meal or eggshell powder to the ground meat. This is an important first step because adequate calcium is so critical in the diet. You will need to add a ½ teaspoon of eggshell powder or 1 teaspoon of NOW brand bone meal powder per pound (16 oz.) of turkey meat.
Alternatively, you can choose to move to a ground whole animal (bone-in, organ and meat) product such as SFRAW’s Grinds or another whole animal (meat/bone/organ – nothing else added) ground raw product. These will constitute a balanced foundation diet, to replace the plain ground raw turkey. You can switch to this product from the raw turkey over the course of a week or so.
Once she’s good with that, start to offer fresh raw or sautéed liver, gizzards and heart. Liver and heart are not optional, they are necessary for vital nutrients cats need to survive, so you must add these in to the raw meat and required amount of dietary calcium (bone meal, ground bones or eggshell powder) at a minimum.
Optional: If your cat’s stools become difficult to produce or they experience constipation, you can add small amounts of psyllium, potato starch, or soaked oat bran for fiber. Don’t forget to mix in a little extra water to the meal if you add these things.
Alternatively, you can use a feline raw diet pre-mix product that includes adequate calcium and taurine, or use SFRAW’s Healthy Powder with Bone Meal + Now Brand taurine (we suggest adding 1,000 mg/week: as 1 or 2 doses per week).
Your goal should be to eventually build up to a full raw diet such as: RAWR or any of the SFRAW Grinds + supplemental taurine/regular feeding of fresh added heart, PLUS SFRAW Healthy Powder or SFRAW Seaweed Blend + Ghee or another nice beneficial high quality omega-rich food such as duck egg yolks, pasture-raised fats, etc.) or DIY meal plans. Learn what this means and how to do this at the following websites:
Incorporating components of a complete raw diet to the plain raw turkey should take no longer than 2-4 weeks.
Remember, please DO NOT feed just 100% plain turkey to your cat long-term! Muscle meat alone is not a complete diet for long-term use. It is only safe to feed this while you are actively switching to a complete raw diet.
Getting finicky cats to eventually accept chunks of meat, whole prey and raw meaty bones is “Raw Feeding 201” – just focus on getting your cat to eat raw ground meat to begin with (“Raw Feeding 101”).
Have fun and be patient – never give up on your cat switching to raw. This change will be the single most important thing you can do for your cats’ health and longevity – it is worth the effort and hard-work. You can do it!