Follow our gradual step-by-step approach to successfully transition your cat to a raw diet. Remember, any dietary changes need to be introduced slowly and patience is key to success when you switch your cat to a raw diet.
Where to start
What does your cat eat at the moment? Do they eat dry food only – kibble or cat biscuits? Do they eat a commercial wet food in a can or pouch? Or, do they eat a combination of both wet and dry food?
When transitioning your cat to raw food, you can start at the appropriate step for your cat. If your cat is already eating a commercial wet food you can go directly to step 3. If your cat is grazing on dry pet foods (cat biscuits or kibble) throughout the day then you need to start at the beginning with step 1.
How long does it take to transition a cat to a raw diet?
Your transition to a raw food diet may be quick or slow – it all depends on your cat. Factors that influence the length of time it will take for your cat to accept a switch to a raw diet include your cat’s age, personality, what they are currently eating and their resistance to change.
Understanding why cats are fussy eaters
Cats are sensitive to new things and have a reputation for being fussy eaters. That’s because they are imprint eaters, they identify and develop a preference for food based on the smell, shape, taste and texture of what they were fed as kittens. If you try to feed them something different to what they know as food, they’ll often have a sniff and walk away. This makes it challenging when switching to a raw meat diet.
If your cat has eaten dry food since kittenhood, transitioning to raw feeding will likely take longer that a cat who is already eating wet food. Cats will also take much longer to switch to a raw diet than a dog in the same household – as imprint eaters, that’s just the way their brains are wired.
Stop the dry food grazing table [Step 1]
The first step in transitioning your cat to raw food is to stop the ‘all you can eat’ 24/7 cat biscuit or kibble buffet. If your cat grazes on dry food all day, you need to change their eating routine from free feeding to regular scheduled meal times.
Set 2 or 3 regular meal times a day, splitting the amount they’d usually eat during the day into equal portion sizes. Leave the dry food out for 45 mins then remove it. Your cat will quickly get used to the routine change, develop an appetite between meals and start to eat at scheduled times. You can gradually reduce the total allocated feeding time to 15 or 20 minutes, by decreasing the amount of time you leave the dry food out by 5 minutes each day.
Settle your cat into this new routine for 1 or 2 weeks until they are comfortable with scheduled meal times and eating within 15 or 20 minutes.
If you have multiple cats who have been free feeding and find it difficult to estimate portion sizes per meal, use the recommended feeding guidelines on the back of the packaging. When transitioning multiple cats you need to ensure that all cats are eating each day, putting them in separate rooms to eat is one way to make sure they do.
Introduce and transition to wet cat food [Step 2]
Once your cat is eating 2 or 3 scheduled meals at day you can start to add a good quality grain-free commercial wet food to your cat’s daily meals. This can be one of the hardest steps in transitioning to a raw diet as the texture of wet food is completely different than dry food, and cats are often addicted to the chemical additives and flavours in dry kibble or cat biscuits. Some cats will take to wet food straight away, others will take weeks or months to transition.
Feed using the one plate approach
Feed your cat on a plate which allows you to put the dry food and a spoonful of the grain-free canned food side by side. They may ignore the new canned food, and just eat their dry kibble or cat biscuits but they’ll start to get used to the smell of the new food and may be tempted to try it.
We suggest starting with a ratio of 10% canned to 90% kibble. As your cat becomes comfortable with the change in diet you can increase the ratio of canned wet food and decrease the ratio of dry food.
After a week, if your cat is not tempted to eat the wet canned food you can try a slightly different approach using the 10% canned and 90% kibble ratio. On your plate, add the canned food and then place their dry food on top. They may just eat the kibble off the top, but they will also get a taste of the wet food.
Tempting your cat to eat wet food
You may have to try a few different brands of quality grain-free wet food or different proteins (e.g. chicken, turkey, duck, rabbit, beef, lamb) to tempt your cat to eat something new. Commercial cat foods with gravy are usually popular and will tempt even the fussiest cats. At this stage, avoid canned foods that have fish as the main ingredient as they can be addictive. Fish is best fed as an occasional treat.
You can top the wet food with dehydrated or freeze-dried meat pieces or other tasty treats which we refer to as “bribes”. Freeze-dried meat has a similar texture to dry food and may appeal to cats that were previously eating an exclusively dry food kibble diet. The smellier and tastier these bribes are the better. Some of the tasty food toppers that worked for us include:
- Dehydrated or freeze-dried cat treats
- Grated parmesan cheese
- Bonito fish flakes
- Brine from a can of tuna or salmon
- Crushed kibble or cat treats
It’s easy for even the most committed and caring get parents to get frustrated when their cat refuses to eat anything other than their usual dry food. But keep offering wet food – straight from the can, or with a bribe on top. Eventually, your cat will eat both foods.
When your cat still won’t eat wet food
If you have trouble getting you cat to eat wet food, there’s an extra step you can take. Add a little water or chicken broth to your cat’s kibble to change the texture so that it’s more closely resembles wet food.
Once your cat is comfortable with eating mushy kibble you can start introducing wet food again. You may need to start small, adding 1 teaspoon at a time and increasing the amount of canned food whilst decreasing the amount of dry food every 2 to 3 days.
At this stage, patience and persistence is key. Keep going, and don’t give up.
If you choose to wet the dry cat food, please do not leave it out for more than 20 to 30 minutes. Veterinarian, Lisa A. Pierson and author of the CatInfo.org website explains why:
Dry food often has a very high bacterial content. Mold is also often found in dry food. Both organisms flourish in moist environments. There have been many deaths of dogs and cats secondary to eating mold mycotoxins, vomitoxins and aflatoxins which often contaminate the grains found in dry food. If you want to try the trick of wetting down the dry food to alter the texture, please leave it out for only 20-30 minutes then discard it.
Dangers of not eating for cats
You may think “if a cat is hungry, they’ll eat”, but it’s not always that simple for cats. If you have a particularly stubborn cat, you can wait it out and see if hunger will persuade your cat to eat while you are transitioning to wet food or a raw meat diet.
Be aware that cats, especially overweight cats that don’t eat for a period of time, are in danger of developing feline hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease which is life threatening. You must not let your cat go longer than 24-36 hours without food.
Introduce raw meat [Step 3]
Once your cat has been eating a grain-free wet food diet with regular mealtimes for a few weeks, you are ready to start switching your cat to a raw diet.
Transitioning to a raw meat diet should continue to be gradual, putting raw meat side by side with the wet food meals as you did when transitioning from dry food to wet foods. Again, try a 10% raw meat and 90% canned wet food ratio, and gradually increase the ratio of raw meat and decrease the ratio of canned wet food.
It’s often best to start with raw meat that’s similar to your cat’s preferred wet food. You may like to try small pieces of raw chicken or beef, our cats also liked chicken hearts. It’s important to vary the proteins in your cats diet, so that they don’t become addicted to just one raw meat.
Don’t forget that a lot of your cat’s enjoyment of food has to do with how it smells, and raw food won’t smell the same as commercial wet food, it’ll be much more subtle. If your cat isn’t keen on raw initially, mixing the two foods together will help to disguise the smell. The raw food mixed with wet food will appear much more palatable, just like the food they already know.
Ensure raw food is the right temperature
Cats prefer their food slightly warmed, so aim for ‘mouse body temperature’ rather than cold straight from the fridge. We always take our raw food from the fridge about 30 minutes before meals to bring it to room temperature. Check out the raw cat food recipe we feed our cats which is frozen in portion sizes.
You can also heat raw food by placing it in a ziplock bag and submerging in warm water for 5-10 minutes. This is helpful if you have frozen raw meals for your cats and forget to defrost it overnight in the fridge. It’s best to avoid using the microwave to defrost or warm raw meat for your cats, it can cook the meat and destroy essential raw nutrients.
Ways to encourage your cat to transition to raw
If the gradual approach to switching your cat from wet food to raw meat isn’t working very well, there are a few additional things you can try.
Raw on paw smear trick
Try smearing a small amount of raw food on your cat’s front paw. Your cat will lick their paw to clean themselves and in doing so will taste the new raw food. If you do this a few times, your cat will get used to the taste, texture, smell and temperature of the raw meat you are introducing into their diet.
The next time they smell or taste that raw food on their plate, they’ll start to recognise it as a food they can eat. This trick may not work for every cat, but it’s worth a try.
Activate your cats natural instinct to hunt prey
Cats are hunters by nature, they love to jump, run and catch their prey. Introduce raw meaty bones and you can activate their natural instinct to hunt, with a game of ‘wing on a string’.
Here’s how you play. Tie a chicken wing tip securely to a piece of string. Dangle it in front of your cat, or drag it slowly across the kitchen floor. You want your cat to get excited and to stalk then pounce on this piece of raw meat. Extra points if your cat starts to lick, chew or attempt to eat the wing.
The aim is to give your cat a taste of the raw chicken wing and encourage them to accept raw chicken pieces on their plate at their next meal. Please make sure you don’t leave your cat unattended with the ‘wing on a string’ – string of any kind is potentially dangerous if your cat swallows it.
Our experience transitioning cats to a raw diet
In our house, the two boys, Max and Charlie took to raw food almost immediately – it definitely brought out their inner hunter instinct and meal times became exciting and something to look forward to.
Their sister, Ava took a little longer to transition to a raw diet, we had to mix wet and raw food together more gradually before we could fully transition to raw. She did enjoy the chicken wing on a string game, and this helped her develop a taste for raw meat.
Switching Amber to a raw diet took the longes. She is a picky cat with food which we attribute to her being fed an exclusively kibble based diet as a young kitten. It took approximately 6 months to change her diet to raw food and a lot of patience and persistence. Even after her complete transition to a raw diet, I continued to add tasty “bribes” on top of her raw meal to make it more appealing and encourage her to eat.
Can cats switch to a raw diet more quickly?
Readers often ask us if they can switch their cat straight to a raw diet. We recommend a gradual change to your cat’s diet rather than switching abruptly from one food to another. Sudden dietary changes and the introduction of new foods can cause gastrointestinal problems, and may result in vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation or your cat refusing to eat. If your cat develops any of these symptoms during your transition to a raw diet, you may be doing it too quickly.
We suggest you let your cat determine the pace of their transition to a raw diet, but be prepared to take one step forward, two steps back if you need to. This will ensure that your attempts to change your cats diet to a 100% raw diet will be a success. Remember, your cat’s health is worth it.
Where are you at with transitioning your cat to a raw food diet? We’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.