How to Switch Your Sweet Feline to the Raw Diet She Needs
Now that we’ve prepared our cats and ourselves for the transition to raw food ( if you haven’t, read this article!), let’s figure out exactly how to make this change for the health of our fur babies!
TRANSITIONAL DIET: GROUND RAW
There are a few steps involved in switching your cat to a raw diet. First, make sure your cat is used to eating 3-4 meals daily (on a flat plate to keep her whiskers stress-free). It is so important that the all-day-buffet of kibble is finished before this point, otherwise all of your hard work and preparation will be in vain and your feline will fail.
When you’re switching your cat to a raw diet, feed them ground raw first–chicken and pork are great to start with! (Keep reading for some answered questions about meat options.) Whether or not your cat takes to it right away will depend on your cat–some adapt quickly while others need more time. Kittens will likely adjust sooner because they have not spent years developing taste buds and addictions to canned food or kibble. If you have a kitten, you should try to wean her directly to whole prey meals so she doesn’t have to relearn how to eat after eating the ground raw.
If your cat takes to it just fine, skip the next section and read about switching to the whole prey diet.
If your cat doesn’t take to it right away, don’t fret! Switching your cat to a raw diet usually requires you to go through a transitional phase first.
Switching Your Cat to a Raw Diet Using a Transitional Phase
Make sure you have a variety of meats to rotate through that you will offer your cat, just as you do with her regular food.
To start the introduction, roll the ground raw meat into a pea-sized ball and put it on the side of her plate next to her regular food. Leave it there for 30 minutes to give her the opportunity to try it out of curiosity, then throw it away. Don’t be discouraged if she ignores the raw food completely. Even with it next to her, she is interacting with it through sight and smell, and soon enough, she will understand that raw means food.
Once your feline is eating the one small ball of raw ground consistently for a few days, add a second pea-sized ball. And after a few days, if she’s eating both of these most of the time, add a third ball. While you slowly increase the amount of raw food, decrease the amount of the kibble/canned food. Remember, go at her pace! If she starts to show resistance to the amount of raw, back it down notch or two. We know that there will be ups and downs, she may eat more yesterday than she did today, but that’s to be expected. So take a breath and stay positive!
You can mix the raw food in with your cat’s regular food, but be careful doing this. Your cat may eat around the raw food or avoid eating the meal altogether. If she misses too many meals, your cat may develop hepatic lipidosis–which is even more likely to occur if your cat is overweight.
If she won’t eat the mixed food over 1-2 meals, you have two options:
- Give her what she will eat with raw food on the side
- Offer her regular food and a side of the mixed food for every meal
IMPORTANT: Your cat shouldn’t be losing more than 1-2% of her body weight each week. Weigh her weekly during this transition to make sure she isn’t losing too much too fast!
Tips If You’re Having Trouble Switching Your Cat to a Raw Diet!
- To encourage your cat to start eating raw food, pull our her natural instincts and play “catch prey” with her before you feed her. This can be done using a bird feather on a string, chase the mouse, etc. Activating her hunting instinct will help to trigger her innate desire to eat raw meat.
- A lot of cats don’t like cold food, so either mix in a teaspoon of warm water or put the food in a plastic bag and leave it in warm water for 10 minutes. Do not microwave raw food–you’ll destroy some of the healthy nutrients that make eating raw food beneficial.
- Use your fingers and nails to stroke your cat’s neck, shoulders, and back when she’s in front of the food–this can help stimulate her.
- Foods you can use as bribery to top raw food: catnip, grated Parmesan cheese, fish food flakes, or freeze-dried/dehydrated meat treats. (Check out All the Best Pets, Mud Bay, or Whole Foods)
- Keep the kibble in the house in an airtight container or stored outside. Cats have outstanding sense of smell and, if she can smell it, she may refuse to eat if she knows the kibble is near. Get rid of it completely ASAP.
- Try feeding your feline some raw food off of your finger! Or, if she’ll let you, put a little bit on the bottom of your cat’s paw and let her lick it off.
- Crating your cat for meals may help them to feel less skittish (especially if there are other animals/cats), and will also help keep her from dropping/dragging raw meat on the floor.
TRANSITIONAL DIET: RAW PREY/WHOLE PREY/“FRANKEN-PREY”
Your cat has probably never eaten anything raw in her life, so she’s going to have to learn to chew through the bone and raw meat like she’s never had to do before. This could get frustrating for her and she may want to give up, so it’s important to set her up for success! Start with smaller bones, like quail ribs, to get her used to texture and to build up her unused jaw muscles, and eventually she’ll be eating thigh bones like a boss.
When you’re first looking into a whole prey diet, you may come across this idea of an 80/10/5/5 guideline: 80-87% meat, sinew, skin, fat, connective tissue, and heart; 5-10% edible bone; 3-5% liver; and 5% other secreting organs. As you transition your cat to a whole prey diet, start with meats, then add bones, then add organs. It will not hurt her if she goes a few weeks without organs, but only a few weeks!
Introducing Raw Meat
To start your feline on whole meat (not ground), start by cutting the whole pieces into long strips, less than the width of your pinky finger. (Chicken and pork are ideal meats to start with because they are softer and easier to chew, given your cat’s lack of practice.) This size will allow your feline to fit the meat in her mouth, while still having to use her teeth to cut off smaller pieces for swallowing. This will also help her to learn more quickly and strengthen her jaw which has weakened from the years of eating kibble and canned grossness!
Which Meat To Buy
You might hear something like “Cats are allergic to beef and pork” or “Cats don’t like beef or pork”. This is usually said because a cat may throw up after eating one of these meats. The truth is there are many other more likely reasons a cat may throw up including: the cat ate too fast/too big a piece, the food was too cold, or she waited too long to eat causing that high acidity in her stomach that we talked about. Also, every cat is different and cats change their minds all the time. What your cat doesn’t like today, she may love tomorrow, which is why offering her the variety and sticking with it is so important.
IMPORTANT: A cat may also throw up from meat that has “flavor enhancers” in them. READ THE LABEL BEFORE YOU BUY. Bad words you might see are: “injected”, “added flavor”, and “more tender” or “juicier”. These products can cause hot spots, rashes, loose poop, increased thirst, or itchy skin. If you’re unsure about a meat’s purity, check the label. A product that has less than 100 mg of sodium likely doesn’t have any of these additives.
Cat protein allergies are incredibly rare, so if your cat reacts this way to any meat, take a breath and try again–she will likely eat it just fine!
Trying to figure out the edible bone measurement sounds the most stressful, but according to Tracy Dion at CatCentric.org, the 5-10% range of bone comes naturally in most of the whole prey that cats typically eat.
So when you’re first starting with Whole Prey, feed your feline bone-in meats like chicken wings (including the tip). The best thing about this estimation process is that your cat will tell you if the balance is right or not, just check her litter box! If her stool is on the soft side, add a little more bone (unless you’re feeding a lot of fat or organs). If it’s harder, decrease the amount of bone just a little.
IMPORTANT: If your cat is just starting out with bones or struggles with chicken wings, cut the tips off at the joint and cut the wings in half lengthwise. If it is necessary, you can cut the bones for her too, but try not to break the skin as this is something she needs to learn to chew through.
As we’ve already covered, variety is important, so try to offer a few other bone-in options like rabbit ribs with meat or small rabbit bones.
The two organs that are necessary for the Whole Prey diet are 1) the liver and 2) any other secreting organ like kidneys, pancreas, thyroid glands, and testicles. It is recommended to alternate between the two, and it seems that organs from chickens and rabbits are better tolerated in cats.
Note: Lungs, hearts, and gizzards are considered muscle meats and are not part of the 5% organ ratio.
Organs should be spread out over the week. Because of the enzymes in the organs, if a cat eats too much (more than one ounce) at one time, it may vomit. So spread the organs over the week of meals, making sure not to make one meal entirely organs either! Having too much organ will also cause loose stools. (Which is why it is important to get the balance of bones needed first before introducing organs–you will know exactly what is causing that reaction.)
Introducing Fat and Skin
A cat needs protein and fat more than humans do, and a cat following the 80/10/5/5 structure will have no problem getting the protein. Fat, on the other hand, needs to be regulated more.
The skin of animals generally are great sources of fat. Chicken skin is a great source and should be served several times a week, though the thicker skin on their breast thighs and quarters should be pulled off. Rabbits are more lean and shouldn’t be the primary source of your cat’s diet. The fat in beef or pork products can be left on the meat, unless the fat is hard, chunky, or thick.
Note: Too much fat can result in nausea and/or loose stools.
Other Helpful Tips You May Like
Keep a Journal
Now this isn’t necessarily something you need to do forever, but it’s a great tool to use as you’re switching your cat to a raw diet. A journal of what, how much of each, and at what time will help you to answer most all of your questions if your cat starts to react poorly to amounts of bones or too long in between meals, for example.
Create a Feeding Schedule
Knowing what you feed at which meal takes out the guessing of whether or not your feline is getting all of her organs or fats or bones. This helps you to know that she is getting the balanced diet she needs and it helps you to stay organized in the process! Anyone else in the house can easily look at the posted schedule and know exactly where she’s at in her feeding.
Here is a sample feeding schedule from Tracy Dion at CatCentric.org:
MONDAY: AM Chicken Hearts, PM Chicken Wings, FINAL Rabbit
TUESDAY: AM Beef, PM Gizzards and Liver, FINAL Chicken Quarter
WEDNESDAY: AM Duck Hearts, PM Chicken/Rabbit Ribs, FINAL Turkey Leg
THURSDAY: AM Pork, PM Chicken Breast and Kidney, FINAL Rabbit
FRIDAY: AM Turkey Hearts, PM Gizzards and Liver, FINAL Chicken Wing Drummettes
SATURDAY: AM Beef, PM Chicken Wings, FINAL Chicken Quarter
SUNDAY: AM Pork, PM Chicken Breast and Kidney, FINAL Turkey Leg
Here are the total weekly amounts of each meat in the sample menu:
30 oz in hearts (10 oz 3x/week)
12 oz in liver (6 oz 2x/week)
12 oz in gizzards (6 oz 2x/week)
12 oz in breast (6 oz 2x/week)
20 oz in beef (10 oz 2x/week)
20 oz in pork (10 oz 2x/week)
20 oz in rabbit (10 oz 2x/week)
10 oz in chicken wings drummettes (10 oz 1x/week)
24 oz in chicken wings (12 oz 2x/week)
15 oz in chicken/rabbit ribs (15 oz 1x/week)
16 oz in turkey drumsticks (8 oz 2x/week)
16 oz in chicken leg quarters (8 oz 2x/week)
The only reason a raw diet is difficult is because it is different from what we are used to. Like anything else in life, it just takes time, practice, and learning. And the best thing is that we’re here to (hopefully!) offer you a comfortable and easily understandable way to start the process!
To learn about how to prepare you and your cat for the transition, check out our article here!
For more information and for support if you’re struggling with switching your cat to a raw diet, check out www.CatCentric.org.
Disclaimer: All information contained herein is intended for educational purposes only. It is not provided to diagnose, prevent, or treat any disease, illness, or injured condition for any human or animal, and Mother Nature’s Truths, as well as the author(s), contributor(s), publishers, and owners accept no responsibility for such use. Anyone suffering from any disease, illness, or injury, or who has an animal suffering from such, should consult with their physician or veterinarian. The statements herein have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.