If your cat has been eating a steady diet of commercial junk food his entire life, it’s important to realize up front that transitioning him to a raw diet might take some time as well as some persistence, perseverance, and above all, a good bit of patience on your part.
And then again, it might not. :-)
Each cat is different. Some will take to raw as if they’ve simply been waiting their whole lives for their humans to figure out what they really should have been feeding them all along. For these cats, the transition to raw is relatively simple, quick and easy. Other cats may be a bit slower to make the switch, and still other cats may take even longer, particularly if they’re older or perhaps more set in their ways. Cats that have become very addicted to the carbohydrates in low quality kibble or canned cat food are the ones that may take the longest time to transition to an all raw diet. These are cats that will require a bit more determination and effort on your part to help them make the switch to raw. But please rest assured, this transition can and will happen, as long you’re ready and willing to do your part. All it takes is a firm but gentle resolve and some patience on your part, along with as much time as your cat needs to get with the program.
If you’re reading this website, hopefully you’ve reached the point where you realize how important it is to feed your beloved pet a species appropriate raw diet, and you’re ready and willing to do what it takes to help your cat make the change to a more healthy and natural way of eating.
Those with kittens will most likely find that these little ones make the transition to raw almost immediately, with little or no hesitation whatsoever. Sometimes the younger the cat, the more quickly and easily the transition to raw will happen. Very young cats know instinctively what their bodies need, and most often will take to eating raw food like a fish to water.
Close Down That 24/7 Kibble Buffet!
If you’re used to constantly leaving a bowl of dry food down for your cat to eat, one of the very first steps you must take if you’re serious about switching your kitty to a diet of raw food is to stop free feeding kibble.
Please note that this does not necessarily mean you should stop feeding kibble altogether immediately. Rather the idea is to begin weaning your cat off kibble by discontinuing unlimited access to the 24 hour buffet, and instead only letting him have access to it a few times a day for limited periods of time.
Cats that are used to grazing on doom nuggets (as they’re affectionately called by many experienced raw feeders) whenever they please are a bit like kibble junkies. And if they’re continually allowed to munch, munch, munch a little now and then to get their fix anytime they want throughout the day, they never really experience any hunger, and so may never develop much of an appetite for trying something new.
If kibble is all he eats, there’s no need to force your kitty to go cold turkey from his junk. Rather the answer is to remove that bottomless, permanent bowl of kibble from your cat’s world, and instead start getting into the habit of offering it to him only a few times a day. Only allow your cat to eat that kibble for a few limited periods of time each day, say for about 20 or 30 minutes at a go. Let him eat his fill and once he's done, pick the bowl back up and put the kibble away, out of reach.
Instead of leaving a bowl of kibble out for your cat all the time,only offer it to him for a few limited periods each dayand then remove it.
Making several ‘meal times’ like this, instead of perpetually free feeding you cat dry food, will serve a couple of purposes. First, it will put a bit of an edge your cat’s appetite which will definitely work to your advantage as you help him make the switch to raw. Secondly, it will pave the way to breaking the cycle of your cat’s addiction to the starchy grain based carbohydrates that are found in most commercial kibble – which by the way have absolutely no place whatsoever in the diet of an obligate carnivore such as a cat.
Switch from Kibble to Canned as an Interim Step (If Necessary)
Since kibble is so completely different in taste, texture and smell from fresh raw meat, if dry is the only kind of food your cat is used to eating and he’s not showing any interest in raw food, it may be necessary to transition him off the kibble and onto canned cat food first. The wet texture of the canned stuff is closer to the texture of raw meat than kibble, so using this interim step can be very helpful in the transition, as it’s generally easier to switch cats from wet food to raw than it is from dry food.
If your cat eats some kibble but is already used to eating canned food too, you can most likely quit feeding the kibble altogether straightaway. Otherwise, it’s generally best to gradually wean your kitty off the dry food, perhaps by mixing it in with some canned, and of course shutting down the 24/7 buffet, as this will make it simpler in the long run for him to get used to eating raw food.
Please bear in mind however, that these are all general guidelines and suggestions that have worked well for other people and their cats, and are not necessarily hard and fast rules. So for instance if your cat is used to eating nothing but kibble, but then you find he’s suddenly totally on board and enthusiastically eating plenty of raw food from the very first time you offer it, then by all means don’t worry about interim steps and just go with it!
Remember, each cat is unique. For this reason your best strategy is to remain flexible, pay attention to your cat’s responses and adjust your game plan according to your own kitty’s particular needs.
Never Force a Cat to go Cold Turkey
One of the most important things to keep in mind when transitioning your cat to an all raw diet, and one of the reasons it can take time to do so, is that you must never starve a cat into eating raw food. This point cannot be overemphasized. Tough love is simply not an option when switching cats to a raw diet. The reason for this is because some cats that are forced to go without eating anything for more than a day or so can become susceptible to a very serious and potentially fatal form of liver failure called hepatic lipidosis.
Cats have a unique predisposition to contracting this particular ailment when they stop eating food for any length of time for whatever reason.
What happens when a cat doesn’t eat for a prolonged period of time is that its body begins to tap into to its stored fat reserves in order to survive. This fat is sent to the liver to be converted into a usable form energy. But unfortunately a cat’s liver is easily overwhelmed and often unable to cope with this sudden increase of fat being circulated through it. As more fat is deposited into the liver than it is capable of metabolizing and releasing, the cells of the liver become swollen with fatty deposits which cause serious damage to the organ itself. Once a cat contracts hepatic lipidosis they become terribly nauseous, which means they have no appetite and may vomit even if they do eat, making it extremely difficult to get enough nourishment into the cat to keep it alive.
As you can see, this is something you most definitely do NOT want to risk!
The bottom line is that when you start making the switch to raw, if your cat doesn’t eat enough of the raw food you’re offering him each day, then you must continue to feed him enough of whatever he will eat to sustain him every day, even if that means continuing to feed your pet some of his old commercial pet food.
Make the Switch to Raw at Your Cat’s Pace
During the transition period, the basic idea, as is described in more detail further on in this section, is to encourage your cat to eat as much of the new raw food as possible. If he goes for it immediately and enthusiastically, you’re on your way. But if your cat is at all hesitant and isn’t eating enough of the raw food on a daily basis to sustain him, you must continue feeding him the old commercial food as necessary to augment his diet, and only decrease the amount of commercial food as your kitty begins to eat more raw food.
Always bear in mind during the transition period that it’s more important that your cat gets enough to eat every day than it is for him to learn to eat raw food more quickly than he’s ready. Although you should always be persistent and never give up, at the same time you must take your cues from your cat, and in essence allow your pet to transition at his own pace.
Disguising Raw Food – aka the "Bribe"
If you do need to continue feeding commercial food during the transition, you may need to get a bit crafty to help your kitty learn to like his new raw food. Therefore as an additional incentive you should begin to disguise the raw food as necessary by making it taste or smell more enticing to your cat, which will encourage him to be more tempted to try it. In this way, as you ‘bribe’ your kitty into gradually getting a taste for his new raw food, he’ll begin to eat more and more of it day by day. And as this happens, you can then slowly but surely begin to reduce the amount of commercial food needed to feed your kitty each day accordingly.
Compared to crunchy kibbles or cooked canned cat food, both of which are relatively pretty darn stinky, fresh raw meat has a very faint odor and quite a different texture. As a result, some cats simply won’t recognize raw meat as actually being food when they’re first exposed to it. For this reason it’s sometimes necessary to disguise the raw food and 'stink it up' a bit with another, more pungent, smell or flavor.
It’s also important to keep on offering raw food to your cat even if he turns his nose up at it at first. Some cats need time to get used to this new raw stuff, so repeated exposure can be key.
You can use whatever favorite food you know your cat likes as a bribe food to encourage him to take the raw plunge. Some possible suggestions for bribe foods are:
- a drizzling of juice from a can of water packed tuna
- a smear of canned cat food
- a bit of grated Parmesan cheese
- crumbled dried liver
- some smashed canned sardines, anchovies or herring
- a sprinkling of crushed kibble
- some plain, homemade meat, bone and/or giblet broth, used as a marinade
- whatever other favorite treat you know your kitty loves
Use your imagination and experiment with different things until you find what works. Once you find some disguises that work, then you can begin to gradually offer more raw food using decreasing amounts of the bribe until your cat will accept it without the bribe
Shop for Variety and Freeze Small Portions
When you’re just starting out, the first thing to do is to get some kind of fresh meat in the house. Better yet, get several kinds. Boneless chicken, turkey, pork, beef or fish are all fine to begin with and are readily available at most grocery stores. Having more than one kind of meat to offer in the beginning is ideal for several very good reasons:
a) your cat might like one kind of meat better than another,
b) cats sometimes latch onto, or imprint upon one kind of food if that’s all they’re given, to the point where they’re unwilling to try another,
c) offering your cat as much variety in a raw diet as possible is important in order to provide adequate nutrition.
As soon as possible after you bring the meat home, cut it up and portion it into small baggies and freeze whatever you’re not going to use for that day, writing the date and contents on each package. Cats generally prefer their raw meat to be fresh, so if you get in the habit of freezing their food in small portions and only thawing out what’s needed for a day or two's worth of meals, this will not only ensure that your cat's food stays fresh, but will also help to prevent waste.
Safe Food Handling is Just Common Sense
Many people have concerns about safe food handling techniques when they’re first starting to feed a raw diet to their pets. Although raw meat does contain some bacteria, it’s important to keep in mind that our world is full of many, many different kinds of bacteria, to which we’re all exposed every single day.
As long as we use common sense and practice basic good hygiene when handling raw meat, the chances are virtually nil that anyone will suffer any ill effects from being exposed the bacteria it contains. Simply washing all surfaces and utensils with plenty of warm soapy water is really all that’s necessary to keep things sanitary when handling and feeding your cat's raw food. If you want to go one step further, you can spritz a solution of 50% water and 50% white vinegar followed by a spray of hydrogen peroxide (available at any drug or grocery store).
This combination creates a very effective natural, nontoxic disinfectant that leaves things smelling fresh and clean. It’s a great alternative to bleach, which is harsh and corrosive and can leave a very strong smell that may be overwhelming and offensive to your cat’s very sensitive sense of smell.
Once you’ve purchased your cat’s raw food, start by chopping some boneless meat into little bite sized pieces and put just a few of them, so as to not overwhelm your kitty at first, on a flat plate or surface rather than in a bowl. Since this food is unfamiliar to your pet, putting it on something flat where it’s perfectly visible, as opposed to in a bowl where it’s not quite so easy to see, makes this new food more approachable, and is less threatening to your kitty.
You can also feed your cat on an old towel, rug or mat which is easily tossed into the washer, or on something else, like a plastic place mat that’s easy to wipe clean if you prefer. Another alternative is to feed your cat in a crate if that works for you. Whether you use a mat, an old rug, towel or crate, it’s best to have a particular designated place where you always feed your cat its raw food.
Strengthening Jaws and Learning to Gnaw
Eventually, your goal should be to help your cat reach a point where he’s able to handle good sized hunks of meat that are at least as large as a mouse, and ultimately he needs to have the ability to consume some edible bones as well. But cats that have been fed commercial dreck their whole lives often lack both the gnawing skills and the jaw strength that it takes to successfully tackle whole raw meaty bones.
Rather than overwhelming your cat initially with a large, intimidating hunk of bone-in meat, it’s best to start out small in the beginning by offering little bits of boneless meat and employing your knife to do the slicing until your cat is able to do it for himself with his own teeth.
As your cat becomes more familiar with his new diet, as his jaws get stronger and as he gets more practice gnawing, he’ll become more adept at handling larger chunks of raw meat. As this happens, you can slowly begin to increase the size of the hunks you feed him. Once he’s able to position larger hunks of meat in his mouth in such a way as to effectively rip off swallow-able sized pieces, he’ll be ready to be introduced to some bone-in meats with small edible bones. This is the ultimate aim of feeding a raw prey model diet. Once your cat can handle raw meaty bones, he’ll be able to tackle most anything you offer him.
Dem Bones - RMB's
By the time your cat starts getting the hang of eating little pieces of raw boneless meat and you’ve increased their size until he’s able to shear off pieces by using his teeth and jaws, it’s time to introduce your kitty to some raw meaty bones, or RMB's.
Set your cat up for success right off the bat by starting small, and making sure the bones are attached to plenty of meat. Ribs are some of the smallest, softest and most flexible of bones, and those from critters like Cornish game hens, small chickens, rabbits, quail or small fish are perfect for newbie raw eating kitties.
If at first you have qualms about your cat crunching on raw bones, remember that your pet was designed by Nature to eat them, and that millions of cats have been doing so for millennia. Many of us have trepidations about feeding our cats bones because we’ve been so conditioned into thinking that all bones are dangerous for them to eat, when it’s only cooked bones that pose the real danger. The little raw bones that are small enough to be eaten by cats are actually quite pliable, and are very soft in comparison to cooked bones, which are brittle and apt to splinter due to the molecular changes they undergo when they’re heated.
If you’ve ever had or known of a cat who was a mouser and who ate the mice he caught, just remember that cat if you ever find yourself being fearful of your own cat’s ability to consume small RMB’s. Rest assured in the knowledge that the cat is one of the planet’s premier carnivores, and remember that felines the world over have been preying upon and consuming whole small critters - including their edible little bones - for many millions of years.
How Much to Feed and How Often?
As far as the amount of raw food to feed you cat, this will vary, depending on things like your cat's age, weight, activity level, metabolism and overall appetite. A basic guideline to use when determining how much food to feed your cat each day, is between 2 and 4% of your cat’s ideal adult weight. But remember, this is only a guide. Some cats will eat more than this, and some might need less. Ultimately you’ll need to let your cat be your guide when deciding how much to feed him. If he’s looking a bit pudgy, give him less food. If he’s getting a bit lean, increase the amount you feed him. Because every cat is different, there’s no exact standard formula.
Most adult cats only need be fed once or twice a day, but kittens, because their tummies can only hold so much at a one sitting and because they’re generally so much more active than adults, need to be fed more often. Very young kittens grow very quickly and expend a lot of energy playing during the first 3-4 months of their lives, so feeding them 4 or more small meals a day is not out of the question. Generally speaking, it’s perfectly fine to feed young kittens as much raw food as they want because kittens fed raw from an early age seem to self-regulate and only eat as much as they need. As they get older and their tummies can hold more, you can feed them less frequently as you adjust the amount you feed them at each meal accordingly.
Nature’s Model Whole Prey
Feeding small, whole critters is ideal, as they contain the optimal proportions of parts courtesy of Mother Nature, including things like fur, feathers, scales and fins. These types of critters have quite small, edible sized bones, and most experienced raw cats will consume them in their entirety. Check the links section for resources for purchasing these types of intact critters, often referred to as "frozen feeders."
Some examples of these include:
Although feeding whole raw prey-type critters is great, it's not at all necessary. You can assemble an excellent raw diet for your cat by combining a variety of different pieces and parts from a variety of different animals. This kind of diet has been affectionately dubbed "Frankenprey" by the raw feeding community after Frankenstein of course, who was assembled from a variety of different parts. Feeding a Frankenprey diet means that instead of feeding whole animals, we use an assemblage of parts, and combine them in a way that mimics the basic relative proportions of body parts Mother Nature uses to build a whole animal.
When putting together a Frankeprey diet we look to Nature, and use the ratios of major body parts found in an average prey critter as a guide when deciding approximately how much boneless meat, meaty bones and organs to feed.
Please understand that these proportions are only to be used a general guideline rather than as a hard and fast rule:
80% raw boneless meat. This includes primarily muscle meat but can also include things like fat and skin, along with any kind of connective tissue such as tendons, sinew, cartilage etc.
10% raw edible sized meaty bones.
5-10% squishy organ meats, with half that amount being liver.
These approximate proportions can and should be fed over time rather at every meal, and the more variety you can include, the better.
Keep in mind that bone-heavy meals can be binding (causing constipation) while boneless meat, and especially organs, will make for looser stools.
Experiment with different combinations of parts, mixing things up and feeding as much variety as possible.
Here are some suggestions for possible menu choices:
Raw Boneless Meats:
fish (especially oily fleshed fish rich in omega 3 EFA's, such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel etc.)
heart of any kind (although technically an organ, heart is extremely muscular and is an excellent and nourishing boneless muscle meat)
Raw Meaty Bones:
Cornish game hens
fish with small bones
chicken ribs, wings and necks
small turkey ribs and wing tips
small meaty pork and lamb ribs (although too large to consume, many cats will strip the meat from these, providing a great dental workout)
Not only are raw eggs very nutritious, they're also readily available, inexpensive and easy to feed. The whole raw egg, including the shell, is a complete meal in itself. But even if your cat won't eat the shell, just feeding a cracked raw egg still makes for a very nourishing meal. You can even feed just the yolk if your cat prefers.
Feeding a couple of eggs a week is a great addition to a diet of raw whole foods for your cat. Just bear in mind that feeding a raw egg may result in a loosening of the stool in some cats, especially those that are new-to-raw.
Supplemental Menu Items
It's best to include a supplemental source of omega 3 fatty acids in your pet's raw diet, unless you're regularly feeding plenty of oily fleshed fish and/or free range grass fed meats. Fish body oil derived from fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and anchovies is an excellent adjunct to a raw diet. An easy way to feed this oil is to buy it in capsule form, pierce a capsule and drizzle the contents onto a raw egg or other food once or twice a week.
Another great addition to a raw diet is some sort of fresh herbaceous greenery. No one knows for sure why cats like to munch on fresh greens, but they often do. Try growing your own greens from seed and keeping them available for your cat to graze on whenever he feels like it.
Fresh Catnip and Catmint are favorite herbs of kitties and are easy to grow.
Many cats also love to nibble on green grasses like wheat grass, oat grass, barley grass or kamut grass etc.
All these herbs and grasses can be easily sprouted in small containers of potting soil and make a wonderful addition to your cat's raw diet.
Feeding your cat very small amounts of bentonite clay is another way to supplement your cat's diet. Clay is an excellent source of many trace minerals, and there are many animals in nature that eat clay regularly. Clay is well known as a powerful detoxification agent, and it's thought that some animals eat clay in order to neutralize certain toxic substances they may ingest in their diets. And since clay is also so rich in minerals, this may be another reason so many animals are known to consume it. To use clay as a supplement, add a pinch or two mixed in with a raw egg or sprinkled on raw meat once or twice a week. Please refer to the links section for information on where to purchase good quality clay.
Many cats love fresh catnip!
A Word About Treats
The best kind of treat to feed your cat is something animal based, such as unsalted dried liver, fish or meat. That being said, if you decide to feed your cat some other kind of *species inappropriate* food as a treat, that's fine, just as long as you make sure to keep it at that - an occasional treat.
The point to remember about treats is that if they're not animal based, species appropriate foods, they shouldn't be fed often or in any quantity, nor should they be relied upon as a main part of the diet. Doing so will only take up room in the diet that should be filled with animal based foods that provide the most nutritious and bioavailable nourishment for your carnivorous cat.
Hints, Tips & Tricks
Here are some more suggestions that may be useful when you’re first starting to offer your cat raw food:
Make a designated feeding place.
Use an old bathmat, towel or small rug, or anything else that's easily washable, to protect floors or other surfaces and create a special place where you always feed your cat. You can also use things like plastic place mats that are quick and easy to clean.
How Much to Feed and How Often?
As far as the amount of raw food to feed you cat, this will vary, depending on your cats age, weight, activity level, metabolism and overall appetite. A basic guideline to use when determining how much to feed your cat, is between 2 and 4% of your cat’s ideal adult weight. But remember, this is only a guide. Some cats will eat more than this, and some might need less. Ultimately you’ll need to let your cat be your guide when deciding how much to feed him. If he’s looking a bit pudgy, give him less food. If he’s getting a bit lean, increase the amount you feed him. Because every cat is different, there’s no exact standard formula.
Most adult cats only need be fed twice a day, but kittens, because their tummies can only hold so much at a one sitting, and because they’re generally so much active than adults, need to be fed more often. Very young kittens grow very quickly during the first 3-4 months of their lives, and feeding them 4, or even more, small meals a day is not out of the question. Unless they’re getting too chunky, it’s generally fine to feed young kittens as much raw food as they want and can consume. As they get older and are less active, they’ll need fewer meals per day and you’ll need to adjust the amount you feed them accordingly.
If you don’t have success feeding one kind of meat, try another.
Cats, just like people, have their preferences, and so it’s very possible that your cat may favor some things over others. Also, cats are notoriously fickle when it comes to raw food, and are well known for changing their minds about things! So if at first you don’t succeed with one type of meat, rather than giving up on it entirely just refreeze it and then try feeding it again another time down the road. Your cat might very well surprise you by suddenly taking a shine to something he’s previously snubbed. And sometimes, it just takes that one particular kind of meat to act as a kind of gateway food for that little carnivorous light bulb to go on in a cat’s head, and then suddenly the kitty "gets it." Besides the nutritional aspect, feeding a variety of as many different kinds of raw meats as you can is important for any number of reasons discussed previously.
Serve raw food slightly warmed or at room temperature.
Some cats don’t take well to raw food that’s cold, straight from the refrigerator, but instead prefer it to be closer to ‘mouse body temperature.’ This is easily done by simply putting the meat in a plastic baggie, and either running it under a warm faucet, or soaking it in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes. Never microwave your cat's raw food to warm it, as microwaving changes the molecular structure of food, thereby altering its nutritional value, and can also turn raw bones into cooked bones, which should never be fed to your cat.
For extremely reluctant cats, it’s all about baby steps.
If you’ve stopped free feeding your cat kibble, switched him to eating canned, tried disguising the raw with his favorite bribe foods, served it to him nice and warm, and he’s still refusing to eat any raw food at all, you may have a cat on your hands that will require some very small steps, and some real patience and perseverance on your part to transition. Start over by mixing the tiniest bit raw meat into your kitty's canned food which is cut into such little itty bitty pieces that he doesn’t even know it’s there. Mix so few of these tiny bits of raw meat in with his preferred food that he’s not even aware of them, and then over time, ever so slowly and imperceptibly, increase their size and amount. Another alternative is to place a tiny morsel or two of raw meat on a dish right next to your cat's regular food every time he eats so that he can always see and smell it, which will help him to begin to make the association between the sight and smell of raw food and mealtimes.
The “Oops! I dropped a scrumptious tidbit!” method.
Another little trick to try with especially stubborn cats is to “accidentally” drop a little morsel of raw meat on the floor, as if it were a precious and delectable treat that landed there by mistake instead of in your mouth. If your kitty’s crafty and thinks he’s getting away with stealing a bit of treasure, he might just decide it’s worth eating even more so than if it was just part of his regular fare!
Raw newbies have learning curves too.
When your cat is just beginning to learn to eat larger hunks of meat or raw meaty bones, you may notice him trying to swallow pieces of meat or bone that are somewhat too large for him to get down. You might even see your kitty gag a bit or perhaps spit food back out so that he can gnaw it apart some more into pieces that are small enough for him to swallow. If this happens try to relax and do your best to let the kitty work this process out for himself, as it's an important stage of learning how to eat whole raw foods. Be aware that this is a normal reflex, and something that shouldn’t cause you any undo concern.
Another thing that may sometimes happen is that a piece of meat or bone will get impaled on a canine tooth, and become stuck there for a bit.
Over time and with practice, your cat will learn to manipulate and consume his whole raw food with increasing skill, perhaps even pushing it against the floor for leverage or using his paws to help position the food so he can get a better handle on it.
Enjoy witnessing the re-awakening of your cat’s inner carnivore!
You may find yourself very interested to watch your cat while he’s eating when you feed him a diet of whole raw foods. There’s something very compelling about seeing cats eating the kind of food they were born to eat, especially since so many of us have rarely witnessed such a thing. Not only can it be fascinating to watch, but it’s also very satisfying to feel that you’re really doing the right thing by your pet. In a world full of crappy pet foods, knowing that you’re providing your beloved furry friend with the most natural and healthy diet you can is truly a gratifying feeling. And once you help your cat make the transition to a raw diet, no doubt you’ll never look back.
Slow and steady wins the race.
Always remember that like the race between the tortoise and the hare, when it comes to transitioning stubborn cats to eating a wholesome raw diet, a slow and steady approach is ultimately the most successful in the end.
From Linda Zurich's ebook from rawfedcats.org
Linda Zurich is an avid independent researcher, writer, speaker, foodie, herbalist, lifelong lover of nature, and perpetual student.
She is the author of Raw Fed Cats: An Illustrated Companion Guide.