Simple Tips for Transitioning to a Raw Diet for Cats

Healthy Cats |  October 18, 2018

Mud Bay recommends a raw diet for cats because it offers several benefits that can improve their health. Kibble-eating cats are at significant risk for chronic dehydration that can lead to lasting health problems. Meanwhile, moisture-rich raw food contains high-quality protein and low amounts of carbohydrates, which is exactly what these obligate carnivores need to survive.

To find out more about raw diets for cats and transitioning to raw foods, we talked to Allison Strange. Allison is currently one of our community outreach coordinators, but before that, she worked at the Seattle Humane Mudlet helping owners talk about the nutritional needs of their new animals. While last week, she talked about what it takes to help dogs transition to a raw food, this week she’s discussing feline food transitions.

Before we talk about transitioning your cat to raw food, can we talk a little bit about the benefits of raw? Why do we recommend raw food for cats under some circumstances?

While raw food doesn’t work for every cat (or dog!), there are many healthy animals that would benefit from a switch to raw food. Frozen raw food contains intercellular moisture that’s the exact same type of moisture a cat’s ancestors consumed in the wild. Freeze-dried raw or dehydrated food doesn’t have the intercellular moisture, but you can add water, bone broth or another liquid to rehydrate the food for your cat.

Cats are chronically dehydrated. They don’t seek out water until it is absolutely vital that they have to have water, which can lead to a lot of stress to their kidneys over time. Their whole urinary tract has to work harder when it’s constantly dehydrated.

Adding water into the diet helps to constantly flush the entire urinary tract. It helps the kidneys operate better, which in turn keeps the kidneys healthier. It keeps kidney stones and bladder stones at bay. You see a lot of healthier urinary tracts in cats that eat wet food or raw food because of that high moisture content.

What all raw foods have in common is high-quality, minimally processed protein. Raw frozen is the least processed protein, but any form of raw food retains a lot more of the natural enzymes that any other food option. Plus, all raw foods tend to be low in carbohydrates—and cats, being obligate carnivores, actually don’t need the number of carbohydrates found in other food options.

So, if you’re ready to try raw food with your cat, how do you get started?

Some cats are difficult when it comes to transitions. Cats are particular about texture in a way that dogs are not. Try to be patient and help them get used to that new texture in order to successfully transition.

And any time you start a new transition, start slowly. You should take two to four weeks to transition between different food forms. And many cats prefer to go much more slowly with food transitions.

If your cat has been kibble-fed her whole life, and you just try to add raw food, your cat might not even recognize raw food as edible. So, I always recommend switching to canned food first. If you start feeding a canned food that has a similar consistency to a raw food—something like a loose pâté wet food– that’s the best possible way to start a raw food transition.

If your cat is particular about texture, she might only want to eat certain textures of canned food, as well. So, be prepared for a multistep transition process. Start by finding a wet food that your cat will eat and transition her to that food. Then, when your cat is regularly eating that canned food, you can try to add raw food.

You can also experiment with adding moisture to create a texture the cat likes if you’re using a freeze-dried food. If your cat likes pâté canned food, you can buy nuggets for your cat and mix that into the canned food. Then you can mash the raw food with a fork and add additional moisture as necessary to make it the right consistency.

Because cats prefer texture above anything else, it makes sense to try several different raw food brands within in a raw food type. Each manufacturer’s raw food has a slightly different texture. So, it makes sense to experiment between brands, as well as between different raw food forms.

Any tips for cats who really won’t try any other food?

Cat owners have several tricks to help their cats transition to new foods. Some owners report that their cat will eat a new food if it’s completely mixed into the old food. Other cats won’t. Some owners suggest feeding 90% of your cat’s current diet and then placing 10% of the new food in a separate dish beside the food bowl. Your cat might be willing to try it that way. Really, if your cat doesn’t want to switch from her existing food, come into a Mud Bay and we’ll try to troubleshoot the problem with you.

One thing you don’t want to do is try to make your cat eat her new food. Some people think that a cat will eat when she gets hungry. But your cat should eat several times a day. If your cat ever goes without food for 24-hours, you’re placing her at risk for fatty liver disease. And if your cat won’t eat food after 36-hours, please call your veterinarian!

What if your cat doesn’t want to accept raw food, but you’ve tried to transition several times?

Getting a cat to eat some moisture-rich food, whether it’s canned or raw food, is extremely important to a cat’s longevity and overall health. So whatever moisture you can get into your cat’s diet is terrific. Don’t obsess if your cat refuses to eat raw food. Take a break and try a raw food transition with a different food when you want to try again.

If your cat won’t eat raw food but will eat canned food, that’s great! If your cat will eat a little bit of canned food as a topper for a kibble diet, that’s good too! Any moisture-rich cat food is going to help your cat’s overall health. Even 25-percent raw or wet food will make a huge difference in your cat’s health.

Cats don’t seek out water. They’re creatures who evolved in the desert. But they will eat their water in the form of moisture-rich foods. Work on finding out what moisture-rich foods your cat will eat, and you’ll boost her overall health.***

Cat gazing at a panting black and white dog

Allison Strange has worked at Mud Bay for nearly four years. You might recognize her from the Mercer Island Mud Bay or Seattle Humane’s Mudlet. Now she’s a community outreach coordinator who you’ll see at numerous events throughout Puget Sound. When she’s not at a Mud Bay, you might spot her hiking with her pink-haired goldendoodle, Sadie Starship.

Instagram post 2173508383042988942_428616384 Cats who collect string, floss and pencils often enjoy toys that can replicate a serpentine movement along the ground. They might also enjoy sturdy wand toys that are dragged across the floor. #repost #mudbaycats #catoftheday #whatsyourcatspreypreference #snakes #roadtripsareawesome 🐈🐍
Went on a road trip to Seattle and found a place called mudbay ! I went a bit overboard bc there were so many GREAT trinkets for kitties (Louis’ favorite was the catnip snake)! Definitely stop by if you’re ever in the area!

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Who’s this suave boy above?! This is Chico! Chico is a 3 year old, domestic shorthaired beauty waiting to find his family at Seattle Humane!
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Visit Seattle Humane this weekend to see if Chico is a good match for you and your family!
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