Refusal to eat the raw food occurs either at the initial introduction of the new diet to cats or as a sudden loss of interest. The subject of transitioning cats from commercial cat food to a homemade raw diet is discussed in on the “Transitioning” page. The remedy of getting cats to eat the raw food and keeping them eating it are the same, however.
Many cats will hunt prey but never eat it. Why? Only the hunting of prey is instinct, but not the eating of it. Cats are conditioned or learn WHAT to eat during early kittenhood. As kittens grows up their flexibility of what will be accept as food declines. Starting at the tender age of 4-6 weeks old, kittens are guided by some cravings, but ultimately learn WHAT to eat from their mother who brings prey back to the den or nest. Initially, dead prey is brought to the kittens to feed them. Later, exhausted or injured prey is presented to enable the kittens to practise their hunting skills. (When cats bring mice or birds into our homes it is to feed us or teach us how to hunt). When kittens grow up with humans as their “mothers”, it is us who teaches them for the rest of their lives WHAT to recognize as food. Young kittens are ravenous about eating the raw food, because they are ready to be imprinted on what to eat. For most cats, however, this imprinting occurs with the use of canned and dry cat food. As the window of opportunity to accept a variety of foods closes, cats will begin to rely on this early experience to select what they are willing to eat. Anything unknown, regardless of how natural or healthy – even mice or raw meat – gets a response of resistance, because it is not being recognized as edible or simply forces cats out of their comfort zone. I believe cats have likes and dislikes, but I don’t think of them as finicky. Rather, they are victims of being highly specialized to a fault.
When transitioning adult cats to the raw food it is wise to work WITH this limitation of cats and not try and fight it. The old adage of “they will eat when they get hungry enough” will not work with cats. In fact, many will go without food for days before eating something which does not compute with their conditioning … if they will eat it at all. Early kittenhood experiences are generally also associated with a sense of safety for cats. Therefore, the food the cat is conditioned to eating is associated with safety. Save is what all animals want to feel. When cats are reluctant to accept new food, keep in mind that you are challenging them to overcome early conditioning (imprinting) and the need to feel safe. Success is more likely when the challenge is broken down into “baby steps”.
The sudden refusal of the raw diet by cats who have accepted the raw food and eaten it readily can be rooted in the cat having developed a dislike of the food due to monotony, the meat not being fresh, a surfacing of a craving, or an event which caused insecurity and recalled a need for the food the cats were imprinted on as kittens. It can also occur that cats raised on a raw food develop a taste for commercial products after being exposed to them. In terms of acceptance by cats, it appears easier to switch raw-fed cats to commercial foods than switching commercial food-fed cats to raw. Although cats do not select food by instinct, flavours and odours in commercial foods appear to trigger certain “I like this!” receptors in the cats’ brains similar to humans responding to salty, sugary, or greasy foods. Cats are extremely intelligent creatures and will purposely hold out for something “better” if they have learned (or trained you) that by refusing the raw food they will get canned food or kibble!
The smaller species of cats do not eat carrion. Their prey comes in meal size and are eaten on the spot. Over the many millennia of their evolution, the small cats have not grown accustomed to eating food in any state of decay.
Cats are able to detect subtle biochemical changes in meat that causes decay, like the break down of cells by enzymes and bacteria. These may not be obvious to us, but they are to cats and may cause cats to refuse their meal.
Meat at the grocery store is obviously no longer fresh in the way our cats would like to consume it. Air circulation and low temperatures keep the decaying process to a minimum, but any time when meat is not cooled sufficiently, wrapped in packaging too long, or simply stored for too long, it begins to go “off”.
How can you tell? You develop a nose for it. Like fresh fish, fresh meat has almost no odor, and the odor that can be detected should be describable as “cool and fresh” – like a breeze through a window. If you find the odor to be even slightly “off” or sour, the meat is likely in the beginning stages of decay and less tolerant cats might go straight off their food if they are presented with it. In addition, any feeling of the meat being slimy indicated that bacteria is breaking it down and it might no longer be fresh enough for more choosy cats.
Buy meats well before their labelled best before dates and refrain from buying clear-out deals. At home, prepare the cat food the same day you purchased the meat. Sitting in a household fridge for a few days can cause the meat to go off. If you don’t get around to preparing the cat food right away, freeze the meat.
In addition, do not keep cat food or meat frozen for too long. Try your best to prevent ice crystals and freezer burn from forming, because this can also alter the flavor and odor of meat and make it unappealing to cats.
Last but not least, a monotonous diet of the same meat and premix day in and day out may leave some cats plain bored with their foods. I highly recommend to utilize as many meat varieties as are available and liked by cats, to change them up within the week, and to use the different TCfeline premix varieties as well, because each one imprints its unique flavor onto the finished food.
Raw food can be “dressed-up” for success, if meal time has become an overall stressful event for your cat and you. The easiest and consistently successful methods are the following:
addition of a small can of canned cat food into a batch of raw food (adding canned fish often causes regurgitation, however)
top-dressing a serving of raw food with kibble which have been made into powder by running them through a clean coffee bean grinder.
top-dressing a serving of the raw food with cream or half-and-half.
top-dressing a serving of raw food with nutritional yeast or brewer’s yeast.
Also, give cats the benefit of the doubt that they simply doesn’t fancy a certain type of meat or a certain type of premix. Other cats just don’t like raw liver and some prefer the premix with chicken liver over the one with beef liver … at least this month ;) Some customers shape the raw food into patties and slightly fry or sear them on both sides before serving to enhance flavour. This is very labour intensive, but I can see that cats would love it. Unfortunately, like using canned fish for flavour, mixing cooked meat with raw meat causes some cats to regurgitate.
When trying new foods with cats, keep servings small. When trying a new meat or a different variety of premix, reduce the batch size you prepare. You want to keep waste to a minimum so not to add to your frustration. Small servings will hopefully also prevent that cats will regurgitate the new mixture you are trying out.
The above picture gallery shows a trick I use to get my cat “Tina” to enjoy the raw food … which she would not eat otherwise. I run a premium brand no-grain kibble through a designated electric coffee grinder and store a supply of this kibble powder in a empty “SPRINKLES” jar. For every meal I shake this kibble powder over Tina’s food, which is thinly spread out on a saucer, like Parmesan cheese over spaghetti. It does the trick every time!