There are many creative ways to transition cats, who are accustomed to eating commercial cat food, to eating a raw meat diet. In all cases, the intend is to help the cats make the emotional adjustment. The transition is less one of accustoming the body to a new food. If cats would make the switch from one day to the next, it would not likely cause a digestive upset. Whichever method you try, or whichever method your cat is most receptive to, it will likely be a test of your patient and take longer than expected. The emotions of cat owners who are new to raw feeding are a mix of excitement and reservation. Many feel completely let down when their cats refuse to eat the new food altogether, and they feel confirmed in their feelings of reservations towards this way of feeding. Many may think, if raw food was truly natural and good for cats, the cats would want to eat it instinctively. Cats’ refusal to eat the raw food may inspire thoughts like “the cat must know that the food is not good.”
Cats, however, can not be accredited with knowing what is good for them. 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 grow up, their flexibility of what will be accepted 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. 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.
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 foods cats are 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 following 5 Transition Challenges are my personal experience with transitioning cats to a raw meat diet. I took a different approach with each of these cats, catering to their limitations, needs, and personalities. In all cases the objective is to find a suitable moist food to which the raw diet can be added very gradually. So gradually, in fact, that the process either goes unnoticed by cats, or the changes are so small and are not worth resisting.