Last Updated on: July 20, 2023 by Crystal Uys
Raw food can be a very natural way to feed your cat. However, that doesn’t mean that all cats take to it easily. Switching your cat suddenly to a raw food diet can cause stomach upset—if your cat even eats it at all. While you may be excited for your cat to switch to a raw food diet, it’s vital that you slowly transfer your cat to raw food.
Luckily, this isn’t too challenging. The main idea is to go slowly and backtrack if your cat experiences any negative signs of discomfort. The amount of time this transition takes depends on the cat. Some will take to it well and be able to eat 100% raw food in only a couple of weeks, while others may require a month-long transition.
Follow the steps below to help your cat transition to raw food.
The 4 Steps to Transition Your Cat to a Raw Food Diet:
1. Adjusting from Dry to Canned
Transitioning from canned to raw food is much easier than from dry to canned. Therefore, if your cat is currently on dry food, we recommend switching them to canned food, first. Most canned food packages have transition instructions. Usually, this involves starting with 25% canned and 75% dry, and then slowly increasing the amount of canned food as your cat tolerates it.
Again, this transition can take quite a while. Older cats that have always eaten dry food may find this transition more challenging. Therefore, you should be very patient with older cats.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that younger cats will transition fast, though. Some cats simply have a harder time with food transitions. Adding a probiotic may help your felines during this period, but you should speak with your vet before adding any supplements to your pet’s diet.
Once your cat is happily on canned cat food, you can begin the transition to raw food.
2. Get on a Feeding Schedule
If your feline was previously free-fed, you’ll need to start a feeding schedule before you transition to raw food. Cats often aren’t used to eating all at one time when free-fed. However, you cannot leave raw food out, or it quickly goes bad.
To prevent your cat from getting too overwhelmed by switching a bunch of feeding factors at once, we recommend starting a feeding schedule first.
Start by feeding your cat at least four times a day. Portion out the cat’s food into four equal portions according to how much they need to eat. Your cat may complain a lot on the first day. However, after a few days, the feline should start to expect food at certain times. Then, you can begin reducing the number of meals until you find something that works for you.
We recommend feeding adult cats at least twice a day. Kittens may need three meals to prevent blood sugar issues due to their smaller size.
3. Add Raw Food
Transitioning your cat to raw food may take anywhere from 10 days to 3 months.
Start by mixing 25% raw food with 75% of your cat’s normal diet. Be sure to calculate the amount based on the number of calories. If your cat needs a cup of dry food but only half a cup of raw food, then you should be feeding ¾ cup of dry food and 1/8 cup of raw food.
Do this for 3 days. Reactions on the first day are common, but they shouldn’t be severe. (Diarrhea once is fine, but if your cat is having accidents all over the house, you should reduce the amount of raw food.) Preferably, your cat should have no more signs of discomfort after 3 days, and minimal reactions during this period. If your cat is obviously in a lot of discomfort, reduce the raw food by half at least.
If your cat gets through this period fine, then start mixing their food 50/50. Once again, some reactions right after the first mealtime is normal but reduce the amount of food if your cats’ signs of discomfort are severe. You may have to return to the previous ratio for a time before trying again. Most cats without difficulty will require another 3 days of this ratio.
For cats that don’t have much discomfort from the increased raw food, switch to 75%/25%. At this point, your cat will be consuming more raw food than canned food. Sometimes, cats become more finicky at this stage, so it isn’t odd for it to take longer. Once again, feed this amount for at least 3 days, keeping an eye on your cat for signs of discomfort.
Finally, on the 10th day, many cats will be consuming 100% raw food.
This process may seem very simple, but it hardly works out this way in practice. In many cases, your feline may require sticking to one stage longer—the days we gave were minimums, after all. Therefore, it rarely actually takes 10 days.
4. When Complications Arise
There are many occasions when things may not go as planned. Often, picky cats, kittens, and seniors have a harder time adjusting to a new food. Therefore, you may have to adjust your plan to accommodate these difficulties.
Some cats also just seem to have a harder time with raw food than others. This doesn’t necessarily mean they will never adjust to raw food, but it can indicate that you need to go slower.
Here are some tips that may help you when things don’t go as planned:
- Gently cook the raw food. If your cat doesn’t take well to the raw food, consider cooking it gently, at least for now. Very young kittens or immune-compromised cats may particularly need this extra safety step to prevent parasites and food-borne illnesses. Beyond safety, though, cooking the food may make it gentler on your cat’s stomach and more like what they’re used to eating.
- Serve your cat’s food somewhere “safe”. Preferably, this should be an area that is out of the way, or even on a small table. Stress due to food traffic can make cats reject food more often.
- Hand-feeding. If your cat won’t try the raw food, you can try hand-feeding—just make sure to wash your hands before and after. Many cats are more likely to consume food when they think it’s a treat.
- Eliminate treats. Picky cats may fill up on treats between meals, and then not feel hungry enough to give raw food a chance. Eliminate treats to prevent this problem. You can add them back in after your cat adjusts to the new diet.
- Use a flat food dish. Raw food may require more effort to eat, and a raised bowl may complicate this. Therefore, consider getting a flat dish for your cat’s food, especially if they are young or have mobility issues.
Adjusting to raw food can be a bit stressful. Some signs of discomfort are normal parts of the transition. However, others can be troublesome. The most common changes are diarrhea and increased gas. These signs are simply related to your cat’s dietary changes and should clear up within a reasonable amount of time. Proper transitions can prevent digestive discomfort, but it doesn’t always lead to them being completely eliminated.
Excessive shedding, dry skin, and chronic health issues may briefly worsen. Usually, the cat experiences some amount of stress during the transition, so the body will react accordingly. Everything should resolve within a few days. If problems persist for a week or more, we recommend taking your cat to the vet.
Raw food can be a healthy meal option for your cat. However, most cats aren’t used to consuming raw food, so they may experience some problems when first trying this new diet. Slowly transitioning your feline is the best option. You don’t want to abruptly switch their food, as this can cause worse digestive upset and similar signs of discomfort.
Many cats will transition within 10 days if you follow the steps above. Minor stomach upset may occur, like loose stools. However, these signs should disappear within a couple of days.
Featured Image Credit: Chendongshan, Shutterstock
About the author
Cat mom to Ivy – a feisty little rescue kitten that is her one and only child. For now! Throughout her life, she has been introduced to the special love that can be found in the bond with a cat. Having owned multiple felines, she is more than certain that their love is unmatched, unconditional and unlike any other. With a passion to educate the public about everything, there is to know about felines, their behavior, and their unique personalities, Crystal is devoted to making sure that all cats and their owners know the importance of conscious living – and loving!