No more cat hunger strikes: Life-saving tips for introducing new foods

iStock 000005392034XSmall 300x210 No more cat hunger strikes: Life saving tips for introducing new foods

Yes, there is a secret formula to introducing a new cat food

I regret that years ago I did not know how to introduce new food properly to the cat I had then, Bastet.

When she rejected the food in a sniff, I assumed “well, so much for that idea.”

I was wrong. Now I know so many tricks that can help you get your cat to eat a healthier cat food.

Switching from dry to wet, and switching to low-carb grain-free, are very healthy switches and–contrary to what your cat may have told you–it’s  do-able.

Secret cat-food switching formula

The thing about cats is they are inherently suspicious of most new food: “It’s just wrong. Something must be off about it!” they say with a tail twitch.

It’s their instinct to react to unfamiliar food smells, which is why it helps to put a little of the new food on the side of their plate for a day or two.

The way this works, as I was taught by Anne Reed, DVM, is to have your cat eat their usual “happy food” while inadvertently smelling the new (oh no!) food. They are more likely to then associate the new food with happy feelings and eventually accept it as normal.

So you introduce it s–l—o—w—l—y. Cleverly, like this…

The 6-day plan

The following 6-day formula works well for us, and follows a consistent advice theme from a variety of experts.

You may need more or fewer days, depending on your cat’s sensitivity, digestion, and how radically different the new food is. If you see alarming changes in the litter box, go back to the old food and start over more slowly, or with a different food.

  1. First, CONGRATULATE YOURSELF! This is something to be proud of. It takes some focus, but it pays off in the long run.
  2. Gradually mix the new food in with the old food, following the picture below. Start with just a dab (that they probably won’t eat) on the side of their regular food. This gets them used to the scent while enjoying their usual meal.

6DAYPLAN No more cat hunger strikes: Life saving tips for introducing new foods

About the Mixing:

If your cat has been eating dry and you are introducing wet food, try mixing the wet food with another wet food they WILL eat. This might mean tuna, folks. As a last resort, if you are trying to switch from dry food to wet food, mix the new wet food with the dry food gradually.

  • Don’t let your cat go more than 36 hours without eating–especially if they are overweight. Have some of their old food on hand just in case. They will need to be eating at least 3 oz of protein each day during the switch to avoid hepatic lipidosis (see below), according to Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkin’s book, Your Cat.
  • Do use enticements (see below)
  • If all else fails, don’t give up. Try another flavor or another brand.

Irresistible food enticements for cats

Experts get results from using enticements either during or after the switch to keep the momentum up. You can then gradually taper the enticements off over a week or so.

What’s worked with our cats:

Feline Instincts is wonderful company that makes supplement mixes for homemade cat food. They have helped countless cats switch to raw homemade food, so they know what they are talking about when it comes to enticement tips. Here are their top enticements:

  • Halo Liv a Little’s treats, crumbled on top
  • Chicken Liver Powder (mentioned above)
  • “Mix any kind of food they like into the meal”
  • Salmon juice, tuna juice
  • Mix in beef or chicken broth

One moreCynthia at Bee Holistic Cat Rescue and Care finds bonito flakes to be a great enticement too.

What I mean by life-saving

It’s just that there are lifesaving facts about cat food switching that I did not know about for ages.  Many cat lovers may not know that:

  1. If an overweight cat pulls a hunger strike because they don’t like the new food, they could very quickly develop hepatic lipidosis—which could be deadly if not treated soon enough. So never play the “I’ll just wait until your starving” game with a cat—especially an overweight one. I cannot overstate this.
  2. If an indoor cat stays on a diet of high-carb dry food, their life could be shortened by diabetes. Or they may even develop IBD—which some experts believe is a precursor to the deadly intestinal lymphoma.  (You may be interested in another vet’s post about this on ConsciousCat.net too.)

Have you had switching success?

Do you have success stories about cat food changes at your home? I welcome them in the Comments below.

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19 Responses to No more cat hunger strikes: Life-saving tips for introducing new foods

  1. Lauren January 12, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

    Hi! Thank you for this blog!

    I got a kitten a month ago and she had been on prescription wet food since then. Now the vet said I could switch to regular non-prescription food, and I decided to let her try a variety of flavor and brand (is this a good idea though?) so that she will pick her favorite. I read a lot about switching cat food — all talks about transitioning slowly — but I am still not sure how to do this? I mean, I haven’t decided which one to feed her yet so I can’t just buy 24 packs of everything. The slowly transition will only happen once I decided which one to switch to, right? I have stocked a lot of single cans of different flavors and brands. Should I give her a little bit of each one (different everyday) on the side of her regular food and just watch?

    Thanks in advance!

  2. Ivy November 21, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

    I was so happy to find your blog. I’ve learned a lot!

    I’ve been trying to get my cat to eat wet food for months now and I’m having little luck. She dislikes most canned foods but when I find something she likes…she usually won’t eat it again. I’ve been buying/trying all brands and it’s getting very expensive.

    Two weeks ago I started weighing her dry food (so that she meets her nutritional requirements and isn’t at risk for developing fatty liver disease). It’s a lot less than before I started weighing it so I know she’d like to eat more but the only extra food she gets is wet food which she consistently walks away from. I really hope that she comes around soon. I’m at my wits end.

    If anything, she will lose the extra weight she’s put on since I took her in off the street. And now that I know which dry food is starchy I can at least stay away from those.

    Thanks for your info! Wish me luck. :o)

  3. Darlene August 28, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

    I have a 9 year old cat (Flighty) who is over weight and has urinary crystals. My vet recommended Royal Canin Urinary SO reduced calorie. He adores this food,and we have had good results with very few crystal issues. We just got a new kitten (Phoebe) and I would like to feed them both a more natural grain free diet. Phoebe loves wet food…Flighty does not. Every once in a while he will nibble on some..and he only will eat fish flavors. We tried Blue Buffalo Wilderness for Phoebe…she did not like it but she loves Wellness kitten and Natures Variety Instinct salmon. Flighty won’t eat tuna..tuna juice..etc…he is stubborn, but I really feel like he would benefit from more wet food in his diet…especially grain free. I have read your helpful tips on switching foods. I am going to try to place some food on his plate…what is you opinion on mixing wet and dry foods together? Any other advice would be appreciated. Thanks! Hopefully between the food switch and his new sister playing with him he can shed a few lbs :)

  4. JCP August 9, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

    Hi! My cat, Bogart, has always refused any food but kibble. He wouldn’t even try tuna. The only success I had was with Liv a Littles chicken. He’ll do anything for them. I just read your tips on switching from kibble to canned food and had that lightbulb moment. I tried a little bit of canned food with chicken scattered around it. He immediately snatched up the chicken. I was encouraged so I tried crumbling the chicken on top and was stunned an hour later when the dish was clean! WOOHOO!! I’m so excited because he’s been vomiting a lot lately on his dry food. I thought it was hairballs, but I understand after reading your blog that this is a bad sign. Poor guy, I’ve been giving him food with grains (wheat and rice)!

    The wet food I gave him tonight was I and Love and You Whascally Wabbit Recipe because that’s what I had on hand and I didn’t see anything offensive in the ingredients. Have you evaluated this brand yet? I’d be very interested to know what you think.

    Thanks SO much for the tips and here’s to a healthier calmer kitty tummy :-)

    • Liz-cat August 10, 2013 at 10:44 am #

      JCP, I’m so glad to hear about this progress for Bogart. I and Love and You cat food – wow, yet another new food! I peeked at it quickly and my best guess is it will go on my Runner’s Up list. It’s USA-made and grain free, which is good. But it has carrageenan, which isn’t ideal over the long term – though temporarily or once and while is probably not too bad.

      • JCP August 10, 2013 at 10:55 am #

        Thank you so much for your quick reply and review of the food!

  5. Amy July 26, 2013 at 1:16 pm #

    Great blog! Thanks so much for the clear, detailed information. My cats both have digestive issues of different sorts (one often has diarrhea and the other throws up a lot) and I have decided to try a grain-free diet in hopes that it helps both of them. I bought a few different varieties to test them out — all ones you recommended. So far they have liked everything I put in front of them. Not surprising since neither of them is finicky. Amazing, I know.

    Since they will adapt to the new food easily, is there any dietary reason to introduce the new food slowly? I’d like to get them transitioned over as soon as possible in hopes that it will clear up their digestive problems.

    • Liz-cat July 26, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

      Amy, that’s great news! It may be that the new foods contains many ingredients (eg, meats) they’ve had before so it smells just fine to them.
      I don’t think you need to introduce this grain-free food slowly then. If it were raw food, I would say yes, but canned is typically not a problem if they take right to it.

      • Amy July 26, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

        Thanks for responding so quickly! And thanks for all the great advice. If the change in food is a success, I’ll let you and your visitors know — probably as a comment on your post about IBS.

    • Misty June 5, 2014 at 3:24 pm #

      Amy,

      If your cat is throwing up it probably has IBD and will get intestinal lymphoma at some point if you don’t get the cat some treatment. I know this because my manx cat threw up for years and vets always told me it was hairballs but I know better now and she ended up be put to sleep because of intestinal cancer. Get the cat to the vet and it xrayed if it throws up all the time and then have the vet put the car on predisolone to clear up the IBD because it turns into cancer that in not curable.

  6. Cjt June 26, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

    I have to say thank you for the great research and advice for cat owners! I have a cat (slightly overweight) who won’t eat any wet food no matter what i try. In fact, she paws at it like it’s poop from her litterbox. I also think she’s allergic to turkey/chicken because of her constant scratching and dandruff whenever she eats anything with those in it. definitely makes things tough as almost all dry food has chicken of some sort in it. i have her on the orijen 6 fish right now, but really want to get her to wet food like my other cat because of greater choices for chicken-free food… My other cat will eat just about anything, but after three years, doesn’t seem to have had any influence on the first one’s pickiness… Any thoughts??

    • Liz-cat July 26, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

      Cjt, it does sound like she may have an allergy to chicken/turkey. I know that limits your choices. Did you try the food introduction tricks here: http://www.naturalcatcareblog.com/2011/06/no-more-cat-hunger-strikes-life-saving-tips-for-introducing-new-foods/

      • Cjt July 26, 2013 at 3:10 pm #

        Yes, I have – unfortunately, there is NO wet food she’ll eat. She won’t even eat dry treats. She has no problems switching between dry foods. She just scratches at any wet food (including straight tuna) as if she’s covering her poop. Since my prior posting, she has now started having issues even with the Orijen which is all fish. I’m trying the Nature’s Variety Instinct Raw Boost Lamb & Salmon, but it seems that it’s happening after a month or two of any one food, then switching makes it better, then it reappears again. :( Wish I could get her to wet food, but she’ll starve herself before touching the canned food, regardless of what it is.

        • Misty June 5, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

          I bet your cat will eat Fancy Feast! Have you tried it? My cat was a dry food addict and I got her on Fancy Feast Chunky Chicken. Now I am trying to phase in a better wet food called Instinct Grain Free, Chicken wet food.

  7. Madelyn January 9, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

    Hi Liz,

    I am switching my two cats to freeze dried raw. They recently stopped eating the wet food they’ve been eating over the last 6-9 months. Just out of the blue, completely disinterested. So I gave Soulistic a shot, thinking I had found the perfect cat food health-wise. I tried to switch them over for two weeks. I enticed them with everything I could think of, crumbled treats, tuna chunks and juice, old wet food, old dry food…It has never taken them this long to transition to a new food. They basically have started to starve themselves the last few days and I am petrified they will damage their health seriously. So of course last few days I’ve been supplementing with dry food and they seem less active and always in a bad mood.

    So, I have decided on freeze dried raw. I have been having trouble finding some locally, but finally found a store with Stella & Chewy’s and Primal. I’m leaning towards Primal chicken and salmon as it seems to come out cheaper in terms of portions and seems to be more nutritionally complete. What do you think of the two? I know they’re both on the best list, but any preference? Also, as the Primal is chicken (95%) and salmon (5%), is it okay feeding them that on a daily basis cause of the fish?

    I am expecting a huge struggle with the transition, but I now feel really strongly about a freeze dried raw diet (they will not go for straight raw). Any suggestions?

    Thanks.

    • Liz-cat July 26, 2013 at 2:16 pm #

      How did the transition to freeze dried go Madelyn? I personally would not worry about the 5% salmon. That’s just my opinion.

  8. Cody October 9, 2012 at 5:30 am #

    I am thrilled to find your blog here! You have so many useful bits of information that is simply overwhelming to sift through on my own via the web. I’ve been eye-crossed and frantic about trying to make sense of all the information on the web regarding my cats’ health. You’ve managed to sew together a common sensed simply written blog that is refreshingly easy to understand. THANK YOU!!!

    Last year, we made the change from mostly vegetarian to vegan (hubby and me, NOT our 4 “babies”). Since then, it seems like every time I look into something…ANYTHING (from MY food to household items to the Kitties’ food) there is some new horror that is uncovered! It is extremely overwhelming and difficult to keep in perspective. The latest was discovering the food I chose for the babies, after MUCH online research, is owned by a company that performs cruel animal testing. Seriously?! I mean of all things I thought would be “safe”!! Now I’m back to square one, but my happy discovery of your blog has made my job a TON EASIER!

    THANK YOU! THANK YOU! :)

    • Liz-cat October 18, 2012 at 9:17 pm #

      Cody, thanks so much for your happy comment on my blog. It made my day. : ) Yes, I know that information overwhelm experience too, so I wanted to create a resource to make it easier on discerning-but-overwhelmed cat lovers like you and me.

    • Terry September 24, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

      Liz is the best! Use her blog as your bible, you can’t go wrong!

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