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Switching your cat to raw or canned food and the benefits of timed meals

How to switch a kibble-loving cat to moist foods

Dry food is convenient and easy to serve, but increasing evidence shows that cats who eat only dry food are more likely to suffer from obesity, diabetes, kidney problems, and urinary blockages. To remedy this, many veterinarians recommend a diet high in both meat and moisture, notably canned or raw food.  

Cats make their eating decisions with their noses, and the strong-smelling flavor enhancers added to dry foods can spoil their appreciation for milder smelling canned or raw foods. This can be overcome with these two steps:

1. Pick up the old food at night and introduce a new food the next morning.

A cat who is free-fed and thus never hungry has little biological incentive to try something new, especially if it doesn’t smell like the food they’re used to or if it’s a different texture. So, after the evening meal, remove all remnants of food, wash the dish and leave the feeding area clean. The next morning, introduce a small amount of canned or raw food. Use a flat dish, not a bowl, for easier access and to avoid pushing on their sensitive whiskers.

2. Begin the transition with a strong-smelling moist food. 

Canned food is more aromatic than raw, so it’s easier to begin there. Several brands, textures, and flavors may need to be tried, as minor differences in ingredients can make a big difference to a cat’s palate. Once wet food acceptance is established, try mixing in different meat sources to avoid a diet of exclusively one type of meat. 

Additional transitioning tips

These two steps alone work for most cats. But if they don’t work for your kitty, here are some advanced techniques:

  Sprinkle chicken or salmon treats on top of the canned or raw

  Add some warm water to create a “gravy” that cats can lap up

  Crush some dry food and sprinkle it on top of the canned or raw

  Add 3 granules of salt 

  Offer a little canned food alongside their dry

  Add the juice from a can of your favorite tuna

  Add a little crushed freeze-dried chicken on top of canned food

Success will vary based on many factors…How long has your cat been eating dry food? Has your cat ever experienced canned food? Sometimes the texture of the food will influence success, sometimes flavor, sometimes brand, so you will need to experiment. The transition can happen overnight or may take days or even weeks, but it can be done!  

The benefits of timed meals for cats

Is your kitty inactive and overweight? Are they picky about new foods, especially canned meals?  If your cat has a big bowl of dry food available at all times, you may see some or all of these side effects of free-feeding. Many people free-feed dry food to their cats due to its convenience, or out of concern that their kitty will be hungry while they’re out and about. In fact, switching your cat to measured, timed meals-—with a break from food in between-—actually promotes a healthy metabolism. It also makes introducing new foods easier and is better aligned with their natural biological cycle.

Timed meals mimic a cat’s natural eating

Did you know that cats in the wild are genetically almost identical to our domesticated feline friends? A feral or wild cat hunts several times a day, most often at dawn and dusk, with periods of rest in between. This daily cycle allows the cat’s stomach to empty itself of food between meals and divert energy to the other parts of the body that need healing. When a cat has continual access to food, its body stays indefinitely in the digestive stage and does not direct therapeutic energy to the rest of the body. Feeding a cat twice per day on a 12-hour cycle, give or take a few hours, best mimics their natural eating habits. Cats spend the time between each meal resting or playing, enabling their body to perform critical cell repair and metabolic processes.

Picky kitty? Pick up the food dish!

When people wish to stop free-feeding their cats, we often hear of cats who refuse to try new foods, usually canned options. These cats are very often accustomed to having a dish of their favorite dry food available at all times. When their customary meal choice is right in front of them, cats have little incentive to try something unknown. Additionally, the grazing habit they have adopted has not allowed their stomachs to properly empty, which eliminates the important sensation of hunger. Feeding timed meals is a major component in successfully transitioning cats to new foods, and pet parents usually have a much easier time getting their cat to eat a new food simply by switching to scheduled, metered feedings before rotating in new food options or introducing wet food to kibble-addicted cats. 

Timed meals can prevent health problems

Cat obesity and diabetes are two major health problems that have been linked with free-feeding. Many cats graze throughout the day when food is left out, and eat more than their daily caloric requirement. This grazing habit only serves to push cats further towards health-compromising levels of obesity. Timed, measured meals make it easier to regulate a cat’s food intake and manage their weight. There is a growing body of evidence linking obesity to diabetes. The good news is that this serious and life-threatening condition can quite often be easily prevented or regulated through diet change. Because cats are obligate carnivores, they are biologically adapted to utilize meat protein, not carbohydrates, to meet their energy requirements. Replacing just one meal of a cat’s dry food with high-moisture, meaty canned cat food or raw food will not only help promote a healthy weight, but the reduction in carbohydrates will prevent blood sugar spikes that can lead to diabetes. Please see our “The Best Way to Feed a Cat” page for more information on how feeding raw or canned food can benefit your pet’s overall health and well-being.

How will you feed your cat when you’re away?

At times when you may be away overnight, consider finding a pet sitter to feed and check on your cat instead of leaving out a large bowl of food. Keep your cat’s best interests at heart and help them eat right, stay fit, and live a longer and healthier life with regular twice-a-day feedings.