There are lots of reasons you may desire or even need to change your cat’s food. Your cat may have developed a medical problem for which a special diet is recommended. You may not be able to obtain the food your cat has been eating any longer. Or you may simply want to change your cat to a higher quality food.
Whatever the reason for the change, transitioning a cat to a new food must be done carefully. If your cat is not particularly finicky and will eat anything, you should consider yourself lucky. If that’s the case, the transition will be relatively simple.
Importance of Gradually Changing Your Cat’s Food
If possible, your cat should be transitioned slowly from one food to another. Sudden changes in your cat’s diet can cause gastrointestinal upset and may result in diarrhea, vomiting, and even a reduced appetite for your cat.
Ideally, you should plan on taking at least a week to transition your cat from one food to another. If your cat is not finicky, start by adding a small amount of the new food in with old food. Gradually increase the amount of the new food and decrease the old food by a similar amount each day. Be sure your cat is eating the food. If the transition goes smoothly, you should be feeding only the new food at the end of a week.
Unfortunately, many cats are picky about what they will eat. Some cats become accustomed to one particular type of diet and it can be very difficult to transition them. It usually is possible to convince these cats to consume a new food but it will take time and patience.
Never try to starve your cat into eating a new diet. Cats that do not eat regularly can develop hepatic lipidosis, a health condition that can become life-threatening. If your cat goes longer than 24 hours without ingesting any food, you should be concerned. Cats that are eating an insufficient amount of food may take longer to become ill but can still develop hepatic lipidosis within a few days.
If your cat is finicky and refuses to accept the new food, you’ll need to start by feeding scheduled meals rather than feeding your cat free-choice. You should plan on feeding your cat a meal two to three times daily and removing any uneaten food after 20-30 minutes. Start this process while still feeding the old diet.
Once your cat is eating meals on a schedule, try mixing a small quantity of the new food in with old. Do not offer your cat more in one meal than he would normally eat in the 20-30 minutes during which the food is offered. Hopefully, your cat will be hungry enough to accept the new mixture. If successful, continue to increase the quantity of new food while simultaneously decreasing the quantity of the old food each day.
Go slow with the transition. This process may take much longer than a week, depending on your individual cat. If you go too fast (i.e., giving more new food and less old food), your cat may refuse the new mixture. If you need to feed the same mixture of foods without change for several consecutive days before increasing the quantity of the new food, do so.
Transitioning from Dry to Wet Cat Food
Transitioning a cat from a dry food to a wet food can be especially problematic. The taste and texture of the two types of food are quite different and many cats will find their new food quite strange. There are some tricks you can try to make the transition easier and the food more palatable. Try sprinkling the kibbles on top of the wet food until your cat is used to the smell of the wet food underneath. Then you can try mixing the dry food into the wet food. You can also try grinding some of the dry food into a powder and mixing it into the wet food to add flavor and make the food more palatable.
For cats that need to be transitioned from dry food to wet food quickly due to medical issues, adding a small quantity of Fortiflora, a probiotic, to the wet food can help improve the palatability. Warming the wet food to near body temperature can also help improve the palatability.
Encouraging your cat to engage in interactive play for a short time (15-20 minutes) before each meal can also help increase your cat’s appetite and make acceptance of a new food easier.
Watch your cat’s weight carefully during any food transition. If your cat loses weight or refuses to eat during the transition, consult your veterinarian for advice.
Dr. Lorie Huston