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Transitioning Your Cat to Raw Feeding: Slow or Cold Turkey

Transitioning Your Cat to Raw Feeding: Slow or Cold Turkey

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When you move on to raw feeding this is another area where you will get mixed advice.

Some people will tell you that you should just switch straight over because you’ve decided not to feed commercial pet food any more and why would you want to keep feeding it when you know it isn’t the best.

Other people will tell you that you have to do a slow transition to allow your pet to adjust to the new food and reduce digestion problems.

To my mind, either way is fine so long as you know what to be aware of. I personally chose to do a slow transition as in a poor financial climate I wanted to use up the kibble I already had and not waste money so it was a purely financial reason and nothing else; had the financial reasoning not been an issue I most likely would have done a straight swap and donated the remaining kibble to a local rescue.

I hope to give you a good idea of both methods and then the choice is entirely yours for whatever reasons.

Kitten is eating and enjoying raw beed kidney.
Image Credit: Howard Allison, Catsel

Slow Transition

Different foods digest at different rates.

The first thing to be aware of if you choose to transition your pet from one diet to another is that different foods digest at different rates. It takes around 12-14 hours for kibble to digest, 6-8 hours for wet and tinned foods to digest and only around 4 hours for raw foods to digest.

If you feed raw food at the SAME TIME as any other foods it is held in the digestive tract too long and starts to spoil in transit; this means that bacteria can grow in your pet’s stomach and intestines and can lead to digestion problems and illness. If you mix feed, give a kibble or wet meal in the evening and the raw meal in the morning to allow both to be fully digested before they have their next meal.

Choose the base meat.

Choose the base meat that best suits your pet’s current diet without giving them anything too rich. Although in most cases it is best to start out with chicken some people may wish to avoid this if their pet has had intolerances with commercial chicken pet foods, in which case this is a good way to move forward.

If you pet mostly eats turkey kibble or wet food start off with turkey necks, poultry minces and chicken wings/carcasses. If your pet eats lamb or beef based kibble or wet food then use beef minces and beef bones (remember weight baring bones will be more brittle); lamb is much more fatty than beef and is most likely too rich to start off with. Only use ONE meat source (turkey, chicken or beef) for the first week.

No bone more than 4% of meal.

Try not to add more than 4% of bone to the meals at this point. Make most meals up with minces and the occasional meaty bone as a recreational treat AFTER the main meal.; alternatively feed smaller meaty bones such as chicken wings.

Having too much bone in the first few weeks can cause constipation which leads to impaction and eventually surgery if it isn’t rectified.

Check on your cats stools.

Keep a check on their stools. Yes, again with the poo checking, it really is important.

On a mainly chicken diet the stools will be a light yellowish brown colour, on a mainly red meat diet the stools will be a very dark brown, almost black (if they are black this could be a sign of internal bleeding in the digestive tract so please take your beloved pet to see a vet).

If you have fed too much bone the stools will be hard, crumbly and very light, almost white, in colour; if you have fed too much offal they will be dark and loose. It is also good to know what your pet’s normal “raw stool” looks like as this is the indicator for how they are managing new food introduced to their diet later on.

Don’t worry about your pet not getting enough variety in their diet during the first weeks. Once they have a good variety of food sources everything will balance out.

Ragdoll cat is checking raw chicken beef.
Image Credit: Lorrison Pedre, Catsel

Cold Turkey

I think the first thing you should be aware of when doing a straight swap onto raw feeding is the impact it will have on the digestive system. Due do most pets having sensitive stomachs a sudden change in food can cause a few days of upset during which they will most likely have loose stools.

If you persevere with this somewhere between the end of the first week and the middle of the second week everything should have calmed down and nice healthy stools will be produced.

Some pets will settle much quicker, in 2-3 days and some will have no issues with the change of diet at all, each animal is individual. However, if there is no improvement by the middle of the second week I would recommend going back to the previous diet for a few days and then use the transition method to introduce raw feeding.

Due to the time it can take for the digestion to settle and your pets body to become used to digesting raw foods and bones when doing a straight swap you would be best advised to feed only chicken for the first 2 weeks unless you see no notable difference in the stools.

When switching straight onto raw aim to have less bone content than you will once the diet is fully established. It is best to have no more than 4% bone at this stage (especially with dogs) as your pet could end up constipated and become impacted, which will lead to surgery.

Please note that a raw stool will be firmer than you are used to seeing and your pet will have to work harder to pass it, this is NOT the same as being truly constipated where you pet will have great difficulty passing stools or not be able to pass a stool at all.

As with a transition diet keep a check on the condition of your pet’s stools, this will show how they are adjusting to their new diet.

You should always check stool after digestion of kidney, bone and other raw meat.
Image Credit: Kenneth Winmas, Catsel

Adding New Foods

Once you have started feeding raw give your pet at least 1 week on their base meat and if they appear to be managing this you can start to add in new foods one at a time. An excellent food to move onto is green tripe because of the natural enzymes it contains which help to boost your pets digestion.

Not everyone can access green tripe or feels able to manage the smell at first, if this is you don’t worry you can choose most foods to introduce next although I would recommend avoiding very rich meats such as lamb, rabbit and venison; If you choose to feed pork this shouldn’t be introduced until a good feeding pattern is established due to the greater risk of parasites.

When adding a new food to the diet introduce this gradually over the week giving it on days 1, 3,5, 6 and 7. You can feed it as the morning meal if you feed twice a day, mixed with the base meat during the morning meal or mix if with the base meat during one meal if your pet is only fed once a day. If feeding as a mix gradually increase the amount of the new food and decrease the base meat on each day you feed both.

Keep checking your pet’s stools, there will be some colour change on the days where you have fed the new food but there should be little change in consistency. If there is a strong odour, the stool is very yellow or it you feel it doesn’t look like a “healthy poo” then stop feeding the new food and return to your base meat for a few days, allowing the stools to return to healthy looking, before trying another new food.

It is helpful to note that some meats may take 2-3 introductions at different points in the diet before your pet is able to fully digest them, however if they haven’t been able to adjust to a particular food by the 4th attempt it would indicate a true sensitivity and it should be eliminated completely from the diet.

Once a second food source has been successfully introduced you can move onto a third. This is usually during week three if there have been no issues with the second. Again increase the amount gradually alongside both the base meat and the second food added. On the fourth week you should try to add a source of offal as this will become a vital part of your pet’s diet; this should be introduced ion the same way as other foods.

Somewhere between the end of week 4 and the middle of week 5 your pet will have a fairly varied diet and you will have noticed some of the benefits of feeding raw. At this stage, if you are choosing to follow a mixed BARF diet you can start to add in fruit and vegetables, although you can start to add vegetables from the beginning as shown in the sample transition menus; make sure these are either lightly cooked or blended to break down the cell walls to allow your pet to gain the maximum amount of nutrients from them. With either a mixed or prey model diet by the end of the fifth week you should be feeding to a set menu plan and can look at adjusting the ratios of each part of the diet.

Raw diet can improve health and looking.
Image Credit: Ryan L. Maddox, Catsel