Changing a cat diet can be tricky, but sometimes it is necessary. Perhaps, you’ve decided to switch from a dry food-only diet to canned food or even homemade cat food. Maybe a cat has a serious health issue and requires a prescription diet.
Whatever the reason, you put out the new food and the cat looks at you as if to say – “You’ve got to be kidding!” And Two other cats who aren’t changing diet, run over and gobble it down before you can stop them!
Changing the diet of 1 or 2 cats in a large multiple-cat household has its own unique challenges. Adult cats love commercial kitten food but can become obese if allowed to eat it all the time.
Kittens, on the other hand, if fed commercial adult cat food, may not be able to grow properly or may even get sick from it. And some cats may just simply refuse to eat the cat food you offer.
Whatever the food your cat eats, be it homemade or commercial, it should provide well-balanced nutrition that is just for cats. Click here to learn everything you need to know about Cat Nutrition.
When changing a cat diet you must go slowly. A sudden change of diet can upset digestion and even make her sick. If this happens, it is unlikely she will ever change to the cat food she needs.
And cats don’t like change. If you just put out new food, they may refuse to eat it simply because it’s new.
To change a cat diet, mix a small amount of the new food in with the old food. Feed the mixture to the cat for 2-3 days. Continue mixing in more of the new food while decreasing the amount of the old food every few days. Do this over a 2-3 week period until the cat is eating 100% of the new diet without problems.
During the transition, if he stops eating the current mixture, go back to the mixed amounts he was eating before he stopped. If necessary, start over and go slower – smaller amounts of new food added over a longer period of time.
Keep in mind that cats prefer the food at room temperature or slightly warmer. If your cat won’t eat his new cat food, try warming the food a little to release the aroma. A cat’s appetite is stimulated by smell much more than taste. You can also try dripping a bit of tuna juice over the food to improve the smell.
With multiple cats in the house, you have to keep the cat who needs the new food away from the food they shouldn’t eat – and vice-versa. The best way to do this is to isolate the cat that needs to transition to a new food. We put the cat in a separate room during mealtimes and close the door.
Since cats don’t like change, and they are likely used to eating with the group at their favorite Feeding Station, isolating one cat can be enough to make them not want to eat.
We start by putting at least 2 cats together in the room with their normal food. Each cat has their own food dish and we make sure that the cats are friends and enjoy eating together.
We’ll do this for 2 or 3 meals. We then start the transitioning process with all the isolated cats. That way, no matter which dish gets eaten out of by any of the cats, the change to a new diet has still begun.
Always check with your vet to be sure the new food won’t be harmful for the cats that don’t really need it. Usually, this is not a problem.
We also be sure that one of us goes in and out several times during the meal so the cats get used to that as well. That way, as we get further into the transitioning process, we can continue to monitor their progress.
Feed the cats in the isolation area last. Otherwise, the rest of the cats will be running in there trying to get food. Isolate the cats, feed the rest of the group, and while the group is eating, take the isolated cats their food. When you open the door to the isolated cats, they will see you with food and be less inclined to run out to their usual favorite eating spot.
As we continue the transitioning process, we try to keep the cats who don’t really need to change at a 50% mix of their regular cat food and the new cat food. We continue increasing the amount of the new food until the cat who needs it is at 100% of the new cat diet food and eats without problems.
Once the transition process is completed, we start intermittently leaving the door open and continue monitoring what everyone eats. Eventually, we are able to leave the door open all the time.
The previously isolated cats will still usually run into the room at mealtimes but we slowly keep moving their food dishes until they are back to their favorite feeding station spot. This will free up the isolation room for the next time we need to isolate a cat.
The cats not requiring the new cat diet food will be transitioned back to their regular food. So far, this has worked well for us.
We have taken in many stray, abandon, and sick cats over the years. Getting them on the appropriate diet has sometimes been a most difficult task.
In addition to the stress of a new place, we have no idea what they’ve been eating. We start with our homemade cat food. If the cat won’t eat it (which is unusual), we just keep offering different canned foods until we find something they like and that is well tolerated. Usually, there is a well-balanced commercial cat food that makes the grade.
If we can’t get a cat to eat any type of cat food, we try baby food. We use Gerber’s Chicken (2nd food) baby food. Most cats love this stuff and will usually eat it.
We start with just the baby food then mix it with small amounts of well-balanced cat food, slowly increasing the amount of the cat food. As they begin to eat regularly, we start decreasing the amount of baby food until they are eating the appropriate cat food. Click here for more ideas to get your cat to eat.
There are all types of specialty cat foods available at grocery, discount, and pet supply stores.
These specialty cat foods are formulated to control hairballs, reduce weight, decrease shedding, improve oral health, help with skin and food sensitivities, keep adult cats healthy and vibrant, or be better for your kitten or older cat. Most cats tolerate these foods just fine and some can even benefit from them.
Kitten food usually contains more protein, fat, and calories. Adult cats usually love kitten food but they can quickly put on weight if fed only kitten food.
Mature or senior cat foods usually contain fewer calories and more easily digestible protein than adult cat food. Senior cat food is not good for healthy, active adult cats or kittens.
Specialty foods for losing weight usually contain more fiber and others contain more fish oils for a shiny coat. Whatever the variations, these specialty cat foods are not usually harmful to a healthy cat.
We don’t feed our cats any of these specialty cat foods. Many of these special formulations are available in dry form only, contain too high a percentage of carbohydrates, and include corn, wheat, or soy grains – none of which are a natural part of a cat’s diet. In fact, many cats have allergies to the grains in dry food causing vomiting and diarrhea.
And age-specific cat diets simply make no sense to us. In nature, there are no “kitten mice” or “senior cat mice”.
And, there are no such things as “weight-reducing rodents”, “tarter control birds”, or “hairball control bugs”.
And the new “Breed Specific” cat foods that have recently hit the market are just plain ridiculous! A Persian cat does not need to eat a different type of meat than a Siamese cat. And what if you have a 1/2 Persian-1/2 Siamese? Do you need to buy both and mix the two? Or, how about a 1/2 Siamese-1/2? – what is she supposed to eat?! Cats are cats, regardless of breed, and they are all carnivores.
Chunks of quality meat and all-natural cat treat help with dental health, good nutrition and brushing help with hairballs, and grain-free meat-based foods greatly improve skin and food sensitivities.
While there is nothing wrong with any of the specialty cat diet foods, we simply don’t feel they are worth the extra cost for the questionable benefit they may provide.
Hill’s Pet makes varieties of both specialty and prescription cat diets. The specialty products, marketed as Hill’s Science Diet, can be purchased from your vet and at most larger pet supply stores. As with all commercial cat food, be sure to read the labels.
If a cat has an illness or disease, the vet may place the cat on a prescription cat diet food made by Hill’s. These prescription cat foods can only be purchased from a veterinarian.
Following is a list of the most common prescription cat diet foods:
- r/d – which is a reducing diet for cats
- a/d = for cats recovering from illness or trauma
- c/d = for lower urinary tract disease
- d/d = for food allergies
- g/d = for mild heart disease
- i/d = for gastrointestinal diseases
- k/d = for kidney failure and heart disease
- l/d = for liver disease
- m/d = for diabetes and weight loss
- s/d = for feline urinary syndrome (crystal formation in the urine)
- t/d = for teeth and gums
- w/d = for diabetes,constipation and colitis
Your vet is the best resource when it comes to deciding if your cat would benefit from a prescription cat diet. As with all cat food, read the label and discuss the cat diet with your vet. Many are made from grains, high in carbohydrates, and are not suitable for a carnivorous cat’s diet.
Find out what in the prescription cat diet makes it beneficial for your cat. Ask questions! If you don’t feel comfortable with the answers, research the illness and the cat diet further.
These prescription cat diets are often not readily accepted by the cat who needs them the most. Usually, mixing the new cat food with their regular food, baby food, or homemade cat food will be OK but discuss with your vet to be sure none of these things will be harmful.
If you decide to feed the prescription cat diet to your cat, be sure to follow your vet’s instructions regarding transitioning to the new food. The reason for the prescription cat diet food can affect the transition process so a discussion with your vet is very important prior to start your cat on the new food.
Regardless of the reason, changing a cat diet requires planning, time, and lots of patience and love – especially if he is sick. Proper transitioning to a new cat diet is vital to your cat’s continued good health.