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Switching Foods

  1. How do I switch my cat to a raw diet?
  2. How do I switch my dog to a raw food diet?
  3. How do you switch dry and wet food for your pet?

  1. How do I switch my cat to a raw diet?
    Some cats can be notoriously hard to switch due to their picky nature and due to the extreme addictiveness of many commercial pet foods. Some older cats will choose commercial foods over raw food any day, even after being fed a raw diet for a while. They are considered "pet food junkies", if you will. They are addicted to the carbohydrates and additives, and after eating it for so long their bodies respond automatically to anything that smells like or resembles commercial food.


    Kittens typically are much easier to switch than older cats. To switch a kitten, simply offer it a piece of boneless meat, such as chicken breast. Make sure the meat is slightly warmer than room temperature. Leave the food down for a while (although not more than an hour or so) so the kitten has a chance to investigate it, play with it, taste it, and then hopefully eat it. If the kitten will not eat the meat and you know it is hungry, try drizzling a little tuna juice over it. Most kittens will taste the food immediately and then eat it quickly.

    Feed boneless meats for a few meals so the kitten gets used to eating the raw food. Then add an easy bone like a bone-in game hen breast half. The bottom portion of the bone is very flexible and should be readily edible. The upper portion of the bone is fairly hard and the kitten may not eat it, but at least it will experience the texture of bone. If the breast is very meaty, cut off a portion of the meat to feed for later so that the kitten does not fill up on meat and not get to the bone. If the kitten is very tiny you can try feeding a game hen wing; once the kitten has learned how to chew the bones, though, I would strongly recommend feeding the wing attached to a game hen breast so the kitten does not become "too bold" and tries to swallow the wing whole (I know this from experience!!). You can also try feeding chicken necks or wings as raw meaty bones for a kitten. The kitten may not be able to eat much of it and will thus need some supplemental 'meaty meals', but it should quickly get the hang of chomping on bones. Before you know it, your kitten will be disposing of raw meaty bones with ease! When this occurs, then you should feed pieces large enough for the kitten to really work at its meal.

    Once the kitten is accustomed to eating raw food, be sure to start introducing organ meat. You can try feeding a little liver or heart by itself first; if the kitten refuses, drizzle it with tuna juice. If the kitten still refuses, then chop up the liver or heart and mix it up with a tiny amount of canned tuna. The kitten should readily eat this concoction. Over time, decrease the amount of tuna and increase the size of the organ meat chunks until the kitten can eat organ meat by itself. Your kitten may surprise you, too, and start liking organ meat all by itself. My cat went from hating liver and eating it only if it was disguised to eating it on its own by herself in the course of one day. This same pattern occurred when new meats were introduced.

    Start introducing a variety of meats over the course of time so that your kitten becomes accustomed to variety. Cats seem to tolerate initial variety better than many dogs, although too many organ meats can make their stools a little loose. If you have been feeding chicken, introduce a little turkey breast or ground turkey (although phase out the ground meat if you can). Try some other organ meats like chicken hearts, chicken liver, beef heart, beef liver, beef kidney (choose one and introduce each one slowly and individually). Try pork meat next, and then maybe some beef or lamb (my cat has finally begun to eat lamb, although she will readily attack a beef rib that is as long as she is!). If you can get rabbit for a decent price, then try that too. You can always introduce new meats in their ground form first (and sometimes that is one of the only ways people can afford rabbit or venison), but try to move away from ground meat as quickly as possible. If you are feeling brave, you can try feeding whole mice or fur-on rabbit to your cat.

    Switching older cats can be troublesome depending on the cat and how long it has been eating commercial food. There are several things you can try.

    First, if your cat is a free-choice feeder, break that habit now. Have your cat eat two meals a day by offering food at specified times for only 15 minutes each time. Start with three times a day and then cut back to two. A cat on a regular schedule should be easier to switch.

    See if your cat will eat little bits of raw chicken breast as a treat. If he does, this may indicate that you can just switch him 'cold turkey'-commercial food one day, raw chicken the next. If your cat goes for this, then great! Switch him in a similar manner as the kitten.

    If your cat will eat pieces of raw meat as a treat but not as a meal, you may have to start feeding him one "meal" of raw meat treats and then one meal of commercial food later. As his taste and tolerance for raw food grows, increase the amount of raw meat he eats and decrease the amount of commercial food. Soon, just feed him raw meat at each meal, and then progress with feeding more raw foods in the manner detailed above for the kitten. Get that commercial food out of the house and away from his sense of smell as soon as possible, though. You can keep a can or two of tuna or salmon or mackeral on hand just in case he decides to 'go off' raw food; this way you can feed him something yummy while mixing raw food back into his diet. If he goes off raw food and does not have any other reason for doing so (i.e., is not sick, etc.), try cutting back to one meal per day. If he does not want the raw food the next time it is offered, try drizzling it with tuna juice. If he still does not want it, you may have to mix it up with a little tuna. If he still does not wish to eat and it has been 24 hours since his last meal, you may have to go buy a can of 'good quality' canned cat food, just so he will eat something. Mix the raw meat into it, though, so he is still receiving the texture and nutrition of the fresh food. Try to get him back on raw food as soon as possible. Sometimes all that is needed is a new protein source, too. The cat may tire of chicken and want something different. Thus, you could try a little pork meat to see if he eats it before purchasing canned cat food (think of the commercial food as a last resort).

    What if your cat does not eat the raw meat at all? First, switch your cat to wet, canned food. Start by mixing a little of it in with his dry food, and then decrease the amount of dry food until the cat is eating only wet food. Then start mixing the wet food with raw food. Mix in some cut-up chicken breast, and slowly increase the amount of raw food until the cat will just eat the raw chicken. Then increase the size of the chunks so that the cat is finally eating a whole piece of raw chicken. After this point, begin branching out slowly to other cuts of chicken and maybe another protein like pork, and introduce a raw meaty bone. You can try hitting the raw meaty bone with a hammer to help break up some of the bones first-this may make it a little easier for the cat. Just be careful that the raw meaty bone does not go shooting off the counter onto the floor.

    Some cats vehemently refuse bones. Bones are an absolutely necessary part of a raw diet, as they provide the necessary calcium and trace minerals as well as necessary teeth-cleaning effects. Bone meal and ground up egg shells just do not fully fill the role of bone in a raw diet; they can do in a pinch for a short time, but they should not be used long-term. Thus, it is important for a cat to learn how to chew bones-the whole prey for the whole animal! Always check their mouths first to make sure there are no damaged or sensitive teeth resulting from their previous diet. Then, join the RawCat list if you have not joined already. The RawCat list is a place for people to ask questions and receive input, and the people there can offer many more suggestions than I!

    Some people use pre-made, ground raw diets to switch their cats to raw food. I personally am not a fan of ground raw diets, for reasons already mentioned about taurine, and for reasons listed on the Ground Raw myth page. However, I understand that for some it can be an important stepping stone to a species appropriate raw diet. If you choose to use a ground raw diet for switching your cat, I strongly encourage you to begin feeding whole pieces of meat and raw meaty bones as soon as possible. Cats can and do become 'addicted' to pre-made raw diets and will not try anything else outside of them. Unfortunately, these diets do nothing for helping keep their teeth clean. Additionally, many of the pre-made diets contain vegetables; vegetables are COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY for cats. Cats are 'obligate carnivores', meaning they MUST eat other animals to survive. They do not consume nor need plant matter. Everything they could possibly need is found in the flesh, bone, and organs of their prey.

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  2. How do I switch my dog to a raw food diet?

    So now you are ready to begin. Start off slow. The biggest mistake most "newbies" make is to add too much variety too soon! The result? A very rough transition that involves lots of midnight trips outside. So, start slowly. Pick one protein source and feed that for about a week (or more-it depends on your dog!). Many people start with chicken because it is an easily digestible protein source that is relatively inexpensive and is easy to get. But if you want to start with something different, like pork or beef, then by all means do so. Make sure to pick a raw meaty bone that is suitable for your dog. If you have a Chihuahua, try a chicken thigh. If you have a Golden Retriever, try a chicken quarter. And always feed it raw and whole-none of this 'feed ground' business! One of the main points of a raw diet is to give your dog a much-needed dental workout that cleans its teeth, prepares its digestive system for the incoming food, and satisfies the dog both mentally and physically.

    Work up to variety slowly. Do not worry about achieving "balance" with a wide variety of raw meaty bones and organs right away. You are in a whole different realm now where balance is a useless, meaningless term. You must work up to variety slowly, and over a period of time. There is no need to rush things, as rushing can cause you and your dog undue misery in the form of early morning trips outside with diarrhea, etc. Your pet is not going to suffer from eating one food source for a period of time-the raw food source it will be eating is superior in quality to any kibbled food and contains just what your pet needs nutritionally. Let your dog's system adjust to eating real food. Remember, your dog (or cat) has been eating a grain-based, hard-to-digest, artificial food that is WAY different from fresh, real food. The dog may have a suppressed immune system and possibly suppressed digestive enzymes, and just needs time to get its system up and running.

    Once your pet is used to eating the raw meaty bones you are giving him, try adding something new: a little organ meat, or a new protein. Again, take things slowly. Let your pet adjust to the new food for a while before adding another new food. Always add slowly, and always give the animal time to adjust to the new food.

    Switching puppies to a raw diet is just as simple, if not simpler! Most puppies take to raw food very readily. You can either switch them to raw food once they get home, or you can give them a few days to adjust to their surroundings before switching food. Better yet, before you even get a puppy, search for a naturally rearing breeder that feeds raw and minimally vaccinates their dogs. They will also be able to discuss the finer points of holistic rearing and the risks of vaccination with you.

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  3. How do you switch dry and wet food for your pet?

    If you have decided to change your pet’s diet to a natural or organic food, feed your pet a combination of the new and old food over a thirthteen day period to get them used to the new texture and smell. Changing a pet’s diets can trigger diarrhea and other intestinal upsets, especially if the pet has a sensitive stomach, so be deliberate and consistent in how you do it.

    Change Should Be Gradual

    Because dogs are consistently fed the same diet, it can be hard on their digestive system to change foods too suddenly. When you make a change to your dog's diet, you should do it gradually by mixing progressively smaller quantities of the current food with larger quantities of the new food. We generally recommend a schedule like the following.

    • Days 1-3: Mix 20% of the new food with 80% of the old food
    • Days 4-6: Mix 40% of the new food with 60% of the old food
    • Days 7-9: Mix 60% of the new food with 40% of the old food
    • Days 10-12: Mix 80% of the new food with 20% of the old food
    • Day 13: Feed 100% of the new food

    This type of schedule should allow your dog to adjust to the new diet without indigestion. Keep in mind that you'll need to have six days worth of the old food on hand to get you through the transition.

    At anytime your dog starts to experience issues, such of vomitting and diarrhea take a step back in the change and keep it there until the issue clears up. Then move foward again with the progression.

    Switching from a low quality to a rich quality food is a big change make it gradual.

    Wait For The Payoff

    One final thing to keep in mind is that it usually takes 4-8 weeks to see the full benefit of a new food. Normal signs of improvement like smaller, firmer stools should happen pretty quickly but improvements in skin, coat and endurance take a little longer. You'll want to give your new food at least a couple months before you evaluate the full effects. A bird dog with more energy and endurance means better hunting and more birds so the end result definitely makes a change worthwhile.

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