One of the most common problems, when we suggest that people switch their cat to wet food, is that their cats don’t like it. Cats who have been eating dry food their whole life may be like: “Are you serious? What is that? Bring back my kibbles!”
Many cats are very loyal to their current food brand and will not even look at anything else.
Familiar? This may be beneficial if it prevents your cat from jumping on kitchen counters or stealing your food. However, it may also turn out problematic if you need to switch cat food. In this article, you will learn how to switch cat food even if the cat thinks you are providing something inedible.
There are many situations you may need to switch, even if you think you will never do so. As cats age, their dietary requirements change, not to mention if they are diagnosed with a health problem that requires a prescribed diet. What happens if a manufacturer goes out of the market or you suddenly realize that your previous choice is not that good?
Regardless of the reason for switching to new cat food, you’ll need to know how to do it properly.
- Do not starve your cat!
- Start with a small amount of new food mixed with the old food.
- Increase the amount of new food and decrease the amount of old food each day. After at least 14 days, provide only the new food. Take longer if your cat is not accepting the change well.
Now, let’s talk about each step.
#1 Don’t starve the cat!
A common suggestion is to leave the food and not worry about it. “The cat will eat when he’s hungry enough,” they say. But it isn’t the best approach.
If your cat does not eat the new food, switch back to the old one immediately. There are two main reasons for this:
- If your cat does not recognize the new food as edible, she may not do so no matter how hungry she is.
- More importantly, if your cat goes without eating, she may develop a medical condition called hepatic lipidosis.
What is hepatic lipidosis and how does it affect cats
Hepatic lipidosis, also known as fatty liver, refers to the accumulation of fats in the liver of an animal.
Untreated hepatic lipidosis has a mortality rate of 90%, but if aggressive and timely treatment is applied, this rate sinks to 60%.
When a body begins to starve, it reaches for energy that is stored as fats. Unlike many other animals, cats’ bodies are not used to a rapid increase in fat breakdown, and their liver is not able to process fats in such a great volume. In turn, the fat accumulates in the liver, which can cause the organ to fail.
The most common symptoms of hepatic lipidosis in cats are as follows: yellow gums, rapid muscle mass and weight loss, anorexia, and vomiting.
Hepatic lipidosis is likely to develop after only two days of starving. If you need more information, you can find more about hepatic lipidosis here. The main thing to take away: don’t let your cat starve!
#2 Start with a small amount of new food mixed with the old food.
Next, you need to trick your cat into eating the new food. To do this, serve the old food with a tiny amount of new food hidden inside.
How much new food should you mix in? Short answer: as little as necessary. Some books suggest to add 25%, but we say that this is the maximum. There’s a simple reason for this: if you add too much, your cat may not eat it. If this happens, try less of the new food.
When we transitioned our two newly adopted adult cats, we actually started with a teeny tiny speck (smaller than a rice grain) of the wet food on top of their old dry food. Anything more, and they didn’t touch the bowl at all.
#3 Gradually increase the proportion of the new food in the serving.
After you have found the old/new food mixture that your cat is willing to consume, you can start increasing the amount of the new food each day.
This transition is normally carried out over 10 to 14 days.
Why is gradual food introduction important? Even if your cat eats well, this pattern will help to avoid gastrointestinal upset.
Gastrointestinal upset? What is that?
In general, gastrointestinal upset refers to any condition in which an animal’s gastrointestinal system does not work properly. In this case, we are referring to a condition where your cat’s gut flora is unable to process the new food.
Gut flora is bacteria that live in the gastrointestinal system of an animal (whether cat, dog, human, or reindeer). You’ve probably seen tv commercials about good and bad bacteria, right? We’re talking about the good folks here, the flora that can help our cats digest food.
Gut flora normally consists of up to a thousand different species, each of them with different characteristics and capabilities in terms of breaking down nutrients. Let’s simplify this for clarity.
If your cat eats the same food over months and years, your cat’s gut bacteria become narrowly specialized. Bacteria species that digest these particular nutrients thrive, whereas others, that may also be beneficial, starve and die off.
As you introduce a new food, it may contain ingredients that your cat’s gut lacks bacteria for digestion. If you do it slowly, your cat’s gut will have the time necessary to adjust.
The most common symptoms of gastrointestinal upset are vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and lethargy. If you notice such symptoms upon switching food, it does not mean your cat is allergic to the new food. It means that you are rushing too quickly.
Upon saying that, of course, there might be situations when gradual change is not possible. Well, it that case, of course, you have no choice but to introduce new food abruptly. In that case, though, keep a close eye on your cat’s well-being.
In the future, however, it is a good idea to alternate your cat’s food type periodically. If you do so, changing your cat’s food will not require a long, gradual switch, as mentioned above.