Tips/Tricks To Try To Help Your Cat Change Its Diet

Changing a cat to a new food (diet) is typically recommended by your veterinarian for a specific medical condition. Yet, accomplishing this transition may be a difficult challenge. However, if successfully achieved, it can often improve your cat’s health and quality of life. To assist you in this process, here are some suggestions that may help in your endeavors:

  • Most cats like food that is at its freshest. Therefore, when switching to the new diet, always start with a brand new, freshly opened can or package. Also, since cats are very smell-oriented, warming the diet in a microwave oven (beware of hot spots and potential burns to the tongue/mouth) can be useful.
  • Initially, small quantities (less than a tablespoon per cup or can of food) of your cat’s favorite food or flavors (i.e. Gerber’s meat baby food, canned white meat chicken, turkey, water packed tuna juice, or clam juice) can be mixed with the new food to make it more enticing. If you want to try other flavors, please check with your veterinarian first.
  • Before starting to change your cat’s diet, be sure that your cat is at home, feeling better, and eating its usual diet normally. A simple way to start is to place the new food in your cat’s usual feeding bowl and location. Then, place some of the old diet in a feeding bowl next to the new food bowl. If you can put both foods in similar bowls it will make the change somewhat easier. If your cat readily eats the new diet, the old food can be removed. If after an hour, your cat doesn't eat the new diet, pick it up until the next feeding. At the next feeding, repeat the process, always providing fresh new food. Once the new diet becomes familiar to your cat (usually in a day or two), it should start eating it readily. When this occurs, start to decrease the amount you offer of the old diet. Then, decrease the old diet amount by about 25% each day or two until the change is complete.
  • Feed your cat in a quiet environment where it won’t be distracted.
  • If your cat has food available all the time and refuses the new diet, it may be easier to start by changing its feeding schedule to meal feeding. This means you only leave food out for 1 hour at each feeding time. As long as no more than 10% of your cat’s weight is lost, you should not be too concerned during the period of transition.
  • If it has been recommended that your cat eat a different diet based on a medical condition, and your cat won’t eat it, there may be other food brands and/or types that we can suggest to help your cat with its transition.

In summary, switching cats from one food to another can be a challenge. This is especially true for cats who are finicky eaters. And, while your goal is to accomplish this diet transition for its medical benefits, remember that some cats are non-converts no matter how hard you try.

Furthermore, since some cats have a propensity to develop hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver syndrome) when under stress and/or not eating, you do not ever want to try starving your cat into submission in order to force it to eat a new diet. Usually, it won’t work, and you could cause your cat to have a more severe medical condition than the original problem you are trying to help.

So, while it is ideal to have your pet eat a specially formulated diet recommended for a specific medical condition, it is still more important that your pet is eating...even if the diet is not the ideal choice for your pet’s issues! We always say, “Eating is more important than not eating!”

Reference: Tips to Help You Help Your Cat Change Its Diet, Jodi Westropp, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, UC Davis, 2009.

If you have any questions pertaining to this information or to any aspect of your pet’s health care, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO ASK US.