There are a number of ways to switch your dog or cat to a natural raw diet. An important factor to consider is the diet you are switching them from. If they have some experience of eating a variety of home produced foods, both cooked and raw, the switch is usually quite rapid and trouble-free. If they have been eating kibble (commercial grain based dry foods), then they may require a more gradual transition from their current food to the raw food, to allow their digestive system to re-adapt to raw foods. The following section contains a set of guidelines and suggestions to help you and your dog or cat make the transition.
Transition for Dogs
The central principal of a raw diet is feeding a variety of different foods, to provide a balanced diet over time. However, during the transition period you should start by feeding each meat source, one at a time, for a period of a week or more. This allows you to determine which meats work best for your dog and it may help identify any allergies. For the first week of the transition, we recommend a high quality game meat meal that does not contain bones, such as buffalo, to help with digestibility. Once they’ve had a chance to try each protein source, you can rotate foods every day or few days, as desired. Remember that variety is achieved over a period of a few weeks – not every day.
There are two general approaches to switching dogs to raw foods – rapid and slow. With healthy young dogs, the rapid method is typically the simplest and most successful. However, for older pets that have been eating commercial foods all their life or dogs with gastrointestinal problems, a slower transition is recommended.
Rapid Switch. Most puppies, young and healthy dogs can switch to raw overnight using the “rapid” method. That is, yesterday you fed them kibble or canned food, and today you begin feeding them raw food.
Slow Switch. The most successful slow transition method to a raw food diet is to begin switching your dog to a quality canned food. This can be done by either switching them cold turkey or by mixing in the canned food with their dry food and gradually increasing the canned food content and decreasing the kibble. Try to eliminate the dry food as quickly as possible and begin mixing small amounts of raw food into the canned food. You may find your dog may need anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks to make the full transition, depending on age, weight and activity level. If you are noticing loose stools early in the process, cut back on the amount of raw food being fed and increase it at a slower rate.
Make sure the meat you are feeding is fresh and good quality!
Another transition method is to switch directly from kibble by offering one meal of raw food followed by one meal of kibble, and gradually reducing the number of kibble meals. Because of the difference in digestive times between raw and kibble, we do not recommend mixing the two foods.
Senior Dogs. For older dogs that have been fed commercial foods most of their lives, adding a probiotic and digestive enzymes to their new food can help ease the transition to their new diet.
Cooking Food. Alternatively, you can start by cooking the food slightly to help with the transition and pique the interest of those finicky dogs that are reluctant to try the new diet. Start by cooking the food halfway through and cook it less and less over a week until it is completely raw. Please not that most pre-packaged ground chicken meals contain chicken bones, and should not be cooked!!!
Some dogs that are suffering from immune deficiencies or gastrointestinal problems may need to continue having their food lightly cooked.
Transition for Cats
Cats are creatures of habit and will often resist changes made in their routine. It is natural for kittens to become fixated on the main food they receive during their first year of life. In nature this behaviour ensures that the young cat will know what to hunt and eat when the time comes to become independent from their mother. However, in a domestic setting it means that reviving your cat’s natural taste preference can therefore be quite a challenge.
When transitioning your cat from kibble to raw, you should anticipate some reluctance on the part of your cat in accepting their new diet. For this reason, it is important that you, as the caregiver, are comfortable and confident with the new diet. Cats are very sensitive to picking up our anxieties and other emotions so it is essential that any new food is offered with a confident and positive attitude. Be patient! Be creative! Don't give up and your cat will benefit in the long-run!
IMPORTANT! DO NOT let your cat go without food! Cats have a unique metabolic response to fasting that can lead to serious health problems. If a feline's food intake is rapidly and markedly depressed, they can develop Hepatic Lipidosis - a serious and potentially fatal condition. It is impotant that the transition be dictated by your cat's comfort level (this means that for some cats, the transition can take up to a year).
Rapid Switch. Many cats, especially younger ones, can switch to raw overnight. Try to introduce the food to them as a meal and see if they will take to it naturally.
Gradual Switch. If your cat does not take to raw immediately, try a more gradual approach.
- If your cat is on dry food ONLY, switch to a canned food - use the same brand and flavor, if possible. Switch by adding canned food to his dry meal and increasing the canned food and decreasing the dry food daily, until your cat is completely on canned. This may take up to a week. You may need to crush a bit of the dry food and mix it thoroughly in with the canned during the initial introduciton.
- If your cat is on a mixture of canned and dry, transition him to canned food only by gradually decreasing the dry food and replacing with wet. This should take 2-3 days.
- Once your cat is on canned only, start transitioning to raw. Keep flavors consistent - if his canned food is chicken, start with a raw chicken diet. Start by adding a small bit of raw into the canned - mix thoroughly. Each day increase the amoung of raw and decrease the amount of canned until your cat is only eating raw. If your catbalks at the raw, back off to the previous day's proportions.
Please note that while we don't normally recommend mixing raw and dry kibble, in some really challenging cases, it may be necessary to do this for a very short period of time to help your feline transition. For example, one effective technique is to crush some dry food and mix it in with the raw. This should only be done if the switch to canned was less than successful.
If your cat is use to free-feeding (having food available all day long), you will need to also switch him to fixed meal times. This needs to be done very gradually:
- Select specific meal times your cat will follow during the day.
- During these meal times, call him over to his dish and present him with his food. Try to get him to eat as much as possible during that time.
- Reduce the amount of food in his free-feeding bowl on a daily basis - do this gradually, not all at once!
Here are some tips for easing the transition for you and your feline:
The whole process may take as much or as little time as dictated by the cat – be patient and flexible.
- The favourite meat choice for transitioning cats is chicken or turkey. Begin with ground meat before trying bones or chunks.
- Serve the food at room temperature.
- Put the food on a plate, not a bowl. Cat's whiskers are very sensitive.
Freeze the food in small amounts during the transition stages so that you can take out small amounts for thawing and offer fresh food without too much waste. Cats don't like old food.
- Cats prefer food to be as fresh as possible, so discard any food that hasn’t been eaten after a couple of days.
- Wipe a bit of raw food on your cat's paw - your cat will have to lick it off and will start to familiarize with the new flavor.
What to Expect After Switching
After switching your dog or cat to raw, you should notice a decrease in water consumption because the raw food contains a large amount of moisture that they can easily be utilized. Continue making fresh water available at all times.
You will likely notice changes in their stool almost immediately. The increased water content in the meat and vegetables may make the stools softer than usual. You will also notice that your animals stools are smaller and less frequent. It should be noted that when feeding bones such as chicken backs and necks or whole Cornish hen the stool can be a very firm consistency.
Detoxification is a natural process in which the body releases toxins through the exterior of the body as a way of cleansing internal organs and tissue. Some dogs and cats may go through a period of detoxification, where their system clears the toxins accumulated from their former diet. During this period they may experience some loose or mucous stool, runny eyes, and excretions through their ears. In some cases, they may lose some of their coat – to make room for a healthier new one; all of these are positive signs that the body is ridding itself of toxins. Each detox period should last for a few days, after which your dog or cat should look and feel much better. If symptoms persist for more than a few days, please contact your vet and have them checked over for other medical problems.