There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that cats have a better chance at optimal health if they eat canned food instead of dry kibble. All canned cat food, regardless of the brand or formula, contains more water than dry cat food, which is critical for feline urinary tract health. Additionally, the carbohydrate load of dry cat food is too high, and the protein is likely to be too high in plant-based proteins instead of animal-based proteins. Dr. Lisa A. Pierson, DVM, states that “An increasing number of American Veterinary Medical Association members, including board-certified veterinary internists, are now strongly recommending the feeding of canned food instead of dry kibble.”
I always wondered why my cats were so crazy for kibble, until I read that dry cat food is often coated with an extremely enticing animal digest spray. Hence, a sub-optimal food source becomes something that cats crave. Many become addicted to kibble, and refuse to eat anything else put down for them. Cats are a lot like kids in that they don’t really care if food is healthy for them or not; if it tastes good they’ll eat it. However, you are their guardian and if you want to feed them canned cat food instead of kibble, it’s your choice.
Switching a kibble addicted cat to canned food can be a little more involved than just taking away their dry food and offering the new food. Although some cats transition to canned food quickly and easily, many others are highly resistant to change. Switching a stubborn kibble addict to canned food can be a daunting task that requires a lot of time and patience, and a little ingenuity. Don’t give up – getting them to eat canned cat food instead of kibble is worth the effort. Here are some tips to help you.
First, if you’re one of the lucky few whose kibble addicted cat will readily accept the canned food, your job is easy. All you need to do is gradually decrease the amount of dry cat food you offer them and increase the canned food. In about a week’s time, they should be fully switched over to canned food. Owners of tenacious felines who steadfastly refuse the new food will have some work to do.
If you’ve been free feeding your cat dry food, remove the bowl of kibble and establish set meal times in the morning and evening. You’ll then be using the normal, healthy sensation of hunger to make the new food more enticing. Your cat may howl as though he’s just going to die unless he has kibble to eat all day long, but it’s an act. He won’t starve to death in 12 hours.
At meal time, put down the canned food and walk away. After 20 minutes, throw away any they didn’t eat. If they didn’t eat any of it, do not put down the dry food. Merely wait until the next meal time and try again. Hunger can go a long way toward convincing a kibble addicted cat to eat canned food. If he still won’t eat it, try a different brand or flavor, or try one of the tricks listed below. If none of those work, then give him a small amount of the dry food, about a quarter of a cup.
Don’t withhold food for longer than 24 hours hoping that your cat will eventually give up and eat the new food. Allowing a cat to go without any food can be dangerous and may result in a liver disease called hepatic lipidosis. This condition can also develop if a cat consumes less than half of their daily calorie requirements over a period of several days, so be sure to keep track of their daily caloric intake. The average cat’s calorie needs range between 150 – 250 calories a day, depending on their lean body weight and activity level.
Stubborn kibble addicted cats may lose weight during the time it takes you to switch them to canned food. Since caloric needs vary from cat to cat, you should ask your veterinarian to help you determine the actual caloric needs of your cat. This way, you will guard against them losing too much weight too fast during this transition. The whole goal is to get them eating healthier, but you also want to maintain their good health while making the switch from kibble to canned food. You should weigh your cat periodically at home to help ensure a safe transition.
Tricks to encourage a stubborn kibble addicted cat to eat canned food:
*Sprinkle a tiny bit of tuna, cooked chicken or parmesan cheese on top of the canned food. Most cats love all three of these, and this may be all the encouragement they need to dig in. Later, you can try pressing these enticing things lightly into the canned food. You can also sprinkle on some bonito flakes (dried fish) which most cats are crazy for. Bonito flakes are sold in pet stores marketed as cat treats, or in the Japanese section of the grocery store.
* Smear the top of the canned food with beef flavored baby food, or crumble some freeze-dried meat cat treats on top. Two of my favorites are Halo Liv-a-Littles 100% white meat chicken treats, or Doctors Foster & Smith Salmon Fishies.
* Another favorite “flavor enhancing” trick I use is to grind a small amount of the dry cat food into a fine powder using a mortar and pestle (found in the cooking section) and then sprinkle it on the canned food. Sometimes that’s enough of the smell of the dry food to get your cat to chow down on the canned food.
* There is a product called FortiFlora made by Purina that was created as a probiotic, but works nicely as a flavor enhancer for transitioning kibble addicts to canned food. Cats like FortiFlora for a very obvious reason: the primary ingredient is animal digest, the same substance used on dry food to make it so irresistible to cats.
* If the flavor enhancers don’t work, try taking bits of dry cat food and pressing them on top of the canned food. Your cat will have to work to separate the dry food and will invariable end up eating the canned food along with it.
* When I was at my wit’s end trying to transition a finicky feline to canned food, I sat down with him and took one piece of dry food, dipped it into the canned food and offered it to him. He ate it, so I took another, and continued to hand feed him like this, gradually increasing the amount of canned food on the piece of dry food. Admittedly, this method takes time and might get you labeled a crazy cat lady, but it does work.
*Many cats do not like to eat cold food, so if you’re serving leftover canned cat food that has been refrigerated, allow it to warm up a bit before offering it to them.
**A cat’s sensitive nose can smell that dry food in your cupboard, and may hold off eating the canned food because they know it’s there. Store kibble in a tightly sealed container, in the fridge, or out in the garage.
*Exercise before mealtime can help to stimulate a cat’s appetite.
* Try putting a small amount of canned food on your cat’s gums, or on his paw to lick off. Be very gentle though, as the last thing you want to do is stress him out and create a food aversion.
If you’re dealing with a stubborn kibble addicted cat, it may take a good deal of time to switch them to the canned food. Stick with it, try all of these tricks, and just know that you are doing this so you can have a healthier kitty in the long run.