Switching Cats From Dry To Canned Food

In order to reduce the amount of carbohydrates and fat consumed by cats, I recommend feeding a combination of canned and dry food.  But what if your cat won’t eat canned food?  There are some cats who are hooked on dry and will not even try the canned food.  Here are my suggestions for converting a finicky feline.

Please Note:  Cats are prone to a life-threatening condition called hepatic lipidosis or fatty liver syndrome when not consuming an adequate diet.  I have seen it occur when people try the “tough love” approach to a diet change.  These owners incorrectly believe the cat will eventually eat the new food when it gets hungry enough.  Unfortunately, this is mistaken and can have tragic consequences.  These cats starve themselves and develop hepatic lipidosis.  To prevent this, make all diet changes gradually and monitor your cat’s weight at regular intervals.     

1)  Establish a feeding routine.  Give the cat dry food twice a day at approximately the same time in the morning and evening.  After one hour, pick up the dish until the next feeding.  No more free choice eating!  We want the cat accustomed to eating on a schedule. 

2)  Within a short time, usually less than two weeks, the cat will anticipate meal times.  Many will beg for food by rubbing on your legs, batting the food bowl or meowing loudly.  Now it is time to introduce the canned food.  Place a tablespoon of canned food in the dish and observe the cat’s behavior.  Hopefully, the hunger will drive the cat to try it but this isn’t always the case.  Dry food junkie’s will often ignore the food or try to cover it.  After one hour, replace the canned food with dry, give them an hour to eat and then remove the food. 

3)  Experiment with different temperatures and textures of canned food.  My two orange tabby cats like their canned food at room temperature.  They refuse to eat canned food straight out of the refrigerator while my kittens couldn’t care less.  Please note:  If you warm the food in a microwave, check for hot spots before serving to prevent burns!

4)  After one month of this schedule, most cats will consume the canned food.  For the stubborn ones, sometimes a final push is needed.  Reduce the amount of dry food by twenty-five percent while offering the canned food as usual.  If the cat still refuses, try lightly coating the dry kibble with canned food.  Even the most stubborn cats will usually give in and eat at this point in time.  Slowly increase the amount of canned food until the desired level is achieved.  

For those of you who are trying to convert a dry food junkie to canned food, hang in there.  Although it may take months to convert them, I have had great success using the steps outlined above.  Have patience and monitor their weight carefully to prevent hepatic lipidosis.   

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.

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