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When we found ourselves wondering about our kitty’s diet, we turned to Dr. Hazel Carney. In today’s blog, she takes on finicky felines and switching your cat’s diet. 

Nutritionists Say Canned Food is Healthier for Cats, Now Convince Your Cat of That

Without a long lecture about nutrition, in general, canned diets more closely resemble what a natural free-living cat eats. Canned foods contain more moisture and less carbohydrates than dry and consist primarily of animal versus plant-based proteins.

Many cats, however, have eaten dry food all their lives, and cats remain notoriously resistant to change. So, how do you convince your cat to become a canned food lover?best cat food

First,patience and persistence. The change may take up to 3 months, though most cats become converts within 2-3 weeks. Changing diets when your cat is healthy is easiest. Plus it avoids the chance your cat will associate the new food with its illness, blaming the food for feeling bad.

Understand that a little hunger is a big appetite stimulant. In nature, cats may eat 2-10 times daily but hunt 20 times to get just 2 meals: a grasshopper at midnight may be the best meal on the planet if the cat last ate at sunrise.

To encourage your cat to eat canned food, you may have to listen to its “pitiful pleas” for food for a little while. To speed up the process:

  1. Offer multiple food bowls in multiple locations around the house. Over a couple of weeks, decrease the amount of dry food in each bowl until they are empty at some point each day, ideally at meal time.
  2. When any bowl becomes empty, first add a tidbit of canned food. If a cat doesn’t eat, remove the food and leave that bowl empty until the next mealtime.
  3. Try a second time with canned food in the bowl; if your cat holds out and doesn’t eat for 24 hours, place a small amount of dry food in the bowl.
  4. If each time a bowl becomes empty you offer canned food first, most cats will eventually taste it out of curiosity driven by hunger.

Another way to leverage curiosity? Put canned food into timed automatic feeders that protect food from contamination. At the same time, have dry food available only in difficult-to-solve food puzzles or toys. This means eating dry food takes much more work than sampling the canned offering.

Never allow a cat to eat less than 15 calories per day per pound of ideal weight. Because of the great variability of calories among cat foods, this roughly translates to a total of 4-6 ounces of canned food OR 6-9 tablespoons of dry food per day, divided among 2-3 meals.

If an overweight cat eats less than this for 48 hours, its risk of developing a severe problem known as “fatty liver syndrome” will increase greatly.

If you have concerns about spoilage and being away from home for too long between canned food meals but don’t want to invest in a timer operated meal-feeder or the No-Bowl ® system, try this method: leave a mouse-temperature meal available in one bowl when you leave, and leave a frozen meal or a cold meal in a bowl placed on a “cold gel-pack.” Over time, this second meal will warm to eating temperature.

Good luck!


Hazel Carney, DVM, MS, DABVP,  has treated only cats for both behavioral and medical problems for more than 30 years. She helps owners resolve cat behavior problems like aggression, house-soiling and anti-social behavior. Call 208.375.1600 for more information about a consultation.

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