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How to transition to a Raw Diet

Updated: May 11, 2019

If you've read my other raw diet articles, I talk about the time that it takes to transition over to a raw diet. Since every pet and family is different, the amount of time it will take to transition will vary. For my family it took about three (3) months to transition fully since some of my furbies had only ever eaten commercial foods, up to twelve (12) years.

What's important for every family is transitioning your pets to a raw diet slowly.

This slow transition allows your pet to develop the digestive enzymes, good bacterium and higher stomach acid levels naturally present in wild cats and dogs. The higher levels of these digestive enzymes raise the acidity inside your pets stomach.

What's so great about more stomach acids?

In humans, high stomach acid levels will probably lead to gas or indigestion. For cats and dogs eating raw with the right pH levels it means any bad bacterium still present in prey meat is unable to survive and is killed upon ingestion. This is the same principle that allows wild cats and dogs to eat raw meat without risking diseases like salmonella. One area to be careful of during transition, and after, is bones and bone content. Cats and dogs and consume most raw bones without any problems.

99% of raw diet issues are caused by bones; too much bone makes pets sick, brittle pork bones splinter easy, any cooked bone is dangerous, and hollow wing bones must be introduced carefully.

However, too much bone in your raw diet can cause constipation or even an impaction which can require a veterinary intervention. Read through my meal preparation article for common mistakes and safety information in raw food diets.

Another reason not to rush your transition is so that you can introduce bones in the diet slowly and allow your pets system to get used to working correctly. There are many supplements that are meant to be added to ground meat without bone as well as supplements made to be used with ground bone. My SNAC sample diet recipe provides some adjustable options if you're ready to get started.

What does "transition slowly" really mean?I cannot recommend that any family go "cold turkey" when making dietary changes with your cats, especially when transitioning to raw. Why?

Cats do not like change!

If you just put a plate of meat in front of your cat and say "dinner" they are not going to understand what is happening. Unlike dogs, cats will starve themselves rather than eat something they do not understand, want, or like. You may think that it's fine and you can just wait till they eat, however cats will refuse to eat to the point of serious health issues such as fatty liver disease. Our transition took a full three (3) months for the entire family to complete. A few of my senior cats (10+ years) took longer to build up the necessary acids and enzymes to digest raw properly. In the end, it was well worth the wait. At the start of your transition, begin with a balanced raw grind and include half (½) portions of your cats usual canned food on the same plate. For cats whose diets include both wet and dry food; crumble your cats favorite dry food and sprinkle a little on the raw grind.

If your cats only eat dry food today, the transition to raw will take longer. Remember to have patience and not rush the process, it will happen.

A great first step while you transition is to use necks and other bone-in meats and organs as supplements to your daily meals. Many pet parents find that this adjustment is their happy medium.

What exactly does bone-in mean?

We will use the phrase "bone-in" a lot in this blog. Bone-in meat, also called meat on the bone, is meat that is sold with some or all of the bones included in the cut or portion, meat that has not been filleted. The phrase "on the bone" can also be applied to specific types of meat, commonly ham, beef, and fowl.

Cat are really efficient and in the wild they can eat an animal over the course of days without refrigeration. So a plate of raw food from the refrigerator will be fine if it's left out for 8-12 hours. There's no need to worry if the breakfast plate isn't cleaned by dinnertime. Some cats prefer meals straight from the fridge and some prefer a well aged meal. In my experience, many cats can't wait until the tasty treats come up to body temp, which is a topic we will cover in the raw meal prep and safety article.

Just make sure and let raw meals warm up naturally since applying heat will destroy the nutrients. Then leave the raw out for them to sample throughout the day. No need to worry, just as long as you leave it out of the sun and away from direct heat it will not spoil

On the left a plate is on a kitchen counter top, on the far side away from the windows. On the right a plate is left on the floor, directly in the path of the days sunlight.

This transition must be easy and palatable for you and your cat for it to be successful. The farther along this journey you go the easier it will become, understanding the nutritional balance of your pet is the key.

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