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Recently a reader wrote me asking for tips on how to transition her cat to a canned food only diet. I figured this information might be helpful to other readers as well, so here was my response:

Some kitties take to switching to canned very easily, while others are definitely die-hard kibble munchers! For starters, you should get the kibble completely out of the house; if the cat can even smell it in the cupboard, they will know it is there and hold out for it.

One of Mad About Pets' cats' favorites!
For my cats, I discovered that each of them was picky about flavor and texture. One of the cats would only eat pate, while another preferred shreds. I went to the pet store and bought a huge variety of different flavors and formulas to see which ones would be the most popular. Granted I ended up with a lot of wasted cat food, but at least I figured out which flavors worked out best! My cats ended up deciding on Holistic Select Chicken & Lamb, Holistic Select Duck & Chicken, Merrick Before Grain Quail, NutriSource Chicken & Rice , Nutro Max Cat Turkey & Giblets and Nutro Max Cat Chicken & Liver. Some of those are better than others, like the Merrick food doesn't have any grain or vegetables. I try to give them a mix, though, so they don't get bored of one flavor. The less grain or vegetables the better when it comes to moist food. In the "wild", cats wouldn't eat grains or vegetables beyond what is contained in the entrails of their prey. Grain and vegetables look nice in the ingredients list, but they're just filler.

One thing I look for when buying canned foods is I don't want anything that had seafood as an ingredient. You have to check the labels because many of the foods will have seafood flavoring hidden in the ingredients to make it tastier to kitties. However, many cats develop allergies and sensitivities to seafood, or will refuse to eat anything else if they are offered seafood. Since my kitty Gabe has IBD, it was especially important for him to stay away from seafood. Most "normal" cats can have seafood a few times a week, but I prefer to just keep it out of my house altogether and try to focus on foods that would be more typical of a cat's prey like foul.

The tasty probiotic FortiFlora
For kitties that are stubborn about moist food, there are a few tips you can try to make the food more tempting to them. You can try mixing some warm water into the food; this brings the scent out and sort of creates a "gravy" they can lap up. You can try sprinkling some Parmesan cheese on top of the food, or even crushing up some of the cat's old kibble and sprinkling it on top. If your cat likes tuna, you can try pouring some tuna water on top. Otherwise some kitties really like the flavor of the probiotic FortiFlora, and will eat just about anything you sprinkle it on (my Birman is nuts for this stuff.) Adding the probiotic would not be a bad idea anyway; it can help the tummy handle switching over to a new type of food and avoid diarrhea.

The main thing you have to watch out for with kitties when switching to a new food is Fatty Liver Disease (Hepatic Lipadosis). If a cat refuses to eat, his liver is forced to use fat from the body for energy (which it is not very good at converting). The liver can't handle this, and essentially becomes loaded with fat. This is almost always fatal in cats without proper treatment. Cats can go about 2-3 days without eating, but after that the risk of Fatty Liver is great. As long as your kitty is eating a little, though, the body won't have to resort to using those fat stores exclusively. The best thing you can do is break the feedings up into 2-3 meals per day (preferably 3). If you give the cat a whole can of food at once, they're probably not going to be able to eat it all at once. In the "wild", a cat would eat several times a day so doing multiple feedings will mimic that. Hunger can be a great asset in convincing your kitty to switch to moist food, so if the cat doesn't eat for a day it's going to be ok. They may try a hunger strike with you and hold out for kibble, but after a day they'll be hungry enough to eat the moist whether they want it or not! Whatever you do, just be certain your cat is getting at least a little food in her system during this transitional period and always has access to plenty of fresh water.

If you're used to offering your cat a free freeding kibble buffet, you may be unsure how much moist food your cat needs on a canned only diet. The rule of thumb is this: 5-6 oz per each 7 pounds your cat weighs. Most canned food comes in 5.5 oz cans, so a 7 pound cat will eat one can per day. Weight and activity level are both factors in determining how much your cat should eat. If she's an overweight couch potato, stick with one can per day. If she's a lean and active kitty, you'll need to feed a little more. You'll want to feed at each feeding no more than your cat can eat in 30 minutes; a little trial and error and you'll figure out your kitty's necessary feeding amounts.

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