Reader Question: I am trying to get my cat to eat canned food. Poppie is 6-7 pounds overweight and from the research I’ve done I realize that dry food is not good for him and could be contributing to his weight problem. I am having a difficult time getting him to eat the canned food. Someone recommended something called “kitty crack”, but I am unable to find that. Do you know what that is? Any help is appreciated!
Answer: Canned food is definitely a great option for helping Poppie lose his extra pounds and stay healthier in the long run, too. Most kibble contains too many carbohydrates that cats cannot digest efficiently. In addition, cats that eat mainly kibble are chronically dehydrated, leading to urinary tract infections, crystals, kidney disease and more.
A natural diet of prey animals contains 70-75 percent water. Dry kibble only contains 7-10 percent moisture. Canned foods contain approximately 75 – 80% moisture. Even cats who seem to drink a lot of water can’t make up for what they would get from eating canned food or a more natural diet. Cats often become addicted to their kibble, however, so transitioning can be a challenge.
Step 1 – Shift his eating to set meal times; 2 or 3 times per day. Do not leave kibble out all day. Allowing him to get a little hungry will give you a better chance of enticing him to try something new. Some cats will complain loud and long when they can no longer nibble all day long. Get a good set of earplugs and forge on – don’t give in to the begging or you’ll have a much harder time transitioning.
Step 2 – Begin transitioning to a high-quality grain-free kibble such as Evo, Great Life, Instinct or Before Grain. This step gives you a bit of insurance as you feed less kibble since the grain-free kibbles are much higher in animal protein and are more digestible. A small amount of grain-free kibble provides much more nutrition than a dry food with grains.
Step 3 – Once you are on a “food at meal times only” schedule with a grain-free kibble, you can start to try different canned foods. Warm the food up if it has been refrigerated – most cats prefer body temperature food. Plan on wasting some cans of food during this period because you may need to try at least a dozen or more varieties before you find one he will not turn his nose up at. Obviously you will only want to buy single cans – no cases until you know what he will eat. And just because he eats a food once, does not mean he will eat that same food again right away, (or ever). It is wise to find at least 3-4 flavors or varieties that he can be tempted by in case he stops eating one.
Introduction to the canned food can be done in a variety of ways.
- Here is where the “Kitty Crack” comes in: Kitty Crack is the nick-name for dehydrated chicken treats. In over 6 years of assisting people with cat diet issues, I have only known of one cat who would not eat dehydrated chicken treats, (but I suspect his guardian did not use the ear plugs & gave in too easily). They crumble easily and can be sprinkled over the canned food. Many cats will nibble a bit of the canned food as they are licking up the dehydrated chicken crumbles.
- Dip a kibble into canned food or canned food juice and hand feed it to your cat like a treat. I’m surprised how many cats will eat something new and different out of their guardian’s hand more easily than off a plate.
- Mix a teaspoon or so of canned food into his bowl of kibble. Some cats will tolerate this and you can gradually increase the canned portion and decrease the kibble portion. Some cats will walk away if the canned food touches the kibble – like a toddler who refuses to eat if his peas touch the meatloaf.
- Offer a small portion of kibble with some canned food on the side of the same bowl or plate – he may try a bite or two of the canned after he finishes the kibble.
- Crush a little bit of kibble and sprinkle it over the canned food.
Don’t be afraid to let your cat get hungry. A healthy cat can go up to 24 hours without food. If he hasn’t touched the canned food in 24 hours, however, give him small amounts of kibble and try a new canned food. You don’t want your cat to lose weight too fast – no more than 1-2% of his body weight per week. Get a scale and weigh him regularly (you can weigh yourself on the bathroom scale and then pick him up and do the math).
Canned food is quite well cooked, so don’t be afraid to leave it out for 10-12 hours. A small cat in the wild will eat 8-10 small meals per day, so it’s OK to let your kitty take his time with the canned food.
Deep breathing exercises can be helpful during the transition as a certain level of frustration is a given. Consider your cat your “patience instructor” and don’t give up! These are a few tips for helping Poppie make the transition to a healthier diet, but different things work for different cats. Please let us know how it goes and what ends up working for you and Poppie.