Veazie Veterinary Clinic
1522 State Street, Veazie, ME
(207) 941-8840

Transitioning Your Dry Food Junkie to a Wet Food Connoisseur

There was a time when many veterinarians and nutritionists recommended feeding a dry food diet to help prevent tartar from forming on cats’ teeth. It is now believed that dental disease, in cats, is more an issue of genetics than of diet. An increasing number of American Veterinary Medical Association members are now strongly recommending the feeding of canned food instead of dry kibble.

Cats are different from dogs and don’t like a lot of change, especially going from a dry, crunchy texture to a wet, soft texture. The dry food companies don’t make the transition any easier as they coat the dry food with animal digest sprays which have a pleasing taste to a cat. The key is to make the transition very slowly and realize it may take a lot of patience. Some cats may take 3 or 4 months to make the entire transition. The most important issue is actually making the change, not how fast you accomplish it. All cats will eventually eat canned food if their caregiver is determined, methodical and patient enough.

The first step is to start measuring the amount of dry food that is typically eaten in a day and then split that amount into 2 or separate feedings (instead of just filling the bowl and leaving it for them to eat whenever they want). Leave the measured food out for 20-30 minutes and then remove any uneaten portion. Repeat this process again in 8-12 hours. Many cats won’t try something new if their dry food is left out for them at all times. It may take 1-2 weeks for them to adjust to their new meal times.

Some cats will become more vocal and pester their owner with crying, rubbing and ‘begging’ for food; be strong—this will end eventually. Do not cave in. You can offer some wet food in between these scheduled feedings but many stubborn cats still won’t eat it. Eventually you will notice that he is more enthusiastic about food and will be much more inclined to try something new.

Once your cat has adjusted to their scheduled feedings, start giving a little less of the dry food at each mealtime. Then substitute wet food instead of one of the dry meals. If your cat doesn’t eat it, be patient and DO NOT offer dry food in its place; let him get a little hungrier and offer the canned food again in a few hours. You can try a different flavor or brand of wet food and see if that is more tempting. Only offer dry food again if it has been about 18 hours since the cat has last eaten; then only offer a very small amount (a little less than ¼ cup).

Exercise can help stimulate appetite. Try using a laser light, a game of chase or other toys. Turn eating into a game by throwing some dry food (1-2 pieces at a time) across the room and making him run back and forth and ‘hunt’ his meal. Try petting your cat while he is in front of the wet food; some cats are stimulated to eat when petted. An important fact to keep in the back of your mind is that their sense of smell is MUCH stronger than ours. If you have a dry food junkie he may be able to smell the dry food in the cupboard and will hold out for that and not try the wet food. Try putting the dry food in the refrigerator to prevent him from smelling it.

Try sprinkling one of the following items on the wet food to make it more tempting:

  • Tuna or tuna water*(see below on how to make your own tuna water):  if this trick seems to work then decrease the amount of the tuna at each meal until none is added
  • No-sodium chicken broth: may help increase the smells and flavor
  • Parmesan cheese
  • FortiFlora (found only at a veterinarian’s office): is a probiotic, but cats love the taste because the base ingredient is an animal digest; the very substance that makes dry food so enticing to cats
  • Gerber’s turkey or chicken flavored baby food
  • Crushed dry food

Many cats will also start crying and begging for food in the middle of the night. A solution to this is to place a wet food ice cube in a bowl and put it out for them just before you go to bed. By the time the cat is ready for another meal, the cube should be melted. To make the wet food ice cubes take the canned food, mix in a little tuna water (see below on how to make) to make a thinner consistency meal, pour into ice cube trays and freeze.

Some cats may experience softer stools during the transition. This is not a permanent thing and as their body gets used to the new food their stools will start to form again. If diarrhea results from the change you will either need to try a different brand of wet food or transition over a longer period of time. Some cats may regurgitate their canned food shortly after ingesting; this should stop once their digestive system becomes used to the wet food.

Resign yourself to the fact that you will be very frustrated at times and will waste some canned food. Do not ever attempt to withhold food for long periods of time (greater than 24 hours) with the hope that your cat will choose the new food. Starving them won’t work and allowing a cat to go without food for more than 24 hours can be quite dangerous and may result in hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease).

*Tuna Water*: Add 3 cups of water to a can of tuna; mix well and let it sit for ~15 to 20 minutes. Pour the ‘water’ into ice cube trays. Heat one ice cube to ‘mouse body’ temperature in the microwave and then add to a meal of canned food.

Source: Lisa A. Pierson, DVM; from the article “Transitioning Feline Dry Food Addicts to Canned Food”, published on Veterinary Information Network, December 28th, 2009.