Meow, Meow, How?
February 1, 2011 7:49 AM   Subscribe

How do I help our newly adopted older cat to adjust to our other cats' dry-food diet?

We recently adopted a very laid-back, very furry seven-year-old neutered male cat. He's currently living in a closed room for the new pet adjustment period, but we'll be letting him out in the next few days. It sounds like he was at the shelter for less than a week, and he was clearly well cared for by his previous owner.

We already have a pair of kitties, aka "the Kittens," a barely-grown brother-sister pair, whom we adopted when they were five months old, and are now a little over a year old. We also have a geriatric cat (age 14) with soiling issues who lives mainly in seclusion.

The problem: we have always free-fed our kittens dry cat food, but our new guy, after about 36 hours, has only taken a few dainty nibbles of the dry food. I know it can be a health risk for a cat to not eat, so I gave him about a tablespoon of the "treat" wet food that we sometimes feed the old guy. He absolutely inhaled it. I think he may be accustomed to a wet-food diet.

We don't want to make a habit of feeding wet food to our non-secluded cats. It's not good for their teeth, it's smelly, it's expensive, it's not sustainable if we go away for a couple of days (which we can do now with the dry-food diet) and it will send the dog into fits of noodgy covetousness.
posted by mneekadon to Pets & Animals (14 answers total)
Would you be open to trying different dry foods? Our most recent batch of foster cats actually prefer Royal Canin dry food (kitten, Special-33, even the light/diet kind) to canned food. They might just be weird, but there's an idea for you.

Royal Canin also sells a box of several small bags of different dry foods so you can see what kind your cat prefers (the idea being that different strains of cat -- Siamese, Maine Coon -- have different needs/preferences).

The high-quality, high-protein stuff will reduce the chance that your cats will develop expensive medical conditions, so that's good.

Also - make sure your new cat is good at drinking. Some cats have a hard time figuring that out and so don't drink quite as much as they should. If he's used to wet food, he may have gotten enough moisture that way previously, but now he'll need to be drinking more than before.
posted by amtho at 8:21 AM on February 1, 2011

He seems to be drinking okay, though I do wonder if part of his not eating is just that he doesn't like being alone and only eats when he has company. I shifted the food bowl and switched the bowl the water was in, and he took a couple of bites and a few laps of water then. He'll also eat cat treats, but only when I'm in the room -- I left a few on the floor for him but he ate them only when I came back.

Right now we're feeding Solid Gold Katzen Flocken, which the kittens clearly liked better than the Wellness kitten food their foster was feeding them. I don't think they're that picky, actually. I like the idea of trying several different dry foods to see which one is the favorite.

Interesting you mention different needs for different breeds -- kittens are plain ol' domestic shorthair and new cat is very obviously at least part Maine Coon.
posted by mneekadon at 8:41 AM on February 1, 2011

It's my understanding that it's really hard to transition cats from one food to another at all. Can you find out what he was eating at the shelter--if he was eating it--and provide that for him for a while? During that time you can start mixing in your own food a little at a time, until he's eventually eating the food you want to provide.

Also, wet food is not only not bad for pets' teeth (this is a myth), but it's often better overall for cats to be eating wet food. There are quite a few Asks that have discussed this in the past; I suspect someone may come along and offer a bunch of resources on the topic. (If not I'll try to come back and do.) There are many cats who never have a problem with kibble, but it's still worth considering if you're looking into changing their food anyway. I know you do have other objections to the wet food, but hey, it's a complicated topic.
posted by galadriel at 9:59 AM on February 1, 2011

Has he had a dental exam? Cats with tooth problems will not eat crunchies.
If he's wolfing up wet, I would feed him that right now. He's probably stressed, and being very hungry is not helping that. You want to make him as happy as possible right now while he adjusts to the new life.

Feed him wet, until you ascertain he has no mouth problems. Try mixing in the crunchies a few at a time, or wetting them. Slowly increase ratio of crunch to wet.

If he avoids the dry stuff anyway and eats around it, you may need to dry a different brand.

BTW, most cats I know that eat mostly wet will eat dry food when their owners are away for a few days.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:03 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

All suggestions above are valid!

I don't know much about Maine Coons, but I definitely think breeding plays a big part in feeding. One of my rescues is an expert hunter - which leaves us with two choices when she gets the "blood lust" - either she gets to go out and kill something, or she gets a treat of organic chicken livers. Terrible, I know. But she's defeated many a window if we don't acquiesce to her desire. It's serious business!

Mostly I'm thinking this is a teeth issue or a simple adjustment issue. But do a little research on Maine Coons. I'm here to tell you cats have very keen instincts when it comes to knowing what their particular physiology requires, and I doubt preference or being "finicky" has much to do with that, despite what advertising stereotypes tell us about our feline family members!
posted by jbenben at 11:28 AM on February 1, 2011

Sorry for breach of ettiquette: Here's new cat, aka "Mr. Cheeks" and here's the Kittens. Neko is on the left and Miso on the right. Here's Sunny, the old guy. See, he even has a beard.
posted by mneekadon at 12:34 PM on February 1, 2011

jbenben, all our cats, including new guy, love freezedried liver, which we buy from Trader Joe's in packages marked "dog treats." Don't know if that satisfies blood lust or not, but I imagine it's pretty nutritionally dense.
posted by mneekadon at 1:45 PM on February 1, 2011

Canned food is better for cats. I know that's not really what you want to hear, but especially as they get older, it is much healthier to feed cats wet food. Dry food does not help their teeth (unless it is a specifically-designed dental diet, and even then, it's recommended that canned food make up 90% of the diet). Feeding dry if you go away is fine, but it is not optimal as a main diet for cats.
posted by biscotti at 2:48 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lots of cats will eat more if they have company or petting; that's certainly worth exploring, at least until new cat is used to his new food. I've personally witnessed a number of cats start eating as soon as their solitary (shelter) existence is interrupted with a little petting, and even our foster cat, who seems very happy, will eat a lot more when we pet and talk to her.

In fact, part of her current diet regime includes not petting -- she got a little extra fluffy when her kittens had kitten food available all the time.

Part of the reason canned food is said to be better than dry (I have no opinion on this, I don't know enough about it) is that canned food tends to have a much higher protein content. So, if you're trying new kibbles anyway, it's probably a good idea to notice the protein content. The Royal Canin "Special-33" has 33% protein, for example, and I think our current formula has 40% protein. You can also look at the ingredients list and see, for example, if the first ingredient is something like corn.
posted by amtho at 3:53 PM on February 1, 2011

Very nice looking cats you have there, I must say. Good luck.

(And the "no petting" diet is only no petting during meals; we pet her plenty the rest of the time.)
posted by amtho at 3:55 PM on February 1, 2011

Oneirodynia, I think you're right about giving him whatever he'll eat during a time when he's undoubtedly stressed out. I fed him the rest of the can of food -- he ate some but not all of it, so fortunately he's not famished.

biscotti, that link you posted was how to convince your cat to switch from dry to wet. Interesting, but not really a challenge for this particular cat. I'm definitely curious about the arguments for and against feeding all-dry or all-wet food, and will look into it further.

amtho, I checked the composition of our dry cat food (Solid Gold), and found it was 34% protein, which is pretty respectable for dry food, comparable to the Royal Canin.
posted by mneekadon at 9:20 AM on February 2, 2011

Canned food is best; biscotti is right and perhaps your new cat knows.

Cats are a desert species. They nearly unequivocally fail to drink enough water to maintain good long term health. Canned foods not only contain water, but are also lower carb and higher in protein, fitting a cat's nutritional needs far better than dry. You likely will also want to do some research on whether free feeding is best for your cats' health.

Here is some important information to read if you have cats.

BTW, breed-specific dry foods are pretty much a marketing crock. The foods often vary only in the shape of the pieces. A part Maine Coon can eat any high quality canned food.
posted by vers at 12:00 PM on February 2, 2011

One more thing; if anyone's cat is accustomed to a certain food, whether wet or dry, do not leave the cat with a different food if you need to leave them for a day or two. There is no guarantee they will eat, and not eating can quickly be fatal. If you must do it, have someone check in each day to at least make sure the cat is eating.
posted by vers at 12:41 PM on February 2, 2011

If you read the whole article, it discusses WHY you would want to switch a cat from dry to wet.
But here are some more articles for you.
posted by biscotti at 4:46 PM on February 2, 2011

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