Need advice on transitioning cats to healthier cat food
March 6, 2013 5:34 PM   Subscribe

We have 2 cats that are a little less than 2 years old. They are both active and healthy little terrors with no medical issues. One of them seems like she is always hungry. While I get that there are some animals that will whine for food until they drop dead from overfeeding, when I gave her more she seemed happier. However, at that point she gained a little more weight than she should have to remain healthy, so I wanted to find some food that is more nutritious, has less byproducts, more protein and helps them feel fuller.

They have been eating Fancy Feast Elegant Medleys wet cat food since we adopted them 14 months ago. They do love that kind.

I got a bunch of different brands and flavors of healthier food recently and tested them (slowly integrating them with their regular food) over the course of a few weeks.
Brands we tested: Weruva, BG, Halo, By Nature, Merrick and bff. By Nature seemed to be the winner, so we started shifting them to that brand. After a couple of weeks of that, they stopped liking the food and got pickier and pickier about it, first turning their noses up at one flavor, then another. I was baffled by this shift, because they'd previously been complete freaks for that brand.

Does anyone have any suggestions about how to transition cats to new food, or suggestions of healthier alternatives to Fancy Feast Elegant Medleys? My goals:high protein, avoiding grain and not costing more than $1.50 for a 5.5 oz can or .89 for a 3 oz can.

One side note: while they were transitioning to the new food, (eating about 3/4 of the new food and 1/4 old food at each meal,) we were on vacation for a week and they had a pet sitter coming in and feeding them. My husband doesn't think that this is relevant {"They really don't seem traumatized, honey…" as they run around the house like the fools they are,} but I wanted to mention it in case it matters.

And since I know y'all will ask, a link to the cuteness.
posted by 8dot3 to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
We feed our one normal cat Felidae Pure Sea dry and Natural Balance moist in a variety of flavors. I get the NB at around $1.30/6oz can. My weird cat would eat the Felidae Pure Sea canned but the other wouldn't touch it with a cat barf. The normal one seems to have a normal amount of pickiness for a cat. She likes cheese and thinks lettuce is evil so you might try that or Taste of the Wild. (The weird one eats special food now so his choices are irrelevant.)
posted by fiercekitten at 6:09 PM on March 6, 2013

My cat gets confused when I give him different things to eat, even if he has been really enthusiastic about something in the past.

I had to stop giving him treats of chicken or whatever that I was cooking for myself because it would cause him to stop eating the canned food he previously happily devoured. The same problem happens when I've tried to give him a variety of flavors of (Weruva) canned food.

To get him back on it is easy, you just leave the cat no option but to eat what you want it to eat. It might take a finicky day or two, but trust me, they are cats and cats eat food so eventually they will eat it.

I guess I'm saying stop switching it up and maybe they'll acquiesce.
posted by TheRedArmy at 6:39 PM on March 6, 2013

Whenever I've done the food switcheroo my cats have done the "we like it... wait, no we don't!" thing too. We just keep giving them the new food and once they get hungry enough they eat it and keep eating it. As cats, they don't really have enough principle to actually hunger strike, so it works out.

Also, if you're concerned about weight loss, my vets have always recommended all- or mostly-dry food diets and have warned me off of wet food.
posted by The Michael The at 4:18 AM on March 7, 2013

Natural Balance offers a grain free line. We've found that it's cheaper for us to order from Pet Food Direct with the auto-ship discount than to buy at a store, even factoring in the cost of shipping.
posted by amarynth at 5:09 AM on March 7, 2013

Our cats do well on Wellness canned food. (We buy the chicken kind.) I know you said $1.50 for a 5.5-oz. can, though, and that can be tricky. I've seen $1.58 at a local store, and I also wait till there's a sitewide sale and free shipping on Petco's site.
posted by trillian at 5:23 AM on March 7, 2013

Check out

They don't have anything for sale, and so are purely about the info. Cats are obligate carnivores. They have to eat meat, and eating grains is PROFOUNDLY unhealthy for them. The healthiest food for them is raw, uncooked meat. Dry food is the worst thing in the world for them because they tend towards they heavily grain-based. And wild cats didn't evolve eating dry kibble. has a couple of recipes on how to prepare the food. Lexica & I buy frozen raw-meat cat food at Pet Food Express because they have a buy 3, 4th is free policy.

Feeding your cats raw meat takes a little more prep work and handling. But our two girls have been on the raw diet since we brought them home from the shelter. Their fur and breath smell healthy, and the only time the litter box stinks is when Pirate forgot to resupply on the raw food and has to feed them canned food for meal or two. THEN we get a horrible stench of a reminder about how much healthier the girls are on the raw.

I have yet to encounter a cat who didn't take to raw meat like... like a carnivore being given raw meat. ;-)

Best of luck!
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:34 AM on March 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Please never try to out-stubborn a cat who is refusing to eat, as some people above have advised. They really will go on hunger strike and if a cat is overweight, that hunger strike can cause Fatty Liver Disease. Reference:

There are "enticements" (kitty-crack) that can be sprinkled atop food, some enticements healthier than others. Freeze-dried chicken or liver (pet store), Nupro Nuggets, tuna juice, etc. here's one article about switching foods and enticements:

Anecdote-based thoughts: I've read a lot of forum threads of people transitioning cat food, and it appears to me that presenting cats with a lot of variety can lead to finickyness. Also, some people were simply trying to feed the cats too much food per day. It's worth the frustration of researching calorie guides (look at more than one) for your cat and figuring out how many cans each cat should have per day, also how to do weight loss slowly with a cat. As you move into foods that are more protein and less crap (good for you, by the way!) your cats need fewer ounces/day.

One of our cats was always crying-hungry and overweight. We had switched to diet food and she cried even more (because diet food has more carbs and less protein!) so I think by increasing the protein you're on the right road to satisfying your kitty's appetite healthily. We switched to 100% protein (raw food), and former pudgy-cat is sleek and only bugs me for food when we're late to feed.

Another brand that I've heard is high-protein, low-crap, good price is Soulistic.

A cat site with a lot of people looking to provide good nutrition is . It offers a lot of support and advice for transitions.
posted by Anwan at 12:53 PM on March 7, 2013

I'm in the process of shifting my cat back to a raw meat diet after feeding her kibble for about a year. She got pretty addicted to the kibble, and has been giving me some trouble so far.

I've never switched a cat between two different foods, but it did take some doing to get her to eat dry food in the first place, and now she's being weird about some meat - particularly anything with a bone, which she used to devour happily.

So far, my strategy has been to only leave the food down for a few minutes at a time to increase urgency, but offer it more than usual - and not at all when I know she's eaten recently (my roommate sneaks her bits of raw hamburger). That helps a little. I've also tried lightly rubbing the meat with a powder-crushed piece of kibble, which gets her interested in some of the bone-in meat pretty readily. Maybe try going back to kindergarten, so to speak, by mixing food?

Don't try the tough love method. In all likelihood it will be fine, but some cats do get fatty liver disease - though if your cat is a normal weight it's probably going to be fine. Still, it's not worth the risk.
posted by Urban Winter at 7:28 PM on March 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for replying. Some further thoughts as I read the responses:

Part of the ongoing meal issue is that the larger cat helps herself to the little cat's food as soon as we walk out of the room, so mealtimes have to be babysat pretty closely. (The little cat eats her food on the counter, and if the big cat jumps up to hog all of the food she gets a blast from the spray bottle.)
It had honestly not even occurred to be to give the 2 cats different foods from each other, but since we have to monitor them eating anyway maybe that process would be eased if they each have their preferred food. What I don't want to do is leave the little cat on the old, preferred food and the big cat on the new food because she will just ignore it and steal her sister's food even more than she already does.

The 'enticements' option is not one I'd ever heard of, but it makes a lot of sense and I think it would work. At this point when they are just poking at their food (whereas normally mealtime is filled with the lovely sounds of them inhaling their food like tiny feline vacuums) I squirt the food with some fish oil and they get a lot more interested.

They haven't gone on any kind of hunger strike - if I put fish oil on it, they will eat most of it. I'd been unaware of any possible health issues arising from a hunger strike, so thank you for that information, Urban Winter and Anwan. If they so much as skip a meal I will switch back to their preferred brand, I don't want to risk their health.

What The Red Army, The Michael The and Anwan said about switching food too much leading to pickiness feels like what is going on. I tried a lot of brands and flavors and maybe they are just bent out of shape about it.

I'll post back in a couple of weeks to let everyone know how things are going. Thank you all for the kitten love.
posted by 8dot3 at 7:27 AM on March 8, 2013

Thank, I look forward to reading the update.

Regarding the food-stealing, if you have a hard carrier you could feed one of the cats closed up in there. This works for us with one cat who is anxious about his food being stolen. Of course it may be easier for you to just stand guard. When the cats are hungry it doesn't take long :)
posted by Anwan at 12:42 PM on March 8, 2013

Response by poster: I've been putting off providing an update since the situation is not really resolved.

The food we ended up going with was, embarrassingly enough, another Fancy Feast variety - the 'classic' series, I believe. My husband did some reading online and those have more protein than their previous FF kind. I did recently notice they also have more fat, so that's another factor to consider.

We ended up going with that because they both stopped eating anything else - all of the healthier foods we chose that they'd previously snapped up they just flat out refused to eat. So we decided on the new FF kind , which they like, and we thought we'd stabilize them on that for a few months before going on another merry-go-round with food.

Oddly enough, things haven't gotten much better, even on this food. The little one still has less appetite than she had previously. The bigger one still eats all of her food and tries to eat the little one's leftovers unless we introduce a new flavor, and then even she doesn't want to eat it right off the bat. They have been to the vet lately and she said the bigger one needs to lose a pound, and the little one needs to not lose any weight because she is at a good (if borderline) weight right now.

Overall I feel as if my switching them around so much created 2 picky eaters. If anything changes I will update again. Thanks for the advice everyone!
posted by 8dot3 at 6:12 AM on June 10, 2013

Response by poster: And an even later followup... both cats are doing the eat-a-little then wander off thing now. Maybe they are turning into grazers?

Anyway, when I am trying to get the little one to eat more, the enticements turned out to be the key. I sprinkle some freeze dried/dehydrated chicken on her food and she immediately eats more of it. I feel a lot better knowing I can trick her into eating more and not losing any weight. The brand that I bought is PureBites Freeze Dried Chicken Breast Cat Treats and I get it at Petco and Monster Pets. The only ingredient is chicken, which makes me happy about not using enticements that are full of ick.
posted by 8dot3 at 5:40 AM on July 10, 2013

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