Changing Cat Food: How to Do It Safely

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At some points in your cat's life, it might make sense to change up the food you give them. Changing cat food as your kitty ages or if they develop a medical issue will help to support their health. But it's important to know how to safely transition your pet to a new food.

Here are common reasons to consider changing your cat's meal plan:

Age Transitions

Your cat's nutritional needs shift as they grow from a cuddly little kitten into a wise senior cat. Choosing the best cat food for their life stage helps ensure they're getting the nutrients and calories they need. You should be transitioning your kitten to an adult cat food around year one, and your adult cat to a senior or mature adult food around age seven. To find the right food for your cat's age, look at the labels. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a great resource for deciphering pet food labels and making the best choice for your cat.

Health Issues

 When your kitten or adult cat is treated for an illness or injury, your veterinarian may recommend a specific food to help them manage a specific condition or help them recover.  Many therapeutic foods are available and your veterinarian can help guide you to the one that fits your cat’s needs.  For example, cats with kidney disease benefit from food with high quality protein but lower levels of phosphorus and cats with upset tummies benefit from highly digestible foods.

Picky Eater

Switching cat food might also be in order if you have a picky eater on your hands. Cats know what they like (no secret there). International Cat Care explains that even the texture of food is also important to cats.

If you've recently adopted a cat, they may have developed a preference for a certain type of food, such as wet over dry food. If you're switching cat food to accommodate your discerning kitty, just make sure it provides them the nutrients they need. Your vet, again, is a great resource for information when choosing a new food that will meet your cat's discerning tastes, while still providing adequate nutrition.

Pet Food Trends

New pet foods and pet food fads are popping up all the time, but it's a good idea to check with your veterinarian before serving your cat the hottest new food. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, the newest cat food trend may not be appropriate for your kitty, especially if it includes food for humans or dogs, or food that's homemade — all of which could cause nutritional imbalances.

Gray tabby cat sitting next to a food bowl, placed on the floor next to the living room window, and eating.

How to Safely Transition Your Cat to a New Food

When switching your cat's food, it's important to slowly ease them into their new meal plan. If you change their food too quickly, it may result in new ones, such as vomiting or diarrhea, explains Pet Health Network.

Follow these tips to help your kitty adjust to their new food as smoothly as possible:

  • Start by mixing together their current food and the new food
  • Gradually decrease the amount of old food you give them while increasing the new food over a seven to 14 day period
  • Observe your cat's behavior and watch out for negative reactions, such as tummy trouble

For a more detailed strategy and directions for portion control between the new & old food, see our article about transitioning cat foods.

When to Visit the Vet

It's important to only change your cat's food if there's a strong reason to do so — typically only if your veterinarian recommends it or your cat has reached a new stage in life.

If you notice a change in your kitty's level of hunger, such as decreased or dramatically increased appetite, the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University recommends that you don't switch their food or overcompensate with treats. Instead, take your cat to the vet to determine the root of their eating issues.

Cats are hard-wired to prefer certain aromas and textures, so it may take some time to find the right cat food for them. But with some searching and a little patience, you'll discover the healthiest cat food for your furry friend.

Contributor Bio

Christine O'Brien

Christine O'Brien

Christine O'Brien is a writer, mom, and long-time cat parent whose two Russian Blues rule the house. Her work also appears in Care.com, What to Expect, and Fit Pregnancy, where she writes about pets, pregnancy, and family life. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien.

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