Cats don’t always do what we want them to. Actually, they rarely do what we want them to, especially when it comes to their food. Many times, introducing a new food becomes a frustrating battle-of-wills, with the finicky cat often coming out on top. We seem to be always at the whim of whatever our cats decide they want to eat at the moment, trying to keep up with their changing tastes and preferences. It can definitely be a frustrating challenge. But, as it turns out, cats aren’t purposely being difficult—it’s more or less built into their nature.
Cats are what we call “imprint eaters”. This means that whatever the first kinds of food the cat ate after nursing are “imprinted” in the cat’s brain as something that is appropriate to eat. This includes things like taste, temperature, smell, and even shape of the food. It originally was an evolutionary mechanism to protect the cat from unknown, spoiled, or harmful foods. Now it means that if we try to introduce our cats to a new food with a different smell/flavor, texture, temperature, or shape, they may be wary of it because it doesn’t fit into their own personal definition of food (know any children who have the same tendencies?). This instinct is stronger in some cats than others and can be mitigated by offering a large variety of foods to our cats when they are still young.
Tips and Tricks
Okay, now we understand why cats are so weird about their food, but how does that apply to giving our cats raw food for the first time? It means that it may or may not go smoothly at first and that we might have to get creative. Luckily, we have a few tricks up our metaphorical sleeve:
- First of all, make sure the raw food is completely thawed before offering it to your cat. Cats don’t tend to enjoy even slightly frozen foods. Even better, leave it (covered) on the counter for a little while to warm it closer to room temperature.
- Try putting a small amount of raw food on the bottom of their food bowl, beneath their regular food. Sometimes the smell and little taste of the raw food mixed with their regular stuff can be enough to convince them to give it a chance.
- You can also try putting a little of the raw food on a plate and setting it next to their regular food bowl at meal times.
- If the two above strategies haven’t worked, try par-boiling the raw food. Bring a pot of water up to boil, drop a couple of nuggets in and immediately scoop them back out. That thin outer layer of cooked food, or the change in temperature, can sometimes be enough to convince the finicky feline.
- Taking some defrosted food and putting a little on their paw may also get them trying the food. They don't like dirty paws so they will want it off.
- This one may sound weird, but give it a try if the other methods haven’t worked: try placing a small amount of the raw food in their bowl in an area of the house where your cat isn’t normally fed. The hope is that the cat stumbles upon it during its daytime adventures and is tempted into “hunting” for the food. Really, it works!
Whatever you do though, be sure to never get into a standoff with your cat over food. Cats are stubborn little fluffers and they are unlikely to give in and eat the food when “they are hungry enough”. What’s more likely to happen is the cat will skip a couple of meals. This can be very harmful to the health of the cat because, being the great hunters they are, cats are not used to going long stretches without meals. After skipping multiple meals over a few days, cats can easily go into liver or renal failure, often with irreversible effects. So if your cat absolutely won’t eat the new food you’re introducing, give in and feed their old food, and try again in a few days.