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The Journey to Health Through Raw: Transitioning an Older Cat

Most pet owners have a moment when they first notice their pet aging. It may not seem like a cause for concern at first, but as you start seeing more and more changes in their behaviour—more time spent on the couch, struggling to get up on the bed, and so forth—you start wondering what you could be doing to help them age with grace.

This week we’re doing something different than our regular blogs: rather than writing about the potential successes of a raw diet in broad, abstract strokes, I—RDBK’s writer—wanted to tell my personal story with raw. This is a tale about how, when time and a life well-lived started to catch up with my cat, I started making big changes to improve and extend her quality of life through a raw diet and the near-miraculous results that came from it.

RDBK's Jen and Cabana
RDBK's Jen and Cabana

Full Disclosure: Shortly after starting the journey to correct my cat’s health, finding raw and choosing RDBK, the company posted an opening for a writer and I took it. That said, I went through the Feeding Guide in the same way anyone else would and only used materials available to the public—I never sought or received any “behind the scenes” help from my coworkers.

How It All Started

This is Cabana, and she’s one of the loves of my life. Years ago, while camping in small, pre-fab cabanas (get the connection?), my family and I found a beautiful but emaciated cat crying plaintively out our window. When we went out to investigate, she stopped her mewling, trotted over to smell a pointed finger, then cheerfully let herself in for the night. After scarfing slice after slice of ham, she curled up on the bed and purred herself to sleep until morning. She stayed with us till the end of our vacation, and after asking around the campground, taking her to the vet and realizing she wasn’t tattooed or chipped, it was decided: she was ours, and we were hers.

Cabana never lost the “starving cat” mentality—she’d inhale just about anything you put in front of her, then beg for more. After a few years, without meaning to and with only love in our hearts, we had an obese cat on our hands. A few more years later, after many attempted diets and rapidly deteriorating health, she was diagnosed with diabetes and started getting twice-daily insulin injections. It wasn’t the worst solution—we’d do anything to keep this lovebug alive and happy, but we started looking for more options: were expensive diabetic diets really the only choice left for her?

Finding RDBK

We knew we needed to find a food low in refined sugar and carbohydrates to start managing her weight and diabetes. It was a slow process of narrowing down food options, but eventually, we discovered raw. When you first find a new (to us, at least) kind of pet food, it can be alarming to join a fully formed community with a lot of options and even more opinions. We sifted through dozens of brand brochures before finding Red Dog Blue Kat, and there were so many things to be impressed by: the scope and depth of their Learning Hub, the confidence they had in their product…but in particular, we were won over by their free Feeding Guide. Someone qualified to talk us through the nitty-gritty of overhauling our food-obsessed cat’s diet? Yes, please!

Red Dog Blue Kat Complete Meals

Getting the Expert Advice

Given the scope of their blog content, it wasn’t surprising that they’d already written an article about managing a diabetic pet with natural, raw foods. And yet, I wasn’t convinced it could be that easy—after all, everyone is sure their pet is completely unique (and sometimes they are!), so I decided to go for specific advice. While the form was quick and straightforward, I was worried that a diabetic cat would be beyond the scope of the free feeding guide—but my fears were without cause. I heard back from the veterinary nutrition advisor within 24 hours, and not only did she send along a detailed step-by-step plan for my raw journey, but she also included some small notes letting me know what I might expect from transitioning to raw with a diabetic cat. Honestly, I was impressed: I felt they could have sent me a copy-pasted “feed your <insert animal> these three proteins,” wash their hands and call it a day, but the small specifics addressing Cabana let me know that an expert actually sat down, read my concerns, and crafted a specific response to our situation. I was over the moon.

In fact, I was so excited that I started reading more blogs about transitioning to raw foods (I’ve listed my top 3 below!) The benefits sounded too good to be true, like the panacea potion of my cat’s dreams. Still, there seemed to be so many happy consumers independently verifying the claims of raw food, so I was ready to dive in like Cabana dives into a bowl of wet food.

Taking a Step Back: Planning Like a Pro

I was chomping at the bit: I couldn’t wait to see how silky her fur would get, if her achy old-lady joints would recover, or any other unexpected solutions raw might offer. But to my surprise, the first step of the feeding guide had nothing to do with raw food—we would be starting on a smaller scale, with her gut bacteria.

I learned that cats are born with sterile guts (who knew, based on their breath?), so they can use all the help they can get when introducing new foods, especially as they get older. RDBK’s veterinary nutrition advisor recommended Cabana start with probiotics for a few weeks before she even got to try raw foods. With specific recommendations from the RDBK Feeding Guide, we started her on a two-week regimen of probiotics—it mixed in easily with her wet food, and I doubt she even noticed the taste. If she did, she didn’t stop eating long enough to express her displeasure.

The Journey to Health Through Raw: Transitioning an Older Cat With Diabetes to a Raw Food Diet

The Complete Transition

After a few weeks of probiotics, we slowly started introducing and increasing raw portions and mixing it into her wet food, switching from poultry to red meats from one day to the next. I admit I wasn’t as scrupulous as I could have been in the beginning—every second day or so, I scooped an approximate tablespoon more of raw and less of her diabetic wet food. Once I got to 50/50 raw to regular food, I started weighing and cutting portions for accuracy’s sake, still adding probiotics to her evening meal. This gradual transition worked wonders; she never stopped lunging for her food, and we didn’t experience any vomiting or other gut upsets that can crop up when switching a cat’s diet. All in all, it took us about 3 weeks to transfer her over to completely raw food.

Week 1 of Only Raw

After Cabana’s first week on 100% raw, she was no longer clearing the room after a visit to the litterbox—something we’d just accepted as normal over the years. This was also around the time when we were struggling with her adapting to smaller portions: she’d chow down with record speed, then beg for more, despite us having weighed her meals down to the gram. We assumed this was because her raw meals, being more calorie-dense, were given in smaller portions than her diabetic cat food. She eventually got the hang of it, but only after we all had to endure Oscar-worthy performances by a cat who was sure she was on the brink of death by starvation.

Week 2 of Only Raw

Week two was when the real miracles began to present themselves. Diabetic cats often have less-than-stellar coats, and Cabana’s had always been dull and a little oily. After years of this, it wasn’t something my family noticed anymore. But within two weeks of full raw meals, the change was undeniable. Her coat was suddenly sleek, shining, and unbelievably soft in a way it had never been before. We’d been okay with the new raw food lifestyle before—but this was the moment when we really started to believe.

Week 3 of Only Raw

Week three came with a change that took us a little longer to notice: while Cabana’s diabetes had been monitored and under control for years, she was still a semi-regular puker. But after three weeks of raw, we realized she wasn’t throwing up nearly as much as she used to. This was a more subtle signal that whatever we were doing was working and that her stomach was soothed by her new diet.

Week 4 of Only Raw

At the one-month mark of only raw food, I was pretty happy with the changes we were seeing; Cabana was already showing overall improvement, but her raw diet had one more surprise left for us. We’d always assumed she was simply too smart, dignified, or predatory for toys (one time, she simply took a felt mouse, ripped its head off, gave us a pointed look as if to say, “That’s just how it’s done, folks,” and walked away. A holdover from her days on the street, we thought).

Then one day, she started to play.

Suddenly she was instigating fights with feathered toy birds, and getting the wild-eyed evening zoomies; she’d romp around the house, chasing—or being chased by—our other cat. We’d never seen her act like this: at thirteen years old she became playful, spirited, and finally, it seemed, fully alive.

Cabana, senior cat with diabetes transitions to a raw food diet, miraculous results

Nature’s Toothbrush

My family was still reeling from Cabana’s dramatic improvement, but there was still one step left in her raw journey: introducing bones. We waited for her to have been on a 100% raw diet for at least one month before trying bones to ensure her gut bacteria had fully adjusted to raw. We were warned that not all cats take to bones right away (or at all) and that we might have to hold it for her or coax her into trying it.

Turns out we didn’t need to worry. We started with a small segment of a kangaroo tail, and we had to hold her back while setting it down. I don’t think she breathed from the moment she touched it to when she scraped off the last morsel of meat. When she was done, she promptly settled into a dreamy food coma, complete with little kitty snores. Now she seems to know which night is bone night, and she’ll be sure to remind us if she thinks we’ve forgotten. Beyond bones making her the happiest cat alive, the change to her teeth has been nothing short of incredible: her breath is no longer gag-inducing, and there is noticeably less plaque building up on her teeth!

The Final Verdict

When we started this journey, Cabana was the sort of elderly, elegant cat who needed to be picked up to settle on her throne (the couch) and who regarded our other cat tumbling with toys with a sort of aristocratic aloofness and disdain. After two months on a raw diet, she now hurtles over furniture, somersaulting and bunny-kicking toys with wild abandon. She’s settled into a healthy weight, kept the pounds off, and is perfectly satiated after every meal. In short, she’s the healthiest she’s been in all the years we’ve had her. While I recognize that a raw diet isn’t suitable for every cat or lifestyle, the only regret I have from transitioning Cabana to raw is that we didn’t do it sooner.


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