How To Transition Your Dog Or Cat To A Raw Food Diet: 10 Easy Steps
Updated: Feb 6
While we support thousands of dog and cat owners every day across Canada with their own raw feeding journeys, we are also raw-feeding pet owners ourselves and know firsthand how daunting such a decision may seem in the beginning. Switching your dogs or cats to the diet that they were born to eat requires research and dedication. The abundance of information, theories, opinions, and raw feeding myths swirling around the internet regarding species-appropriate raw diets make it easy to want to give up and reach for the most convenient bag of food on the shelf. But if you have made it to this article, give yourself a pat on the back because identifying the problem with all the processed ingredients in your pet's food is half the battle!
Our in-house raw feeding experts compiled the following list of easy first steps you can take to set you and your pet up for raw feeding success (and a longer and healthier life). Whether your pet is a puppy, a picky eater, has a food allergy, or simply has no issues at all, following these tips will make for an easy and safe transition to raw.
How to Switch Your Pet to a Raw Food Diet
Get Started With our Free Feeding Guide
Before we get into it, if you are new to raw- or maybe just new to our brand, we highly suggest you request our Free Feeding Guide which provides you an in-depth guide offering suggested feeding amounts, supplement recommendations, and in detail how to transition your pet.
Preparing for the Switch to Raw Food
1. Stop Free-Feeding
If your pet currently grazes on dry food all day, you will need to create set meal times (eg. 9am and 5pm) so that your pet develops more of an appetite at the specified times. Unlike cows who are designed to graze, dogs and cats are designed to have long periods of rest between meals. Free-feeding can be unhealthy, especially for cats, and will make transitioning difficult. Furthermore, it is important to not keep raw food out for extended periods of time!
Learn more about why free feeding is harming your cat
2. Introduce Probiotics
We recommend starting your pet on a live probiotic supplement 2- 4 weeks prior to the switch. During any food switch, there is a natural adjustment to your pet’s gut microbiome (the microorganisms that live in your pet’s digestive tract). This can sometimes cause a brief period of digestive unrest in the form of loose poops or vomiting. Probiotics will help to support and maintain a healthy microbiome in the gut and prepare them for new foods. This is especially important for animals that have seemingly “sensitive tummies.”
Look for a product with a wide diversity of probiotic types (species and strains) and a high number of colony forming units (CFUs eg. in the billions), and if you can find one that is species specific - even better! Here are a few of our favourite probiotics:
3. Add Bone Broth Into Their Diet
Adding a home-made or store-bought low sodium bone broth to the current diet will help to hydrate your pet, provide gut-supportive nutrients (including L-glutamine) and pave the way for an easy switch. Start soaking your pet’s dry food at least 1 week prior to adding raw foods to their diet.
For dry foods, use 1 cup of kibble per 1 cup of broth and soak for 15 minutes prior to feeding. Replace water with broth for dehydrated diets as per food package instructions. Canned and home-cooked meals can also get a ½ to ¾ cup of broth per 1 lb of food. Check out our Bone Broth 5 Ways it Improves Your Pets Health article which includes a great home-cooked stock recipe.
Although bone broth is easily made at home, many people don’t have the time! That’s why we started making our famous Broothie, which contains buffalo bone broth, vegetables, and blueberries, and is intended to make life easier for all dog and cat owners.
Making the Switch to Raw Food
4. Try One New Food At A Time
Focus on feeding one protein source while you are making the switch. Later, you will want to diversify. Sticking with one type of protein makes the transition easier for your pet and for you! Once your pet is fully on his/her new diet, check out our blog Complete & Balanced (Part 2): Building A Balanced Raw Diet on how to vary the raw diet for the best results.
We suggest starting your transition with chicken, turkey or beef --whichever your pet likes best.
5. Transitioning Methods
A gradual switch is generally the best option for introducing pets to a raw diet. Allow 5-10 days for your dog to transition, and longer for cats (up to 2 weeks, but some need a lot more time, so be patient!). A few options for switching to raw are:
A. Separate Feeding: Feed Raw In The Morning And Kibble At Night
This is a better partial raw feeding method for pets with sensitive stomachs and GI issues
B. Combined Feeding: Can I Mix Half Raw Half Kibble In Each Meal?
If your pet has no GI issues, they can safely use any partial feeding method- so for you it will just come down to preference. It is possible to feed a 50 / 50 ratio of both raw and kibble in the same meal;
If your pet is on canned food, you can start mixing in small portions of raw in the canned. Gradually increase the amount of raw and reduce the amount of canned proportionally, until your pet is fully on raw.
Learn More About Mixing Raw With Kibble and Canned Food
C. Lightly Cooked Raw
Lightly poach a boneless (very important!) raw meal. You never want to feed cooked bones. Reduce the poaching time each day until it is entirely raw.
Boneless RDBK Meals;
D. Fasting—For Adult Dogs Only
For healthy dogs, fasting for a short period (12-24 hours) is an option. It cleans out their digestive tract and can entice even picky pets to eat raw straight away as their next meal. DO NOT use this method for cats; it can cause serious medical issues .
6. What Should I Do if My Pet Is a Picky Eater?
Here are some suggestions to encourage your finicky pet to eat:
Serve the food at room temperature.
Thaw the food in small portions so you are always serving it fresh, avoiding freezer burn. This is especially important for cats who don’t like old food.
Lightly cooking boneless raw food meals (see Transitioning Methods #3 for boneless RDBK meals) can make it more aromatic and appetizing. If your pet is not interested in raw meat, he may not recognize it as food yet. Try searing it in a pan for a 30-60 seconds to warm it up, release the flavourful aromas to entice the appetite.
Serve food on a plate rather than a bowl. This is especially helpful for cats, because their whiskers are very sensitive and may be turned off by rubbing the bowl.
Cats naturally habituate on the foods they are familiar with (it’s a survival instinct). It can be challenging to get them to try something new. Try wiping a bit of raw on their paw – your cat will have to lick it off and will start to familiarize with the new flavor. Or try sprinkling some crushed treats on top of their food to entice them.
Learn more about feeding picky pets:
A Guide to Feeding Your Picky Cat (Works for Dogs Too)
7. Serve the Food With Confidence
You know you are doing the best for your pet, so put the new food down confidently and walk away. This will give your pet space and time to explore without you looking over their shoulder. Your pet can sense your attitude about the new addition. If you’re excited (or anxious!), they will be too!
Transitioning a Pet With Health Issues to Raw Food
8. What to Do if Your Pet Has Food Intolerances
Pets with a history of intolerance to new foods or something more serious such as irritable bowel disease (IBD) or pancreatitis may require veterinary assistance if issues arise during the switch.
A slow, steady switch with bone broth and probiotics is essential for pets dealing with gut-related