How Do I Get My Cat to Eat New Food?

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Q. My cat turned out to be allergic to her food, and my veterinarian told me to switch her to a special diet. But no matter what I do, she won't eat it. I let her go hungry but still nothing. What next? 

A. First, never let a cat go without eating for more than a single meal: It can kill them. Cats are susceptible to a condition known as hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease. We don't really know exactly how or why they suffer so much from not eating, or whether there has to be some other cause along with the lack of food that sets off this liver disease. But we do know that affected cats are very sick, and may well die without expensive and difficult treatment.

So what can you do when your cat has to have a change of diet, but has no intention of cooperating?

Help Your Cat Make the Switch

First, realize your cat isn't just being finicky. Cats in the wild are known to "imprint" on specific shapes, flavors, smells and textures, and they learn at a young age that only those things are "food." This helps them learn to avoid foods that might be poisonous.

The same thing happens when we raise kittens and young cats to eat the exact same food every meal. Your cat honestly may not think the new food you're offering her is edible at all. To her, it's like you're giving her rocks — and unlike Labrador Retrievers, cats aren't into eating rocks. That's why it's a good idea to give new kittens several different kinds of food — dry, canned, and different varieties and brands — so they understand there is a range. If it's too late for that, it's going to take some careful planning to get your cat switched to her new diet.

For those lucky owners of only slightly resistant cats, you probably won't need to do anything but offer the new food. If that's not enough, try warming it in the microwave and, if necessary, adding a little bit of tuna juice on top.

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