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  • Rachel Doran

Feeding Your Picky Cat

Cats are finicky, peculiar creatures. One second they want you to pet them and the next they’re mad at you for the same petting they liked so much a moment ago. Why would eating be an exception to this? It isn’t.

Cat Eating Habits

Let’s first try to understand how a cat eats.

A cat’s eating behavior is a leftover trait from millions of years of evolution. In the wild, they hunt small creatures like mice and birds. These small animals don’t provide much in caloric deliverables and require the cat to hunt again in a short time. This is why cats tend to eat small amounts throughout the day - sometimes up to 10 times a day.

how to feed a picky cat

Unlike dogs, they are not social eaters. Cats hunt alone in the wild, and big cats today often hunt and eat alone. While it is common for well-adjusted cats to eat in the presence of other pets in the home, many times they prefer to eat their food without the company of other animals - ourselves included.

Why Are Cats Picky?

So maybe you’re feeding your (only) cat small meals throughout the day or leaving food out continuously, and she still isn’t eating. So you may be wondering, "why not?" There are several potential factors to consider.

Their natural eating patterns have been disrupted. Sometimes cat parents will try to portion out a cat’s food a few times a day, oftentimes for weight control, and their cats will just stop eating. This can happen because cats don’t like having to eat their entire portion in just a few sittings.

They are bored. If they’ve been eating the same kind of food for a while, it's possible they’ve just gotten bored of it. It doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like the food but rather, that the “hunt” is no longer interesting. If they prefer napping in the shower to eating, they likely won’t be motivated to wander to their food dish often.

They’re upset about something else. If there have been any changes to your cat’s life lately, that could be a contributing factor. Sometimes, something as simple as moving the food dish can upset your cat. Often times, indoor cats see (any) change as a threat because they’ve become so accustomed to a certain way of life.

There are medical factors at play. It is never healthy for a cat to go long without eating. If your feline hasn’t eaten despite your best efforts to correct it, it is a good idea to visit your vet. After sharing your concerns with your vet, they will likely be able to help you determine if there is an underlying medical reason for the sudden change in appetite.

How Do You Get Your Cat To Eat?

It’s not entirely likely that you will be able to pinpoint exactly what is causing your furry little companion to turn their nose up to the food you have provided them. (Barring, of course, a medical reason.) So here are some helpful tactics to try to stimulate that feline appetite.

Mimic the hunt. Try utilizing a puzzle toy or even just hiding bits of food in little plastic containers around your home. Your cat may find it interesting that they have to “hunt” for their food and may be more likely to eat the fruits of their labor.

Pick the perfect spot for their food dish. If you have more than one cat, try feeding them not only in separate bowls but also in separate rooms. If you only have one pet, try finding a quiet place in the home to keep the food dish so they are able to eat in privacy.

feeding a picky cat

Check your food dish. Have you heard of whisker fatigue? It’s a condition in which cats’ whisker follicles get sore from rubbing up against the side of a food or water bowl over and over again. Try feeding your cat from a plate or a really shallow bowl that cuts down on the amount of whisker interaction necessary to eat.

Make them work for their meal. Don't underestimate the importance of the hunt. Biological tendencies cannot really be overstated when it comes to cats, dogs, or even ourselves. Cats typically eat their prey after working hard to catch (and kill) it. Playing with your cat for 10 minutes or so before offering food can help to trigger their desire to eat.

Try a different food. It is possible your cat just doesn’t like the food you are giving them anymore. Try another food. Many cat parents swear by offering two different foods beside one another. When offering new food alone, a cat still isn’t interested, but when seeing it next to the food they don’t like, suddenly, it's more appealing!

Try a different texture. As cats age, their teeth and jaws can start to hurt. If you have an older cat, it’s worth trying a moister food. They may be avoiding the dry food because of its hard texture. Of course, this can work in reverse as well, with cats preferring dry food to wet. There are no rules when it comes to these crazy creatures.

Good Luck!

Figuring out why your cat has stopped eating may require you to channel your inner detective. It can take some trial and error, but your pet’s health is worth all the work.

Be sure to check with your vet if you have any concerns, and always run any dietary changes by them prior to experimentation. Changing food abruptly can cause digestive upset, and that will only add to the eating problems.

Once you figure out what was causing the hunger strike, be sure you take note to avoid the trigger in the future. Unfortunately, this doesn't mean you’re out of the woods. If there is one thing you can count on with cats, it’s that they will be finicky again. And again.

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