Why your cat is a fussy eater

Cats can be on the picky side, but there are some very good reasons why this is the case

Posted: 22 January 2017

Why your cat is a fussy eater


Unlike most dogs who often ‘wolf down’ their food, cats can be on the picky side. However, if your favourite feline turns her nose up at her dinner, it’s likely to be for a very good reason…

Cats are solitary hunters and they have a completely different evolutionary history with food than pack (social) animals, such as dogs. So, if your cat is feeling finicky, something is preventing her natural feeding behaviours. It’s up to you, as her human, to figure out what it is.

>> Location, location, location

Fussy eating could be down to something as straightforward as your cat not liking the place you’ve designated to feed her. If your cat has been bullied at the food bowl by another pet, then she may decide that it’s too risky to be in that location. Some cats are much happier with their dinner positioned off the ground on a work surface, well away from the reach of small children or the family dog. In a multi-cat household, separate feeding locations can work well, with separate bowls positioned out of sight of each other. Some cats are easily spooked by sudden noises, so don’t put their food near the fridge or central heating boiler that can unexpectedly fire up. Evaluate your cat’s mealtime set-up to see how you can create a more secure and comforting environment where your four-pawed pal can happily chow down in peace.

>> What goes where

Cats like to keep things separate – at least when it comes to food, water and the litter tray. If you feed your cat from a double feeder, with crunchy kibbles in one side and water in the other, it’s likely to be very unappealing to him. In the wild, water near to recently killed prey could be contaminated, so would be avoided. Likewise, many cats much prefer moving water to still – as you may have noticed if your cat loves playing with water as it splashes out of the tap! In nature, fresh running water is far preferable to still, stagnant pools, as all animals know, so investing in a cat drinking-water fountain could keep your kitty both hydrated and entertained. Also, be aware that in the cat world, the act of going away from the living quarters to answer the call of nature, and then covering it up afterwards, are very important aspects of survival. To have their dinner positioned near to their litter tray can be very confusing to a cat and put them right off their food.

>> The right temperature

Food fed directly from the fridge is unappealing to felines. Cats aren’t scavengers and they use their nose to determine if the temperature of their prey indicates whether it’s safe to eat. If the food is cold, it could suggest to a cat that it’s not very fresh. Most felines prefer food served at temperatures of around 35 degrees C. This may be partly explained by the increase in food odour that occurs as food is warmed, but is perhaps because this temperature is like that of freshly killed prey.

>> Portion control

In the wild, cats are opportunistic feeders who eat when food is available. They hunt small prey such as birds, mice and voles, that don’t have a lot of calories, which is why they have to eat little and often. As they are nibblers by nature, cats may prefer their food ration to be divided up into several small meals throughout the day. Even better, try putting dry food in a foraging device, where your cat has to play with it to get the food to fall out. As well as providing exercise, this will slow down the cat’s eating and provide some mental stimulation and enrichment.

The RSPCA’s top tips for feeding cats:

  • Cats need a well-balanced, meat-based diet to stay fit and healthy – as obligate carnivores (which means their physiology has evolved to require meat to survive) they cannot be vegetarian.

• Make sure your cat eats a balanced diet that is suitable for their age, health status and lifestyle. 

• Most typical human food does not meet the nutritional needs of cats and some foods, such as onions, can even be poisonous to cats.

• Cats naturally eat lots of small meals per day. Try to split their daily intake into several small meals (unless advised otherwise by your vet).

• How much your cat needs to eat depends on their age, lifestyle and health. Always read and follow the feeding instructions that relate to the cat food you buy.

• If a cat eats more food than they need they will become overweight and may suffer. Equally, if a cat is eating too little, they will become underweight. Adjust the amount of food according to the needs of your cat.

• Without drinking water, your cat could become severely ill within hours. Give your cat constant access to clean drinking water. 

Sources.catbehaviorassociates.com/ pets.webmd.com/ rspca.org.uk