Have you ever purchased really expensive cat food in bulk and then your cat has refused to eat anymore! Why are they such fussy eaters? What can you do about it? Our Pet Health Team investigate…

Well, maybe it’s all down to their ancestors. Feral cats around the world can spend over 12 hours a day hunting and eat at least 10 small meals (= 10 small animals…) throughout the day and night. Now compare that to the sedentary lifestyle of their domestic cousins. 

In nature, hunting allows for physical and mental stimulation. It’s a crucial time for kittens to learn from their mothers what’s good to eat. This is also true in domestic cats, a kitten will prefer the type of food its mother ate. So don’t expect them to know which food is best for them.

As true carnivores, meat and fat provide all the essential vitamins and amino acids cats need to thrive. But modern, calorie-dense diets and treats full of carbohydrates mean that any cat not working for their food is prone to obesity.

Fussy Cats

If you have a healthy cat with a finicky appetite, but it is not losing any weight, it might be that your cat food has a high-calorie content. To be sure, just check the manufacturers feeding recommendations. And try to get your cat weighed at least twice a year. They might also be supplementing their diet by hunting or eating at a neighbour’s house!

Now we know how our cats would eat in the wild, we can make some simple changes to help feed our fussy felines. 

1) First, let’s mimic nature and offer multiple small meals

At least 5-6 over a 24 hr period. Remember, cats are active at night too, even though they appear to spend most of their time sleeping!

Puzzle feeders are great. They encourage the cat to eat slowly by having to manipulate the food with its paws; which also stimulates the brain. For ease, use dry food in the food puzzles. If you weigh or count the number of kibble pieces it will help with both weight control and preventing any excess food from being left behind to rot.

In general, it’s important to provide a consistent quiet place for your cat to eat. But hiding food puzzles around the house will also satisfy their urge to hunt. It might even reduce those early morning hungry cat alarms! There are a lot of great ideas for homemade feeders on the internet. So you really don’t need to break the bank, plus if you use recycled material, such as toilet roll tubes, you can rotate the toys in use to keep them novel and interesting.

2) Wet food is far more appealing when gently warmed to body temperature

This replicates a fresh kill in the wild and even house cats who have never hunted enjoy warm food. The texture of food is probably one of the most important features for cats. Just look in the pet food aisle to see all the different gravies, jellies, mousse, chunks, flakes, semisoft morsels, and crunchy options. Cats will have a preference, so offer a mix of their favourite textures and flavours. But try to stick with the same brand and don’t swap too frequently, or you will actually encourage fussy eating habits. 

3) Remember the most important nutrient is water! 

And as a desert animal, cats evolved to get water from the small mammals they eat. Cats are fastidious with hygiene and to prevent contamination they prefer separate water bowls or running water to drink from. Leaving a tap dripping or using a water fountain will encourage them to drink. But most importantly, water bowls must be far away from food bowls. And wide enough for the cat to drink from the surface without the whiskers touching the sides. Try using a clear glass water bowl so you can easily see if it’s dirty and exactly how much water has been drunk.

4) All bowls should be wide and shallow, saucers or side plates work best. 

Scientific studies have shown that cats will eat less if the bowl is small; they really don’t like their sensitive whiskers touching anything when they eat. This also applies to furniture and walls, make sure the area is clear so they can eat in peace. And swap out any plastic or metal bowls, they can harbour odours and be hard to clean. Give food dishes an extra rinse to remove any detergent residues and sterilise with hot water. Be very careful with disinfectants on bowls and the floors, rinse and dry well. 

5) Lions are the only members of the feline family that routinely live in family groups, all the rest prefer solitude. 

So if you have multiple cats in your house, make sure you provide them with enough space to eat in peace. They may appear to be sharing but this can be an important source of stress. Give each cat their own set of food and water bowls and feed them separately, out of sight of each other. A microchip controlled automatic feeder might be a good investment if you have a cat with dietary restrictions and find it hard to feed them separately.

Of course, you may be the happy owner of that oddball cat that needs stroking before they will eat. Each to his own, it just takes a little patience to find what’s right for your cat as an individual.

And remember – a healthy cat won’t usually starve themselves to death… they may, however, move out and look for a more pliable owner! Fortunately, the vast majority of “fussy” cats are more fussy about the food environment than the food itself. While doubtless there are cats who will only eat foie gras and caviare, most will be satisfied with something from the cat food section in the supermarket or pet store, as long as it’s presented in the right way and the right place (and getting that right will save a fair amount of cash too!).

What to do if your cat stops eating.

If your cat suddenly stops enjoying their food, there are a few checks you can make to see if they really are Dish Divas or if something else is bothering them and it’s time to go see your vet.

Check the expiration date on all food and treats. Dry food is sprayed with a preservative which will turn rancid when exposed to air and moisture, so discard bags opened longer than 30 days. You might not be able to smell any difference but your cat definitely will.

Do not feed ad lib and always discard uneaten food after a couple of hours. If you are finding a lot of wastage then feed smaller portions. You can also go online and check if the manufacturer has changed the recipe.

If you suspect any weight loss, notice vomiting or diarrhoea, smelly breath, or drooling then call your vet for advice as soon as possible. Cats can get into serious trouble if they do not eat for more than a day.

So in general, try to feed your cat as it evolved to eat: give small frequent warm meals on a flat surface and away from prying eyes. Encourage hunting type behaviour with food puzzles and ensure a suitable environment. With so many different food types to try it is important you don’t make sudden or frequent diet changes as this can lead to behavioural and or digestive problems. But let’s get real, cats are quirky, it’s rare to find the appetite of a Labrador in any cat. So see if any of the above 5 tips can be applied to your cat but most importantly relax and enjoy your feline.

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