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Nutrition Nuggets
Your cat's nutrition is important for a healthy & happy life. petMD experts help you to know what to feed your cat, how much food to feed, and the differences in cat foods, so your cat gets optimum nutrition.
Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Cat Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of cat nutrition.

Is Your Cat Always Hungry, or Obsessed?

March 01, 2013 / (1) comments

My cat, Victoria, is going bonkers. I just changed the type of canned food I’m giving her and she obviously loves it. After she’s eaten a meal she simultaneously meows and licks her lips, producing an odd, garbled sound. It seems to me that she is saying, "Wow, can I tell you… that was goooood!"


There is a downside to all her excitement. She has become a pest. I started feeding the new food in the kitchen so I’d have easy access to utensils, the dishwasher, etc. This lasted all of two days because every time I walked toward the kitchen she’d chase after me while howling, "Mrrow, Mrrow, Mrrow" as loudly as she could. Feline meals have been moved to the laundry room to restore some peace and quiet to the household.


While Vicky’s reaction is perhaps excessive, it’s not abnormal. (I’ve acted in a similar manner around chocolate cake.) Some cats, however, do go completely overboard in response to food.


A few years ago, I had a feline patient that was on the verge of losing a good home because of his behavior at meal times. Whenever his owners prepared food, he would jump on the counter and stick his nose and paws into their business. When they pushed him off, he’d jump right back up. He made a similar pest of himself around the dining room table and would more or less attack his owners (not viciously but maniacally) when his food bowls were filled.


The cat was otherwise healthy, so we solved the problem by never, ever feeding the cat in the kitchen or dining room (previously the owners had been sneaking him tidbits), leaving a high quality dry food out at all times in the basement (the cat really wanted to be around his owners so would dash up and down the stairs, thereby getting a good amount of exercise), and locking the cat in the basement with a meal of canned food when the owners prepared and ate their own food.


I recently saw a report of a cat that was diagnosed with "psychogenic abnormal feeding behavior." The eight-month-old, male Siamese cat was acting a lot like my patient did, but even more so. The authors stated that he had a ravenous appetite, was eating non-food items, has food-related aggressiveness, and was excessively soliciting attention from his owners. The cat’s blood work and urinalysis were essentially normal, so the doctors assumed the underlying problem was psychological rather than physical (that’s what psychogenic means) and successfully treated it as such. They reduced the cat’s exposure to stress, instituted environmental enrichment (e.g., scheduled playtime), and began a behavioral modification program that included food desensitization and counter conditioning (e.g., rewarding good behavior and not punishing the bad).


I need to emphasize that the first step in evaluating a food-obsessed cat is a complete medical work up. Diseases like hyperthyroidism and diabetes mellitus, which can be associated with a ravenous appetite and altered behavior, are certainly more common than "psychogenic abnormal feeding behaviors." But once a cat receives a clean bill of health, it’s good to know that management changes and behavioral modification can help these cats and their owners.



Dr. Jennifer Coates



Image: elixirofcolor / via Shutterstock

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Comments  1

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  • Food!
    03/01/2013 05:25pm

    I confess that my first thoughts were of diabetes and hyperthyroidism and hopefully the cat went for a full checkup.

    I've had those that are food-a-holics (former street strays) as well as some that just plain like to eat. I've also had some that eat-to-live as opposed to live-to-eat.

    I currently have one that's obsessed with whatever I have, but will quiet/calm down if he gets a teensy (VERY teensy) bite.

    I chuckled to myself when I read the words "counter conditioning" because the image it brought was conditioning a cat to get up on the counter. I keep trying to train my HOCM kitty to jump on the counter for his pills (he gets two small cat treats afterwards) so I don't have to provide valet service.

    "The eight-month-old, male Siamese cat was acting a lot like my patient did, but even more so. The authors stated that he had a ravenous appetite, was eating non-food items,"

    Aren't Siamese known for being predisposed to pica? Was that taken into account?

    I read the linked article (at least what's available to non-members) and it did indicate the cat was hyperglycemic although it didn't mention treatment for diabetes.

    I'd be curious to know about other cats in a study to see if they have a "stray mentality" when it comes to food. Every former stray that has been part of my family has been overly concerned that the food bowl might become empty.




Photo of Jennifer

... graduated with honors from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. In the years since, she has practiced veterinary medicine in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is the author of several books about veterinary medicine and animal care, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian .

Jennifer also writes short stories that focus on the strength and importance of the human-animal bond and freelance articles relating to a variety of animal care and veterinary topics. Dr. Coates lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, daughter, and pets.