Cats have a well-deserved reputation for being finicky eaters, but sometimes they aren’t turning their nose up at the food itself but at their surroundings instead.
Many cats are on near constant alert for danger. My feline friend, Vicky, is one of them. She was rescued as a feral from the streets of Washington, D.C. over 15 years ago and is still convinced that any unexpected noise or movement could signal her impending demise. I feed Vicky in our basement laundry room with the entryway blocked by a baby gate. I’m embarrassed to admit that the laundry room gets very little foot traffic (except when we’re running low on underwear) and doesn’t have any windows or other potential distractions. The baby gate keeps the dog and kids out while allowing her to have unrestricted access to both her dry and canned foods. On the rare occasions that I do interrupt her meal, she gives me an unmistakable “Who invited you to the table?” glare.
If your cat seems skittish around meal time and you worry that she is not eating enough, provide her with a quiet, safe place to dine. Think “romantic restaurant” and you can’t go too far wrong. No harsh noises, soothing lighting, and a minimum of interruptions may be all that is needed.
Cats are also extremely sensitive to smell. Nearby unpleasant odors can overwhelm the smell of the cat’s food and turn her off her meal. Do not feed cats next to their litter boxes and make sure that any that are nearby are kept as clean as possible (nobody wants the restaurant table next to the bathroom, after all). Food bowls should be washed regularly. Those that contain only dry food should be cleaned weekly while those that are used for canned diets need to be washed daily. If you feed your cat in a laundry room, bathroom, or other part of the home that contains highly scented products, do your best to limit the amount of “smell pollution” that is present. Avoid the use of potpourri, scented oils, fragrant candles, air fresheners, etc.
Because cats are so reliant on their noses, offering new smells can also spur them to eat. I provide my cat with the same high quality dry food day in and day out but offer random options for canned. When I go shopping for canned cat food, I simply buy whatever 3.5 oz options catch my eye (or happen to be on sale) and offer one every evening. If I happen to put down something she doesn’t like, she simply eats more of her dry standby and waits to see what tomorrow will bring in the canned department. Warming wet cat food can also release more of its smell.
Your cat is a patron, reviewer, and health inspector for the feline restaurant that you are running. How many stars do you think you’d get?
Dr. Jennifer Coates