Feeding the Finicky Cat

Jennifer Coates, DVM
By Jennifer Coates, DVM on Sep. 4, 2015
Feeding the Finicky Cat

Why is it that some cats will eat a particular food one day and then turn their nose up at it the next?

Sometimes these cats are sick, even if symptoms aren’t readily apparent. Cats are good at blaming the last food they ate as the cause of their discomfort (not a bad thing if you’re hunting in the wild) and will therefore reject what they ate with relish just yesterday if they don’t feel well. The first thing to do when faced with a finicky cat is to schedule an exam with your veterinarian.

But if your cat has been given a clean bill of health, how can you go about finding something (anything!) that your cat will eat on a regular basis?

First, it’s important to remember that some cats develop strong preferences with regard to flavor, texture, etc. very early in life, perhaps even based on what their mother eats while they are still in utero. It is possible to override these preferences if you take it very slowly and are persistent, but it may not be worth the effort. If all your cat will eat is one brand of canned, chicken-based cat food, why not just feed that to him… as long as it provides complete and balanced nutrition and he is maintaining his weight and health, of course.

If your cat won’t ever eat a good meal no matter what’s on offer, take a look at the ambience in your kitty café. Cats are solitary hunters and can take quite a long time to eat what they’ve killed. They often don’t deal well with perceived stress and competition around meal times. Feed your cat alone in a quiet room or try putting on some quiet, classical music (research has shown that cats find it soothing). If your cat is a “people person,” praising or petting him while he eats can also be helpful. Some cats also prefer eating and drinking off of shallow saucers rather than from deeper bowls.

Finally, ensure that your cat’s diet is made from healthy ingredients and is nutrient dense so that whatever your cat does eat packs a nutritional punch. High quality, canned kitten food is a reasonable option for finicky, healthy adults, but home cooked diets are the most tempting. If you’re willing to cook for your cat, take a look at BalanceIT or PetDIETS.com.

Make any necessary dietary changes infrequently and slowly. When you constantly offer new foods, your cat will learn that he can wait for something “better” to appear in his bowl. And don’t be afraid to let your cat get hungry. Eliminate treats and offer food two or three times a day, picking up what remains uneaten after 30 minutes or so.

Keep in mind that cats really don’t need to eat that much in the way of volume. As long as your veterinarian has determined that your cat is at a reasonable weight, is not sick, and is eating enough of a healthy diet to prevent nutritional deficiencies, you probably have nothing to worry about. 

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: PCHT / Shutterstock

Jennifer Coates, DVM


Jennifer Coates, DVM


Dr. Jennifer Coates is an accomplished veterinarian, writer, editor, and consultant with years of experience in the fields of veterinary...

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