The finicky feline is something of a cliché. In my experience, most cats are good eaters when healthy, but I have met a few that have STRONG opinions about what they consider an appropriate meal.
Having a selective appetite is not always a big problem, but take notice if your cat is losing weight, has developed other symptoms of illness, is lethargic, has altered behavior, or if she is eating an inferior food that does not provide optimally balanced nutrition.
If your cat usually has a good appetite and all of a sudden becomes picky, make an appointment with your veterinarian. A serious medical problem may be to blame, and it should be addressed as quickly as possible. The veterinarian will check your cat’s teeth, gums, and the rest of the oral cavity for any abnormalities, perform a complete physical exam, and maybe order blood work or other laboratory tests to diagnose diseases that could be a cause or effect of poor eating habits.
Once you have determined that your cat is simply finicky and not sick, you can start working on getting her to expand her dietary options by:
- Confirming that the food you are offering is made from high quality, palatable ingredients. It is not unreasonable for a cat to turn her nose up at a mediocre product. Premium foods are also more nutrient dense than lower quality options, so smaller volumes contain comparatively more nutrition.
- Making changes slowly. Take anywhere from a week to a month to gradually mix increasing amounts of the new food in with decreasing amounts of the old.
- Avoiding frequent flavor rotation. By constantly offering different foods you are teaching your cat that she can wait to eat until what she really wants appears in her bowl.
- Eliminating or at least cutting way back on treats. These tasty extras can have the same effect as frequent flavor rotation and also satiate a cat’s appetite.
- Letting your cat get hungry. It is not dangerous for a healthy, adult cat to miss a meal (this does not apply to kittens or cats with certain health conditions, like diabetics taking insulin). Offer your cat her food, and pick up anything that remains uneaten after 30 minutes or so. Try again with the same type of food at the next, regularly scheduled meal time. However, do not let your cat go for more than a day without eating — prolonged caloric deficits put cats at risk for hepatic lipidosis.
Keep in mind that being on the thin side is generally healthier than being overweight. As long as your veterinarian has determined that your cat is eating enough of a nutritious diet and is not sick, working to get her to eat more is counterproductive and often an exercise in futility.
Dr. Jennifer Coates
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