5 Strange Cat Eating Habits

Michael Kearley, DVM
By Michael Kearley, DVM on Apr. 29, 2024
A cat and their pet parent with a bowl.

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Cats have unique nutritional requirements and are carnivores. They are opportunistic hunters, eating when the occasion presents itself. As a result, they often eat small amounts of food several times in a day. 

Domestic cats’ eating habits are often quite different than community cats, consuming larger quantities of food once or twice a day, taking advantage of the food provided by their pet parents.

It comes as no surprise that for some pet parents, cats seem to have strange eating habits—some which they may consider alarming.

Let’s look at five strange cat eating habits—some that are truly alarming and require medical attention, and others that are actually considered to be normal eating habits.

1. Eating Nonfood Items

Cats that either chew, suck, or eat inappropriate and inedible material have a condition called pica. Cats with pica may try to eat materials such as:

  • Cardboard

  • Fabric

  • Paper

  • Plants

  • Plastic

  • Rubber

  • Soil

  • Wood

Pica in cats is an uncommon condition, but because the material ingested is inedible, it can cause stomach upset and even become lodged in the gastrointestinal tract, leading to a potentially life-threatening condition. 

No one knows why cats develop pica, but the behavior often becomes obsessive.

It isn’t always the sign of a significant health issue, but it can be harmful to the cat, cause damage to the pet parent’s belongings, and contribute to a breakdown of the human-animal bond.

Seek veterinary attention immediately if you notice your cat chewing on or swallowing inedible items.

2. Not Eating

If your cat has a decreased appetite, decreased food intake, or a complete lack of appetite, they require veterinary attention.

It’s often a symptom of a much larger problem, such as:

Any disease-causing nausea or pain can also affect the appetite, and food aversion can develop throughout the disease process, even during treatment. 

Regardless of cause, any change in your cat’s eating habits warrants further investigation. If you delay treatment, serious consequences can occur.

Your veterinarian may want to perform a workup including a physical examination and tests such as blood work, urine, and stool testing, and check FeLV/FIV status.

Additional tests may also be required.

3. Eating Too Much

Just like us, cats will eat when hungry. Some cats will eat out of boredom or stress.

On average, cats are good at regulating their food intake, but unfortunately, if provided with the opportunity they will usually overeat.

This is often attributed to pet parent overfeeding or free feeding. If your cat eats her meal and then meows, begs, or complains for more, do you give in? 

If so, then consider that you may not only be creating bad habits but are also putting your cat at risk for becoming overweight.

Obesity can lead to joint disease, diabetes, and urinary problems. In fact, 35% of the feline population is obese and it is considered one of the major health risks affecting our companion animals today.    

However, eating too much can also be caused by stress or an underlying medical condition.

Conditions such as hyperthyroidism, pregnancy, parasitism, cancer, or malabsorptive diseases like IBD all have increased appetite symptoms.

Inadequate or nutritionally poor diets and some side effects from medication such as prednisolone can also increase appetite. 

Encourage a more natural feeding pattern for your cat. To reduce boredom, consider switching how your cat is fed: switch from free feeding (leaving the food out all day and topping it off when it seems low) to feeding small but frequent meals. You can also try “hiding” the food throughout the house so they have to “hunt” for her meals.

4. Refusing to Eat By Themselves

Cats are often solitary creatures, especially considering their predatory nature and hunting instincts. If you find that your cat will only eat with you nearby, then it’s recommended to have your cat examined by the veterinarian to rule out medical conditions that could affect your cat’s ability to eat.

Eliminate stressors within the home environment, as cats may not feel safe enough to eat without you. You can also consider reviewing or altering feeding locations, times, and food preference.

It’s also good to evaluate the behavior of your cat with others in the home, as inter-cat aggression or stress can be a contributing factor. 

It’s important to note that this behavior might have been learned either as a kitten or when hand-fed during times of illness. To help curb this behavior, you may need to gradually decrease the amount of time spent in your cat’s presence with positive reinforcement, and the advice of a veterinary behaviorist may be required.    

5. Playing With Food

Cats can certainly spill their bowl, swat at their food, or throw it across the floor—all part of their natural predatory behavior.

By playing with their food, they are merely mimicking their hunting instincts and enjoying themselves.

Rarely is a cat playing with her food seen as inappropriate behavior or due to an underlying medical condition. Often, cats that don’t like their food or are picky eaters are more often seen not eating or playing with it! Puzzle feeders, timed treat dispensers, or interactive toys can provide a source of enrichment for your cat that may make playing with her food less appealing.


Levine E, et al. Owner’s Perception of Changes in Behaviors Associated with Dieting in Fat Cats. Journal of Veterinary Behavior. 2016;11:7-41.


Michael Kearley, DVM


Michael Kearley, DVM


Dr. Michael Kearley graduated from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. He graduated with a certificate in...

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