How to Handle Cats that are Picky Eaters

So, your cat looks up at you and appears to sneer at the food you’ve just put in their bowl. Rest assured, you are definitely not the first cat owner that this has happened to.

Cats have a reputation for being single-minded, independent and choosy. They can by nature be picky or fussy eaters. Find out how to stay on top of their fickle habits as we look at ways you can keep their taste buds tantalized.

Reasons Why Cats Can Be Picky Eaters

Apart from sheer bloody-mindedness, there can be a lot of reasons behind changes in a cat’s appetite. The first factor to rule out is a medical condition.

If your cat has shown no interest in food for more than a day, that, in itself, can lead to serious complications. It’s always best to consult your vet if there’s a sudden change in appetite that comes out of the blue – or if you are at all concerned.

Medical and Environmental Factors

Here are some of the most common medical conditions that could be the root cause:

  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Fever and nausea from gastrointestinal disease
  • Kidney or liver disease
  • Pancreatitis, dental or oral pain and diabetes
  • Trauma injuries and cancer

If your cat isn’t eating, your vet may refer to the condition as anorexia. The term has different connotations in cats compared to humans and simply means loss of appetite. There could be one or more several environmental factors at play too, stress in particular.

If your pet is an outdoor cat, there is always the chance they’ll take a wander into a neighbor’s home to see if they have something more tasty on offer. It’s a problem that’s almost impossible to control. You could try printing a collar that says, ‘Do not feed me!’

Tips to Deal with Picky Eating Cats

The first step to nipping the picky-eating habits of adult cats in the bud is to establish a routine for meals. Stick to the feeding regime consistently each day and at one or two specific times. Allowing “free-feeding” or altering the meal pattern is disruptive and may lead to a cat turning down its next meal.

Try to use treats as rewards only when training your cat in certain behaviors. If you throw in tasty tit-bits whenever it suits you, your cat will learn to try and hold out for something better than what’s in their bowl.

You could, however, try using food puzzles as a way to get your cat to eat more. These encourage cats to move around for their food. They are good options for indoor cats who both have a higher risk of obesity and also require more environmental stimulation from their owners. Talk to your vet about potential options.

Cats only have a few hundred taste buds. That compares to many thousands in humans. They tend not to be able to differentiate sweet-tasting foods, for example, but most love fat. It’s possible that their heightened sense of smell makes up for their poor taste.

Location and Cleanliness

Some cats prefer eating alone without anyone else watching them. Place your cat’s bowl in a quiet and peaceful place. Other cats might only eat when you stroke them gently or hand feed them.

Keep your cat’s bowl clean. Wash it after every use to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Rinse the bowl off thoroughly to avoid any residue from your detergent getting left on the bowl. The smell of it can put cats off. Use a metal or ceramic bowl and avoid plastic varieties.

If your cat typically enjoys dry food but suddenly becomes a picky eater, it might be time to replace your food supply. Dry food absorbs moisture so if you live somewhere with high humidity, your stocks may turn stale more quickly.

Temperature and Multi-Cat Households

The temperature of the food may also be an issue. For example, wet food can lose its tasty smell if you keep it in the fridge. Try warming any chilled food you have in a microwave for a few seconds until it gets to room temperature.

Your cat may also suffer a loss of appetite if the weather’s too hot for them. 

If you have several cats in your home, ensure there are sufficient food bowls so that each cat has their own. Keep the bowls well-spaced from each other. This helps to reduce stress and any sense of competing at mealtimes.

Changing Your Cat’s Food

If all else fails, you should consider changing your cat’s food. This might also be your vet’s preferred option if they feel a medical condition might benefit from a change in diet. The key is to take things slowly.

Continue serving what they’ve become used to, but gradually mix in the new food over a period of a week to 10 days. This helps to prevent bouts of diarrhea or vomiting that can happen with a sudden change in diet.

To make the food more appetizing, you could try:

  • Adding a little warmed, low-salt chicken broth to their bowl
  • Put some meat marketed as baby food on top of their normal food
  • Mix in some oil or brine from a can of tuna or anchovies

If you have problems delivering your cat’s medication in food, talk to your vet about possible non-oral treatments. When you continually try to hide pills or medicine in the food of a picky cat, you might put them off their regular food even more.

If your cat appears otherwise in good health but struggles to eat, they may have a dental issue that makes mealtimes difficult and painful. Check your cat’s gums for signs of redness or swelling and, if necessary, make an appointment to see your vet.

Get Advice From Your Vet

If your cat’s a fussy or picky eater and you can’t figure out why, talk to us for reassurance and more top tips. We always have a vet on hand to help whatever the situation.

You can find lots of other valuable articles related to keeping your cat healthy and happy here in our blog section. We also have a variety of very competitive pet insurance products on offer. Get in touch with us now to find out more.

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