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The Finicky Feline

By: Karen Commings

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Cats have a reputation for being finicky. Although many cats are overweight and eat just about anything you place in front of them, other cats are just plain picky and will always be thin. Whether a cat is truly finicky or just doesn't need to eat a lot is up for debate. Sometimes they eat their meals and other times they turn up their whiskered faces as if to say, "You don't expect me to eat that, do you?" If your cat is a truly finicky eater, mealtimes can be a frustrating and challenging experience.

Solving the Mystery

Illness or other physical problems may cause a cat to stop eating. If your cat suddenly doesn't want to eat, have her checked by your veterinarian to make sure that nothing physical is causing her loss of appetite. Place a chart on your refrigerator to keep track of her food
consumption. Knowing what is normal for your cat is vital in determining if she has reduced the amount she eats. If she is eating less than 50 percent of her normal intake for 4 or more days or eating nothing at all for as little as 48 hours, she could develop serious liver problems. Skipping a meal is fairly safe, but skipping more than one meal could spell trouble.

There are many reasons why your cat might become finicky.

  • The size of your cat's bowl may have something to do with how appealing her meals have become. That cute little bowl you bought when she was a kitten is now too small for her to stick her head into and eat. Her whiskers flatten against the sides, and she gets food on her face. As soon as she lowers her head into the bowl, she wants to lift it out again.

  • Perhaps you are feeding her in a lightweight plastic bowl or on a paper plate that slides around as she eats. If the plate moves around or slides under the furniture, she may become frustrated and decide that eating is just too much trouble. If your cat's bowl is flat, and the food slides onto the floor behind it, she may give up rather than scrape up the pieces that fell behind or under the plate.

  • Where your cat's bowl is placed may contribute to how much or little she wants to approach it. Look at mealtimes from your cat's perspective. Is the bowl near your dog's bed? Is it near a noisy piece of equipment such as the washing machine? Is it near a door where family members frequently come and go? Is it in a damp location such as the basement? All of these places may have a negative impact on her appetite.

  • Sometimes a cat appears to be finicky because she is intimidated by other household members or pets. Perhaps the cat hides under the bed at mealtimes because there's a loud, overly active child in the house who harasses her as she eats. The child thinks he's being playful, but his antics frighten the cat. Dogs are famous for wanting to eat cat food when it is available and may scare off your cat before she takes her first bite.

  • Other causes include spoiled food, food that has become stale because it has been left sitting out too long or food that is overcome with ants or other insects.

  • If your cat suffers from bad teeth or gums, the condition may reduce her appetite or make it difficult for her to eat.

  • Cats internalize stress, and if there is any stress or sudden changes in the household such as a family member leaving or new people arriving, or changes in routine such as you working late, your cat may not be as interested in her food.

  • Cats may eat less in warm weather than they do in the winter months, even though they may not go outside. And, if your cat eats only one kind of food, she may be just plain bored with it.

    Foiling the Finicky Eater

    Although many cats do well on a diet of only one type of food (if it is complete and balanced), they may lose interest in it over time. The best way to prevent your cat from becoming finicky is to accustom her to a variety of flavors when she is still a kitten. A cat eating only one kind of food may have a more difficult time changing to a new food if a medical condition requires that she be put on a prescription diet.

    Make sure your cat has an adequately sized bowl and that it is placed in a location that is appropriate from her point of view. Many cats prefer to be off the floor when there are other pets or small children around, so find an elevated place that is acceptable to you and your cat if tiny hands or floppy feet frighten her off.

    If you are feeding your cat only dry food, adding a tasty broth will put variety into her mealtimes. Or, if your cat has problems with her teeth, dry food can be difficult for her to chew. Soften her food in some water from a can of people tuna or in some clam juice. Bouillon or chicken broth also make dry food softer and tastier.

    Try feeding your cat canned food or jars of baby food occasionally to entice her to eat. If your cat is stubborn, offer her cooked meats or cooked fish to stimulate her appetite. Warming her food will help bring out the flavor, but be careful it isn't too hot for her to ingest.

    If you've just changed your cat's diet, she may be refusing to eat the new food. Begin offering her a little of the new food mixed in with her old food. Over the course of a few weeks, gradually increase the amount of new food in the mix.

    A little creativity and patience will help you keep your cat interested in her meals and keep your stress level down while trying to get your finicky feline to eat.



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