Updated: Oct 18, 2022
Cats and food obsession.
This can be stressful for the whole family.
While begging and being food obsessed was once only common in the dog, it has become more and more prevalent in cats.
That's right, begging and counter surfing isn't just a problematic dog behavior!
Getting into things on the counter
Devouring their meals without chewing
Acting like they're starving
Always vocalizing when food is around
Why does my cat constantly seem like her stomach is a bottomless pit?!
While there's no perfect answer, there are many causes as to why this can happen.
Not getting enough calories
Need for attention
Changes in schedule
Changes in the food being fed
Lack of enrichment or stimulation
First, a thorough exam by your veterinarian should be done to rule out anything medical.
Some medical issues can be very serious, and it's important to rule this out.
How can I stop this behavior?
This depends on the reasoning behind the food obsession. As stated above, there is not one perfect reason for food obsession, or a single known solution to solve this problem, but there are a few things you can try:
Ruling out medical problems.
First and foremost, when a pet is displaying an imbalance, whether physical or behavioral... it's always important to get them checked out by a vet. They cannot talk, so we cannot assume any cause to problem without proper evaluation and testing. There are many medical issues which can contribute to increased appetite: Increased appetite with weight gain is indicative of diabetes, while increased appetite with weight loss is indicative of hyperthyroidism. Intestinal parasites such as worms will be the ones digesting and utilizing what the cat eats, leaving them feeling consistently hungry and ultimately malnourished. Other causes include endocrine disorders, cancer, and even side effects of some medications. Psychological issues can be present as well. All of these will require a full workup by a trusted veterinary professional.
Making sure your cat is getting enough calories is very important. Certain food adjustments can be made to help them get the most out of their food as possible. This does NOT mean adding more fiber and fillers to help them 'feel full.' It means giving them proper nutrition that is not only biologically appropriate, but also bio-available to the body.
Evaluate changes in the food being fed.
This one is tricky! Have you noticed a recent price change? Did the company re-design their packaging? Does their label now say "New and Improved?" When companies re-design packages, or change prices, there is almost always a change to the formula/ingredients. They can use less of the good stuff (real meat, produce, etc) and add things like salt, extra flavorings, and sugar to make it more appealing for the pet to eat. Some companies even spray a palatant on the kibble toward the end of processing. In my humble opinion, if companies need to continually enhance their food in this way, it probably is not very good quality. This is also a marketing tactic; make the pet food more tasty -> pet eats more-> sales increase. Lastly, if you bought a completely different food than last time, this can affect eating habits as well.
Fresh, clean water is also a must!
This not only provides them with much needed hydration to support metabolism, but also helps them to fully digest and utilize their food. Water fountains not only entice cats to drink more water, but also provide sensory stimulation.
Providing more enrichment especially during meal times.
Food puzzles in particular can provide them an opportunity to 'hunt & chase' for their food. You can create one yourself, or buy them online. Various toys, music, and climbing towers can be a great addition to giving your cat more opportunity to satisfy instincts and diminish boredom leading to problematic behaviors. Just as we eat when we're bored, animals will too. Take a few minutes a day to fully engage with your cat and play.
Discourage being near humans while they eat.
Where there is opportunity, there will be begging. Don't allow your cat near eating or cooking areas, and do not feed them from the table. Wait until after the meal is over and cleaned up to give them any scraps. Kennel or crate training can be of great use in this area.
Altering feed schedule times.
When animals are fed at the exact same time every day, their biological clock adjusts. Have you ever wondered why your cat starts meowing for food the second the clock hits 5? It's because they have an internal alarm that sounds off for the digestion process to begin. Stomach acid will start being produced, and if not fed, some cats will vomit bile. Try to feed a a different time each day. The nature of cats can also influence feeding behaviors.
Cats are solitary hunters and eaters, so adjusting how and where they eat can be beneficial. This includes providing them a space away from other people and pets and out of high traffic areas to eat. I like to recommend feeding them in a bathroom or bedroom with door closed to give them privacy.
As you can see, there are many areas to address!
It is important to note, that taking the time to evaluate each area thoroughly is important. If one thing doesn't work, try the next. And be sure to seek professional help when needed.
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