Is It Normal For Cats To Be Picky With Food?

Cat being fussy with food

No cat consciously chooses to be picky. The bigger question is whether we have unknowingly guided them into certain behaviours. And also, whether we truly know what our cats prefer?


Cats in the wild are opportunistic feeders. This means that they will feed on whatever they can, whenever they get the chance to. In the wild, prey like mice, bugs and small birds do not often contain enough calories, which is why cats have been known to eat anywhere between 12 to 20 small meals a day before they are full.


However, indoor cats who have been domesticated tend to present different eating habits. Some of them may choose to eat when they feel like it and not according to our human ‘schedule’. This can lead us to believe that cats are picky when actually they aren’t.


For some cats, the reason why they are not so enthusiastic when it comes to mealtime can be simply a matter of texture and flavour. Cats are unique individuals and their preferences are bound to differ. Some may enthusiastically devour chunks of raw meat while others may prefer a more pate-like consistency. While some cats enjoy having gravy topped over their meal, for others, they may prefer the drier consistency of flakes as a topping for their food.


If you see your cat expressing happy gestures after their meal such as cleaning their paws and wiping their face, followed by them nodding off for a snooze, then you will really know that you have found the right combination of food texture and flavour for your feline friend.


Another factor that can contribute to your cat’s apparent pickiness is adjustments to their living space. Even shifts made in their peripheral area can cause them to feel uncomfortable. Some examples of changes are: changing height of furniture, moving their eating area


When should I be concerned if my cat isn’t eating?

Further changes to your cat’s eating behaviour can happen if your kitty is ill or stressed out by external factors. If your cat has usually been okay with having you around while they eat but suddenly stops eating, it is important to pay attention to these behaviour changes.


Should your cat stop eating for a full day or more[1] when offered their regular meal, seek veterinary help as soon as possible to rule out other underlying issues such as pancreatitis, tooth/gum pain, kidney disease, gastrointestinal problems or obstructions in their digestive tract. If your cat is also not drinking water during this period, there is definitely a cause for concern.


How frequently should I change my cat’s food/diet?

When it comes to the frequency of diet change, there isn’t a hard and fast rule. While some cats don’t mind a daily rotation of meals, other cats may choose to skip their meal altogether if they are presented with something new in their bowl. Whatever the case might be, it is always advised to be patient with your cat (and yourself) and give them more time to transition to any new diet. Making a cold turkey switch to a new food without a transition period or starving your cat for more than a day is also not a good idea as hepatic lipidosis[2], a life-threatening condition can occur.


If you are looking after a kitten, now is the best time to start introducing them as many different foods/textures/diets as possible as they would not have had the chance to develop fixations on a certain type of diet. Rotating meals frequently at an early age will help you turn mealtimes for your cat into something that is more enjoyable and less stressful, while helping them to reap the benefits of a varied diet.


Something interesting to note is that domestic cats specifically aim for meals that provide high protein[3]. However, with most commercial diets being higher in carbohydrates and fat, they have no choice but to make up for the shortage in protein by consuming more of these foods.


What happens when you consume something for an extended amount of time? Habits and addictions start to form. Just like a junk food addict who is hooked on foods that are high in salt and fat, your cat will continually crave meals that are not biologically appropriate for them. Breaking the habit by then is going to be extremely hard, but not impossible.


The reason why having a variation in diet is important is so that nutritional gaps can be plugged along the way. Switching up their dry meals for canned food or a fresh balanced diet ever so often can also reduce the chance of diseases such as heart disease, kidney failure and diabetes from developing. Feeding a species appropriate, balanced diet right from the start will go a long way to keeping your cat healthy, happy and satisfied.


How to help a picky cat?


Here are five tips that can help your finicky cat to eat better.


  • Create a routine
    It’s not only dogs who crave routine, cats are creatures of habit and love the predictability of good routine. It helps them feel safe and secure. By creating a routine, you are conditioning your cat’s body to expect meals at a certain time and when the hour comes, your kitty should willingly come to their bowl and finish their meals. If you leave food out the whole day for your cat to free graze on, it’s time to revaluate this practice. Instead, divide your cat’s daily food allowance into three to four meals[4] – you can choose timings that work best for your schedule. Continue feeding at these scheduled timings for two to three weeks. During each mealtime, do not leave the food out for more than 15-20 minutes. Once that time has passed, remove any unconsumed food. Some food wastage at the beginning will be unavoidable but this is part and parcel of the initial process. The trick is to stick to your guns. While it’s easy to default to adding tasty snacks and treats when you find your cat refusing to eat, doing this will undo the work you are putting into training. Remember to avoid giving snacks and treats in between mealtimes while you are establishing your cat’s mealtime routine.


  • Introduce new, species appropriate food to the diet
    While this might seem counter-intuitive since we are trying to get your cat to not to be fussy, having variation to their meals is good, as long as it is species appropriate and balanced. However, the challenge usually comes into play during the transition process. If you are trying to introduce a new diet to your cat, you can add one teaspoon of new food—separated from your cat’s existing food but in the same bowl—in one out of the three meals of the day. This can apply to raw food, freeze dried, dehydrated or canned food. By doing it this way, you are telling your cat, ‘Here’s something new for you to try. Don’t worry, the rest of your food’s still here.’ Gradually increase the portion of new food till it makes up one entire meal out of the three daily meals. You can later choose to swap out more meals with the new diet in the next few weeks.


  • Get the temperature of the food right – not too hot and not too cold
    Many cats prefer food to be roughly 35 degrees Celsius. Some explanations point to the fact that this is also around the same temperature as freshly killed prey. So, if you have been serving food straight from the fridge, this could be a reason why your kitty’s been turning their nose at the food. Allow the food to come to room temperature before feeding. If you don’t have enough time to do that, alternatively, you can soak the meal in a warm water bath. Make sure to check that the packaging is heat resistant.


  • Pick the correct bowl
    If your cat’s bowl is too deep or narrow, this can cause them discomfort as their whiskers will be brushing against the side of the bowl and they would rather avoid eating their food. To avoid this, choose a shallower bowl or flat plate.


  • Try feeding your cats separately
    Another consideration is that unlike dogs, cats are solitary hunters. This means that your cat may be showing signs of being picky when it’s in fact them being uncomfortable eating with company. They may prefer to eat alone and in a private space. If you have more than one cat and either one has been picky from the get-go, try creating individual feeding stations for your cats to eat. Even better if they can be in different rooms with the space separated by a door or divider, where they are unable to see each other. Of course, there will be cats who don’t mind eating together in the same space!


Helping your cat not to be picky calls for tough love sometimes. But just like tough love, it can be hard but it must be done.