HOW TO FEED YOUR FINICKY FELINE
by Joëlle Steele
What do you feed your cat? Cat food? Of course. Most of us feed our cats commercially prepared foods specially formulated to meet their nutritional needs. But, sometimes commercial food products have things in them that we don't want our cats to have, such as colorings and preservatives. In some cases, our cats may have negative or allergic reactions to such additives or even to the foods themselves. Those reactions may manifest as skin conditions, obesity, nervous disorders, colitis, feline urinary syndrome, etc. Or, they may exacerbate an already existing medical condition.
You have some options when it comes to feeding your cat. You can switch from tuna to beef, beef to chicken, turkey to lamb, and so forth, to alleviate food-related illnesses or disorders. You can try alternative brands made with corn rather than wheat fillers. You can switch from dry to canned or vice versa. And, if you are handy in the kitchen, you can always make your own cat foods as stand alone meals (like I do) or as supplements to commercial foods.
Contrary to popular belief, most cats have a wide palate when it comes to food choices. Just because they turn their noses up every time you give them those gourmet cat treats doesn't mean that they're finicky; they're probably just bored. Why? Because those supposedly ultra-tasty tidbits are rarely much different from their standard fare.
Most so-called "finicky" felines are made, not born. We take them into our hearts and homes as kittens, and proceed to make most of their choices for them. We decide where, when, and what to feed them and, if we're lucky, they cooperate fully — that is, until we decide to change something. And, whatever your cat's dining preferences, you can be sure that if you deviate from whatever the norm is, you will surely end up with an animal who appears to be fussy and finicky.
FELINE EATING HABITS
Cats are a lot like people when it comes to their eating habits. Some may prefer certain foods over others and some may eat anything that you put in front of them. Some may have a favorite dish or spot in the kitchen where they prefer to dine and some may prefer a quieter spot with less human foot traffic. Others may either enjoy eating at their leisure or may be slaves to their established routines. By not paying close attention to your cat's habits, you may mistake him for a finicky feline when he is merely acting out his objection to something in the only way he knows how — by turning up his nose.
Before you assume that your cat is either tired of his old food or doesn't like his new diet, be aware of other changes which may have occurred. Did you move the food dish, or maybe buy a new one? Are you feeding him a few hours earlier or later than usual? Is the food left out all day, growing stale as evening approaches? Is there a new pet or small child in the house who is a distraction at mealtime? Or could your cat have a dental problem, a common cause of loss of appetite? Before you assume that food is the problem, make sure it's not something else that you can remedy by putting the dish back in its old location, buying a new one that is like the old one, feeding at your cat's regular time, putting out fresh food more often, removing intimidating distractions when feeding, or taking your cat to the vet for a dental exam.
ADDICTED OR BORED?
Even if you've tried everything, and diet seems to be the problem, you still may not have a finicky eater. Some cats can actually become addicted to the foods they have been eating for long periods of time, possibly since they were kittens, and may be "withdrawing" from their habit. Or, they may simply become bored with the same old same old, day in and day out. A food that your cat once considered delicious may no longer seem as palatable, but a new food may be rejected since it takes some getting used to.
CHANGE OF DIET
To change your cat's diet for any reason, try to introduce the new foods a little at a time, possibly mixing some of the old in with the new over a period of a week or so, gradually withdrawing the old stuff entirely. For a more stubborn or reluctant cat, you may have to fast him first. Give him water and broth for two or three days. Cats can go for much longer without food, so don't worry about him starving to death. Afterwards, introduce the new food gradually, mixing it with a bit of the old. If he is hungry enough, he should be willing to make the switch.
Avoid abrupt changes that do not give your cat enough time to adjust to the taste of his new food. Sudden changes also do not give his body's digestive system a chance to adjust. He may end up with a complete loss of appetite for a few days or may experience diarrhea while his digestive tract is busily adapting to the new food. Sudden changes are also more difficult for elderly or infirmed cats, and you should consult your veterinarian before you change their diets. All in all, gradual changes are optimum.
PREVENTING FINICKY EATERS
One of the best ways to avoid having a finicky eater, is to start your cat out on the right foot diet-wise when he is still a kitten. Or, if he's past the kitten stage, you can still urge him away from his finicky ways. Feed a variety of foods which you rotate daily or weekly. For instance, give your cat some canned food one day, dry the next, or give him both during the course of one day. Give him one variety of food one day, something different the next, or change brands weekly. You don't have to buy fifteen different brands of food, just two or three.
Feed your cat on a schedule with not more than an hour or so variance in either direction. It doesn't matter if you feed him twice a day or three times a day, as long as it is at more or less predictable times for him. And avoid leaving out more food than he can eat at one sitting, unless you are not going to be around to feed him at the next scheduled time. Most food, particularly canned varieties, can become inedible in only a few short hours. Remember what crackers and chips taste like when you leave them out without closing the bag?
Clean your cat's dish every day. Never add fresh food on top of old food or the remains of the last meal which are still clinging to the edges of the bowl. A cat has an acute sense of smell that may cause him to turn up his nose at food, not because he doesn't like it, but because of the way you have served it. How would you like to eat fresh food off of a not-so-fresh dish?
Keep your cat's dish in a place that is out of the way of traffic. Some people feed their cats on top of the kitchen counter or on top of the clothes dryer to keep the food out of reach of toddlers or dogs. Other options include the back porch, a utility room, the garage, or even a basement — any place that is quiet and secluded. Would you enjoy eating in a place where there was a real danger of being stepped on or attacked?
HIGH QUALITY CAT FOOD
Always buy high quality food, canned and dry. Buy from a store that turns over its inventory quickly. You don't want to buy dry food that is half-stale before you even get it home. If you have only one or two cats, buy the smaller sized bags of dried food and store them in the refrigerator. When stored in a cupboard, they go rancid within a week or so, especially in hot weather or in a very warmly-heated home.
You can put your "finicky" cat back on track and prevent fussy eating habits before they occur by remembering that your cat is a unique individual with his own set of habits, likes, and dislikes, many of which are very human-like. If you look at your cat's eating habits in much the same way as you view your own, you will be better able to understand things from his viewpoint and meet his nutritional needs accordingly.
This article last updated: 01/29/2012.
The articles on this Web site are informational only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice or treatment. Cats are not "one size fits all." They are different in terms of breed, age, health, lifestyle, and tolerance for different foods and other substances.