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How to care for a cat who is a picky eater?

 As you browse through a list of cat food online, you can’t help but wonder - is there anything on here that my cat would want to eat? At times, the food looks tasty enough for you to want to eat it, and then you stare at your cat, who leaves the food bowl untouched - a common cat parent problem.

Cats are selective eaters and always have been. In the wild, they eat only what they hunt, unlike dogs, who also eat something that has been killed by another animal. Moreover, cats are obligate carnivores, which means that they derive most of their nutrition from meat. Food that doesn’t have meat in the form of a protein will oftentimes be rejected.

Before you learn about how to stop the pickiness, here are five most commonly asked questions about a cat's pickiness when it comes to food.

Is yours one among them?

Why does my cat eat only one meal and leave the next?

Since cats are still very close to their wild roots, it is imperative that we compare domestic cats to the ones in the wild. Cats are solitary hunters - they do not hunt in packs like dogs. Hence, they don't share their food with anyone according to pack order and eat whenever food is available, i.e., opportunistic feeders. 

If their prey is as small as a mouse, they'd have to have another meal to feel full. On the other hand, if their prey is a bird, they prefer skipping the next two meals.

If your cat skips a particular meal, it might be because he/she is full from the previous meal. However, it is best to check with a veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical condition. 

  1. Does my cat want wet food or dry food? Ask them! Neither wet nor dry food is better than the other. As long as all of your cat's nutritional needs are met in accordance with his age and activity level, you shouldn't have to worry about the type of food.

  2. Should I leave food out until my cat eats it? If you feed your cat wet food, it is best to take away uneaten food after twenty minutes to avoid bacterial buildup. However, if you feed your cat dry food, you can choose to keep it out for no more than eight hours.

  3. How long can a cat go without eating?Cats can go up to 2 days without days, after which their health starts to be adversely affected.

Why your cat might be a picky eater?

Feeding Environment
Where you feed them is as important as what you feed them. Here are few quick tips on a cat's feeding environment -

  • No two cats must eat in the same place: Cats are solitary hunters and prefer eating alone.
  • No two cats must share the same food bowl.
  • A cat's water bowl musn't be next to his/her food bowl
  • Ensure that the place of feeding is not a high traffic area, say, the kitchen or living room
  • Ensure that mealtimes are strictly observed, even when you aren't at home.

Non-cat-specific food

Feeding food that isn't formulated for cats can make them picky eaters. They will graze through the food and probably pick only what smells good.

Taste

You can feed your cat lamb, but if she doesn't like the taste of lamb, she ain't eating it! Taste is extremely important in determining whether or not your cat enjoys that particular food.

Underlying disease

Certain health problems like ulcers can cause a cat to want to eat only wet food or bland food. In such cases, they aren't being picky and require a thorough medical examination to treat any existing disease

Free feeding

Free feeding can make a cat so full that he'd most willingly give up his next meal.

Stress

Stress can cause a cat to be picky or disinterested in her food. Stress can stem from separation anxiety, the uncomfortable presence of another pet, new surroundings, new people, loud noises etc.

Pain/Discomfort

When a cat is in some sort of pain or discomfort, the first reaction is to stop eating and hide more frequently than usual.

What to do about a picky eater?

  1. Target why your cat might be picky: Understanding what causes the pickiness is crucial in taking the next step on what has to be done about it. 

  2. Rule out health complication: If your cat is being picky all of a sudden, consult your veterinarian to rule out the possibility of an underlying medical complication like ulcers, gastrointestinal infection, kidney stones etc. 

  3. Set a routine: Have set meal times and abide by them no matter what. Your cat is more likely to turn up at mealtime hungry and enthusiastic about food when it is at a particular set time rather than at odd hours of the day. 

  4. Try a tasty topper: If your cat isn't very enthusiastic about the food in front of her, a topper might help to tickle those tastebuds! Most cat parents who feed their cats dry food use wet food of the same brand as a delicious topper on meals. Wet food diets don't usually require toppers, but if your cat insists, then throw in a few (not too many) pieces of treats in the form of jerkies. Treats such as Kittos Jerkies are great in moderations. 

  5. Don't free feed: If you snack during the day, there is no way you'll feel hungry when it's time to eat. Since cats are opportunistic feeders, they will never say no to table scraps and treats, even if it fills their tummies to the brim. Remember that most of a cat's nutrition is derived from wholesome, balanced meals, not treats and table scraps.

  6. Rotate menus: If today is lamb, try chicken tomorrow. In the wild, cats don't feed on only one kind of prey and enjoy a wide array of food combos every day. Rotating menus keeps a cat interested in what might be for lunch and thereby encouraged to try it out! Try out Royal Canin, Sheba or Applaws for variety!

  7. Try a different type of cat food: Try different types of cat food to discover which suits your cat's taste best.

  8. Reward and praise: After your cat has finished her meal, always reward her with a tiny treat and praise her good behaviour. Try out Temptations Treats for a small reward.