I adore Rusty, my spirited, young orange tabby – except for meals.
He transforms into a sophisticated, pushy cat bully who has no qualms about pushing my other cats Mikey and Casey away from their food bowls and even trying to scrape nibbles out of my dogs’ bowls.
His mealtime chaos caused Mikey and Casey to eat quickly, and subsequently vomited their meals, occasionally refusing to eat, and putting liquid stools in the litter boxes. To get some peace and quiet at meals, I now prepare all of my pets’ food bowls in the laundry room off the kitchen and with the door closed.
I get out Rusty’s bowl first and he excitedly follows me into the bathroom in the hallway, where I put his bowl down and close the door. Next, I place food bowls for Casey and Mikey on two scratching posts in the living room, facing in opposite directions. Finally, I place the bowls for my three dogs on the kitchen floor. After my pets finish their meals at their own pace (and at their own pace!), I pick up their bowls, clean them, and open the door to let Rusty out.
Connected: Make the cats fun while eating
Rusty’s antics are far from unique. Actions and attitudes towards meals can trigger stress-related illnesses or undesirable behavior in cats.
“Domestic cats can easily become stressed by changes in their environment, e.g. A new pet, a change in the owner’s schedule, or a change in feeding schedules, ”says Dr. Jessica Herman, a veterinarian for Fuzzy Pet Health at a practice in Shelbyville, Kentucky. “Feeding cats is more than just filling the bowl once or twice a day. Feeding cats should be viewed as part of their environmental enrichment. “
Stress at mealtime can cause some cats to:
✤ Lose your appetite
✤ Swallow your food quickly
✤ Eliminate outside of the litter box
✤ Claw bed
✤ Overgroom to red, bald spots on their coats
✤ Fight with other pets in the house.
Medically speaking, eating stress can cause diseases such as:
✤ urinary tract infections
✤ Feline idiopathic cystitis
✤ Weakened immune system
✤ skin diseases
Single and small meals
Marilyn Krieger, a certified cat behavior consultant who runs The Cat Coach based in Northern California, advises people to think more like their cats at mealtimes.
“While some people enjoy gathering around a table, having large plates of food and having a large meal together, cats are loners who don’t want to eat together and certainly don’t like to have food in a bowl share, ”she says. “They are hunters who prefer to eat several small meals a day rather than being fed once or twice a day.”
Dr. Elizabeth Bales, a Camden, New Jersey-based veterinarian, says a cat’s stomach is about the size of a ping pong ball. That’s why she’s a fan of food puzzles, mini-meals, and even hiding food in a room that a cat can sniff and find.
“Chasing several small servings throughout the day can eliminate what is known as the ‘scarf-and-barf’ syndrome in cats,” says Dr. Bales, who is also the inventor of the Doc & Phoebe Indoor Hunting Feeder for Cats. “Cats want to hunt, catch, play, eat, groom and sleep – this is what is known as the search route. But giving them one large meal a day denies them this search cycle. In nature, cats spend around 80% of their waking hours looking for food. ”
The type of food and its texture can also cause behavior problems in some cats.
“Cats are structural eaters, which means they often prefer a certain texture to their food,” says Dr. Herman. “Switching from loaf food to scraps can lead to an aversion to what your cat is eating and may result in skipping meals. Some cats prefer nibbles, others prefer wet food. With a little trial and error, you will learn your cat’s specific preferences. “
Don’t forget the water!
Place the water bowl far from the food bowl – and definitely far from the litter box.
“No creature likes to eat or drink near their toilet,” says Dr. Bales. “Cats prefer to drink somewhere other than where they eat. If possible, provide them with water sources in different parts of the house. Some cats like water that drips from a faucet, while others enjoy water that is flavored with tuna juice or low-salt chicken broth. Make sure there are no onions or garlic in the broth ingredient list. “
The certified consultant for cat behavior, Marilyn, pampers her cats with homemade chicken broth that is frozen in an ice cube bowl in bowls that are far apart.
“Cats can grieve over the loss of loved ones, cats and dogs that they were closely related to,” says Marilyn. “Some will mourn deeply until they stop eating after being lost. Stressful situations such as remodeling, family conflicts, and rehabilitation can also cause cats to stop eating. “
Cats need constant food intake. So contact your veterinarian if your cat does not eat for 24 hours. Kitty may need an appetite stimulant and a thorough exam.
Bottom line: act like a detective to find subtle clues that may lead to changes in your cat’s eating habits and behavior in general.
“Cats are subtle,” says Marilyn. “Sometimes the only indicator of a serious problem is how they’re approaching their food. Your cat’s behavior in relation to food can tell you a lot about their physical, emotional, and mental health. “
Selected image: Photo: Lightspruch | Getty Images
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