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Is Your Cat a Picky Eater?

How to Get Your Picky Cat to Eat Enough

By Sora Wondra. January 29, 2013 | See Comments

  • expert or vet photo
    vet verified

    Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM

    Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

    Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

Is Your Cat a Picky Eater?

Is your cat a picky eater? Hard to buy food for? Try some of these tips for your finicky feline to get them to eat.

Cats can be particularly picky eaters – eating food one day and ignoring it the next, or refusing to eat a new food. Some veterinarians recommend that you switch foods a couple times a year to keep cats healthy, but what if your cat won't eat it?

For healthy functioning, cats must consume a steady diet of protein, so it's important to find ways for your picky eater to get the right nutrition. It's especially important for kittens -- they need 2-3 times as much food per pound of body weight as adult cats! Try the following ideas to encourage your cat to eat their food.

Tips for getting your picky cat to eat

  • Look for patterns:

    If the refusal to eat happened suddenly, your cat may be sick or have a toothache. If it happened right after changes in the home (moving, new family members, etc.), your cat may need some recovery time and encouragement to eat.
  • Calm place:

    Cats are most vulnerable while they are eating and using the litter box. If your cat's food bowl is in a high traffic area for the family, consider moving it to a calmer location. Also make sure to not feed your cat where the litter boxes are, as some cats are sensitive to eating near their bathrooms.
  • Gradual transition:

    If switching foods, gradually transition from the old to the new by mixing the two together until your cat is eating the new food.
  • Establish a schedule:

    Cats are creatures of habit. If you try to feed your cat at the same time every day, they may be more comfortable with the routine of feeding. Make sure you dispose of any wet food after sitting out for 30 minutes, so that it doesn't spoil and make the cat sick. 
  • New dish:

     Cats can also be picky about their plate. Your cat may prefer eating out of a ceramic or metal dish, as opposed to a rubber or plastic one.

Cats can be very sensitive about the flavor, temperature, and texture of their food. Cats prefer warm, soft pieces of food in general, but individual cats have their own flavor preferences. Foods they ate as kittens may predispose cats for certain kinds of food preferences later on in life. If you've tried the tips above, you may need to try a new kind of food (like switching from beef to chicken), or make the food you have more appetizing.

Foods to try with your picky cat

  • Wet food:

    Wet cat food can be more appetizing than dry food. Try mixing wet and dry, or using only wet food, if needed. Wet food can also be better for cats because they may not drink enough water for proper digestion. Adding liquid through their food keeps their urinary tract healthier.
  • Picky about water:

     Some cats are pickier than usual about drinking water. Cats may not be big drinkers, but a cat that never drinks water can become unhealthy. Try putting water in places where your cat spends a lot of time, using bottled instead of tap water, or a running water bowl.
  • Tuna or liver:

    Add a little bit of canned tuna, water from the tuna can, or cooked liver to their food. This may entice the cat, but be careful not to over-do it or give it too often. Tuna is not very good for cats, especially with high levels of mercury, and liver can cause Vitamin A toxicity in large quantities. 
  • Broth or eggs:

    Add chicken broth or cooked (not raw) eggs to their food, but again, not too much. If the cat doesn't want it, put out fresh food at the next feeding time so that it doesn't spoil. Make sure you avoid using bouillon cubes with Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) and don't use raw eggs – raw egg whites contain an anti-vitamin which interferes with the absorption of the B vitamin biotin.
  • Let them eat meat:

    Cats are carnivores and typically consume meat as part of  living healthy lives. Some amino acids – like Taurine, which is crucial for heart and eye function – can only be found in meats.
  • Lose the table scraps:

    Maybe your cat isn't eating because of snacks between meals. To encourage your cat to eat the right thing at the right time, avoid feeding scraps or treats throughout the day.

Eventually, you'll find a solution for your cat that you can use whenever you switch foods. With these tips, you should find a way to make food more appetizing and everyone happier.

More on Feeding Cats

What to Feed a Kitten
Principles of Nutrition for Adult Cats
Feeding a Senior Cat

Great Cat Foods

Wellness Chicken Formula Canned Cat Food
Merrick Before Grain Chicken Dry Cat Food

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.

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