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Cats who are fussy eaters

Managing fussy eaters

Fussy eaters are common in the cat world. Unlike dogs, who devour everything edible and some non-edible items too, cats are far more discerning in their tastes. This can be a source of frustration for their owners.

Your feline friend may be a fussy eater if he or she:

  • only eats certain flavours or textures of cat food
  • likes you to feed her by hand
  • only eats foods made by you
  • only eats a mouthful and then demands feeding every hour

When pickiness becomes a problem

For many owners feline fussiness is not a problem. They are only too willing to feed their cat morsels of warm food from their hands 10 or more times a day. For others, their cat refusing to eat just one meal is intolerable.

To understand this problem it helps to look at the natural diet and nutrition of our feline friends. Cats are natural carnivores, eating predominantly a meat-based (high protein) diet, little and often. Their sense of smell enables them to eliminate inedible or less preferred foods and their tastes are different to dogs and humans (cats have no sweet tastes).

Your fussy cat may instinctively be trying to eat the best diet he can. Or he may have trained you to provide only the foods he likes. If you are concerned about your cat’s nutrition, his health or his weight, it is best to consult your vet prior to making changes to your cat’s diet.

How to avoid a fussy eater

Kittens should be exposed to a variety of foods at a young age and this practice continued throughout life. Feeding only one type food may result in them only eating one type or flavour. Most cats respond well to variety in their diet and will often seek out novel foods where they can (Read Kofi’s case study below). Indeed today, obesity is as big a problem (pardon the pun!) as fussiness.

Case study: Kofi

Kofi was a 2yr old grey cat who suddenly became fussy just after the Xmas holidays. Kofi’s owner Jenny discovered that Kofi had been visiting the neighbours and eating their turkey leftovers. He preferred this food, so turned up his nose at anything else. Gradually mixing dry food with turkey enabled a switch back to his usual diet.

How to cure a fussy feline

Here are some tips if your cat has become too fussy:

  • Try mixing the preferred food with the one you would rather your cat was eating. Then gradually increase the proportion of the desired choice.
  • Warm wet (canned) food up a little or add a few drops of warm water to the dry food. This helps release the aromas and flavours.
  • Look at the nutritional quality of the food you are feeding. Could your cat’s preferred diet be a healthier choice (Case Study Sooty).
  • Decide how to feed your cat and be consistent but remember that cats prefer food at room temperature and they like to nibble regularly

Case study: Sooty

Sooty was a 6 year old black cat whose diet had gradually changed from the tinned variety to a dry biscuits. Sheila, Sooty’s owner, thought dry food was too expensive but when she realised that she could feed less dry food, making the overall cost similar, and that the percentage of protein in the dry food was just what Sooty needed for optimum health, she was happy with Sooty’s choice.

For more information on eating problems in cats, visit festive food watch-outs.


About Dr Joanne Righetti

Dr Joanne RighettiDr Joanne Righetti is an animal behaviourist, educating the public and professionals in all aspects of the human–animal relationship. Her background is in zoology, with a PhD in animal behaviour and a counselling diploma – qualifications which enable her to work with all sorts of animals – including the human variety! Joanne likes to help pet owners understand their pet's behaviour and solve any pet behaviour problems. She also consults to a variety of organisations including non-profit organisations, commercial companies and councils and is involved in a variety of media including regular spots on radio. Joanne is an honorary associate of the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, University of Sydney. Find out more about Joanne at

Last updated: 24 April 2015 at 05:47 PM
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