Is My Cat a Picky Eater?
Many cat parents complain that their pets are picky eaters. One day they might empty their food bowl, then leave it untouched the following day. Is this a sign of finicky eating? Or is there something deeper about this feline behavior that most cat parents do not know about?
Possible Explanations for Finicky Eating Among Cats
While it is easy to say that your cat is a picky eater, finding the most plausible explanation for it can be difficult. Here are some possible explanations as to why many cats can be very choosy in their food.
- Not Getting the Right Proteins and Fats
There is an interesting study about feline eating behaviors suggesting that we have been feeding domestic cats the “wrong” way. The research shows that cats prefer to eat foods that have a protein to fat ratio of 1:4. This is quite intriguing since current AAFCO and NRC guidelines dictate that cats should have a higher protein to fat ratio.
There are also other feline feeding studies that show special preference of cats towards a high-protein and high-fat diet. In these studies, cats preferred foods that contain at least 52 percent protein and 36 percent fat. These percentages all reflect the macronutrient composition of whole prey animals.
If you look at premium-quality dry cat food, they contain only a maximum of 35 to 38 percent protein and 18 to 20% fat. Given that these foods do not contain the “ideal” protein and fat content that cats should be eating, there is a good chance that they will not eat it.
Nobody can explain how cats can detect the nutrient composition of their food, however. If given two different foods – one having the ideal protein-fat composition – cats will always go for the one with the correct nutrient composition.
- A Case of Neophobia
Another possible reason why your cat can be a picky eater is that it is neophobic. This is a term coined to describe that ‘fear’ associated with the ‘new’. Neophobia in cats always relates to a negative experience.
In the wild, if a cat will eat something new, it can have an upset stomach. The feline can vomit or pass watery stools. It learns never to eat any food that it is not familiar with or anything that is new. The cat’s negative experience tells it that “new” can bring a lot of discomfort.
You can also observe the same thing among domestic cats. If you try to give a cat a new kind of food, it may not want to eat it. This prompts the cat owner to label his or her pet as being too picky. What the cat owner does not realize is that neophobia is already hardwired to the cat’s system.
- Appearance, Aroma, and Texture Matter
There are studies that show cats will always pick foods that look more appetizing, has a more pleasant aroma, and a meat-like texture. Of course, their number one priority is the nutrient composition of the food.
In one particular study, cats were given special feline food formulations that contained orange, fish, and rabbit. The researchers formulated the food items to have identical protein-to-fat ratio. The cats preferred the fish. Their second choice was the rabbit.
This suggests that cats use their sense of smell to help them decide whether to eat a particular food or not. Fish has a stronger aroma than a rabbit. And while orange also had a characteristic scent, it did not fare well with these cats. This is perhaps because orange is not a meat.
Researchers tweaked the parameters of the study by altering the protein to fat ratio of the fish and rabbit formulation. They retained the ideal ratio of protein to fat in the orange formulation. In this “tweaked” research, the cats preferred the orange meal instead of the fish and rabbit. This suggests that cats do have a special preference for foods that have the “ideal” ratio of proteins to fats. This is regardless of the aroma, texture, and flavor of the food.
If you give a cat several choices of food that have the same protein-to-fat ratio, then it will always pick the food item that has the strongest aroma, more color, and better texture.
There are domestic cats that tend to grow bored over the same food every time they go to their food bowl. If you have been feeding your cat the same kind of food throughout its life, there is a good chance that it will not want to eat this food anymore. As such, it will try to look for something “new”.
This runs contrary to the theory on neophobia. Nonetheless, it is a behavior that is quite common among all living organisms, including man. Have you tried eating the same type of food three times a day, every single day? You will also look for something new.
Tips for Encouraging Your Finicky Cat to Eat
Regardless of the reason for the behavior, having a picky cat is never a good thing. Your feline friend is missing out on essential nutrients that are vital to its development, growth, and health. That is why you should always think of ways to overcome its finicky tendencies.
- Have Your Veterinarian Check for Any Disease
There are many reasons why cats may not want to eat, which we interpret as being picky. One of the often-overlooked reasons is an underlying medical problem. For example, problems in the teeth and the oral cavity may affect a cat’s desire to eat. If there is swelling or pain in the gums or the teeth, it is possible that the cat will not want to eat.
The same is true when it comes to respiratory disorders and diseases of the sinuses. These conditions can affect a cat’s sense of smell. Gastrointestinal problems can also be a culprit. As in the case of neophobia, a cat that has eaten something new may experience upset stomach. This may make the cat not wanting to eat in the meantime.
There are also medications that can affect a cat’s appetite. As such, it is important for a veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical condition before you start calling your cat finicky.
- Replace Your Cat’s Food with a High-quality Wet Cat Food
Take a look at the cat food that you are giving to your pet. In most cases, you will a guaranteed analysis printed on the label of the cat food. Take a look at the crude protein content and the crude fat content. Manufacturers label it as “crude” because it already includes the weight of the moisture in the pet food.
For example, let us say we have a cat food that has a crude protein content of 24% and moisture content of 8 percent. Subtracting 8 percent from 100 percent gives us 92 percent. This is the percentage of the dry matter in the cat food. Dividing 24 percent by 92 percent gives us 26.08%. This means that the dry cat food contains 26 percent protein and not 24 percent. This is the percentage of protein on a dry weight basis.
We mentioned above that cats need a high-protein and high-fat diet. If we are going to adhere to the recommendations of several studies, this means giving our cats a pet food that contains at least 50% protein and 35% fat.
There is only one type of pet food that comes close to these macronutrient requirements – wet cat food.
- Introduce Novel Food Items in a Gradual Manner
If ever you intend to give your cat a new kind of cat food, it is always best to introduce this food item in a gradual manner. Do not replace its food in an instant. Remember, your cat may have a strong case of neophobia.
Mix 25% of the new food with 75% of the cat’s old food. Give this to your feline pet for one week. Watch for any symptom of gastrointestinal upset like diarrhea or vomiting. If everything is fine, then you can proceed with a 50-50 combination of new and old cat food on the second week. If there are no untoward incidents by this time, you can mix 25% of the old food with 75% of the new food on the third week. In one month’s time, you can already start feeding your cat its new food.
- If You Have a Kitten, Start Them on a Variety of Foods
Always treat your kittens like kids. If you do not want them to grow as picky eaters, then you should always offer them a variety of foods and in different flavors. You can provide two different cat foods at the same time to see which one your kitten will like. Replace these in a gradual manner every 3 to 4 months, so they also will not grow bored of the food.
Many cats are picky eaters. Regardless of the reason behind this behavior, it is crucial that you help them to eat. This way, they will be able to sustain their growth and development while ensuring their optimum health.