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Tips for Dealing With Cats Prone to Overeating

Use a combination of patience, knowledge, and cunning to keep your cat on a healthy diet.

Arden Moore  |  Aug 21st 2015


Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the May/June 2015 issue of Catster print magazine. Click here to subscribe to Catster magazine.

Since childhood, I’ve peacefully coexisted with cats possessing polite mealtime manners. That streak ended when I adopted my fast-growing feline foodie named Casey. As I write this, Casey is 10 months old and 10 pounds, and this long, lanky, orange-striped tabby has yet to meet a plate of food he didn’t desire.

His persistent pursuit of people food is not unique in the cat kingdom. In fact, it’s time to discard that “felines are picky eaters” stereotype. Raise your paw — er, hand — if you, too, live with a cat on a quest to eat anything and everything within paw’s reach.

My friend and fellow cat writer Dena Harris shares her home with three cats who “sit at my feet at the dinner table in hopes I’ll drop some form of non-kibble on the floor. Two have even made threatening, deep growls when I’ve failed to immediately share my turkey bacon.”

Her treat-seeking tabby trio inspired her to write a tongue-in-cheek diet book for cats called Does This Collar Make My Butt Look Big? (Ten Speed Press, 2013) As she put it, it is time for all of us with piggies who purr to stop making excuses and start taking action to curb their chowhound tendencies.

Dogs don’t have a monopoly on food begging; cats are simply more coy and mobile. They charm you with their soft winks, soothing purrs, and soft paw-taps on your shin to score a food morsel from your plate.

Cats “train” you into becoming their personal food servers. But it is no laughing matter when begging gets out of control. Some feline moochers evolve into bold food thieves who jump up on tables and swipe food off plates, or claw up your pant legs to snare your final piece of shrimp. Ouch!

woman-russian-blue-cat-table-140358025

“I’ll have dinner when you get down.” A woman looks at her cat on the table by Shutterstock

Before you can curb this habit, you need to answer the big WHY. The cause may be medical, pointed out Dr. Joseph Wakshlag, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York.

“Typically, aggressive, food-seeking behavior can be because of endocrine or brain-related problems,” said Wakshlag, the president-elect of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition. “Hyperthyroidism and diabetes are conditions of ‘pseudo starvation’ where, metabolically, the cat will need more calories to meet the alterations in metabolic demand.”

Or it could be simply failing to address bad table manners right from the onset, as in the case with Casey.

Wakshlag reminded me of the health and monetary consequences of failing to address a feline foodie. You are more apt to create a chubby cat at greater risk for diabetes, skin conditions, and even anemia because if you don’t provide a balanced diet made for felines.

“Certain nutrients are very important to cats as unique carnivores,” he warned. “A cat eating the wrong things in excess can easily be deficient in calcium, vitamin B12, zinc, and specific amino acids.”

Table scraps are typically high in calories and low in nutritional value, and consuming the wrong food can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and obesity — which can translate into higher veterinary bills to counter these nutritional deficiencies.

Try these tactics on your feline foodie:

  • Feed your cat in a different room than where you are — and close the door. After dishes have been cleared, open the door, and treat her to some calorie-free TLC.
  • Implement a new policy in the family: Feed your cat only from her food bowl.
  • Be more stubborn than your cat. Ignore her begging. Stand up and walk away (with your plate of food in hand). Avoid yelling or pushing her away because these actions only increase attention-seeking determination.

Parting advice: “Try putting some dry cat food in a food puzzle toy,” Wakshlag said.

Maulee-Tornado

The Tornado toy is one that makes cats work a little for the food reward.

“This gives your cat something to do at mealtime, and he gets to burn a few extra calories hunting for his food,” he said.

About the author: Arden Moore is a pet behavior consultant and master certified pet first aid instructor who often teaches hands-on classes with her cool cat, Casey, and very tolerant dog, Chipper. Each week, she hosts the Oh Behave Show on Pet Life Radio. Learn more at fourleggedlife.com, and follow Arden on Facebook and on Twitter at @ArdenKnowsPets.