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Ask the Cat Behaviorist Mikel Delgado: Food Obsessed, Biting & Giving Medication

Written by: Ingrid King

Last Updated on February 21, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

cat resting withowner on sofa at home

Ask the Cat Behaviorist Mikel Delgado: Food Obsessed, Biting & Giving Medication

Welcome to our regular “Ask the Cat Behaviorist with Mikel Delgado” segment. Once a month, we’ll post a reminder for you to post your questions for Mikel. She’ll answer as many of them as she can each time, and I’ll publish her answers in a subsequent post.

Mikel is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant at Feline Minds, offering on-site consultations for cat guardians, shelters, and pet-related businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area, and remote consultations around the world. She obtained her PhD in Psychology at UC Berkeley, where she studied animal behavior and human-pet relationships. Mikel is co-author of Jackson Galaxy’s forthcoming book, Total Cat Mojo: The Ultimate Guide to Life with Your Cat.

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Cats get along outside, but not inside

Hi, Our main cat (Squeaky) is 1 1/2 years old. We have had her since she was three weeks (she was orphaned). She is quiet and shy, loving and intelligent and very attached to us.

We found the second cat (half starved) (Twiggy) at 5 months old. She is now 10 months old. She is very sociable, and sweet, intelligent and can be a bit over active.
The two cats play together wonderfully outside. I think the older cat has learned from the younger one, as this is her first real relationship with another cat. She is playing a lot more since the younger cat came into our lives.

But as it is winter, they are both inside more. Squeaky looks a bit miserable when the younger one has the run of the house. The ‘playing’ inside seems on the edge of aggression with Squeaky hissing and growling at Twiggy. it feels very tense.

They are separated at night in separate rooms. Litter pans, water and food bowls are in separate rooms. Outside they continue to be friends, both taking pleasure in walking with us and playing together.

We don’t want a stressful household, and Twiggy really wants to be inside, cuddling a lot and having a real home which she deserves. Right now there is a rare opportunity to give her away to another family.

We are hesitating about giving her away because the two cats do get along outside so well, it seems good for them both to have each other. We also love them both. I use rescue remedy and will try feli-way if we decide to keep her.

Also to mention: the ‘play’ inside is sometimes ok, but can get a little rough. Both cats take turns running after each other or pouncing on each other and then chasing each other. But Squeaky (the older one) is the only one who growls and spits during this ‘play’. When she does that loudly Twiggy will back off and walk away. Last night for the first time, they both napped comfortably for about 2 hours in very close proximity, only separated by a thin fabric cat tunnel.

Any suggestions? We want the best for both cats. Thanks! – Wendy

Two cats playing paw on cat face
Image credit: Dina Voicu, Pixabay

Wendy,

Overall, what you are describing gives me hope that you can keep Twiggy if that is what you really want. I am the first to say that rehoming a cat, or even returning a cat you adopted is not always the worst outcome, for cat or human (especially if you can find that cat a placement that is safe and appropriate!). Everyone in the home, whether on four legs, two, or fins, deserves to be happy!

That said, it is very interesting to me that Twiggy and Squeaky seem fine outside, but once they are inside, it seems that Squeaky is less comfortable with someone encroaching on her territory. That tells me that she likely perceives her indoor resources to be threatened by Twiggy. So – I would suggest taking a hard, critical look at whether you have adequate resources so that Squeaky won’t have to feel so threatened. The Indoor Resources Checklist is a great way to survey your environment and see if there are any gaps! Increasing vertical space, including cat condos, trees, perches, and shelving is a great place to start. It’s where I find most people tend to under-provide.

The hissing and spitting during play is often just communication – and what is encouraging to me is that Twiggy listens to what Squeaky is saying. Often younger cats want to play a little longer or rougher than more mature cats. It’s also encouraging that they can nap near each other without conflict – definitely a positive sign! It’s also only been five months and from the only study looking at cat relationships, we know that for many cats – a year seems to be the “sweet spot” where most grudges are dropped.

If you decide to keep Twiggy, I would focus on increasing indoor resources (especially to get the kitties through these winter months!), and boosting Twiggy’s play and enrichment with interactive toys and food puzzles. Tiring her out a little bit will help her be less excited about Squeaky, and will take her exuberance down a notch. That will help Squeaky be less annoyed! You can also give both cats their absolute favorite treat together once or twice a day. It should be something they ONLY get in each other’s presence – they’ll look forward to being close to one another because it’s accompanied by their favorite treat.

If you decide to rehome Twiggy with the interested family, I’m sure she’d be happy there too. But it sounds like she enjoys the company of other cats, and with time and some effort, I think Squeaky will feel better about the arrangement too!

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Common sense advice

Good common sense advise. I hope more people do creative and kind problem solving. Too many cats are surrendered to animal shelters for litter box and behavior issues. – Maggie

Maggie,

Thank you and I agree 100%! Too many cats lose their lives for solvable problems. In many cases, we humans CREATE those problems by not providing our cats what they need in a litter box, scratching post, enrichment, etc.

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Food obsessed cat

I have a question. I brought home a stray from Barbados in 2010. At that time, she was about one year old and weighed 7lbs. Now, she weights 12lbs and is currently on Urinary SO for crystals. She was on Blue Buffalo. Kyra begs for food all day. When she finishes eating, she is right there, begging for more. Is this behavior due to her being an outside cat and fending for herself? When we adopted her, she looked healthy. Thank you! – Sandra J Morabito

siamese cat solving pet puzzle to get to the treats.
Image Credit: Agata Kowalczyk, Shutterstock

Sandra,

Some kitties are definitely more food obsessed than others and we don’t really know why. Early life experiences are likely a factor, and some research has even shown that kittens will show preferences for foods that their moms ate when the kitten was in the womb! The behavior may be due to having to fend for herself as a younger cat, or not knowing where her next meal was coming from.

Regardless of the cause, begging behavior can be annoying at best, and can be dangerous at worst, as many guardians give in to their cat’s cries for more food – often leading to an obesity problem. Your vet is the best person to talk to about how much food Kyra needs to eat each day. If she is only eating dry food, you should ask about adding some wet food, which studies suggest may be helpful for managing weight.

You should ignore Kyra’s meowing, and be sure to feed her with a predictable routine, regardless of how many meals a day you plan to feed. I also strongly recommend feeding Kyra all her food from puzzles. This will not only provide her with mental stimulation and exercise, but it will slow down her eating. Slower eating increases the chance that her brain will “catch up with” her stomach – in other words, she may feel satiated with less food, and hopefully that will decrease the begging.

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Can’t get cat to stop biting

We adopted our kitty a year ago from a shelter. He’s now 4. I can’t get him to stop biting me. I’ve done clicker training – he’s very bright and does 8 tricks including jumping through a hoop! He has food puzzles and window seats. I even take him for walks in a cat stroller. Last week I was cooking and not really paying much attention to him. I noticed that he rolled over a couple of times (one of his clicker tricks), praised him and continued cooking. He then yowled and did a full attack on my leg, biting me, bruising and drawing blood and leaving claw marks! I’m wondering how to address this behavior so as to discourage and not reinforce it. I’m tired of constantly glancing over my shoulder. – Lolita

cat is biting a human's hand
Image Credit: Diana Taliun, Shuuterstock

Hi Lolita!

I’m sorry to hear that your cat has developed a habit of biting! He sounds like a real character, and like you said, very bright. This is the kind of situation where data helps. Log every incident so you can see if there are trends – does it only happen when you are otherwise occupied (attention seeking)? Is it when you try to pet him? Or stop petting him? How do you respond? How often does it happen? What seems to make it worse? Without more information, it is hard to say what the root cause is.

Then there are a few questions to ask yourself: is this cat getting enough enrichment and exercise to meet his needs? And: is this aggression within the normal ranges of responses to his environment or is this something out of bounds?

What worries me is the severity of his bites and the vocalization when he jumped on your leg. From what you described there weren’t a lot of warnings. With those types of behaviors, I would recommend a consultation with a behavior professional, perhaps even a veterinary behaviorist. If his behavior is what we would consider an “abnormal response” to his environment, sometimes pharmaceuticals are worth exploring. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough information to give you more detailed advice in this column!

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Medicating a cat without breaking the bond

Our 7-yr-old big male ds has been diagnosed with asthma. I have to give him some liquid bronchiodilator Rx every 8 hours. He’s becoming fearful that any time I give him attention, it’s time for his next dose. I’m afraid this is breaking our bond, and he’s my “velcro cat” , he yearns to be sociable but I’ve always seen it was hard for him. I rescued him from the local humane society and doubt he got enough early socialization. How can I help him? – Ann Seeber

I have a cat with asthma, too. You don’t want to stress him, Ann. I get compounded medications for my cat, soft chews. Liver flavored. I put the dose, a half chew, onto a little plate with treats he likes, and he’s happy to gobble it all up. Get the liquid med compounded into a liquid which is a flavor he likes — they can do chicken, fish, liver. Then mix the liquid into a little of the food he likes a lot. My cat with hyperthyroidism gets her liquid med mixed in a little Sheba soft chicken. Ask your vet if you can reduce the med schedule to twice / day. That’s usually often enough for humans with asthma. You want to change the form of the medication and the way you give it. –
Cheri Collins

Cat with asthma inhaler
Image Credit: RozochkaIvn, Shutterstock

Hi Ann and Cheri,

I had a cat with asthma, so asthma kitties are near and dear to my heart. When it comes to medicating cats, I always recommend figuring out the best form of the medication for you and your cat, and then pairing that medication and the treatment experience with something positive, such as a favorite treat. For my cat, we opted for inhaled medication. I trained him to tolerate having a mask on his face but always pairing it with chicken baby food (his favorite treat) and by starting with just having the mask on his face for a few seconds. With time, I could easily hold the mask over his face for a full minute without struggle!

Well, sometimes we don’t have a lot of time for the slow, methodical training that would help us out. Like Cheri said, compounding the medication works for a lot of cats. Communicating with your veterinarian is important – many vets are unaware of the struggles their clients face with treating their cats, because the clients don’t tell them! You may be able to change the dosing, or the type of medication (sometimes with asthma you have choices between steroids and bronchodilators) so that you don’t have to medicate him as frequently. It’s also good to discuss with your doctor whether the medication is bitter, and if so, what other options you have. Hiding bitter medication in a favorite food is a quick way to make sure your cat will never eat that food again!

As far as the stress, I recommend trying to stay calm yourself. If you approach your cat with anxiety and apprehension, you’re already sending a message – “I’m about to torture you.” Stay calm, be quick, and use a calm, soothing voice to talk to your cat. Remember is that your intention is to help him breathe better! And don’t forget the treats!

I also recommend a few websites for you:

Fritz the Brave – a wonderful website for parents of asthmatic kitties, there are also links to feline asthma message boards.

Stress to Success – the educational program from the Conscious Cat’s resident veterinarian, Dr. Kris Chandroo. He covers the ins and outs of medicating “difficult cats.” An excellent resource.

I wish you and your kitty the best. You can do it! And Cheri, thank you for sharing your experience.

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Tortie hogs dog’s water bowl and bed

I have 2 cats and 1 dog. I think our tortie is like a middle child. She wants to hog the dogs water bowl, his wag bag (bed) and they generally all vie for attention at the same time. The dog isn’t confrontational so he backs up. Please advise.. I think she just feels pushed out. – Patricia Porazynski

Beautiful-feline-cat-eating-on-a-metal-bowl
Image Credit: Krakenimages.com, Shutterstock

Hi Patricia,

Some would say the term “tortitude” exists for a reason! But, I would just want to take a closer look at what is motivating your cat’s behavior. Is it because she prefers the location or something else about your dog’s water bowl and bed? Do you have plenty of resource for all of your pets? And if you think she feels pushed out, I would want to know WHY you feel that way. If she has learned that the best way to get attention is to get in the middle of anything that is happening with the dog, then that is how she will fight to get attention! Are you making sure she gets enough interactive play, quality time with you, and other mental stimulation to keep her happy? Often these pesky behaviors are exacerbated by a cat with too much free time on their paws! Tired cats are happy cats! And if she has learned to get attention by doing things you don’t like, there’s no better way to tell her what you do like than by clicker training her so you can clearly communicate with her the behaviors you do like and want to see more of in the future!


Featured Image Credit: U_Photo, Shutterstock

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