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Why Is My Cat Only Eating Treats and Not Their Food? 4 Likely Reasons

Written by: Christian Adams

Last Updated on January 26, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

calico cat having treats

Why Is My Cat Only Eating Treats and Not Their Food? 4 Likely Reasons

Oh no! Your cat, who used to be such a good eater, is now ignoring their full bowl but won’t stop meowing for treats. What gives?

Well, your cat is basically acting like a kid who only wants to eat junk food for every meal. There’s no need to panic, but you can’t let your kitty get away with it for too long. Treats are no substitute for a proper, balanced feline diet.

So, what’s behind this sudden change in behavior? It could be any number of things, and we’re exploring a few of the most common reasons below.

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The 4 Reasons Why Your Cat Is Only Eating Treats

1. You’ve Been Spoiling Your Cat With Treats

How often do you give your cat treats, and for what reason? If you keep handing them out no matter what, your kitty is likely to get used to these special snacks.

Cat treats also taste so much better than kibble. Why should they settle for the plain stuff when they can get a gourmet feast? If you keep giving in to those pleading eyes—especially when your cat is holding out for treats—you only reinforce the wrong behavior.

2. There’s Something Wrong With Their Cat Food

A cat’s senses are sharper than ours and can detect the slightest change in texture, flavor, or smell. Therefore, their regular cat food may look normal to you, but it could actually taste or smell off to your cat.

For instance, the manufacturer may have changed the recipe, or moisture levels may be different due to a new production method. You may have gotten a bad or stale batch. Either way, your cat may have no other choice but to eat treats or go hungry; they’re not going to take a risk on something that smells or tastes odd.

young cat staring at the bowl
Image Credit: Impact Photography, Shutterstock

3. Your Cat Is Stressed

If your cat has never been a picky eater, their sudden appetite change may be due to stress or anxiety. Cats are creatures of habit, so big changes at home (even minor ones) can throw them off balance.

This could be anything from a new pet or housemate to a major change in your daily routine. Even something as small as rearranging their litter box can cause your cat to become anxious. Stressed-out cats won’t have much of an appetite except for the most tempting treats.

hugging an adorable bright orange cat stress_RJ22_shutterstock
Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

4. Potential Health Issues

Finally, your cat may not eat properly due to an underlying health issue. For instance, cats with dental problems may struggle to eat dry cat food, so they rely on soft treats instead. Ear infections, urinary tract infections, and digestive problems can also affect a cat’s appetite.

If you’re concerned that something may be wrong, always take your cat to the vet for a check-up. Your veterinarian can prescribe medication, adjust their diet, and provide further advice on how to get your cat back to eating a balanced meal.

sick cat with feline disease
Image Credit: Kittima05, Shutterstock

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How to Get Your Cat to Eat Their Food Again (5 Tips)

Aside from vet advice, there are some simple things you can do to get your cat back on track:

1. Go Cold Turkey on the Treats

To see if the treats are the problem, stop giving them completely for a week or two. Ignore any begging. Sooner or later, your cat will realize that kibble is their only option and that they should probably eat it or go hungry!

Then, try to be more mindful when you start reintroducing treats. Never give them close to mealtime. Most importantly, give their treats a purpose. For instance, use them as rewards for good behavior or when they do something special.

2. Rotate Cat Food Flavors

Unless your cat is on a prescription diet, it should be fine to switch up kibble flavors and brands from time to time.

You don’t need to get a big bag at once. Many pet stores also stock smaller trial packages to help you find a flavor your cat actually likes. Got friends and family with cats? Ask for a scoop of their favorite brand for your cat to try.

Remember to go slow when you switch flavors to prevent stomach upset. Gradually mix in the new kibble and reduce the old one until you’ve completely switched to the new food.

owner feeding his cat
Image Credit: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

3. Make Mealtime More Exciting

Crunching on the same kibble or wet food every single day can understandably get boring.

Use these tips to spice things up:
  • Add a splash of liquid to brighten up their food (e.g., broth, hot water, salmon oil, lactose-free milk, etc.)
  • Use puzzle feeders or interactive toys to make mealtime more fun
  • Mix in a dab of cat-friendly pate
  • Stuff and freeze their cat food in a Kong toy
  • Change feeding locations or bowls

No need to do these for every meal. Once a day or a few times a week should be enough to get your cat interested in their food again.

4. Follow a Strict Feeding Routine

Cats are creatures of habit, so establishing a routine can help to regulate their appetite and metabolism. If possible, feed your cat at the same time every day and use fixed feeding stations. Avoid free feeding them, so they learn to associate hunger with mealtime instead of getting their food on demand.

If you can’t physically be there to feed them due to work or other commitments, use an automatic feeder or get a pet sitter to help out.

feeding cat
Image Credit: Dora Zett, Shuterstock

5. Make Sure Your Cat Is Feeling Okay

If your vet has ruled out medical issues, then focus on the environment and your cat’s mental well-being. Is there anything new in their space that could be causing anxiety? Or maybe they don’t feel safe.

Try to make the area more cat-friendly. Make sure they have access to their litter box, a cozy spot to sleep, and plenty of toys. If you have other pets or children, make sure they know to give your cat space and to not disturb them while eating.

Creating a peaceful environment where your cat feels safe can do wonders for their appetite.

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Yummy as they are, treats are not essential for your cat’s diet. If they’re distracting your cat from their meals, then it’s best to limit them. Rotating flavors and adding a bit of excitement can also entice your cat to eat.

Most importantly, get your cat into a feeding routine and make sure they are comfortable in their environment. If none of these strategies work, then seek more advice from your vet. Be patient with your kitty (and yourself), and good luck!

Featured Image Credit: Andriy Blokhin, Shutterstock

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