Why Don’t Cats Chew Their Food?


One of my cats, Nashville (aka Bug), does not
properly chew his food. I would guess, with his
dry food, he maybe chews two out of every 10 pieces
he eats. The rest of them he just swallows whole.

He doesn’t usually eat particularly fast, just
one piece at a time. I’ve had to avoid giving him
certain kinds of treats because he has choked on
them due to not chewing them. Could there be any
particular cause for him not wanting to chew food?
He does not have any dental problems that we are
aware of, and this has been going on since he was
a kitten (he’s now almost 2). Thanks!

Spokane, WA

Bug’s behavior is not abnormal. People still debate whether dogs are natural predators (they appear to share a common ancestor with wolves) or scavengers (dogs in the wild (wild dogs are common–they roam freely in towns and cities in developing countries) obtain most of their food by scavenging). Please pardon the double parenthesis.

Cats, however, are carnivores. Although they will scavenge if afforded the opportunity, their main source of sustenance is prey animals. They capture and kill their prey. They use their teeth to tear off pieces of meat and internal organs. The pieces are swallowed whole.

Cats’ teeth are designed for this purpose. They have few molars. Their molars, unlike ours, aren’t designed for chewing and thoroughly macerating food. It isn’t normal for them to spend much time chewing.

It generally isn’t harmful for cats to swallow food without chewing it. In fact, I know several cats who have no teeth. These cats often consume hard food and swallow it whole.

I always recommend avoiding treats or foodstuffs that cause difficulties for individual pets. But, for the most part, swallowing unchewed food is normal feline behavior.

Some people may use this fact to discourage feeding dry food or any form of commercial cat food as “unnatural”. However, I have yet to see any reputable evidence that dry cat food is bad for cats. I have seen theoretical evidence, I have seen plenty of material published on thoroughly biased advocacy websites, and I have seen anecdotal reports from forums that are not scientifically run. But I haven’t seen any solid studies that scientifically document health problems caused by commercial cat food. At least not yet.

Photo: Duchess digs in.

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