Food Glorious Food.

Posted by Theresa Blood on

Cats are notoriously picky eaters and many owners have experienced the frustration of trying to find just the thing that their cats will enjoy. Some cats will happily eat one particular type of food for a while and then seem to go off it completely. Some cats will only eat biscuits; some will only eat chunks in gravy, while others won’t touch the tuff. In the wild, cats eat little and often and always something that’s fresh (and never, obviously, straight out of the fridge). This goes some way to explaining why cats often like a varied diet, don’t always finish their food and won’t eat something that’s too cold or has been hanging about for a while. Cats may also go off their food if they are ill, distressed or don’t feel safe around their feeding area.

Many a cat’s ‘fussiness’ is because they grew accustomed to their mother’s diet in the womb and in their early weeks of life, as it would have imparted a smell and taste to the amniotic fluid they floated in for 63 days and the milk they suckled on thereafter.

Positive and varied experiences of food in the first six months of life set up a more adventurous palate later on. It’s best to expose kittens to plenty of different tastes and textures during that time. Presenting any new foods alongside any new foods they like, or having Mum nearby, helps acceptance.

All cats have a hunting instinct, but if Mum is a prolific hunter, the chances are her kittens will be too, right down to the type of prey she caught.

Cats can even be picky about the water they drink. They should always be supplied with fresh water, but they may on occasion turn their noses up at the perfectly clean water in their perfectly clean bowl, preferring instead the water in a puddle. They are also often fond of drinking from a dripping tap or lapping from the glass of water you’ve left beside your bed.

It goes without saying that, in the wild, a cat’s water would never taste of chlorine (unlike our treated water, presented to them in our chemically cleaned bowls) and they would naturally drink from moving water (rivers, streams and so on). In fact, cats – descended as they are from desert animals – don’t actually need that much water (although they will need more if they are on a dry-food diet), but they do like a water source that is not right next to their food) the idea of water contaminated by food doesn’t appeal).

The Cat that got the cream.

The idea that cats go wild for milk (or, better still, cream) is firmly fixed in the public’s imagination. The fact is, however, most adult cats don’t have the right sort of enzymes to digest milk. Kittens are born with an enzyme, lactase, which enables them to absorb the vital nutrients in their mother’s milk, but as they grow up this enzyme disappears from their stomachs, making them lactose-intolerant. Milk can give adult cats an upset stomach and is best avoided.

Would you like some wool with your meal?

Some cats are drawn to eating inedible items, most commonly wool and other fabrics. Certain pedigree breeds, notably Siamese and Burmese, are particularly prone to this condition, which is known as pica. It’s not fully understood why some cats do this, but it’s thought that the act of chewing these materials generates pleasure in certain cats that are genetically predisposed to the condition, which then becomes a form of addiction. This potentially dangerous behavior is hard to explain and difficult to treat but should be discouraged because it can lead to serious obstructions in the digestive tract.

My cat is such a messy eater.

If your cat followed their natural instincts, they’d be wolfing down a mouse or plucking the feathers off a bird, not delicately picking meaty chunks from a porcelain bowl. There a no food bowls in the wild, so presenting a meal to a cat in one is more about what’s easier for us.

Taste and touch should be centre stage, but a lingering dishwasher residue on the bowl, along with other factors, could give a cat sensory overload and make them start thinking outside the bowl.

What should I do?

In the moment:

  • Let them get on with it and wipe up afterwards.

In the longer term:

  • Watch your cat eat on a regular basis so you get to know their “norm”, which makes it easier to detect early signs of pain. Trouble grasping or holding onto food, excessive or exaggerated tongue flicking, or head tilting and tooth grinding can indicate painful conditions in the mouth, spine or digestive system.
  • Upgrade their dinner service to a wide, shallow bowl or a feeding tray. Put a plastic mat underneath to make it easier to clean up.
  • Consider a silicone bowl, rather than a traditional ceramic or metal one, as it’s gentler on teeth, unbreakable, and dishwasher and microwave safe.
  • Avoid using heavily scented detergents when washing up their bowl and always rinse it thoroughly.
  • Repurpose an old bathmat – some cats find it easier to eat dry treats or kibble from a rough or textured surface, and you can just throw it in the wash every week.

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