Is your kitty obsessed with food? Many cat owners have seen it – signs such as stealing food from you or from other cats or becoming aggressive around mealtime. Food aggression in cats can be obvious or it can be more subtle. Over time, a once playful kitten can be become aggressive towards other cats and humans in the household. How can you stop food aggression in cats? We’ve turned to cat behavior consultant, Laura Cassiday, CCBC, ABCCT, FFCP, of Pawsitive Vibes Cats to find out.
What Is Food Aggression in Cats? How Does It Compare To Food Anxiety In Cats?
Both food aggression in cats and food anxiety in cats involve an excessive obsession with food. If your cat is using aggressive behaviors around mealtime, you may be dealing with food aggression in cats. According to Cassiday, those behaviors can include:
- Scratching or biting humans and other pets
- Guarding the food bowl
- Pushing other cats out of the way to steal food
Food anxiety, on the other hand, involves behaviors that show the cat is worried about being able to get access to food. Food anxiety in cats can involve:
- Constant meowing or crying for food
- Stealing food off the counter or your plate
- Breaking into cabinets or food packages
While you can have food aggression without food anxiety (and vice versa), it is very common to have them together. Food aggression and food anxiety can occur in any breed of cat, at any age, or in any environment. According to Cassiday, households that are most likely to experience food aggression in cats and food anxiety in cats are those in which the cats are fed only one or two times per day and have few opportunities to practice natural hunting and foraging behaviors.
What Causes Cats To Become Obsessed With Food?
A cat’s obsession with food begins with their natural behaviors in the wild. What is a cat’s relationship with food in the wilderness?
“If our indoor cats had been left to their own devices to survive on their own in the wilderness, they’d be spending 80% of their waking hours hunting. In order to consume enough calories to survive, they would need to catch at least 8 mice a day. As you can imagine, finding, hunting, catching, killing, and eating that many mice every day takes up a lot of time. One could even say that cats would need to be obsessed with finding their next meal in order to survive.”
– Laura Cassiday, CCBC, ABCCT, FFCP
Let’s face it. Since the domestication of cats, we have tried to make cats into furry little humans. We’ve fed them the way humans eat. Most of us don’t desire to hunt our own food. We eat 2-3 large meals per day. We eat in groups, and it is a very social occasion.
Cats view food differently. They are solitary hunters who prefer to eat alone. Hunting their food is part of the pleasure that they get from it. They would ideally like to eat 8 small meals per day. Trying to squeeze them into the human configuration of 2-3 meals per day creates a sense of scarcity. This results in food aggression in cats and food anxiety in cats.
Steps You Can Take To Stop Food Aggression in Cats
With a little work, you can stop food aggression in cats. Try out these ideas with your cat:
- Feed Small Meals, 4 Times Per Day
According to Cassiday, cats have stomachs the size of ping pong balls. They really only need ¼ of a 5 oz can of wet food (1.25 oz total) or 15 -20 pieces of dry kibble to become full. Feeding these snack-sized meals, 4 times per day can ease the tension around food in your home. Ideal mealtimes are immediately when you wake up, before you go to work, when you get home from work, and before you go to bed. If you can do more than 4, even better!
- Use Food Puzzles
Kitties want to play with their food! Using a food puzzle can help the meal to take longer to eat and give your kitty a chance to practice hunting and foraging behavior. Some food puzzles allow you to hide your cat’s food, which can be fun for the cat as well. According to Cassiday,
“the seeking, foraging, hunting process releases more dopamine in the brain than the actual act of consuming food. Letting your cat work for and hunt his food leads to a happier cat!”
- Play Before Meals
Another way to give your cat the feel of the hunt is to play before mealtimes. Use interactive play, like wand toys, to let your cat hunt before the meal. Then when your cat has successfully “hunted” their meal, they get to eat.
- Try an Automatic Feeder
Don’t have time to feed your cat several times per day? Try an automatic feeder. They exist for both wet and dry food. These machines will feed your cat for you at designated times.
- Use Multiple Feeding Stations
If you have multiple cats in your home, where you feed the cats can be a problem. Naturally, cats are solitary hunters and eat alone. Try to space out your cat’s feeding stations so that there is adequate space between cats and preferably visual separation while eating. Having your cats eat all clustered up in a row can cause friction between the cats.
When To Involve A Veterinarian
However, research around using smaller, more frequent meals with cats is still fairly new. Your veterinarian may not be well-informed on this information. Some veterinarians will still recommend that overweight cats be put on restrictive diets that go against this advice. Suddenly limiting your cat’s food can result in more food aggression in cats. With this in mind, it may also be a good idea to add a cat behavior consultant to your cat’s team of experts. A veterinarian can work hand in hand with a cat behavior consultant to help your kitty.
Finding A Cat Behavior Consultant
Looking for a great cat behavior consultant? Anyone can call themselves a cat behavior consultant as this is not regulated in the United States. Always check with The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) to see if your consultant is on their list of their certified consultants.
Information in this article was provided by Laura Cassiday, CCBC, ABCCT, FFCP of Pawsitive Vibes Cats. She is a certified cat behavior consultant with IAABC and the author of the book “The Complete Guide to Adopting A Cat”. Cassiday is based in Baltimore but can see clients all over the world via Zoom. She helps with any kind of cat behavior issue including food aggression in cats, litter box issues, kitten socialization, and more! If you are interested in using her as a consultant for your cat, contact her through her website. You will be happy that you did!
We’re lucky we never had to deal with this!
Chili Bruce will eat his full bowl and then push Manny off to eat all of that too, which is why The Hubby and I have to police them.
Excellent post. I have been lucky to not have any cats with food aggression so far.
We’ve been so fortunate too, everyone gets along and just eats out of their own bowls.
Ha! This made me giggle as I remember when my cats were alive my eldest cat Precious was the food bully! Although I would put out the cat food at the same time for both my cats Precious and Dusty, Precious would growl at Dusty and eat food out of her bowl first then consume her food. What a mess! What ended up working for us, in the end, was feeding them a few minutes apart at different times, so they could eat in peace. Thanks for sharing your tips. I’m sure it will help other cat moms and dads.
My cats have tried to eat each others’ food, but we’ve never had aggression as described here. Right now, Latte always gets in Ellie’s food and Ellie just walks away. Because of this. I do my best to keep the cats separate at mealtimes.
We’ve never had to deal with this, thank goodness. We did have Sammy and Moosey, who would try to eat each others’ food, but never in an aggressive way.
guyz….ewe noe uz….if therz a CHCIKN on de plate….we ALL walk
a way 🙂 ♥♥
Life is about access to resources, isn’t it? And when an animal is concerned about their resources, they might get aggressive.
We don’t have this here but we always have food available so no-one feel threatened.
We do get the ‘I like your good better, let’s swap’ moves going on sometimes!!!
I am relieved that Layla although a dog has never had this issue, she sits back and lets the others eat her food LOL and I did not have the problem when I had 3 cats but I am aware it can be a big problem also, great tips
Very interesting! I don’t have any cats, just two dogs. I know food aggression is something to look out for in dogs, but never realized that it can be an issue for cats as well. Great tips – I shared your post! 🙂
With my cats, I used to always feed them in separate locations. I wanted to make sure each had plenty of time to eat without feeling threatened to move along. I even put them in different rooms with closed doors. It certainly did work. I never thought about playtime before eating. Although, with my girls, the one sister would always try to dominate everything. So, I had to play separately with them or the one would be left out. It was the first time I had multiple cats. They were littermates and I didn’t expect the competition among the sisters. It was a new experience for me with cats. Before then I’d only had one cat at a time. Although, I should’ve expected it. Whenever I’ve had multiples pets (horses, dogs, bunnies, birds, fish…) there’s been competition. Great tips for dealing with food aggression.
Our kitten is nearly a year old, and we certainly don’t want her to become food aggressive. Right now she is free-feeding, but that might change when she is a little older. I will keep this information in mind!
Great post! And some of these things also apply to dogs. I always had my dogs “work” for a treat i.e. sit, sing, etc. And puzzles are great! They loved them and always amazed me at how well and fast they found the treats inside! I never thought of cats doing puzzles, but it sure makes sense! Pinning to my Mews News board!
How interesting! My cats have always been finicky, trying to get them to eat was to issue. Considering their natural hunting behaviors makes total sense. I like the idea of playtime just before eating, like a feather teaser.
Don’t offer your hands as toys and withdraw them immediately in the event of an attack. Provide alternatives to stalking feet/calfs (toys that simulate stalking prey, etc.) As many play units as possible, that engage physically and mentally.