Why Is My Cat a Picky Eater?

Tabby cat licking its mouth

Cats are known to be finicky creatures, and a day or two of picky eating behaviour is probably nothing to worry about. However, if your cat is a fussy eater and it's been a problem for a while — especially to the point you're jumping through hoops or changing your schedule to get your cat to eat — you may have a problem that needs to be dealt with. Many owners can actually create or encourage picky eating behaviour in their cats without realizing it. But once you figure out there's a problem, you can start getting things back under control.

Why Is My Cat a Picky Eater?

When you love your cat, it's common to worry if one day they don't seem interested in their food or are eating less than normal. You may even be tempted to add a little extra treat of table food to entice them to eat or even to make up for not eating, but this can be the beginning of bad behaviours and can even be harmful to their health. Cats are very adaptable creatures, and it doesn't take them long to figure out that if they don't eat their regular food, they get something special in the form of table scraps. In their minds, it can almost be as if they are being rewarded for not eating their regular food.

Even if you're using actual cat treats, overdoing it can still lead to picky eating, because it can lead to a higher caloric intake over the course of the day. That means your cat isn't as hungry when it comes time to eat their regular food.

Another consideration is the type of dish you use when feeding. Using a shallow dish instead of a bowl can also help whisker discomfort that may interfere with eating and drinking habits. 

How to Curb Fussy Eating Behaviours

Whether you're trying to avoid fussy eating in your cat from the start or find yourself needing to deal with a picky eater now, these tips can help.

  • Choose a food that meets their nutritional needs. The most important thing you can do to encourage good health in your cats is to provide them with a quality cat food that's designed around their nutritional needs. Your cat may have a preference for dry or wet food, but either is acceptable nutritionally, and wet food can provide extra hydration, which many cats benefit from.
  • Create a feeding routine. Some cat owners prefer to leave food down all day, but your cat may be more likely to eat if you serve multiple meals a day. Measuring out the correct amount of food for each meal based on the feeding guidelines or vet recommendation can help cat owners spot eating changes and help cats maintain a healthy body condition. It’s also important to clean your cat’s feeding dish daily. You wouldn’t want to eat off of a dirty dish, and neither does your cat.  
  • Be consistent. It's tempting to vary from this routine if your cat seems to be having an off day, but this can be the start of picky eating problems. If your cat doesn't eat one day, just pick up the excess food and repeat your usual routine the next day.

While in most cases the answer to why is my cat a picky eater is "because they can be," there are some medical conditions that can cause fussy eating behaviours. Mouth problems, such as tooth decay or injury, can make it harder for your cat to eat their normal food, and some diseases can cause a lack of or change in appetite. If your cat suddenly changes its eating habits, it's a good idea to take it into your veterinarian for a check-up to rule out any other illnesses or medical reasons.

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