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Feeding Fussy Felines

Cats are notoriously fussy eaters.  Sometimes, no matter what their loving owners try, they simply turn up their noses and won’t even give their meal so much as a second thought.  Dogs, of course, will gobble down the lot and then look for more but cats are willful creatures that certainly have a mind of their own.

Some cats become so fussy with their food that owners resort to feeding them by hand or cooking special meals.  Whilst this might work it will almost certainly be something that the cat will demand for ever more making it almost impossible for their obedient owner to go on holidays for fear that the cat will go hungry.

The biggest concern for fussy cats is that they won’t get the nutrients that they need to stay healthy but added to this is the problem that they are difficult to manage later on if there is a need to adjust their diet to help with the management of disease or to give medication.

WHY WON’T A CAT EAT?
Trying to ascertain why a cat won’t eat is a difficult task but what is known is that they are natural carnivores and eat small amounts of high-protein, meats throughout a day.  They do not taste sweet foods so cannot be coaxed with the same things that dogs enjoy and they use their excellent sense of smell to distinguish whether their food is one that they prefer and if they don’t recognise it, like its smell or think that it is stale, they will simply ignore it.

A clever cat will train its owners to know what he likes and what he doesn’t by simply refusing to eat.  He won’t even have a taste.  The frantic owner swaps brands thinking that’s the problem but then gets frustrated when the cat still won’t eat.  Instead of changing the brand, the owner should try changing flavours as a different aroma or texture may just work.

By being observant, an owner should be able to work out the flavours that a cat will eat through a process of trial and error.  Fortunately, if the receipt is retained, unopened cans and sachets of cat food can be returned to Better Pets and Gardens and swapped for other varieties in search for the cat’s favourite.  Some premium pet foods even have a feeding ‘guarantee’ meaning that if the pet doesn’t eat it after a reasonable amount of time, the full value will be refunded – ask our team for more details.

With the best of intentions, owners can make their cats fussy by the way that they feed them as kittens.  It’s a common error to feed kittens and young cats the same food every day without providing any variety thinking that it will give them an upset tummy if they are switched to something else.  The problem arises when it becomes addicted to the one food and refuses to try something else or simply doesn’t learn that other foods are also edible.

Kittens should be fed a variety of foods and this should continue into their adult life.  Introduce the new food in very small increments over several weeks and then continue to change between the ones that the kitten now knows.  Occasionally giving cat treats or foods of different texture is a great way to broaden their palette in much the same way as a human mother does with a toddler.

Remember that outdoor cats can roam and so it is easy for him to dine out.  Whilst he may not be eating at your place, he may be off visiting the neighbours or pinching the food from other cats’ bowls and so he may just be full.  The only way to find this out is to follow him when he wanders off or perhaps ask if the neighbours ever see him.  Or, just for a few days, keep him inside and see if he starts to eat at home again.

As a cat ages and becomes less active, its need for food naturally decreases.  Feeding a highly palatable food with a strong odour in smaller amounts across a day will help to maintain a healthy food intake for an aging cat.  Wet food may be easier for an older cat than dry food.

TEMPTING A FUSSY EATER
It’s often said that animals will eat what they are offered when they are hungry enough but if a cat hasn’t learnt to recognise unfamiliar food as being edible, the prolonged fasting can cause liver damage.

A common approach to encourage a cat to eat is to offer sardines which have a very strong smell and are a delicious treat to a fussy cat.  However, cats are smart and will soon learn that if they don’t eat they will soon be rewarded with a bowl of sardines.  Instead of offering just these on a platter, mash them through their normal food so that the cat can be gradually reintroduced to a balanced diet.

Consider where the cat is being fed and whether this might be causing him enough distress that he doesn’t like to be in that area.  If other pets are around, there are loud noises or there is a lot of activity in the area, just moving the food to a different location may do the trick.  Choose a spot that is off the ground or even up high as they love to be above everyone else and make sure that it is away from their kitty litter as they hate to eat in the same area as where they go to the toilet.

Cats hate eating out of a dirty bowl so wash it well between meals, especially if it has had a type of food in it that it definitely didn’t like.  They also dislike narrow bowls where their whiskers hit the sides so try stainless steel, glass or ceramic plates that do not retain the aromas of other foods.  It may even help to raise the bowl off the ground with a block of wood to make it more comfortable for him to eat.

Cats prefer their food to be at room temperature so instead of buying larger cans that are stored in the fridge between feeds, buy individual serving sachets and small cans that are kept in the cupboard and served fresh.  Keep dry foods in sealed containers as it will quickly become stale or damp and will pick up the smells from the other things that are stored in the cupboard such as detergents or spices.

Canned or wet food can be made more appealing to cats by warming it very slightly to make the aroma more attractive to them.  If they like the smell of the food there is more chance that they will give it a taste.  This can be achieved with dry food by just adding a few drops of warm water to it.

Cats like to eat small amounts throughout the day and will probably be turned off by wet food that is left out to go stale and to dry up.  For these cats introduce a bowl of dry biscuits along with a smaller serving of wet food so that they have something to nibble on when they feel like it.

Premium dry food is actually quite economical and reduces the waste that can come from throwing out wet food that a fussy cat hasn’t eaten.  The cat might just have a few biscuits here and there but they are a very well balanced diet and will give the cat all the nutrients that it needs.  Just make sure that he doesn’t start to eat too much if food is always available as even fussy cats can become obese.

It may not be a nutritional problem for a cat to only eat one type of food so long as it provides a full range of vitamins and minerals such as in a premium cat food that is commercially prepared.  These are so well developed that they provide everything that a cat needs to stay healthy and well fed.

However, if the cat will only eat one type of food which is low in nutrients there is definitely a reason to broaden his diet.  To do this, mix very tiny portions of the food that you want to add in to the one that the cat is already eating and gradually increase this over time.  This may take many weeks so be patient and only add the smallest amounts at each step.

SEEK VETERINARY HELP
Although we know that cats can be very fussy eaters, sometimes their unwillingness to eat can be a sign of them being unwell or having problems in their mouth.  If the cat has suddenly become a fussy eater or is losing weight, his eyes and gums start to look pale or his fur loses its gloss, it is best to seek the advice of a veterinarian immediately.   A vet can give the cat a check-up and even if the cat is just being fussy, is also able to suggest appetite stimulants which may help to get him eating again.

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