04 January 2013

Cats: Picky Eaters

I am somewhat shocked by the number of people that have cats who are described as picky eaters.  I feed mine a variety of meats and they quickly eat their portions (and look to steal food from other cats).  Once I get a cat transitioned to raw and barring a medical/psychological problem (like Clancy's mouth or Isabel being hand-fed for a while), I've never had this problem in ~20 years of feeding raw. My cats eat all their raw quickly, with no hesitation.  I only have one cat, Anya, who doesn't eat with gusto and there are other issues with her. 

So, I got to wondering -- why?  What do I do that these other owners do not do?  Or vice versa.

I think they have ignored a few basic ideas:

  1. Cats prefer kibble because of the crunch. If they have access to kibble, they will gravitate to it instead of raw. James and Tolstoy grew up on raw but they go nuts over kibble as a treat. So when owners try raw and kibble, eventually the raw loses because it's not crunchy. Most raw feeders I know feed only raw with occasional treats of crunchies.
  2. Cats like stability. If you present a cat with a new food every day or two, the cat gets confused. By constantly changing food, the cat learns that a new food may appear in a day, so if it is not fond of the first food, wait a day and it's a different food.
  3. Cats need time to adjust to new food. It does take 5-14 days for a cat to fully adjust to a new food. If the owner gives a new food and then replaces this food before the cat is adjusted to it, the cat's body never fully adapts to any one food. When a cat’s body is not adjusted to the food, the cat is not comfortable and so comes to associate food and being uncomfortable.
  4. Cats' appetites vary for a variety of reason. A cat will not eat the same amount each and every day. If a cat doesn't eat everything for one day, so what? In the wild, cats do not eat 2 meals a day, every day. It’s not uncommon for small cats to miss meals for 1-2 days, yet domestic cats are ‘required’ to eat constantly by owners.
  5. Specifically with raw, cats will overeat raw when first introduced. This I believe is a response to the nutrient-rich nature of the raw and the nutrient-deficient state a cat is in when put on raw. The cat's body discovers the raw has all the nutrients the old food did not, so it eats more to catch-up. After a while, once the deficits are filled, the cat resumes eating a more normal amount. But then the owner panics because the cat is eating less. (This nutrient-deficiency may also be related to cats going from one food obsession to another -- when the shortage becomes severe enough, the cat refuses to eat it, knowing it will get something else, which hopefully will solve that shortage.)
  6. Cats take months to years to break the grazing habit. With grazing, a cat never develops an appetite because it never is hungry. Many cats will eat out of boredom. When transiting a cat, breaking the grazing habit is the hardest -- much harder than kibble to raw actually. It takes firmness from the owner not to sneak extra treats or small snacks or only leave the bowl of kibble out at times.
  7. Cats do pick up on owner’s anxiety about food.
So, you take 2 or more of these, do it to a cat for a while, and you get a picky eater. I know some owners don't want to accept this, but I've seen it in newly adopted cats and I've seen it in cats owned by people I have helped with their finicky eaters.  A lot of the problem is what the owner does.  It's not hard once you understand the 'rules'.  I've taken in cats which I was told only will eat Brand X food or starve to death. Guess what? 6 months later, they are on raw and eating fine with gusto.

Now, I have had cats who are picky eaters because of energy imbalances. (Yes, I know it sounds New Age, but western medicine sure doesn't have all the answers for cat care.) I have used homeopathy to remedy energy imbalances. It may take months or even a year, but usually I have had success and in the process, it also got rid of other issues and the cat becomes more eager to eat.  But I believe these cats are few and far between.


Cynthia said...

Linda, that's all good common sense to me, pity others don't have it. They make rods for their own backs trying so many different food types for their cats. Aren't they know as creatures of habit, it's us that want to give then variety. I know I have been guilty of that sometimes too.

L.M. Hornberger said...

It is common sense, but few people see it. And you are correct -- projecting our feelings onto a cat is a major problem. Cats won't die if they miss a meal -- I might, but my cats won't. Now, once a cat has developed a strong appetite, then variety is okay. But without the appetite, the variety confuses them.

I think we have all been guilty of some of this at times. It reminds me of a little saying I have posted, "If you make enough mistakes, you eventually learn something!"

Barbara said...

Guilty as charged on a couple of these items. You make sense, though. It is tough for me to persist when introducing some new raw meat into their diet. As far as grazing goes, I wonder if sometimes they are just not particularly hungry.

L.M. Hornberger said...

I never said it was easy. But it is easier if you look at the whole picture and not just focus on the next 10 minutes. (I'm typing this as Dante is pointing out HIS snack is due in 11 minutes...) Grazing especially causes problems for a cat.