Is Your Cat Really a Finicky Eater? Maybe Not.

Cats can refuse to eat or leave portions of food untouched. Find out the reasons why (or why not) your cat is a fussy eater.

Is your cat picky? By: rsgranne
Is your cat picky when it comes to food? By: rsgranne

Throw the toilet paper in the cart; slam-dunk the paper towel in the basket; round stacks of cranberry sauce at the speed of light; get that hospital shopping list done!

Shield my eyes from the 2-for-1 offers on Cherry Jubilee and Rocky Road, I am almost at the finish line!

Whoops! I forgot the kitty litter. Three-point turn into pet food aisle. Meet a client caught red-handed buying Tuna Surprise Crappos. She asks my advice on grilled or classic, Sheba or Fancy Feast, gravy or no gravy?

Another poor soul is encamped in front of the thousands of cans of cat food. It appears she has been there since Labor Day. She holds a can of cat food in each hand and stares blindly at the shelf. Vacantly, she admits, “I can’t remember what he likes. He’s so finicky. I throw half the cans away.”

Wait a minute, am I back in the office? I hear that remark day in and day out, in one cat appointment after another. People and their finicky cats.

I could speak volumes about this problem. That’s why this has become a 2-part article. Today, in Part 1, let’s explore the notion of what a truly finicky cat is all about. (In Part 2, I’ll offer a bunch of tips on how to get the true problem-eater to eat a good diet.)

The Persnickety Finicky Feline

Feeding your finicky cat can be an emotional nightmare. You can feel worry, resentment and even some anger. I mean, if there are so many choices in this consumer-driven world of ours, why can’t you find the one thing your cat will eat?

The solution is actually part of the problem, and the problem has been created by the pet food industry. The solution lies with us, the consumer. Those millions of choices on the supermarket shelf are marketed to us, not your cat. By getting caught up in the frenzy of trying to be Top Chef to your cat, you can create a problem-eater.

Leaving food out all day long is not good. By: Janitors
Leaving dry food out all day long is not good. By: Janitors

Are We to Blame?

For the most part, finicky cats are not born. They are created. BY US!

If you start a kitten or a young cat out on a healthy and varied diet, chances are Mr. Munchman will remain a happy, munching kitty for the rest of his life. But overfeeding and feeding dry food only creates the cat version of “Johnny won’t eat his vegetables!”

Many Americans overfeed dry food or open up a new can every time their cat walks into the kitchen. And we feed too much of that bag or that can. Cats shouldn’t eat that way.

  • Feral cats stalk, kill and eat small prey 8 or 9 times a day.
  • Now compare that to your house cat, who leaves the couch 8 times a day to eat his entire daily ration of dry junk food at an open trough. He’s eating 8 times his daily requirement of fatty, unhealthy food. And the walk back to the couch from the kitchen? It’s not a big calorie-burner.

“He Only Eats Dry Food”

In the list of phrases I hate to hear from cat people, this tops the list.

Cats who are addicted to low-end dry food can be the biggest challenges. If they’ve never been exposed to good canned food or even high-end dry food, they may hold out at all cost for their flavor-enhanced, animal digest–sprayed pieces of yellow, brown and orange JUNK.

They aren’t “finicky,” per se. They are simply used to eating Kitty Fritos. This is sadly akin to a child diet of fast food and potato chips. If your kids eat chicken nuggets and French fries, offering them a diet of high-quality protein and vegetables is not going to be easy.

This video shows Freddy the cat refusing to eat his wet food, even though the other cats in the house are eating it:

“I Just Keep the Bowl Full”

This is the second worst phrase someone with a cat can admit.

Besides trying to change their diet, cats conditioned to the never-ending dry buffet are at risk for developing obesity, urinary problems and kidney failure, to name just a few of the top feline health risks by a dry food diet. It would be like a human moving his recliner to a Las Vegas buffet.

The biggest way to avoid this nightmare is to never feed dry food only in the first place. But this is easier said than done, particularly when many cats are inherited or adopted with strong food preferences in place.

Your cat might be full or full of junk. By: meandthesysop
Your cat might be finished or full of junk. By: meandthesysop

A New Can a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Many feline practitioners wish all kittens and new adoptions were fed a canned food diet exclusively (home-cooked and raw diets fit into this category with some qualifications).

This canned diet should consist of various flavors and textures. If your cat has an intense desire to eat only fish or only shredded, for example, try to break this habit before it’s an embedded food preference. It’s much easier to transition your cat to a well-rounded or special diet if necessary if he’s not addicted to a solitary food or flavor.

Is Your Cat Really Finicky?

At least 10 times a week someone tells me their cat “is finicky.” Then I make eye contact with the 15-pound tub of lard-puss on my exam table.

Clearly, many people think their cat is finicky because Mr. Tubby leaves some food behind on occasion or doesn’t dive into the new can of shredded morsels of gravy-laden poultry bits and tuna flakes on a bed of Florentine spinach with egg.

Tubby is probably saying to you he doesn’t feel like the brunch menu right now mixed in with his charcuterie. Or, more likely, Tubs ate plenty 2 hours ago and he just isn’t hungry. He doesn’t care that you spent $1.29 on 3 ounces of cat food.

The “Skinny” Cat?

Okay, humans, is your cat really skinny or are you just channeling your misplaced jealousy of your girlfriend who has been a size 2 since high school?

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

1. Does your cat eat every day?
If the answer is YES, your cat is probably fine.

2. Is your cat’s weight stable?
If YES, your cat is probably fine.

3. Is your cat acting normal, with good energy for her stage in life?
If YES, your cat is probably fine.

One of the most important parts of your cat’s annual checkup is a record of her weight. But if it isn’t time for a visit and you are concerned about weight loss or gain, just bring your cat to your vet and have a tech weigh and compare the weights on the chart. This is a free service!

What's for dinner? By: elisaself
What’s for dinner? By: elisaself

What Is a Normal Weight?

You know, cats are like people. We don’t all fit into that size 2. Nor are we all size 18s. There is a huge variety of cat body types, cat metabolism, caloric needs and lifestyle.

Seriously, when you ask yourself if you just need to eat less, eat better or just go to the gym, ask Fluffmuff on the couch the same questions.

Weight trends and body condition score are more important than actual weight in many cases. Again, this is where your vet should have this important info stored in your kitty’s record.

By now, I hope you’ve thought about how you feed your cat, if he is skinny or overweight and if he is truly “finicky” or just addicted to a dry diet.

* * *

Next, in Part 2 of this 2-part series, check out some suggestions on how to tempt a truly finicky cat and how to get your dry food junkie into rehab to get over his addiction!


This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed Nov. 5, 2014.

Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD

View posts by Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD
Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, is a small animal and exotics veterinarian who has split her time between a veterinary practice in Pelham, Massachusetts, and her studio in New York City. Dr. Lichtenberg is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine with 30 years of experience. Her special interests are soft tissue surgery and oncology.

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