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Cats have a reputation for being lower maintenance than dogs. They clean themselves, they can stay indoors, and, generally speaking, they don’t require as much attention to be happy. But as many cat owners will tell you, some cats can be finicky, specifically when it comes to food. If you’re dealing with a picky cat, here are a few nutritionist-approved tips for getting them to eat.
1. Switch your cat to a raw food diet
Real talk: Not all cats like dry food. Some find the shape, size, or hard texture unappealing. If your cat is refusing to eat kibble, you might want to try switching to raw food, which many cats find tastier. A raw food diet consists of uncooked meat, fruits and veggies for unmatched nutrition. This may sound like work, but it really isn’t. In fact, you can buy high-quality raw pet food right at your local neighborhood pet store. Instinct Pet Food is a fan favorite among cat owners, specifically their Instinct Raw Longevity line, which supports heart, immune, gut, skin and coat health. A complete and balanced raw diet made by a trusted brand like Instinct is the way to go, rather than attempting to DIY a raw diet.
According to vet nutritionist Susan Wynn, DVM, DACVIM (Nutrition), senior director of scientific affairs for Instinct, cats thrive on foods high in animal protein and fat, which a raw food diet offers. Raw food has many benefits not available from kibble, she believes.
“Kibble is a preserved food that is made for convenience. Raw, because it has not undergone heat processing, preserves hundreds of healthy compounds that may benefit cats,” Wynn explains. “Also, raw is free of ‘advanced glycation end-products’ (more commonly called cooking toxins). These are known to cause inflammation and organ damage, and cats are estimated to ingest 38 times more of these harmful compounds than humans eating a typical Westernized diet.”
Instinct offers both frozen and shelf-stable, freeze-dried raw food, so it stays fresh for a long time.
2. Stick to a set feeding time
Cats are notorious for their “I do what I want, when I want” attitude. It’s endearing, but when it comes to food, it can cause issues. Many cats will leave their meal in their bowl for a long time because they don’t feel like eating, leaving it to become stale and unappealing. Also, as Wynn notes, “free feeding” isn’t a good idea for cats—it puts cats at risk for weight gain.
One remedy is to decide on a feeding time and get your cat on a regular schedule. Put the food out at a certain time, bring your kitty over to it, and if they choose not to eat, take it away and try again later. This will cut down on waste, and you’ll send the message to your cat that food is only available at designated times (and when it is, pounce!).
3. Place the bowl in a different location
Now that we’ve talked about time, let’s talk about place. Cats are sensitive to their environment—they like their conditions to be just so. That’s why relocating their bowl could be the key to getting your cat to eat. Maybe their food is in the kitchen, and they’d prefer to eat in private somewhere else, or vice versa. Try moving their food to a new spot for a week or two and seeing how they react. If they still aren’t eating, try another place. You don’t want this to turn into a game of “hide and seek the food,” but hey, if it works, you’ll be glad you tried.
4. Know when to call the vet
Abstaining from food is a dangerous habit for cats. “The most worrisome is that they may be sick,” Wynn says. “He or she may have developed tooth or gum problems, or be nauseated or in pain from gastrointestinal problems, or be dehydrated from an infection or kidney disease. These are just a few possible problems.”
So if this behavior becomes frequent, your cat starts losing weight drastically, or isn’t eating even after trying these tips, a trip to the vet is your best bet. It could be nothing, but as any pet owner will tell you, the peace of mind is worth it.