Why is My Cat a Picky Eater?

Way, way back in 1968, according to their website, 9Lives® introduced the world to a big, orange tabby cat named Morris® – “the world’s most finicky cat.” I don’t imagine that it was too difficult to ‘sell’ Morris as a character. Ask anyone who has ever had a cat (and probably most people who never have) if cats are picky eaters, and the answer will likely be an immediate and resounding, “Yes!”

Everyone probably has their own personal experiences on this subject. In my own household, I have had cats that would not, under any circumstances, eat any canned food whatsoever, and other cats that just wouldn’t eat the beef flavor. One cat loved crackers and popcorn. Another adored raspberry popsicles. And one of my current cats comes running at the offer of fresh papaya in the morning.

How do cats choose what to eat?
Cats have the opportunity to pick up a lot of things from the ground with their mouths. Clearly, they must have some criteria in place in order to not swallow the wrong things. (At the very least, medications always seem to fall into the ‘spit it out’ category.) But how do they make these choices?

One study, posted on the National Center for Biotechnology’s website, observed a group of cats and their diet choices based on offerings of different combinations of foods with either a strong predominant taste or no dominant taste. The researcher concluded that cats definitely use their sense of smell to select a food. They found that given the choice between one food, with an attractive odor, and another without, the cats ate the former without even bothering to taste the latter choice. On the other hand, if offered only options without an attractive choice (based on smell), the cats tasted the foods in order to make a selection1.

What else do studies have to say about cats’ eating habits?
Cats are obligate carnivores (meaning they have to eat some meat to obtain essential nutrients) with a natural diet consisting of a variety of small prey animals. Interestingly, cats do not even have the ability to taste “sweet2.” However, according to research posted by pet food manufacturer WALTHAM, cats do have the ability to self-regulate their nutrient intake. Through an extensive series of feeding studies, researchers determined that when cats were allowed to choose between a dozen different diets of varying nutritional composition, the cats achieved a target intake of 52% protein, 36% fat and 12% carbohydrate3.

Additional influences on cats’ dietary choices include neophobia and monotony. This means that, on one hand, a cat may naturally reject a new food offering or might only eat small amounts of it at first. On the other hand, if fed the same diet for too long, the cat may be struck by the monotony and look to find a new/novel food instead2. It is important to remember that if you cat has a sudden change in interest in its normal diet a medical check-up is warrented.

What does this all mean for your finicky cat?
Clearly, there are a lot of complicated factors coming into play when it comes to keeping your cat interested and nutritionally balanced. First, and especially if your cat suddenly becomes persnickety, see your veterinarian to rule out medical problems that might be affecting her appetite in general such as:

  • Dental disease, inflammatory/infectious conditions, or other painful conditions in her mouth
  • Sinus/respiratory disorders affecting her sense of smell
  • Gastrointestinal disease or any metabolic condition that might upset her stomach or cause decreased appetite
  • Medications that she might be taking that could decrease her appetite

If your veterinarian says your cat is healthy and is really just being picky, then use what you now know to your advantage. Offer her new and novel food choices (for more than one day to give her a chance to become familiar with them). You can also include stronger smelling options of different textures or consistencies. And try higher protein/lower carbohydrate diets. When she settles into a new routine, remember you can change it in the future, if needed. [Editor’s Note: Before making any diet changes, always discuss them with your veterinarian.]


  1. Hullár, I., S. Fekete, E. Andrásofszky, Z. Szöcs, and T. Berkényi. "Factors Influencing the Food Preference of Cats." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2015. Web. 04 Dec. 2015.
  2. "Cat Feeding Behaviour and Preference." WALTHAM, Web. 2015.
  3. Hewson-Hughes AK, Hewson-Hughes VL, Miller AT, Hall SR, Simpson SJ, Raubenheimer D. Geometric analysis of macronutrient selection in the adult domestic cat, Felis catus. J Exp Biol. 2011 Mar 15;214(Pt 6):1039-51

Reviewed on:

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

13 Tips for How to Get a Cat to Eat EVERY Time

Have you got a really fussy cat? Are they really picky when it comes to eating and you're just tearing your hair out, trying to get them to eat?

Do you buy one food, they seem to like it and then they just go off it completely. You buy another one and you end up with 10 different unfinished bags of foods in the cupboard that your cat just won't eat? It can be a nightmare.

Well, help is at hand as in this article I'll give you 13 ways for how to get a cat to eat as well as discuss how to prevent them from becoming picky and fussy in the first place!

How to get a cat to eat

Get them hungry

Change food bowl

Are they social or solitary eaters

Avoid food aversion

Slowly transition to new diets

Keep food fresh

Start with what your cat likes

Sprinkle a tasty treat on top

Give strong smelling food

Give appetite stimulants

Before I get into the details of each of these strategies for how to get a cat to eat, you need to answer 2 important question to know if your cat really is just being picky or if there may be a more serious problem behind their lack of appetite.

Buyer’s Guide

Dealing with a cat that’s too picky about food? This little guide here can help you understand the reasons and figure out possible solutions to feeding the pickiest eater.

Why Is My Cat So Picky?

Cats are creature of habit. They prefer following a routine and are particular about what they like or don’t like. There are many reasons why your cat could be giving you a hard time eating her food. Here are the most common reasons:


Neophobia is a term used for the irrational fear one feels about new things. This is as common in cats as it is in humans. If you have been feeding her new varieties of cat food, they may consider the unfamiliar taste as dangerous and confusing, especially if they’re not used to eating different kinds of food.

On the other hand, some cats enjoy trying out new varieties to break the monotony. If your cat is refusing new food and if you really need to introduce better food to your cat, take a gradual approach. Try mixing the new food with old one first and slowly replace the whole thing to see how your cat reacts. You will understand what’s going on in your feline’s mind midway this process.

Wrong Temperature or Texture

Is your cat’s dry food too stale or wet food too cold or dry? Just like humans, cats have preferences when it comes to their food. They may prefer a certain texture or temperature and wouldn’t like to be fed otherwise.

If you’re still trying to figure out your cat’s preferences, start feeding warm food to your cat. Add warm broth or water and see if that’s the way your kitty prefers. If your cat is not too fond of wet food texture, the right kibble would do the trick. It is all about understanding your kitty’s preferences.

Not Hungry

Cats love to sleep. They can sleep 12 to 16 hours in a day. This means that most indoor cats wouldn’t expend a lot of energy and that’s why they need very limited calories.

If your cat is refusing food or being picky, it could be simply because she isn’t hungry. They have low energy requirements and a few small meals are sufficient to keep them going. Do not panic if this is their regular feeding schedule. Consult a vet for any possible health problems if your cat has suddenly started to refuse food.

Health Problems and Allergies

Allergies are very common in cats, especially when it comes to some ingredients in their food. If they experience a reaction to a certain food, they’d probably refuse it the next time.

If you can’t figure out the actual reason for your cat’s new picky eating habits, it is best to consult a vet.

How to Feed a Fussy Eater

Here are some cool tips to help you feed your fussy kitty:

  • Offer more varieties of wet food – especially seafood flavors (the stinkier, the better)
  • Add canned anchovies or tuna water to their food
  • Add low-sodium chicken broth to their food – kibble or canned
  • Warm the food before serving
  • Use parmesan cheese as a food topper in moderate quantity to pique your cat’s appetite and interest
  • Use wet food toppers with shreds and chunks to add flavor and texture

1. What do I do if my cat starts refusing her regular food?

Some cats have very distinct preferences when it comes to their food. They can be particular about the flavor of the food or texture or both. If your cat has become a fussy eater, consider replacing the supply or changing the texture. If your cat is turning their nose up to a certain food, it could be because it is stale or spoiled. If you have been feeding dry food exclusively, try introducing some wet food options and vice versa.

2. How do I figure out my cat’s favorite food?

Meat-based foods are not only more delicious but also more nutritious with higher protein content. Food with cooked chicken, beef, turkey, lean deli meats, and even seafood are some great options to introduce. If your cat is a picky eater, try offering a few different flavors and see which one he likes the most. That’s the best way to find out your cat’s favorite food.

3. Can I feed wet food to my cat everyday?

Yes, you can feed wet food to your cat on a daily basis. For feeding recommendations, it is best to seek assistance from a vet. As a general rule, an adult average-size cat should be fed 3-ounce of food per 3 to 3 ½ pounds of their body weight. This amount needs to be adjusted if you also feed them dry kibble.

4. Do cats get bored eating the same thing everyday?

Just like humans, cats can get bored with the same food every day. To keep them excited about mealtimes, it is best to offer a variety of food. Another reason to do this is that it helps prevent certain health problems and allergies. If they continue with the same diet for an extended period, they often develop allergies to certain ingredients in that food.

5. Can I feed canned tuna to my cat?

Just like humans, cats can get bored with the same food every day. To keep them excited about mealtimes, it is best to offer a variety of food. Another reason to do this is that it helps prevent certain health problems and allergies. If they continue with the same diet option for an extended period, they often develop allergies to certain ingredients in that food.

How to Get Your Cat to Eat

  • Give them some canned/wet food (the stinkier the better — try seafood varieties)
  • Give them some meat baby food
  • Add some water from a can of tuna or anchovies to their food
  • Add a little bit of warmed, low-sodium chicken broth to your their food, whether it’s kibble or canned. (Avoid broths containing onions, onion powder, chives, or garlic — as these can be toxic to cats.) Mix Native Pet's Bone Broth powder with water as a pet-safe way to add broth to their food, or sprinkle this broth flavored food topper on their food.
  • Gently warm the food in the microwave or with warm water (don’t make it too hot!)
  • Sprinkle some grated parmesan cheese on their food. The salty, cheesy flavor is often enough to pique a cat's interest and appetite.
  • Sprinkle some nutritional yeast powder onto their food it's got a nutty, cheesy flavor that many cats go absolutely crazy for. An added bonus is that it's rich in B vitamins! (Don't confuse brewer's yeast with nutritional yeast — they're very nearly the same thing, but not exactly. Brewer's yeast often has a bitter taste, which many cats may not like.)
  • Sprinkle some Purina FortiFlora probiotic on their food. Mix a little bit in and then sprinkle a bit on top. Not only does FortiFlora often work great as an appetite enhancer for cats, you're also getting the additional benefit of a proven probiotic!
  • Gently warm the food in the microwave or with warm water (don’t make it too hot!)
  • Sprinkle some grated parmesan cheese on their food. The salty, cheesy flavor is often enough to pique a cat's interest and appetite.

If these tricks fail, or if your cat refuses more than two meals, it’s time to go to the vet for evaluation and care.

The tricks above are truly a short-term fix. If your cat starts eating after using one of the tricks, then you can possibly chalk it up to an upset stomach that will pass, a change in the weather, or something non-threatening. However, if your cat isn’t eating their normal amount for a significant period of time, anything over one day (even less if they have certain pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes or obesity), then it’s imperative that you seek out hands-on veterinary evaluation. After all, something very serious could be causing your cat’s hunger strike and any delay can make matters significantly worse.

Maintain Your Resolve!

The stress of dealing with a fussy dog can be really high. The great news though is that in my experience as a veterinarian, in the vast majority of cases those dog’s labelled as picky are completely healthy and generally overfed or spoiled with too many treats.

Using food as an expression of love is completely understandable, so don’t feel bad, but all your dog really wants is your time and attention.

Play with them a little more, take them for walks, involve them in family life, and love them as they deserve.

When it comes to feeding though, following the above combined steps of controlled mealtimes, a slow transition, reducing distractions, and increasing appeal will help break any bad habits and get your picky dog eating the healthy diet you choose for them.

Are you ready to optimize your dog’s health so they live as healthy, happy, and full a life as possible?

+ Full Transcript

And I get it, you know, I completely understand. We want our dogs to be happy. We want to be them to be healthy and we put a lot of emphasis on a dog eating and being fed nice food as a marker of our love for them.

Go on. You can tell me how many different types of dog food do you have in your house? Are you constantly having to change? Are you switching? Does your dog like one one day but then turns his nose up at it the next? Is she just fussy all the time? Well, it's a really common problem. It's something that a lot of people are really concerned about and they're left tearing their hair out. Well, today help is at hand.

Welcome to Call The Vet, the show that answers all your dog and cat questions so they can live healthier, happier lives. And here's your host veterinarian, Dr. Alex Avery.

Welcome along to episode number 63 of the Call The Vet Podcast. I'm Dr. Alex, I'm the veterinarian behind and I'm here to answer all of your questions about how to look after them, how to optimize their health and keep them healthy or how to treat them if they do become unwell or injured.

Whatever question you have, simply head over to, submit it, and I could be answering your question on a podcast episode very soon. Also, if you're not already subscribed, remember to hit that subscribe button so you don't miss out on all of the future episodes.

And what I would appreciate more than you can imagine would be taking just a minute or two to head over to Apple podcasts or whatever podcast app you're listening to this on and leaving a five-star rating and review to help other people know that this podcast is something worth their time listening to and allow me to help more pets. I appreciate that so much.

Now, if you're not one for leaving reviews, if it's too difficult and you can't work it out and some apps. They really don't make it easy. I'd love it if you could share this podcast with a few of your pet loving friends or family. Again, just to help spread the word and grow Our Pets Health Community.

Get your questions answered

So, we've got Dusty to thank for today's fantastic question, and Dusty shares a really common concern. So, Dusty has got a three-year-old German shepherd and writes, "My dog does not eat properly. He is a fussy eater. I've tried all methods, taken him to the vets and his reports are all fine. Initially, when he was young he used to eat properly, but now he doesn't eat. His weight is 31 kilograms. Is that okay? I've tried all foods and now, I don't know what to do. I'm very dejected.”

So, Dusty, hopefully, we'll get some really good answers for you today. This is a really common concern. Don't feel down. Don't feel dejected. So many people struggle with their pet's appetite, with them being fussy eaters and worrying whether they're underweight, whether they're getting all of the nutrients they need.

But before I jump into some of those strategies, the very first step in the thing that you kind of hinted at to start with is your German Shepherd's weight. So, 31 kilograms, is that okay?

Well, for some German Shepherds, that's going to be absolutely fine. That's going to be a really nice healthy weight. For others, maybe it is a little bit too lean. It's really difficult to give a weight estimation based on breed alone. And it's one reason why I don't like the breed charts, the standard breed charts because they really come with such a wide range. How do you know where your dog should fall in? The difference can sometimes be, I don't know, 20% even 25% of their body weight. You know, you have a big entire male dog and you have a very slight female dog. They can vary in weight hugely.

A far better way to tell if your pet is a healthy weight, if they're overweight or if they're underweight, is to carry out something called a body condition score.

Now, in your case, Dustin, I would hope that your vet would have given you some indication as to whether they were happy with your dog's weight, whether they were even a little bit overweight or whether they were underweight and there was actually a problem. And that's the first port of call.

So, as a vet, I am seeing obviously multiple dogs and cats every single day. I'm very used to assessing their weight and very used to kind of taking into account all different body shapes, different breed types, and that kind of thing. So, I definitely kind of get back in touch with your vet if they didn't give you an indication because it may be that they've written it in their clinical notes, that that's something that they can refer back to. But doing a body condition score is something that's very simple.

The first step to do is to feel your dog's ribs. So, if you can run your hand over their chest from front to back with very gentle pressure and you can feel their ribs, you can count every individual rib, then they're certainly not going to be overweight.

If there is a sponge and you're having to put pressure on to feel their ribs, then they are overweight and obviously, you don't need to worry about them not eating enough because if they're overweight, they are going to be eating plenty as long as their weight isn't falling off them and they're not getting a lot lighter than they used to be, of course.

If we're thinking about an underweight dog, and I guess that's obviously the concern here with Dusty's dog. Then, the other thing that we can look at is we can look along their spine. So, we can look along a dog's back and if it's starting to become very bony, if you're starting to kind of see the spiky protuberances of the spinal column of the vertebrae there, then that does suggest that there is a lack of condition and I'd be concerned that your pet was underweight.

If you're also seeing their hips and all that pelvic bones really clearly, there's not any kind of fat covering there, then that might be a kind of a condition where your dog is also underweight.

Now, if you've got an overweight dog, and unfortunately, that's by far and away the most common problem with about 60% of dogs in the world, being overweight. Then, you're going to lose their waist. It's going to be the next thing that you're going to lose.

So, if you look at them from above, they're going to be square rather than a kind of hourglass shape. And again, if you look at them from the side, they're not going to be tucked in in their tummy. They're not going to have that abdominal tuck. They're going to become square or even get to protruding belly.

Clearly, those are unlikely to be the cases in a 31-kilogram German Shepherd. But it's something that's worth bearing in mind because one thing that I do get a lot in the clinic is people coming to me worried that their dog is underweight because people have told them that their dog is underweight. Meaning that they don't look like their dog when in actual fact their dog is overweight.

So, because being overweight is so common, it's kind of skewed our perception of what a normal dog's body shape should be. And it's made us feel that actually that's normal whereas really that's overweight. Now, weight and the importance of weight loss and being a healthy weight is something that I could talk for hours about. I won't get that into that today.

It's something that I've covered on numerous other podcast episodes and I'll leave some links in the show notes to more information about body condition scoring your pet, whether you've got a dog or a cat as well. It's a hugely useful tool that everybody can do at home.

So, you know, assuming that your dog is a healthy weight. Then, there are a few things that we can do to get a fussy dog to eat. And that's really what it's all about.

Now, if your dog is underweight, Dusty's obviously had the great foresight to go and check with his vet in the first case, to check that there isn't anything else that's the problem. But if you do have a dog that's underweight and they're fussy, it might actually be because they're unwell. They could be feeling nauseous, they could have dental pain, for example.

So, it is important to get your dog checked out if they're underweight, or if they're losing weight and they're not really eating, or they going off their food, or the appetite's changed in any way.

So, assuming that everything is fine and that there are no problems with health, there are no other underlying conditions. My first thought in a fussy eater is always actually, are they hungry?

So, it's very easy to overestimate the amount of food that we think our dogs should eat, especially if we're dealing with a small breed dog which is, you know, they are much more common than they used to be. And especially if we're giving them a biscuit kibble because they are very energy-dense. And also I often find that the packaging does overestimate the amount that we should be giving them.

So, often we don't need to give them nearly quite so much as the packaging says for them to meet their daily needs. Now, that's going to vary depending on whether your dog has been spayed or neutered, whether they are kind of doing a 10-kilometer run, whether they're working hard on a farm or whether they are in just an apartment block and they get taken out once a week. So, you know, that's going to have a big impact on how much energy they need.

But I think, often, we're actually overfeeding our dogs and they're just not hungry. So, they just don't want to eat because they're not hungry. What will then happen though is that you might take up any food and then because you're worried that they're not eating enough, you'll then give them something super tasty.

Now, the equivalent to this would be giving a toddler a meal that they're not particularly keen on and they're not particularly hungry so they're not going to eat and that's fine. But then going, "Oh my goodness, I really need you to eat something" and giving them chocolate pudding, chocolate in front of them. And then, funnily enough, your toddler, and I certainly know my children would, they will eat the chocolate no matter how hungry or otherwise they are.

And so tied into this, we really need to think that a hungry dog will eat as long as, again, there's no other problem going on. A hungry dog will eat and this is what we really need to consider. We really need to stick to our guns when it comes to feeding them.

So, simply put some food down there. If they haven't touched it in 20 minutes, then take the food away. Don't put something else different down straight away. Don't go and make a big fuss of them and give them some treats to make sure they eat. Take it away. Pop it in the fridge. Put a cover on it and then try again a few hours later. So, stick to your guns with what you want to feed your dog.

Don't let them train you to just give them really tasty morsels because that's really what they're doing. Our dogs are very good at training us to feed what they want to feed them. The good stuff, if you like. The treats and the snacks, not the healthy food that we want to feed them. So, keep doing this. Your dog will become progressively more hungry, and they should start eating what you're putting down.

Now, if they're not eating in a 24 hour period, that's not the end of the world at all. A dog can quite easily go for a whole day. They could probably go for two days quite happily without having anything to eat. So, don't worry that you're starving your dog again as long as you're sure that there's nothing else going on.

Now, if they're really not eating, if they really are stubborn and definitely some dogs are going to fall into this category, then the next thing you can do is to find a food that they like and slowly transition onto the food that you actually want to feed them.

So, this involves just slowly decreasing the proportion of the original food and increasing the mix of the new food in that food bowl. That can really help the slow transition over three or four weeks means that they don't really even notice that that's happening. And in that time, once you come to the end of that time, they should be eating that new food that you've chosen for them quite happily.

So, those are the really big strategies, but there's a couple of other things, kind of short tips that can really make a big difference as well.

So, the first one is to walk your dog, give them lots of exercise, especially just before mealtime because that's going to help them build up an appetite. So, by the time it comes to dinner time, they're going to be much hungrier and they're going to be more likely to eat.

The next thing to consider is actually put your dog’s food down and then just leave them to get on with it. Walk out of the room. Close the door. Don't hover over them anxiously, kind of anticipating the fact that they're not going to eat.

So, dogs are really good at picking up on our feelings and if you're feeling anxious, if you're worried about the fact that they're not eating, they're going to pick up on your vibes and they're going to become worried because they don't know why you're worried. And so they're going to get worried and then they're going to not eat their food because they are anxious about what's going on.

So, just put their food down and walk away next. Feed your dog and let them eat before you start preparing any of your own meals because your dog's not then getting the sights and the sounds and the smells of the other food that you don't want them to eat. So, that's a big distraction. Remove those. Get them to focus entirely on their food bowl.

Once they've had their food, then you can get that dinner prep going for the rest of the family. And that just might mean that you need to feed them a little bit earlier than you have been.

Now, for those dogs that really don't want to eat, adding a little bit of warm water to their food can help or just warm it up a little bit in the microwave so that helps it smell that much more appealing, certainly to your dog and can again make them more likely to eat.

The next thing is to actually add a little bit of a flavor on top if you like. So, that little bit of chicken, a little bit of vegetable broth. Avoid anything that's got a high salt content or a lot of additives. But any little bit like that, if it just helps get them going, there's really no harm in that. And it might not be something that you need to carry on once they used to eating the food and they know that they're not going to get any extras.

So, with those few tips and sticking to your guns, remember, a hungry dog will eat. You've been to the vet. You've ruled out any problems. You're happy that they're not losing weight, that they're not unwell in any other way. Then really sticking to your guns, a hungry dog will eat, but our dogs and I get it you know.

I completely understand. We want our dogs to be happy. We want to be them to be healthy. And we put a lot of emphasis on a dog eating and being fed nice food as a marker of our love for them. I absolutely get them, but really stick to your guns. Don't let them train you to feed them all of your table scraps or to cook elaborate meals just for them.

Stick to your guns. Follow a few of these strategies and your dog will be eating whatever you want them to eat in next to no time at all.

So, make sure you head over to the show notes to get a lot more detail about some of these tips as well. And there'll be a few bonus ones in there as well. It's something that I've spoken about and written about several times in the past, but it's a really worthwhile topic to keep coming back to because I know so many people really do struggle with this and there's nothing worse than buying a really expensive bag of dog food only for them to turn their nose up when they've only eaten a couple of meals out of it.

So, I hope that really helps. If you've got any other tips, if you've got any other suggestions, things that worked for your dog than I'll also love to hear them, but before I go, remember as well to hit that subscribe button if you're not already and do, please leave a review. Take a couple of minutes to leave a five-star rating and review on Apple podcasts or whatever podcasting app you're listing to. It helps more than you can imagine.

I read every single one and I appreciate them so, so much. It also helps spread the message that a healthy pet is within everyone's reach. And that's really my mission to help you and your pet no matter where you are in the world live as healthy and happy a life as possible. So, a review helps so much with that mission as well.

But until next time, I'm Dr. Alex. This is the Call The Vet Podcast. Take care.

You've been listening to Call The Vet. Be sure to rate, review, subscribe, and we'll see you on the next episode of the show. That answers all of your pet questions.

Watch the video: How to prevent cats from stealing food from each other (June 2021).