Oh, and this afternoon he ate half a roll of toilet paper.
December 12, 2009 11:23 PM   Subscribe

The cat just tried to break into a ziplock bag of Swedish butter cookies. He is obsessed with food. What do you do for a cat with an eating problem? He's worse than the dog! We have a vet appointment coming up fairly soon, but in the meantime I'm hoping you might have some ideas.

The cat, named Dizzy, is a neutered little dude, about 11 months old. He is one of 4 cats (and 1 dog) in our household. When I got him, 3 months old, he weighed 3 pounds. He now weighs FIFTEEN. He definitely has a belly but isn't fat all over. And yes, he also gets plenty of exercise. He runs around like a nut pretty often.

The problem? He will eat ANYTHING. He has climbed into greased skillets to lick the fat out. He digs wrappers out of the trash. He gets into the sink to lick out dishes. He breaks into bags of pet food. He just ripped into a sealed bag of cookies.

We do not free-feed ANY of the animals (though before Dizzy the Lardass arrived, we did. We cut that shit out when it was clear he'd eat all day.) All of the animals have dropped weight since we stopped free-feeding. Except him. I don't know what to do with the little monster, other than keeping anything resembling food completely secured. Have you ever seen this problem with a cat? What did you do?
posted by liketitanic to Pets & Animals (34 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Personally, I find it more notable that your other 3 cats don't try to steal human food. We're forced to keep everything in airtight containers or in cabinets secured with child-proof locks to keep our four at bay. I bought a breadbox after one or more of the cats gnawed the top crust off every single slice of bread in brand new loaves twice in a row and then there was the time a previous cat pried open the fridge and dragged out a defrosting turkey in the middle of the night. Mine are fed Innova Evo so the fluffy kitchen marauders are certainly not in search of missing nutrients.

For keeping the pet food bags secure, 5 gallon buckets with spin tops can't be beat. Also, step trash cans. Get a metal one, the plastic ones get knocked right over.
posted by jamaro at 11:48 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

My cat has been like this the whole 15 years of her life. Her siblings were the same, possibly less desperate. One of my two younger cats is also the same (his sister is less greedy but still naughty). I once had a cat that wasn't interested in food and it was the weirdest thing ever.

You keep the food in a tightly closed cupboard up high in cat proof containers. All the food. Any food. Cat food, dog food or human food. You never leave dirty dishes on the bench, you shut the rubbish away and you tell your flatmates not to leave easter eggs anywhere (not, not even on top of the tallest bookshelf, cats climb). Oh, and never ever give him scraps off your plate because that way lies madness and flying cats stealing your dinner. Beyond that you just have to make sure he doesn't eat too much and the others get to eat enough, possibly by feeding him somewhere different from them, and you shrug and realise that some cats are just made this way.
posted by shelleycat at 11:57 PM on December 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Get some bitter apple spray and leave some human food lying around. When it looks like he`s going to eat it, spray it to the point that he`s disgusted by it. Repeat many many many times, occasionally offering kitty food as a consolation. Worked for my cat who wouldn`t stop jumping on the table and trying to eat dinner.
posted by tehloki at 12:04 AM on December 13, 2009

Funny question.

I had one cat with a weird interest in leftover spaghetti sauce (but nothing else). Other than that I've never known a cat that would even consider eating people food unless starving.

Definitely something for the vet to handle. Something strange going on here.
posted by rokusan at 12:25 AM on December 13, 2009

I have thought about my actions & decided to offer something potentially useful: did Dizzy come from a screwed up situation? Was he adopted from a potentially abusive household? I have friends that got their kitty from the pound, and she had been starved & was basically feral. She ate way too much and eventually met a terrible end. If Dizzy has only known scarcity, he might have some psychological issues w/food. I believe the answer in this situation is Kitty Prozac. I have no experience with that, but it might help.
posted by apostrophe at 12:36 AM on December 13, 2009

I second the recommendations for keeping things in airtight containers, and also would like to suggest boredom toys with catnip in them - at 11mos., Dizzy is probably now old enough for 'nip to have some effect. Hiding catnip toys in larger containers and giving him something to "hunt" might curb a lot of his interest in "hunting" down people-food scraps.

My cat is completely disinterested in people food, with two exceptions - he once unzipped and unlatched my purse to get an unopened package of Hostess Crumb Donuts out and eat them, and to this day I can't bring those in the house because he goes crazy for them. The other exception is carrots, but that's a chemical thing and not all that unusual for cats. They have a scent or something that cats really adore.
posted by annathea at 12:40 AM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Pried open the refrigerator?! I seriously hope my Sneezy doesn't see that. She'll get a lever.

Seriously, some cats will eat anything, especially if it's got fat in it. I had to get canisters with screw tops after my black cat upended a whole jar of powdered milk and ate himself sick. Now the only thing he tries to steal is soup. Sneezy however is like a dog. A very hungry dog. She eats pretzels.

I'd try the bitter apple but don't be surprised if it doesn't work. He'll just wait until you aren't looking. Get used to keeping your food secured. And if you do feed people food, only do it in the kitty's food bowl, not off your plate. Good luck.
posted by irisclara at 12:45 AM on December 13, 2009

I used to have a cat who would eat anything. ANYTHING. He especially liked loaves of bread in the bag. It was like his bakery fresh kill and he would rip through the protective plastic skin to get to the whole wheat innards. Considering my mother would throw things at him aiming to kill (she hated that cat) and it never deterred him, I would say put anything edible in a container and pray he never acquires opposable thumbs.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:49 AM on December 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

I agree this could be a psychological issue if he had to scavenge for food before you got him. In addition to securing the food etc., you have to try to train this behavior out of him or you'll be living in fear as long as you have him. I would try spraying the bitter apple stuff all over everything food-like and have negative reinforcements for whenever he does bad.

Also it could be a parasite that's making him so hungry. Here's another thread on this topic wherein they suggest looking at the nutritional content of the food you're giving him. It may not be filling him up.

For what it's worth, I've only seen cats who were interested in human food when they recognized the smell of something they were given before. I've never heard of this kind of intense scavenging.
posted by amethysts at 12:53 AM on December 13, 2009

Another vote for bitter stuff, it worked great on my friends dog for chewing on things. Just dont forget you touched the stuff because it will make you sick from the taste if you forget to wash you're hands.
posted by Chamunks at 1:09 AM on December 13, 2009

my little blind cat Jackson was exactly the same way until he hit a year. after that, perfectly well behaved. doc said he just had a crazy kitten appetite and that some cats do. could be the same with dizzy.
posted by patricking at 1:10 AM on December 13, 2009

Our male (king) cat, who we have had since he was an adorable kitten at the pound, is nuts about carbohydrates. It broke his heart when we switched entirely to wet food. He has been known to drag away my husband's lunches, which are sandwiches, in their paper bags, to gnaw the corners from bread loaves, and otherwise to poach on anything involving grain. This cracks us up . . . and causes us to secure all food.

Cats are so smart, and can be obsessive about what they like. Their preoccupations and quirks are part of their charm.
posted by bearwife at 1:39 AM on December 13, 2009

I love this thread. It makes what's been going on in my home for the past 5 years feel a little less surreal.

When I adopted The Dude from the SPCA he was a little large at 3 months. As a precaution against obesity I've made sure that both he and his little brother are on a restricted but nutrient rich diet. I'm talking a total of 1 cup of fancy organic dry food per day, for both of them.

This, however, has not stopped The Dude from becoming enormous. Not even a little bit. Despite the fact that he never eats human food (with the exception of Cool Whip, but does that really count?) he now weighs 21 pounds. 21 pounds! He's a little monster. A monster with a fetish for eating cardboard boxes whole, magazines, and a RAGING WHITE HOT NEED to eat those little crinkly paper things fancy chocolates nestle themselves into. (He feels the same way about thin, cheap crinkly plastic.) I once went to get a chocolate from the kitchen and he ran toward me screaming at the top of his lungs and would not stop yelling until I moved to the living room and sat down on the sofa. As soon as I sat down, he lunged his face into the fist that was holding the little paper doilie. When I tried hiding the paper INSIDE my sweatshirt, he stepped on top of me and somehow managed to crawl under my shirt and grab the paper that I'd wedged under my bra. And usually this guy is pretty mellow (hence the name).

As far as handling the situation, I do worry about him eating something like string and choking on it. This just forces me to be a lot tidier than I'd otherwise normally be. I have read elsewhere that some breeds of cats just have a form of pica and that the main thing we can do to protect them is make sure they don't eat anything that might kill them. So I'm okay with The Dude having the most luxurious belly in the world thanks to all that cardboard fiber he gets, but not okay with him snarfing down string or plastic. This means that I get really vigilant about plastic bags, string, wrappers, etc. But he still sometimes eats a Vanity Fair or two and it doesn't bother me so much any more. I guess he's worn me down.

I've been a cat mom for a long time and have never seen anything like it, but just figured that all cats are weird in their own way. Then again, The Dude does enjoy hurtling himself into full bathtubs, so he may just be a super limber puppy.
posted by ohyouknow at 1:41 AM on December 13, 2009 [12 favorites]

Be especially careful to keep these foods out of hungry kitty's reach. We suspect that one of our cats (who we had previously thought would only eat crunchy cat food from his blue bowl) got into onions. The vet told us that even the most finicky cats can have weird cravings for stuff they shouldn't be eating. Sometimes onions, one of the most toxic foods cats can consume, can be particularly tempting. I wouldn't wish Miles's fate on any pet or its pet parents.
posted by The Potate at 2:08 AM on December 13, 2009

I had a cat like this as well. Got him as a very young kitten, so there were no scavenging-to-live learned behaviors to explain it or anything. He would eat any food left anywhere that wasn't protected by at least an inch of armor plate. Bread on the counter would have a cat mouth sized hole in it. If there were any dishes left in the sink, in the wee hours of the morning you'd hear a clatter as he discovered his latest treasure trove. It got to the point he was actively taking food from us as we were using it. Going out to BBQ a few steaks? Keep an eye on the plate as an orange-white streak might make a beeline for it. One time I even came into the living room just as he was slapping a piece of chicken out of my 5 year old daughter's hand and then took off with it in his mouth. The only thing that would deter him I discovered was hot sauce. I first started buying cheap hot sauce and liberally dumping it on dishes deliberately left in the sink. Before I did that, the wee morning hour dish raids would sound like "clatter-clatter-shlurp-shlurp-shlurp..." until I ran down to the kitchen and removed him from the sink with loud admonishments. After I dumped the hot sauce, for a few nights we heard "clatter-clatter-shlurp-shlurp.....mrrow..thump(as he jumped down onto the floor)". I expanded the hot sauce treatment to a few other things he would frequent that he wasn't supposed to get into, and after about a month had him sufficiently discouraged that I was able to stop.
posted by barc0001 at 2:47 AM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Dizzy, is a neutered little dude
Says it all. Will become a neutered big dude, ever as obsessed with food. Cats wrap what dizzy intelligence they have entirely around their obsessions: like turning the (heavy, weighed-down-with-stones-for-that-very-reason) dustbin over in order to get themselves stuck in an old can in the middle of the night; finding out how things that are inaccessible can be scratched open (like burglar-proof front doors); plant-crashing; let-me-through-meouwing (in and out and in and out); and yes, food, food and food. The disturbing thing with the Garfield cartoons is that they are just real, minus the talking.
I doubt a vet can do as much about it as you can: put away every scrap and morsel and leftover cream cake and cheese platters and pots with pesto and pieces of butter and...all the time.
posted by Namlit at 3:27 AM on December 13, 2009

So weird! All of our cats have been normal, except one, who was like this too. Crazed. Once ate cupcakes I made for a birthday party. At least he also loved salad. My husband thinks that sociologically, having pets is bizarre -- why do we invite these little carnivores who will steal our meat into our house?
posted by theredpen at 3:58 AM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I had a cat that could open the fridge, cabinets, and knock over trash cans.

People didn't believe me. There was a time when he opened up the fridge, took out a chicken I had roasted the previous night (he took the plate out - it was on the floor) then ate all the skin off the chicken. He has taken a leftover pizza out of the fridge, OPENED THE BOX and stripped it of toppings.

He took an unopened 10 pound bad of flour out of a cabinet over a counter. The bag was upright on the counter in the morning with the top torn off. There was flour everywhere.

The ultimate solution: put the front of the fridge up on blocks. This let him open it, but it closed right away.

I put child latches on every cabinet. Not just some cabinets. Every cabinet.

Th trash went under the sink in a latched cabinet.

He still routinely tried the cabinets and fridge. The potential reward was too great to do otherwise. If your cat is like that, you're condemned to having security measures. The balance was that he was a very sweet cat.
posted by plinth at 4:19 AM on December 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

My cat is a bit of a fatty and a hell of a beggar, but luckily I adopted her when she was old and she's only gotten older and less able to jump onto counters and tables. Like barc0001 says, hot sauce is the only thing that's ever *truly* discouraged her. Scully used to be really into eating rice. Then one day she stole some of my bi bim bap that I'd spilled onto the table. Bi bim bap is a rice dish that's got plenty of korean chili sauce on it, so I was surprised that she didn't taste it. As a joke I waved the container of extra chili sauce at her, which had a few grains of rice floating on the top - she actually stuck her nose into it. She was off like a shot, yowling and licking her chops and obviously trying to get the taste out of her mouth. I had to direct her to her bowl of water (Scully isn't the brightest crayon in the box) and it was like she drank her weight in water. Ever since that incident, she hasn't gone after my rice. Now she just likes to shred packages of toilet paper before I can put them away.
posted by Mizu at 4:23 AM on December 13, 2009

My cat is a bit of a mooch, though not to the point yours seems to be. He is however, fairly incorrigible when it comes to learning what's off limits for behavior. I tried spray bottles, shaking coins in a can, removing him from the situation (usually scratching the carpet) and plenty of other things.

What I found effective was ramping up the water. I now throw about half a cup of water on him rather than spraying him. He hates being wet, and it appears to be enough that he actually tries to avoid it, as compared to his attacks on the spray bottle even as he continued to get wetter and wetter. Perhaps something like this could curb the on-the-counter foraging, at least when you're around :)
posted by gilsonal at 5:08 AM on December 13, 2009

Not to scare you, but our cat who acted this way turned out to be both hyperthyroid and diabetic. We found out when he started having diabetic coma symptoms, and we took him to the vet. Daily pills and shots fixed the issue, and he stopped acting ravenous all the time.

So yeah, make sure you get to that vet appointment...
posted by Dr.Enormous at 5:25 AM on December 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

Our tomcat, Tom, was living feral when he started hanging around and he ate all the time for a few years. When there was food in the bowl he ate until it was all gone. When he first moved in he gained weight until the vet told us to quit feeding him all the time. After a few years of domesticity he has lost his continual hunger and just snacks normally from the bowl throughout the day like a regular cat. I think he just had to get used to a dependable food supply. He eats some people food like butter and the occasional piece of meat.
posted by RussHy at 5:51 AM on December 13, 2009

My father has regaled me with tall tales of his childhood cat "fluffy," who later in life became "stuffy." The cat figured out all kinds of ways to sneak into the cat food bag and live there. I think it ended up being attacked by a dog.

Anyway, nthing sturdy sealed containers. Good luck at the vet but don't expect them to be able to make huge changes in you cat's behavior.
posted by Rinku at 5:58 AM on December 13, 2009

One of our kitties is like this, although not to this degree. We have found that not letting him even have the situation available has made a huge difference. So, dishes go into the dishwasher or get washed so that there is nothing to lick and all food is stored in containers kept away in cabinets.

Like any self-respecting cat, however, he's smart and continues to try to foil us. He's recently figured out how to open the top drawer of my vanity in the bathroom - he's particularly taken a liking to my vitamins, although he's never been able to get to one. The smell alone drives him crazy.

Also, have you looked into feline pica? Might be something else to bring up with the vet.
posted by Leezie at 6:34 AM on December 13, 2009

Wow, I wasn't alone in this! I owned a cat for just under a year (returned him to his breeder due to allergies) and he was exactly like this. I could not leave food out anywhere or in any form. I had covered trash cans and everything was stored in containers. I had to teach him to sit when I had food or he would've been all over me whenever I was eating.

And of course, anything other than his normal cat food gave him diarrhea... I had to induce him to throw up one time he got into a bag of cat food that I'd bought that didn't work out for him, and he'd gorged himself to the point where his stomach was bulging very visibly. Poor guy. And one time he'd overeaten somehow and he was still trying to eat but he was just too full so he was licking at his food. Obviously, something was amiss with his full sensors/appetite control.

Strangely enough, I do kind of miss him. If not for the allergies I'd still own him and that pack of almonds would not be sitting on my book shelf like that right now.

Oh, and he was also a young neutered male. And bitter apple did nothing to discourage him.

I'd never owned an indoor cat before so I had no idea what to think of this behavior. Apparently it's not unheard of but still not standard behavior.
posted by quirks at 6:57 AM on December 13, 2009

My cat Lloyd loves to chew on plastic bags. He also gnaws on the plastic shower curtain liner. Thankfully, he not much interested in people food. Unless it's tuna. He can distinguish between my getting ready to open, say, a can of tomato paste and a tuna can. He is immediately at my feet, meeping. He used to have a very bad habit of getting the garbage, partly to annoy me and partly to get at his favorite toys, Q-tips. I had to put a childproof latch on that cabinet, but he would still get it open and stick his front paw and pull the can over.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:49 AM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

did Dizzy come from a screwed up situation? Was he adopted from a potentially abusive household?

Yeah . . . my brother's lawyer (yeah, I know, this is my life) got him from some homeless folks who'd taken him away from his mama too early, probably, and then I got him.

Man, thanks for the advice, all. I'll definitely get him to the vet.

And mention that he deliberately knocked a quart of milk off the counter in order to lick it up.
posted by liketitanic at 8:31 AM on December 13, 2009

This is pretty much my house. Up until 6 months ago we had 3 cats and 1 dog, then we brought in a stray, Charlie. He's just like your Dizzy. Ballooned up and has quite a belly now. Unfortunately, my good friend and vet says that cats will weigh pretty much whatever they want to weigh. It's difficult to keep cats on a diet, precisely because they are so agile and can get into anything.

Good luck, though! My Timothy tips the scales at 20 lbs! And yet, he's the only one who can climb up the sheer face of the six-foot cat post, like climbing a tree.
posted by InsanePenguin at 9:01 AM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

My brother's cat (neutered male) is like this. Left unattended in the house with a pumpkin pie on the counter before his first Thanksgiving, he licked a crater in the pie. He adores lunch meat and almost anything else he can scavenge. One day they found some mystery liquid dripping from the pantry and discovered a carton of chicken stock with kitty teeth marks down the side. They've child proofed some cabinets and now tend to confine him to certain rooms when they're having a dinner party.

I used to have trouble keeping my two away from plants and flowers but neither was attracted much by human food (ice cream aside). From all of the stories here it seems like it's not really unusual, but I think it's a great idea to check with the vet to make sure there's not an underlying illness driving the behavior, and to see if they have any strategies for dealing with the issue to keep it from turning into an illness.
posted by contrariwise at 9:44 AM on December 13, 2009

Yeah . . . my brother's lawyer (yeah, I know, this is my life) got him from some homeless folks who'd taken him away from his mama too early, probably, and then I got him.

After you take him to the vet, assuming he checks out as healthy, you can take solace in the probability that he will get used to having food freely available. My cat definitely came from an abusive situation, and her craziness has mellowed out over time to an amazing degree. By providing him a stable, predictable, healthy environment, you're doing the best thing you can do to help him work through his kitty-issues.
posted by Mizu at 2:14 PM on December 13, 2009

I thought my Kilo was bad... I kinda feel better knowing it could be so much worse. When I got her she was abandoned, preggers and huge, but after giving birth she only weighed 7 lbs. Anything left out was stolen; I can't get the image of her running away holding onto a cinnamon bun twice as big as her head for dear life out of my head. Now that she weighs twice as much and is finally realizing that there is no shortage of food, she's slowly becoming less neurotic. My baked goods are safe for about 20 minutes or so now before the temptation becomes too much for her...
posted by cgg at 2:31 PM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Get some good snap lock storage containers for food. And thank the gods you do not have a wool eater.
posted by fifilaru at 3:32 PM on December 13, 2009

my cat is the same, he eats any human food he can get his paws on. The only thing that has slowed him down is getting older and lazier. Other people have good suggestions for storing food, but I wanted to recommend that if you leave a greasy pan on the stove you should at least add a little dish soap to it. My cat licked a pan of grease once and ended up at the vet for 3 days with pancreatitis and pneumonia. Adding soap and a little water to the pan will keep him away.
posted by missanissa at 6:55 PM on December 13, 2009

I'm a bit late to the party, but I asked a friend who is a vet about this today, because my cat has been a real problem lately, eating everything she can get to.

The short answer for me was: it could be thyroid but probably isn't, it is possibly worms and it wouldn't hurt to worm her, probably she's just greedy. You can try getting a water sprayer (like hairdressers use) and squirting her with it using a quite directed stream - this might (or might not) deter her.

So maybe you could try that on your cat too?
posted by Emilyisnow at 5:26 AM on December 15, 2009

« Older Perfect Career Checklist   |   What is the difference between Eject and Safely... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.