Cat + Vitamins = Madman
April 10, 2010 9:08 AM   Subscribe

My cat goes crazy whenever I take my vitamins. What?

My cat is not very food motivated. He free feeds and so always has access to food. Occasionally (about once a day), I give him wet food, but he eats very slowly, and often leaves some food behind in the bowl. All that to say: the cat is not food motivated.

BUT, whenever I get out vitamins to take, the little dude goes ape. He seems most intent on the B-complex and niacin supplements that I take. He's even tried to grab my plastic pill box and run away with it. I've caught him on the high counters in our kitchen, trying with all his might to pry open the pill box and get to the sweet nectar inside.

Is this common? What's he jonesing for? Is it the scent of the things that they put in the vitamins, or is it possible that he's actually seeking out vitamins because of some sort of deficiency. Granted, I realize this is highly unlikely.

Do your cats do this? Is there a reason behind this behavior?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates to Pets & Animals (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My cat perks up when I shake out some of my vitamins, but I'm pretty sure that's because it sounds just like when I'm shaking a container of cat treats at her.
posted by phatkitten at 9:20 AM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is it possible that whomever had him before you gave him treats that were a similar size, or were in a similar packaging? Some people give treats from a plastic bottle that they shake, to make a rattling sound, which can cause the cats to associate the sound of stuff in plastic bottle with yummy.
posted by amtho at 9:21 AM on April 10, 2010

It's probably the smell. Cats are weird.

Try putting the tabs in another jar or tin and see if he still does it.
posted by Solomon at 9:22 AM on April 10, 2010

Response by poster: No, it's not treats. I've had him now for over two years and he doesn't like treats. He does love catnip, but the shake shake shake of the catnip can is nothing like the vitamin box. PLUS, the vitamin box doesn't really make any noise at all. It's definitely a scent thing. I'll grab the pill box, bring it to the coffee table, set it down, and then here comes the little guy, bobbing his nose in the air, trying to identify and locate the sweet stuff.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 9:26 AM on April 10, 2010

My cat is really interested in my fish oil supplement, but not so much in my multivitamin. I would guess that it's possible that your cat has a subclinical vitamin deficiency, but I wouldn't be super-worried unless he's eating a lot of raw fish, or a really cheap off-brand of cat food that isn't properly balanced or gets badly processed so the vitamins all degrade.

I would try getting some nutritional yeast flakes, sprinkling a bit in the cat's wet food, and seeing if that sparks his appetite and/or causes him to lose interest in your vitamins. Yeast flakes are high in B-complex vitamins, relatively cheap, and my animals really love it. But be careful, because MANY cats are allergic to yeast, so don't give a lot of nutritional yeast or brewer's yeast (just a tiny sprinkle), and if your cat shows any signs of feeling ill or itchy after eating it, never give him anything yeast-containing again.
posted by kataclysm at 9:29 AM on April 10, 2010

It's probably the smell. Cats are weird.

One of my cats goes nuts when she smells olives. Absolutely nuts.
posted by ericb at 9:51 AM on April 10, 2010

I also had a cat that was insane for olives. She'd lick my husband's arm the entire time he tried to drink a martini.

I think the standard answer is "Cats are weird."
posted by artychoke at 10:39 AM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

One of my cats goes nuts when she smells olives. Absolutely nuts.

Well yeah. I imagine its like the way cats go nuts around vampires and other unnatural and evil things. Olives (shudder).

I agree it's nigh impossible that the cat's actually trying to address a real nutritional deficiency. Maybe if it were some natural food that was doing this, that would be one thing. But there's no real connection between the sight or smell of a vitamin tablet and its nutritional qualities for humans who know what they are, much less cats.

Did you get your cat as a kitten? Do you tend to feed him or give him some other positive reinforcement, like attention maybe, around the same time you take your vitamin? If the cat learned from an early age to associate something about your vitamins - and let's grant that it's the smell of them because that makes sense - with something it likes, it's just basic Pavlov that it would learn to respond to that smell.

Then, since it knows the smell is connected to the tablets, it seems reasonable that it would expand that connection to the tablets themselves, even though the actual tablets had nothing to do with whatever positive thing started all this but were just the source of the smell. So now it actively tries to get into the package and get the tablets because they're where the smell comes from, and the smell brings it something good. Sort of like a kitty cargo cult.
posted by Naberius at 10:46 AM on April 10, 2010

ericb: "It's probably the smell. Cats are weird.

One of my cats goes nuts when she smells olives. Absolutely nuts.

Weird, my cat like pickles.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 10:56 AM on April 10, 2010

One of my cats likes tacos. Particularly the lettuce.
posted by oflinkey at 11:01 AM on April 10, 2010

My cat has will lick strawberry yogurt off anything. She also loves bread enough to chew through the bag and eat whole slices. Maybe your kitty has a vitamin deficiency that the smell of the vitamin triggers a need to fix but most likely....cats are weird.
posted by motsque at 11:29 AM on April 10, 2010

One of my cats goes nuts when she smells olives. Absolutely nuts.

Must be something with the smell - I've had three different cats that would vigorously rub the sides of their faces in the lid of the olive jar when I set in on the counter. They'd knock it onto the floor, then roll over and squirm, belly-up, seemingly trying to fit their entire body inside that lid.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:40 AM on April 10, 2010

Sometimes cats are turned off or on by smells in ways that just don't make sense to us. One of mine goes mad for celery leaves (rolls around on the floor all over them) and Burt's Bees lip balm (rolls around on the face of the wearer). Just like we don't really know why cats love catnip, it's hard to say why one might like any other weird smell it takes a fancy to.
posted by TrarNoir at 12:29 PM on April 10, 2010

B vitamins REEK, it's almost certainly the smell. If you put B vitamins in the fridge they don't smell nearly as strongly (I had to do this when I was in my first trimester just to get them down, the smell almost knocked me over then!) ... the cat may lose interest if the smell isn't so strong. (Also the cat probably can't open the fridge so you wouldn't have to worry as much about him getting into the pills and accidentally eating one, if that's a concern.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:52 PM on April 10, 2010

nthing the smell.

One day, I was about to take a vitamin when the phone rang. Since it was a big pill, I didn't want to take it while on the phone, so I sat with it in my hand while talking for about 15 minutes. After I got off the call, I took my vitamin, and my cat wouldn't leave my hand alone - he kept jamming his face into my palm and inhaling and exhaling all creepy-like.
posted by AlisonM at 2:29 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Both my cats practically climb into my cup whenever I drink any kind of herb tea with either valerian, passionflower or catnip in it. Vit-B does smell particularly potent so I won't be surprised if it's the smell. But Solomon is right - cats are weird.
posted by New England Cultist at 4:07 PM on April 10, 2010

Yeah, what is it with the olive thing? I had a cat who was olive-mad too.
posted by Maias at 5:47 PM on April 10, 2010

After I got off the call, I took my vitamin, and my cat wouldn't leave my hand alone - he kept jamming his face into my palm and inhaling and exhaling all creepy-like.

Was he doing that mouth-slightly-open inhaling? (Known in the literature as 'creepy face.') One of mine does that whenever she encounters something unusual or interesting.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:57 PM on April 10, 2010

B vitamins have a strong umami scent to me- they smell like beef consomme, brewer's yeast, and Marmite, all foods with lots of glutamatey umami taste that my cats really like. I bet that's what the cat likes. Try giving him yellow flakes of brewer's yeast (you can buy it in bulk in small amounts from most health food shops); mine likes to lick a bit off my fingertip once in a while.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 6:53 PM on April 10, 2010

...that mouth-slightly-open inhaling? (Known in the literature as 'creepy face.')

Also known as the flehmen response. In addition to smelling ordinary odors with their noses, our cats have another organ, called the vomeronasal organ, which they use to identify special odors like pheromones. The kicker is that the organ doesn't get its air samples through the nose, but through the mouth! So to get the odor into it, our cats open their mouths in that special way.

I wouldn't be a bit surprised if the-cat-in-question is giving the flehmen response when sniffing the vitamins.
posted by exphysicist345 at 7:40 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Cats are weird - one of mine is fascinated by the scent of insulin.
posted by deborah at 10:22 PM on April 11, 2010

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