Eat your dinner or you get it for breakfast. Cat.
August 30, 2012 3:57 PM   Subscribe

Cat food filter: When presented with the same brand and same flavor of wet cat food, my cat will wolf it down at my mother's house and at a friend's house, but not at my house. He used to eat it constantly at my house as well, but suddenly stopped last spring. What gives?

I can't believe I'm about to go this into detail about my cat's eating habits for non-necessary food, but here goes. My cat, Gatsby free-feeds dry food all day, so he's not going hungry. He does get half a can of wet cat food every night, and it's a routine he adores - nay, insists upon (in a way only a cat can). When he was a kitten he'd eat just about anything, but as he's gotten older (he's 3 now) he's slowly become more and more picky. Last summer I hit on one flavor that he adored and would eat without fail - Friskies salmon dinner - so I started giving it to him every night. Seemed like serendipity, until last spring when I bought a new case of it and he suddenly wouldn't eat any of it - wouldn't lick it, would barely even smell it. The problem went deeper, though, as he wouldn't eat any other Friskies, or even other brands. I slowly traded up and up until he started eating Weruva brand food, about 80% of the time.

(Meanwhile, he was perfectly happy to receive canned salmon, so there wasn't anything wrong with his health. I had my vet check on him just in case - verified healthy, if a little odd.)

I went away this summer for 2 months, and my mother took care of the little monster. When I came back a month ago, she said, "he's eating the Friskies again!" Sure enough - Friskies salmon dinner, wolfing it down. Great, I think - problem solved. He's happy, I'm happy he's happy, oh bly dee, oh blah dah.

A week ago, we drove back from my mom's to where I live, about 12 hours away, and for the first two nights we were back in town we stayed at one of my friends' apartments instead of my own. While there, I bought him a can of the same food from CVS, and again he scarfed it - no issues.

Then we came back to my apartment. For the first two nights he ate another can I'd bought at CVS, with no issues. Thinking there are no problems like we had last spring, last night I opened a can of the Friskies - from the same case he'd rejected last year - and found the same problem still present. He won't eat it, smell it, backs away and won't deal with it at all. So tonight, I bought another can from the grocery store, thinking maybe there's just something in that case he doesn't like, but no - same deal, won't engage with it at all.

So, here I am again with a cat who demands dinner every night, but who won't eat what he's eaten perfectly happily in the past. When this happened last spring I went through can after can of other brands, flavors, textures, and threw them all away. It's a waste of food, of money, and it just leaves him (and me) disappointed.

Does anyone have any ideas what this could be? I wondered if maybe there was a way to track cat food by its label code, thinking maybe my food here in Ohio is coming from a different plant than what gets distributed on the east coast, but didn't find anything. Is there anything that could explain this odd rejection of food, seemingly only in my apartment.. sometimes? He always asks for dinner, and will eat canned salmon at any point but that's a little excessive. It just makes me sad to not be able to give him one thing that he loves so much (I always grew up with indoor-outdoor cats, and this one is purely indoor, so there's a little bit of guilt there, too). Help?
posted by AthenaPolias to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It could be that in one location there is a new push of a "New, Improved!" flavour and not in the other location. It could also be the fact that no matter how hard you try to isolate variables, kittehs be trippin.
posted by elizardbits at 4:08 PM on August 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

do you use the same bowl or type of bowl every time? feed him in the same place? maybe if you move it around the room or use a different bowl?

cats are finicky little bastards, and also weird. so who knows.
posted by koroshiya at 4:11 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

The first thing that I thought of is that it's something with the cans in that case, which you could contact the company about if you wanted to expend the effort on it. The second thing is that maybe it's something in your apartment regarding food storage but not sure how that works with cans. A third thought is that he is having some sort of negative association with canned food in your home but again, not sure how that works with cans. So I'm going with the first one. Could just taste "off" to him or could actually be literally off.

But mostly, yeah, it's a cat. I used to work with a high-end pet food and supply retailer and I own a cat, and the stories I can tell.
posted by sm1tten at 4:13 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

can your mom send you a couple of the cans she can get and see if he eats it consistently?
posted by koroshiya at 4:14 PM on August 30, 2012

food always tastes better when some one else "cooks" it and it is served at a different "restaurant."
posted by Postroad at 4:28 PM on August 30, 2012 [8 favorites]

Cats are kind of dim.
posted by valkyryn at 4:31 PM on August 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Could it be a temperature thing? I know my cat is rather unenthusiastic about the second half of the can of food which comes from the fridge when compared with the first room temperature half. That's probably a fairly extreme temperature difference, but ... cats are unusual beasts ... so who knows.
posted by sciencegeek at 4:31 PM on August 30, 2012

It's you.

When you're not the one feeding your cat, your cat eats the food they're given. When you're the one feeding your cat -- same stuff, same location, even -- your cat won't eat it.

Your cat has found something about you that makes it believe it can do better than that food, when you're around. Perhaps you drop scraps; perhaps you miss the garbage can sometimes; perhaps you share your food once in a while. Whatever it is, something about you is causing this behavior. It might not even be something you're still doing, but rather something you did once back when this behavior started -- so your cat gets triggered into this behavior by the combination of you, in your home.

Your cat isn't going to starve itself, so your best bet is to put the Friskies down, let your cat complain if it doesn't want it, and repeat each day (whether your cat eats it or not) until your cat starts eating again, aka when it is hungry enough.

I had this problem with my first dog; always ate the food he was given, instantly, until the one time I gave him a little bit of my sandwich. The change was instantaneous; for the next ten years, from that day forward, he would only eat the food in his bowl if he didn't get scraps from me for a couple of days in a row.
posted by davejay at 4:49 PM on August 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Someone had the same problem with their dog recently. Maybe you'll find some insight in that thread?
posted by valeries at 4:49 PM on August 30, 2012

re: "Your cat isn't going to starve itself"

Actually, it's really dangerous for a cat to not eat for two or more days. I found out the hard way. It does bad things to the liver and they can get very sick, very quickly. My cat doesn't eat due to unknown factors (depression?) and I have to force-feed her with a syringe.
posted by valeries at 4:52 PM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Actually, it's really dangerous for a cat to not eat for two or more days.

This particular cat is free-feeding on dry food. I agree with the advice that (as long as it continues to eat dry food), you shouldn't continually switch wet foods if your cat won't eat one - this just teaches animals that if they don't eat their food, they'll get some new! interesting! stuff. If its demanding food that it then doesn't eat, then just take the food away (and maybe put down some extra dry food).
posted by muddgirl at 5:05 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had a cat who would only eat certain lot numbers of Fancy Feast. I would stand there in Target picking out all the right ones. Just as you describe, when it was the "right" one, he's scarf it down, and when it was wrong, it was like I just gave him a bowl of rocks. Some lot numbers got the a-ok, and some didn't. When I'd hit on a good one, I'd buy up as many as I could.

I know it sounds nuts, but check the lot numbers and you may have your answer. (Otherwise, it's just because cats are weird.)
posted by dayintoday at 6:20 PM on August 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

dayintoday, that really sounds like what's going on here..! With the patterns and his other food-related behavior, that's the only explanation that's making sense. I know we're talking about different brands of cat food here, but what were you looking for in the lot numbers? My cans have two long sets of numbers, one starting with two letters (LA or LB), and each has a different 'best before' date. Even cans from the same case don't have the same numbers precisely, so I'm not sure what the most important... number? part of the number? is. Any pointers?
posted by AthenaPolias at 6:46 PM on August 30, 2012

Hi! I have three cats! An older Maine Coon mix, a younger shorthair tabby Maine Coon mix with urinary tract issues, and a kitten, who gobbles anything.

We stopped ALL fish wet food due to the younger's UTI issues. Causes stones, I guess, and we also feed dry food in a double bowl all day, free feeding.

Now we are onto the Friskies Chicken. BUT, it MUST be PRIME FILETS. Not shreds, not pate, etc. It has to be Prime Filets, as those are shredded enough, with enough gravy, and all three will happily gobble it down. We learned this via experimentation with said older cat, who HATES pate, will barely tolerate shreds, and the younger male, who just can't tolerate anything fishy due to said bladder problems (pees everywhere on anything, HUGE puddles of cat pee everywhere! So no more FISHY food for him!).

It can be the texture, or well, he had to tolerate it with those people, but he knows he can get under your skin with refusing to eat it. But really, if I could invent Cat Gravy, I would be a millionair by now. Because with my cats, it's all about the Prime Fillet. Do not BOTHER bringing home anything else or you will be mocked, Human.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:47 PM on August 30, 2012

what were you looking for in the lot numbers?

In the cans I was buying, there were eight digits, and I just had to look at the last four. There was no rhyme or reason to the numbers that I could see, but most stores seemed to have five or six different lot numbers in play at any one time, several cans of each. But the date also helped. What I did at first was buy like four cans all with very different lot numbers and start narrowing down from there by testing on him.

In my case, anything with a date after June 2013 was a total no-go, but dates before that were sometimes OK and sometimes not (depending on lot number). Try getting the earliest dates you can find, b/c if they changed formulation, the earlier dates will get you the older/original ones.

Another thing that helped was finding out which store brand was the same crap with a different label. In my case, Target and PetSmart brands were identical to the Fancy Feast, so I could find usable lot numbers in both. I would go to Targets all over the area to get the "right" ones. Try getting the store brand of the most similar flavor to your Friskies to see if it's close.

Also, there was really no visible difference of any kind to me, or any difference in the ingredient list, but somehow he just knew. I could open one can, have him not eat it, then open the next and have him scarf it. Only the lot numbers were different to me, but something was different to him. It was crazymaking.
posted by dayintoday at 7:22 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just looked at those photos and I have to say, "little monster" is an apt description. Holy cow. In any case, if my husband buys pate by mistake, we stir it up to get the dry to gravy ratio correct, and they will eat it. All I know is, they like Prime Fillets the best. Try buying several cans of a variety of wet food and see if he gloms onto one of them. Then just go to that. Do no deviate. He could also be punishing you for being away for so long. Who knows? It's cats!
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:32 PM on August 30, 2012

To be fair, the 'demanding food' photo is actually him stretching - I fear I have over-emphasized his monsterness a shade. He does, however, have enough personality for three cats and a bit left over, so life with him is certainly not boring (or without a TON of laughs).
posted by AthenaPolias at 10:13 AM on August 31, 2012

« Older Yes, another pet question: I want to exercise my...   |   Need a list of essential gear for frequent... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.