My Cat Is A Pig
August 26, 2006 8:59 AM   Subscribe

How do I keep my kitten from swallowing food whole? (it seems to hurt.)

My kitten has recently started gulping dry food whole, with zero chewing.

As far as I know, this has never caused barfing. But I’m concerned because it often seems to be a struggle to get it down, and I worry that he’s damaging his throat. While eating, he often does a forward head jerk, kind of elongating his neck, much like a person trying to force down a dry piece of bread, or swallowing with a sore throat. Sometimes he’ll also spontaneously do this hours after eating. And sometimes he does a weird audible choke-gulp thing at random times. None of this happened before he started wolfing his food.

Possibly relevant info:

- Cat is male, 4-5 months old, originally feral. I’ve been slowly socializing him for months and he’s very close to being a house cat.

- I don’t think his intent is to rush through a meal. As he’s getting used to me, he is way calmer and less skittish. He takes his time eating, just doesn’t seem to want to chew it anymore. If anything, his comfort makes it worse: he now allows unlimited petting while he eats, and he often starts motorboat-purring which seems to interfere with his swallowing. (I stopped petting him during mealtime when I realized this.)

- He’s been eating the same dry stuff for months (Purina “first year” formula) and only started wolfing it down this week. He also gets occasional wet food, in various flavors. He wolfs that too, but because of the softness, it doesn’t seem to bother his throat. Could the non-chewing be because he’s bored with the dry food?

- It doesn’t have to do with hunger or apparent quantity of food. The bowl is never empty. He’ll gulp a full meal, or gulp one bite and wander off.

- His same-age sister doesn’t ever do this; I can hear her crunching throughout the house.

- He is a sweetheart but he is also pretty dumb.

I’ve thought of moistening the dry food, but I don’t want to. The advantage of the kibble is that I can leave it out for the cats to eat from throughout the day. I’d rather not leave a bowl of soggy catsnacks in my kitchen. Other ideas?
posted by jessicapierce to Pets & Animals (23 answers total)
Not an answer as to why he's doing it, but a possible solution; stick with wet food. It's more expensive, but in the long run, it's much better for the cat. Particularly in the area of issues like urinary tract problems.

We have four cats and after a number of different concerns related to their health our vet suggested the wet food answer. We tried a bunch of different kinds and eventually settled on Inova as the one that all the cats seemed to like.
posted by quin at 9:12 AM on August 26, 2006

Have your vet examine him. It could be some sort of tooth or mouth problem that is causing chewing to hurt.
posted by Sirius at 9:28 AM on August 26, 2006

A suggestion that works for dogs (so maybe cats?) is to put a ball (like a tennis ball or raquetball or something) in his food so that he has to eat more slowly and work around it.

I don't think it's boredom. He's probably used to not having regular meals, or having his food stolen, so he learned to gulp it down fast so that he wouldn't go hungry. That would be my best guess.
posted by bolognius maximus at 9:29 AM on August 26, 2006

1. take him to the vet as Sirius mentions. He could have a tooth problem.

2. Chop it up or maybe grind it with a coffee grinder but put it on the largest setting.
posted by dobbs at 9:46 AM on August 26, 2006

Instead of switching to wet food, consider saturating the food with water (or some other more tasty liquid) initially and popping it in the microwave for a little bit. You'll have to experiment to see how long. Obviously, test the food first to make sure it isn't too hot for kitty. Later, as kitty gets older, you can gradually leave more crunchy food in there until you don't need to do it at all. This will solve the gulping problem but not get the cat hooked on expensive and not necessarily more healthy wet food.
posted by theantikitty at 9:51 AM on August 26, 2006

PS: This is probably a no brainer, but this won't work with methods that leave the food out all day. you'd need set feeding times, at least initially.
posted by theantikitty at 9:52 AM on August 26, 2006

Ooookay. Didn't see the last line of your post. Strike my comments. But it really does work well!
posted by theantikitty at 9:54 AM on August 26, 2006

Does he drink water or milk? Some cats don't drink much and in that case need to be given wet food as it is their only source of hydration. Even if he is getting plenty of water I would second the suggestion of putting him on wet food anyway.
posted by fire&wings at 9:58 AM on August 26, 2006

I agree with some of the above (with apologies to Mayor Curley, I do think a vet check is warranted, and switching to wet food is never a bad idea for a cat anyway). I'll also point out that dogs and cats don't generally chew their food the way we do - we need to start the digestive process in our mouths, dogs and cats do not, and cats in particular don't have grinding teeth at all (their molars do not have grinding surfaces) - they just need to crunch the food into small enough bits to get it down their throats. So while it does sound like you might want to make sure that your cat doesn't have a physical problem going on (and doing something like switching to wet food is a good idea anyway, since it sounds like your cat may have had some lean times which has made him paranoid about getting enough food, which may mean that he's gulping more than most cats do), gulping food is normal for dogs and cats.

On preview; wet food IS healthier than dry (if it's good quality) - there's no grain (cats do not need any grain), more meat and no preservatives in high quality wet food, in addition to the extra water they take in, which is always good for cats. I disagree with set feeding times for this cat, if he's already worried about getting enough to eat, taking food up could make this worse. I'd put down half the day's ration at breakfast and leave it, replacing it with the other half at dinner. Wet food isn't going to go bad in 8 hours or so.
posted by biscotti at 10:01 AM on August 26, 2006

Got a blender?
posted by ontic at 10:28 AM on August 26, 2006

Wow, thanks to everyone for so many quick answers!

The cats have not yet been to the vet but are going ASAP - it's a priority.

re "He's probably used to not having regular meals, or having his food stolen, so he learned to gulp it down fast so that he wouldn't go hungry" - well, yes and no. Since April I've been his main food source, on a pretty reliable schedule (wet food, as much as they want, at ~9 am and ~7 pm, dry food and water available throughout the day, many many backyard bugs). If he had seemed anxious or hurried about eating in the beginning, or throughout the past few months, I would totally get it, but this gulping is a habit he's just picked up, so, wtf. Dude hasn't had lean times in MONTHS.

I may try wetting small portions of the dry food, but the problem with this, and with leaving wet food out during the day, is not the issue of the food going bad. It's of the food being nasty and stinky. For various reasons (house layout, cat whims etc) the only logical cat-feeding place is in my kitchen. Wet food left standing is a. gross b. a bug magnet.

The problem with cutting out dry food altogether is that it would take away his snack option, as it were. He's a growing cat and very active, and I don't want to make him go 10 hours without a meal. I also can't be a slave to his feeding schedule - two "proper" meals a day is what he's gonna get.

He does drink water as well as the twice-daily wet food and occasional lactose-free "catmilk" treats. I don't think hydration's a problem.

Oh and he doesn't seem to be over- or undereating. Amount consumed seems to be pretty stable, increasing gradually as he grows.
posted by jessicapierce at 10:35 AM on August 26, 2006

If you put the dry kibble in a heavy-duty ziptop bag and bash it with a hammer/frying pan/rolling pin, it will be broken into smaller bits --- easier to swallow.

For a compromise between wet and dry food, don't forget Tender Vittles and their ilk. They're soft but not wet, so they'd have a greatly reduced stinky factor.

One cat of ours developed fast and furtive eating habits; her mother had been a stray before we took her in, and the kitten feared (quite rightly) that Mama Cat would take the food from her. It sounds like there's no cat taking away your kitty's food, but if he was living in the wild, the fear may still be lingering. Have you tried shutting the other cat in another area of the house while he eats, just to see what happens?
posted by Elsa at 11:13 AM on August 26, 2006

Biscotti, according to my vet, if you buy a good quality dry food and check the ingredients list to make sure it's not primarily grain-based, dry is just as good if not better than wet. She advised us not to feed wet, in fact.
posted by theantikitty at 11:26 AM on August 26, 2006

This is designed for dogs, but might help:
posted by 4ster at 11:26 AM on August 26, 2006

Sorry: Here is the link.
posted by 4ster at 11:26 AM on August 26, 2006

The cat food we feed our cat who gorges is very large, and the front of the bag even points out that the kibbles are very large to force the cat to have to at least chomp on them once. It's Royal Canin Oral Special 33.

But one reason our little spazcat doesn't chew is that she has chronic dental problems. Look for red gums on your furball, in see if she's not chewing because it hurts to chew.
posted by mendel at 11:41 AM on August 26, 2006

Biscotti, according to my vet, if you buy a good quality dry food and check the ingredients list to make sure it's not primarily grain-based, dry is just as good if not better than wet. She advised us not to feed wet, in fact.

Aside from the fact that vets aren't necessarily experts in animal nutrition unless they happen to keep up with it (they spend very little time in school learning about nutrition), this theory is based on older thinking about feeding pets (along with the idea that dry food helps clean teeth, which has since been shown to be untrue). Most of the newer literature on this indicates that wet food is not only just as nutritious as dry (depending on quality of the individual food, of course), but it's actually preferable for for cats for many reasons (most of which I already mentioned).

But yeah, smaller chunks might be an idea if wet food is a no-go (if you go with a semi-moist, please choose something higher quality than Tender Vittles, look at the ingredients, it's full of sugar and by-products).
posted by biscotti at 12:05 PM on August 26, 2006

hearing that he wasnt always a house cat, and that you keep his bowl full of food.. is it possible that his bowl was empty for a period of time before it was refilled and now hes become nervous that if he doesnt eat it this fast its going to go away?
posted by trishthedish at 1:04 PM on August 26, 2006

My vet says try putting a flat rock over the food in the bowl. This will cause the cat to eat slower and work his way around the rock.
posted by mattbucher at 2:20 PM on August 26, 2006

My dog used to gulp her food, and for a while I put shredded lettuce in the bowl, mixed up with the dry food. They won't touch it, but will carefully eat around it which takes more time.
posted by tomble at 4:39 PM on August 26, 2006

AFIAK, cats gulp and swallow dry food. Their teeth are designed for tearing meat, not chewing (they don't have molars). My guys typically just engulf and toss down dried food, so long as it's not the tooth decay-prevention type with larger pieces mentioned above. This may just be a sign that your kitten is growing up?
posted by vers at 5:50 PM on August 26, 2006

One more vote for slowing him down. My young dog went through a phase where he was eating his dog food at warp speed and belching a lot. We began putting wet meals into a kong, which slowed him down considerably, and for his kibble we used a variety of interruptions: picking up his bowl, gently pulling him away from his food while eating, feeding him partially by hand, dropping food into his bowl in stages, etc. After a couple of weeks he slowed down, and for the most part he still takes his time (we're even looking into raised bowls because he sits down to relax while he eats).
posted by werty at 8:15 PM on August 26, 2006

Try handfeeding the cat a few times to see if you can find a reason. The cat may look uncomfortable chewing, or may be gulping the food in a frenzy. I've had dogs that were undernourished, and overfed them for a while, so their full beely convinced them they were going to be okay.
posted by theora55 at 7:35 AM on August 27, 2006

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