Cat Eating Habits
February 6, 2004 9:59 AM   Subscribe

My cat almost always shows an interest in people food - until you offer it to her, upon which, almost invariably, she will sniff it and look disappointed. This happens even with uncooked chicken and tuna from the can. Also, whenever we open a can, she runs frantically into the kitchen and tries to see up on the counter - she eats dry cat food, and I've tried to serve her wet food, but no dice on that. Do cats really remember a specific food from the past? Is she hoping for something gross I would never buy, like canned pigs feet or something? Or was she perhaps posioned by people food and distrusts it now? She came from a shelter a couple of years ago (found in a motel) so I have no idea what her background is.
posted by agregoli to Pets & Animals (30 answers total)
I wouldn't be surprised if she just wants to share in the experience, to be offered a part of the communal food so she's "one of the family." She knows there's a difference between you and her, but cats seem to want to be treated equally and like humans.

It could be an old instinct, too. Some of the shelter cats I've had that had done time on the streets retained a sort of foraging instinct. One of my cats is always after bread and potato chips and such.

Or maybe at some point before you owned her people fed her scraps and she was hungry enough to eat them. And now she remembers the experience, not just of food but of getting attention, and responds to the situation but no longer wants the food?

Much speculation, but no answers until your cat learns to speak English...
posted by Shane at 10:13 AM on February 6, 2004

My cat does the same thing. Very rarely he will eat the food in question, but most of the time he eschews it for his usual kibble. But he sure wants to know what it is!

Shane - I laughed SO HARD at your biscotti signal...bravo!
posted by vito90 at 10:20 AM on February 6, 2004

Shane - I laughed SO HARD at your biscotti signal...bravo!

Seriously, I should code it as a tiny graphic, click it and it sends an e-mail to biscotti, and we could just use it whenever an animal discussion comes up! bisco might get tired of that eventually, heh.

posted by Shane at 10:26 AM on February 6, 2004

She knows there's a difference between you and her

We took in two stray cats about 4 years ago, and they are really like our 3rd & 4th children now...and that statement really struck me. I have absolutely nothing more important or pressing to worry about, obviously, so I often turn to my wife (who for some reason I assume has more insight into these things than me) and ask her if the cats "know" that they are cats, and we are humans...or do the cats see all living creatures as "cats" -- and perceive us to be simply very tall, hairless cats?

(time for me to get a life, eh...?)
posted by davidmsc at 10:39 AM on February 6, 2004

until you offer it to her, upon which, almost invariably, she will sniff it and look disappointed

Are you putting it into her dish? Many animals are wary of hand feeding. Which is a good thing.
posted by whatnot at 10:41 AM on February 6, 2004

My parents' cat (a former stray) is like this. The meal ritual now starts with kitty meowing for attention, parents showing her their plate, kitty taking a sniff & then walking away, apparently satisfied. It's a riot because a few years ago, these people would have never dreamed they'd have a cat in their house on the grounds of animals being "dirty". Now they need the cat's approval before they can begin eating.

I just chalk it up to inherent kitty curiosity. My own cats occasionally express an interest in what I'm eating, but thankfully have not made a ritual of it.
posted by Sangre Azul at 10:45 AM on February 6, 2004

Okay, unless biscotti objects, I have added the easy-access Biscotti Signal(tm) to my profile. Heh!
Just kidding, biscotti, I'll take it down... unless you like it.
posted by Shane at 10:48 AM on February 6, 2004

Response by poster: I've tried putting it in her dish, but she still doesn't care. Which is sad, because I'd like to be able to give her a treat or a piece of tuna now and again, but she just doesn't care. You gave good suggestions though, they are all possible. I wish I could just ask her!
posted by agregoli at 10:49 AM on February 6, 2004

I have one cat that eats Tuna and one that doesn't. The non-Tuna eater is all over my steak though. Only one of them reacts to catnip too -- apparently that's not universal either. I figure cats are allowed to have preferences too. In my house, I don't allow nibblin' until after I'm done, and then it's full whiskers away, but they don't often take me up on it. They just check to see I'm eating a balanced diet I guess. Except ice cream, they're both all over ice cream remains and I usually have to fight them to implement the me-first rule. The dog is always, sadly for her, dead last.
posted by dness2 at 11:06 AM on February 6, 2004

(Heh...very cute. I like the biscotti signal, only it makes me want biscotti (coincidentally, biscotti was actually my last cat's nickname, which is why it's my username))

I've noticed this too and I have no idea why cats do this. It's possible that they just want to make sure that the people food isn't something they really want, and very strong smells seem to attract animals anyway, even/especially if they're bad smells.

Truthfully, though, unless you want to be changing foods all the time, with most cats variety is a bad thing, since it tends to make them finicky, so a cat that just wants to eat a (good quality) dry food is an easy cat to keep.

And yeah, catnip is weird, for some cats it's like kitty weed and it makes them mellow, for others it's like kitty speed and it makes them hyper and for others it's just green stuff and why are you bothering them with it?
posted by biscotti at 11:17 AM on February 6, 2004

Response by poster: My cat doesn't seem to care about catnip, but my sister's cat loves the stuff - until they bought a different brand.
Apparantely it wasn't the ripe stuff from Cuba or where ever, and she was quite disgusted. =)
posted by agregoli at 11:21 AM on February 6, 2004

...if the cats "know" that they are cats, and we are humans...or do the cats see all living creatures as "cats" -- and perceive us to be simply very tall, hairless cats?

I ruminate on that often too, and I bet you and I aren't the only ones. I kinda think it's both, non-exclusive: on one level they recognize the differences (I mean, at the very least humans smell different, which means a heckuva lot to an animal), but on another level, Yeah, we're just big cats to them, or they reckon they're humans as well, or whatever...

Gee, that really clears things up, huh?
posted by Shane at 11:51 AM on February 6, 2004

Cats are just really curious. I don't see this behavior as any different from how my cat absolutely has to sit on and rub all over a new chair or table when it's brought into the apartment. They just like investigating new things is all.
posted by interrobang at 11:52 AM on February 6, 2004

...if the cats "know" that they are cats, and we are humans...or do the cats see all living creatures as "cats" -- and perceive us to be simply very tall, hairless cats?

Now that I think of it, one of my cats sniffed my butt once. It was a proud day for me; I felt like I'd been accepted into a secret society, or passed a right of passage into a tribe or something. And my dog loves it when I act like her and make the same noises she does...
posted by Shane at 12:00 PM on February 6, 2004

Response by poster: I think animals recognize that we're all differnet animals, but they also can only understand other animals by basing their behavior on their own behavior - therefore, we must seem rather strange to cats, especially.
posted by agregoli at 12:04 PM on February 6, 2004

our cat likes to sniff stuff and I always figured it was because she was just curious (since that is how they know the world). so I let her sniff pretty much whatever she wants, although I don't let her have everything she wants to taste (human food can be very bad for pets). (on preview, what interrobang said)

and maybe your cat did have a canned food that she ate so she hears the can and comes running out of habit, but then sniffs and realizes it's not what she is thinking it is, so turns away.

I think cats do know we are different. Our cat has no problem with us, and usually strangers, but if a cat comes on our property she's not a happy camper! We got her when she was about 7 weeks and is an only cat and hasn't had any interaction with cats since. So when she first saw a cat recently (she's almost 3) I was surprised at how she reacted -- all defensive and wouldn't let me touch her until the other cat was out of sight (this wasn't even at our house -- we were next door and a local outside cat came by; another time we were outside and I took her across the street to see the neighbor's cat in the window -- she was fine until she saw the cat and then freaked). She's seen dogs and doesn't act nearly as bad as she does at seeing another cat. Somehow she knows.

and be careful of feeding your cat tuna as tuna alone, I've read, can kill a cat as it doesn't have all the nutrients it needs. and some cats like tuna so much that once they get a taste of it they won't eat anything else. just thought I'd share.
posted by evening at 12:04 PM on February 6, 2004

...we must seem rather strange to cats, especially.

Right. I can gain a little favor by mimicking my cats behavior, and they're appreciative. But, I leave the room, and they're all like, "That guy is the most retarded cat I've seen my life. What the hell's wrong with him?"
posted by Shane at 12:10 PM on February 6, 2004

This happens even with uncooked chicken and tuna from the can.

Is feeding your cat uncooked chicken a good idea?

Aside from the standard tuna, my cat love scrambled eggs and mashed potatos. (Also, its breath smells like cat food.)
posted by jpoulos at 12:22 PM on February 6, 2004

Cats will definitely remember a favourite food/activity from the past; it sounds like she had a ritual in her previous home, and yeah, you're not giving her what she's used to.

How you find out what that is, though, other than by trial and error, is beyond me.

Mine loves Primula cheese (the squeezable stuff in the tubes) and now, whenever I open the fridge, it's frikkin' MEE-FRIKIN-OWWW!!! top-of-her-voice again-and-again-and-again. If I were to give her anything else [except perhaps from a similarly creamy cheese] she'd sniff and walk.
posted by Blue Stone at 3:13 PM on February 6, 2004

My cat, brought home as a kitten and now almost 8 yrs old, is interested in only two kinds of people food: he wants to lick the bottom of cereal bowls (why wheat chex-flavored skim milk is appealing to a cat, I do not know); and he will do kitty-cartwheels for the juice drained from a can of tuna packed in water. The tuna itself has no appeal to him.

He was raised with dogs, and in many ways he behaves like a dog... comes when called, follows his chosen human from room to room, engages the puppy in rough-and-tumble no-holds-barred wrestling matches, and often chooses to sleep with the oldest dog in her crate overnight. They groom each other, too, which is sweet and sometimes comical to watch. Sometimes I wonder about his species orientation, but in his case it's a feline vs canine sort of question.
posted by Alylex at 6:09 PM on February 6, 2004

Why would anyone want their cat to get to like people food? When I had cats, my wife and I brought them up to eat only cat food, and told visitors not to feed them from the table; we were always annoyed when we visited other people whose spoiled cats were constantly begging for gifts from the table. Cats aren't people, yo. Cat food is good for them, and sticking to it makes life easier for everyone. (Also, fat cats are cats that die young -- don't overfeed your cats!)
posted by languagehat at 6:20 PM on February 6, 2004

I'm always amazed that my cats can pick up on dairy products so well--they somehow can sense that it's a dairy product and will come running for them. They like milk, cottage cheese, and ice cream--but only in small amounts. Which is good, because cats aren't really supposed to have dairy products, since they're supposedly lactose-intolerant after kittenhood (it helps wean them). But open a container of milk near my cats (especially the older one of them) and they'll start licking the spout or drinking the milk out of your cereal bowl if you're not careful.

Um, and they like soy milk too. Also only in small amounts. God knows that ain't no normal cat food.
posted by Asparagirl at 7:12 PM on February 6, 2004

languagehat: sure there's nothing wrong with feeding only cat/dog food, but variety is just fine for many cats and dogs and can be very beneficial (less so for some cats, since as I mentioned, it can make some finicky, unless you feed crap food, in which case they need any help they can get). Feeding people food does not have to mean you have a begging pet, since you don't have to feed at the table and manners are simply training - my dog gets people food all the time (in addition to a ridiculously good diet), he doesn't beg, he's in great health and believe me, he's nowhere near fat.
posted by biscotti at 8:48 PM on February 6, 2004

I think cats are probably just as neurotic and particular as humans are, and/or they're just insatiably curious.

My sister's cat, an 8 year old tabby, has always been intensely interested in any liquid in human cups. The dinner table is the only situation he seems clear about it being poor form. Otherwise no matter where a glass is or what it contains he'll wander over, stick his whole head in there to drink and inevitably spill everything onto the floor (or your face, as I've had happen with a glass of water by the bed). It's to the point where he has his "own" glass on the bathroom counter that she keeps filled, and which he prefers to his own water dish.
posted by nelleish at 8:48 PM on February 6, 2004

Your cat could just be toying with you. My former cat used to amuse himself by seeing how many times he could get someone to open the door for him, wait for him to ruminate on whether going out was a good idea, and then watch him decide that going out wasn't really what a good idea. I have to admit it was pretty amusing to watch if you weren't the one he was messing with.
posted by rdr at 12:30 AM on February 7, 2004

I've had cats who love to stick a paw into my coffee cup, then lick the paw. This isn't too bad since this is when the coffee goes cold.

I tend to treat cats with respect and consideration, so if they want to see something, I show them. Being goofy about such things I also carefully say the name of what it is (like for a child).

Only serious issue with any cat has been over cooked chicken. This will make a good cat behave badly. So the rule is, chicken must always be shared, and bones must be carefully placed where a cat can't get at it (danger to them, and who wants a cat dumping the garbage on the floor!).

Reading the cat threads makes me sad because I don't have a cat now. I move internationally, and that is just a huge hassle for a cat. Also hard to have anyone look after a cat that gets left at home, when living in strange places. Last summer I had a wonderful Blue Burmese who adopted me as 2nd home. New house now, and so far, no local cat has gotten acquainted with me.
posted by Goofyy at 2:31 AM on February 7, 2004

yesterday i watched rather amazed as my cat lumbered over and scarfed up a saltine cracker i had dropped on the floor. broke it into little chunks and then licked up every crumb.
posted by quonsar at 3:28 AM on February 7, 2004

biscotti: I'm sure you're right; it's just that in my experience cats are likely to demand the best they think they can get, and if they think that includes your chicken dinner, they're going to turn up their noses at cat food. But yours may be more accommodating.
posted by languagehat at 10:35 AM on February 7, 2004

languagehat: true, which why I cautioned against it as a general rule, but for some cats it's not a problem. Unlike dogs, cats will starve themselves to death if they don't like their food, however, so sometimes taking the hard-line "it's that cat food or nothing" stance can leave you with a more serious problem than you anticipated, and sometimes adding a bit of chicken or tuna water to the food makes it appealing enough to get them to eat it.
posted by biscotti at 12:56 PM on February 7, 2004

I've had cats who love to stick a paw into my coffee cup, then lick the paw. This isn't too bad since this is when the coffee goes cold . . . Reading the cat threads makes me sad because I don't have a cat now.

Hope you find a new cat, Goofyy. Maybe in S Africa? I've heard it is very progressive these days, but I should leave that comment in your other thread.

Um, one small note: caffeine + animals = bad. It probably didn't hurt your cats in such small quantities, but as a rule it's a very good thing to discourage, as toxicosis takes a relatively small dose.
posted by Shane at 1:55 PM on February 7, 2004

« Older Getting Started in the Wedding Business   |   VHS -> DVD Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.