Miaow, I'm hungry
January 7, 2007 12:37 PM   Subscribe

Our cat eats like a pig.

The backstory: we free-fed him for his first few months with us, until he started putting on weight and developing various hygiene problems related to having a large belly. So he's been on weight-management dry food for a while -- one that agrees with him -- and is down to a comfortable weight. But our lives are now somewhat dictated by his feeding schedule, since he empties his food bowl Hungry Hippo-style regardless of how much we give him. He throws kitty temper-tantrums when he's considers it feeding time: scratching furniture, knocking things from counters, chewing on wooden table corners and cables. We've wondered if he's bored, but we try to keep him as entertained as possible. (Getting another cat for company isn't an option right now.) Any ideas?
posted by holgate to Pets & Animals (25 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Just wanted to comment on the clever "He always wants [more inside]" That made me laugh.

About your problem; it seems very odd to me that a cat would act that way; mine just eats very small amounts at her leisure. Perhaps you should get the cat looked at by a vet to make sure there isn't some deeper problem that causes the cat to eat voraciously?

I would wait for other answers first, though...I'm certainly no expert.
posted by DMan at 12:41 PM on January 7, 2007

Have you spoken with your veterinarian about this? It could be related to thyroid problems.

As far as other solutions go, have you looked into those toys that you hide small amounts of food inside? That might distract him from his tantrums and wouldn't be enough food to do any damage to his weight.
posted by internet!Hannah at 12:41 PM on January 7, 2007

Yes, we've asked the vet: the judgement was 'he just likes food'.

More backstory: he may have been raised in an environment with lots of kittens (and even dogs) where he had to fight for his food: i.e, if you leave anything in the bowl, it's gone when you return. The current regime is 1/2 cup in the morning, 1/4 cup in the afternoon, 1/4 cup at night, and that's kept his weight stable at a still-hefty 15lbs. (He's a big cat with Siberian characteristics.) But we still have to deal with early-morning strops, evening strops, and general feed-me pleading.
posted by holgate at 12:52 PM on January 7, 2007

We had the same issue with ours. The vet recommended feeding four times a day, just a couple of teaspoons of food, so we did that.

Thing is, our cat has a very accurate sense of time of day. And he loves routine. We feed him at certain times, four times a day, and if we're five minutes late, he knows. And he has no problem reminding us. Sometimes he'll pretend to think it's time a little early, but he's just trying to cheat and he knows it. He gives up easily those times. We have an auto feeder tray for days we'll both be out all day, but we can't use it all the time because he obsesses about trying to pick at it to make it advance.

At no time is scratching the furniture acceptable, and he knows that too. We had to teach him that by being uncomfortably (for me) mean to him when he scratched, chasing after him and yelling, scaring the crap out of him. It's got to be pretty traumatic, or he'll do it for attention.

Our cat's pretty bored, too. He used to be an outdoor kitty in Hawaii, but here in WA state, there are too many predators, it's too cold, people leave antifreeze around, etc. He'll only go in the very near vicinity of the house, and then come back in. Feeding time is the highlight of his day.
posted by ctmf at 12:55 PM on January 7, 2007

Our cat is such a liar. One of us feeds her, and then a few minutes later she'll go up to someone else and mew plaintively like she's starving to death.

Okay, that wasn't helpful, I guess.

Is this an outdoor or indoor cat? If letting him outside is an option, you might try it. I know there are down sides but perhaps that's the way to get him to release all that energy.
posted by Deathalicious at 12:59 PM on January 7, 2007

With dogs, a good way to make them slow down while eating is to put a (clean) chunk of rock in the bowl. It's important that the rock be big enough to force the animal to have to pick the food from around it.

That is often used with dog breeds that are prone to bloat (an ailment of deep-chested breeds) to prevent them from inhaling their food.

Hiding food around the house and subtracting that amount from what is in the bowl may also help with exercise and with a certain amount of entertainment for the cat.

It's better to avoid letting cats outside, not only for their own sake, but also for the sake of birds and small animals in the neighborhood.
posted by winna at 1:06 PM on January 7, 2007

I learned from my cat if I wanted to sleep through the night, it is best to make sure there was food in the bowl before I went to sleep. Peanut is a big kitty and when she wants breakfast she will jump on me. A 16 pound cat that jumps on you while you're blissfully sleeping can scare the shit out of you. Once awake, if I don't get right up to give her more food she will sit next to me and tap me on the shoulder until I get up.

When I first got her, her first vet said to go from free feeding to fixed meals. And then there was special cat food that seemed to allow her to lose weight by throwing up. Her new vet says yes she's a chunky cat, but she's not too chunky. Things are compounded by the fact I have another skinny cat that if anything needs to eat more.

So I'll put a little food in the bowl before I go to sleep. Not a lot but enough for late night kitty snacks. I'll add a little more food to the bowl in the morning to get them through the day. The cats are happy. Peanut's not gaining weight. Doodlebug has a little meat on her bones. And I can sleep through the night.
posted by birdherder at 1:07 PM on January 7, 2007

Second-floor apartment, so outdoor's not an option -- other than the balcony, which he enjoys, and his daily walk on a leash along the landing. We've considered the auto-feeder, except that it's an expensive experiment if he learns how to use a screwdriver and open it. Which we don't put past him.
posted by holgate at 1:10 PM on January 7, 2007

Just an idea: Do you think you could con him into playing with chasing a string when he is whining sometimes? (OBviously, you have to feed him and I agree with the other person that right before human bedtime is a great time to feed the cat.) My cat gets bored and will stop harassing me if I play with the string. However, she is not a glutton, so YMMV.
posted by Listener at 1:51 PM on January 7, 2007

Did your vet actually test him for anything or just give you a flippant answer? Ravenous appetite can be a symptom of a variety of health problems, I'd want at least a full blood panel run (including a full thyroid panel and a thorough diabetes screening) before I started trying to treat this as a behavioural problem.

Assuming his health tests out clearly, I agree with the suggestion to feed him more frequently, divide his daily ration into three or four smaller meals. Also consider switching foods, cats have extremely inefficient digestive systems, and lower-quality cat foods tend to have too much grain and other low-quality ingredients which cats do not need.
posted by biscotti at 2:36 PM on January 7, 2007

Similarly, my friends' new kitten had ... giardia, I think. Ate all the time.
posted by salvia at 2:54 PM on January 7, 2007

Second the autofeeder... mine quit whining at me and now just occasionally meows at the machine.
posted by glibhamdreck at 2:59 PM on January 7, 2007

First, I'd like to commend you on possibly the most ingenious [more inside] usage ever.

Second, I suggest getting kitty on a strict feeding schedule and sticking to it, no matter the yowling or bad behavior. We have a cat that will eat whenever food is presented, such to the extent that he will actually eat so much he throws up. Apparently tiger-striped orange cats have a genetic trait for abject stupidity, which can manifest itself in a number of ways.

Get a spray bottle and fill it with water when your cat decides to take out hunger aggression on furniture or the like. Ignore all meows until feeding time. Eventually they get the idea; it takes some cats longer, particularly if you've been giving in to their demands for a while.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:05 PM on January 7, 2007

Seconding the thyroid thing. Get him checked for that. I had a cat who began to eat and eat and act nuts in between meals. I thought she was just, well, being a cat, until I watched 'Animal Hospital' one evening and there was a cat with the same behaviour who had thyroid problems. Sure enough, that's what was up with Bella and a tablet once a day sorted her out for the rest of her (long) life.
posted by essexjan at 3:20 PM on January 7, 2007

I agree, get your cat checked out. My friend's cat had roughly the same problem and it was medical.
posted by Holy foxy moxie batman! at 3:51 PM on January 7, 2007

If the problem isn't medical, I think that the auto-feeder would help you modify his behavior. With an auto-feeder, it becomes a cat vs. machine sort of thing, and he won't expect you to put food in it for him the way he expects you to fill his bowl now. Nothing he does will change the machine's behavior, and all of his antics should earn the squirt-bottle treatment or whatever works for you guys (loud noises - like an air horn - work for some people/cats). Just don't randomly use the reinforcement. Random reinforcement is terrible for behavioral modification.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:31 PM on January 7, 2007

Ravenous eating while still losing weight is a symptom of feline diabetes and hyperthyroidism. If this cat gains weight on free feeding, I'm not sure either of those are the problem. Our cat is diabetic, and has been tested for hyperthryoidism (negative), so I've done some research on both. On the other hand, if you're at the vet's for something anyway, it never hurts to ask.

Have a talk with your vet about the dry food, though, and the possibility of feline diabetes later. Our vet switched our cat to special diabetes management wet food, and we cut dry food completely. This came years after we had switched him to dry food from wet food because of dental problems. Our vet said there had been a rethinking of the wet food vs. dry food debate, and that it was thought that feeding all dry food may increase the risk of feline diabetes.

I'd also look into pet insurance. My understanding is that it's relatively inexpensive. Our cat was a healthy cat until his diabetes diagnosis almost a year ago, and it's been an expensive year - probably at least $1500 in vet bills, not counting the costs of needles, insulin, and special food. From what I've read, pet insurance runs $100-$200 a year. Unfortunately, it was the health issues that inspired me to look into it, at which point no place would have insured him.

My boy will be leaving us sometime in the next 2 weeks. It is, sadly, time for the vet visit that pets don't return from.
posted by booksherpa at 8:16 PM on January 7, 2007

I had similar issues with a Burmese cat of mine, that turned out to be thyroid problems. It's already been suggested a number of times, but it seems to be common enough that you should by no means rule it out just by talking to a vet. Other symptoms of an overactive metabolism that you might see are hyperactivity, a rapid heart beat, and over (h)eating. One small pill a day has calmed the cat down considerably.
posted by StrangerInAStrainedLand at 8:43 PM on January 7, 2007

I'm fairly sure that it's not medical, though we'll chat to the vet about blood tests: we're in fairly regularly to use the scales. He's still a young cat (about 2.5yrs old) and doesn't show any other symptoms associated with either hyperthyroidism or diabetes. His food is not up to biscotti's oft-mentioned standards, but it's decent: Nutro Indoor Weight Management dry, and he'll eat it when he's refused or reacted badly to Innova.

Anyway, a progress report: he appears to have enjoyed Hide The Food greatly this evening. And the autofeeder might be a better option than trying to shift him down from three feeding times per day.
posted by holgate at 8:46 PM on January 7, 2007

Booksherpa, I feel for ya, even though it's been nearly 5 years since I lost a kitty friend. Godspeed.
posted by oats at 9:48 PM on January 7, 2007

Enough with all the pet psychology.... We feed our cat once a day at the end of they day when we get around to it. Usually it's about the same time (9-10pm) but occasionally if we lose track of time or are out of the house it's later.

Sure if we're home and it's much later than 10pm she starts yapping and giving us a hard time, but if we ignore her for long enough she'll go to sleep until she hears us moving around again.

Feed your cat when you're ready to feed it and let him/her just deal with it.

Cat's are like people with personality disorders.. The more you pander to them, the more they'll take advantage of you..
posted by mule at 4:06 AM on January 8, 2007

You are hereby arrested for being too clever with the use of [more inside].

[More Inside] Police
posted by poppo at 8:25 AM on January 8, 2007

FWIW, I prefer this hopper-style automatic pet feeder, although it works for dry food only. I have mine set to feed Isis twice daily, although she can get a food-advance by picking at the dispensor chute. (Hey, it gives her something to do.)
posted by LordSludge at 8:51 AM on January 8, 2007

I'm just here to say I LOL'd.
posted by knave at 9:44 AM on January 8, 2007

Although it's quite possible you simply have a pig of a cat on your hands, I'm also voting for some blood work to be done by your vet. If he does turn out to be a piggy kitty I'd try the auto-feeder. It will, eventually, displace your kitty's orneryness to the machine.

Also, the Nutro food you're feeding him is fine as long as it's not the "Max" variety.

I'm not a fan of the [More Inside] jokes, but I laughed at that one.
posted by deborah at 3:50 PM on January 8, 2007

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