My kitty is a picky eater. How do I change this?
July 9, 2004 12:57 PM   Subscribe

My cat is ~2 years old and has been fed wet food all her life. I've finally tired of the smell and inconvenience of it all and decided it's time for her to eat dry food (as it's better for her teeth anyway). Only problem is, she refuses to eat the dry food I've given her. I've tried two different brands, tried pouring the juice from her grody cat food over the dry stuff, and she hasn't really eaten in almost a week. The people at my pet store keep telling me to just try like, 35 different kinds of food, but I certainly don't have the money to do all that. Any suggestions on how to make a picky cat surrender the hunger strike?
posted by pikachulolita to Pets & Animals (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Too late you have ruined her. :) I say that based on my two cat experiences. The first one, a Persian, would only eat table food because I spoiled her with it from the beginning. Her tastebuds must have been ruined right from the start. She lived to age 18. The second cat, a Siamese, started out on cheap dry food. Since then I've tried to give him better "gourmet" cat foods, both wet and dry, but he will only eat that cheap Alleycat dry food. He is now 14 years old and has cost me nearly nothing to feed.
posted by oh posey at 1:12 PM on July 9, 2004


I've never owned a cat, I'll probably never own a cat. That said, I have a very time believing that cats could be such ridiculous creatures that they would starve to death sooner than eat dry food. If you leave that bowl of food out, isn't she bound to eat it eventually?
posted by waldo at 1:25 PM on July 9, 2004


You'd be surprised. They can be incredibly stubborn, finicky creatures.

I cuuute beyond belief!
posted by gottabefunky at 1:35 PM on July 9, 2004


How about mixing the dry food with the wet food in increasing ratios over a week or two? Start out with a tablespoon of crunchies in there and then gradually increase it until it's all dry food, yadda, yadda, you get the idea.
posted by kittyb at 1:39 PM on July 9, 2004


Cats are often picky to begin with, and on top of that, when they're stressed they can stop eating. Put them together, and it makes it hard to switch foods.

One trick that usually works is to introduce the new food very slowly. Go back to feeding her her old food for a week, to make sure she's eating well. Then, add just a little of the new food into the old, and feed that way for a couple of days. Then add a little more of the new food, subtracting a little more of the old. Continue this, and watch her to make sure she doesn't reject her food again (if you go too fast with adding the new food, she might).

Eventually, you'll be feeding her with almost entirely the new food, and only a touch of the old. Then you can switch over to the new food for good.
posted by vorfeed at 1:39 PM on July 9, 2004


The cat won't starve itself, might lose a few pounds but in the end it will eat the dry food. Tough love.
posted by zeoslap at 1:54 PM on July 9, 2004


Our policy concerning our cats and dog has always been what you get is what you eat, and no amount of whining, begging or threats to call the police to report us for animal cruelty will result in a change of menu. So far, no one has died of starvation.

In your case, however, you might try matching the flavor of the dry food with the one that your cat prefers, i.e. mixing chicken flavored dry and wet food together may produce a more favorable result. Gradually increase the amount of dry and maybe she will be more likely to accept the change.

On preview, I second what vorfeed said.
posted by lola at 2:04 PM on July 9, 2004


have a very time believing that cats could be such ridiculous creatures that they would starve to death sooner than eat dry food. If you leave that bowl of food out, isn't she bound to eat it eventually?

The cat won't starve itself, might lose a few pounds but in the end it will eat the dry food. Tough love.


NO! seriously, this is dangerous advice. If a cat doesn't eat for a couple days, they can get hepatic lipidosis, or a fatty liver, and stop feeling hungry, and then either just die, or cost you a couple thou in vet bills. So, be very aware of to what extent your cat isn't eating, as s/he could really get sick if s/he's not eating at all.
posted by mdn at 2:05 PM on July 9, 2004


Cats love routine when it comes to food. They prefer to eat the same thing day in, day out. Cats are Republican eaters---they all hate change.

The try-35-foods route is the one I took and it did work eventually. Both of mine settled on Eukanba, after trying just about every brand in the store. Unfortunately Eukanuba is also one of the most expensive foods out there.

Cheap food is kinda like junk food for cats. Mine both like Whiskas dry, but every vet I asked just about broke out in hives when I mentioned it. Also, the soft kibble stuff from Purina, is, apparently, like eating cheez-doodles all the time.
posted by bonehead at 2:08 PM on July 9, 2004


As cats are small to begin with, "loos[ing] a few pounds" can be life-threatening... so ixnay on the starvation idea.

Damn.

Also: you may have a number of valid reasons to switch from wet food to dry, but don't try to console yourself by saying it's better for their teeth, it's not: most kibble just explodes into useless crumbs when bitten into, and does prescious little of the abrasion that you imagine — abrasion that comes naturally when cats are chewing on a large chunk of meat, or chewing on raw bones. Finally, as cats naturally get the lion's share of their water quota from the moisture in the food they eat, dry cat food can lead to a long-term dehydration that can be harsh on the kidneys.

Anyway, you can get all sorts of tips on cat ownership and nutrition over at TRIBE.net's Cat People and Feline Nutrition tribes.
posted by silusGROK at 2:10 PM on July 9, 2004


Is she an indoor or outdoor cat? If she goes outdoors, she may be getting dinny-wins somewhere else, too. Cats are sneaky, remember.
posted by carter at 2:10 PM on July 9, 2004


I've been brutal and converted my beasts to dry food. Oh the complaints, but they did eat eventually. It was harder on me, really, since the worst of their maudlin antics came at 4 in the morning. Very cruel retribution. And then a couple years ago, I started in with the wet food again due to having to give medicine. I can't go back again, I just can't take it. The cat will live -- you just have to out-stubborn it. But you may not like the cat much for a while.
posted by dness2 at 2:34 PM on July 9, 2004


Dry food is also typically high in ash, which can lead to urinary tract disorders.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:05 PM on July 9, 2004


Ahem, “Grody?!” just for that I suggest you deal with the smell
posted by Grod at 3:05 PM on July 9, 2004


my cat has never had wet food - dry since he was off his mom's milk. no health problems in 7 years whatsoever, and also he's never been outside so that keeps the vet bills down too. perfectly behaved & never caused a problem or anything to anyone. just gotta boast :)
posted by luriete at 3:39 PM on July 9, 2004


I had this exact problem years ago with my cat. Incredibly, I solved it by holding the cat's mouth open and (gently) putting a piece of dry food in. The cat then chewed and swallowed it, and from then on had no problems eating the dry food. Some time later I tried the same technique on a friend's cat who was also rejecting dry food. Again it worked. Go figure.
posted by found missing at 4:18 PM on July 9, 2004


Not ever owning a cat myself, I found it hard to believe that a cat would starve itself to death, but am assured by a friend, currently in vetrinary school and a longtime worker at an animal shelter and vet's office, that indeed, they will. Her own cat ended up costing her several hundred dollars in emergency care (IV, meds, etc.) due to liver failure when it stopped eating for a week after a change in food. The mind boggles.
posted by bradhill at 4:32 PM on July 9, 2004


The cat won't starve itself, might lose a few pounds but in the end it will eat the dry food. Tough love.

mdn and bradhill are right, this is VERY bad advice. Cats will and do starve themselves into serious health problems. What dry food are you feeding? You may want to look into the higher-quality ones (you feed less of them, and they tend to have much higher meat contents and are therefore more palatable and better for the cat). I agree with the suggestion to do the switch gradually. But really, recent studies seem to show that dry food doesn't make all that much difference to the teeth (cats and dogs don't chew, they just crunch their food into small enough pieces to swallow, so there's not really all that much contact with the teeth, and you can get very crunchy treats for cats anyway), and decent-quality wet food is usually better than the lower-end dry foods, since there's more meat and less grain in it (dry foods all contain varying amounts of grain, which is needed for processing), and cats, being obligate carnivores, don't need any grain at all.
posted by biscotti at 5:07 PM on July 9, 2004


I would like to fourth mdn, bradhill and biscotti. Sudden change is very hard on a cat's digestive system. My cats will eat anthing (with great relish, I might add), so I took some very bad advice from a pet store: change your cats' food every few months to make sure they have a balanced diet'. The result-- the runs, vomiting, "sensitive stomach" bad moods, which sent me looking for more and more bland foods. Now we feed a mix of dry and wet, two brands we know they like.

If you are going to switch, ask your vet to give you a few samples of what they recommend to their customers. See what kitty will eat, and put it next to his or her regular food for a few weeks.
(Or leave it on the kitchen table and yell 'bad kitty, not for you' the first time he shows interest'.)

Moist cat food is good for the kidneys, and if you cat is a boy, it's excellent for the urinary track.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 6:25 PM on July 9, 2004


We have never given our cat nothing but dry food since it was one of my conditions of getting a cat (I hate the smell of wet cat food).

Luckily our cat doesn't seem to want any other food. If she finds a plate of (human) food or something else potentially edible it just comes and smells it and then leaves it with disgust. The only exception is that the cat loves lettuce, it will attact the kitchen table to get a piece of lettuce.
posted by zeikka at 6:57 PM on July 9, 2004


The mind boggles.

The thing is, feline livers have not evolved to process fat; they are constantly active predators by nature, which never rely on "storage" of previous finds, like scavengers or omnivores do. So if they don't eat regularly, and their bodies convert to using the "stored fuel", the liver basically gets clogged up with fat, which makes the cat feel nauseated and tired and totally uninterested in food - at that stage they're starving to death not out of persnicketiness but out of sickness. It's only the first couple days when they're being picky (which again could come from the fact that felines aren't omnivores or scavengers - in the wild they have a very regular diet throughout their entire life.)

Anyway, point being, keep an eye on how active the cat is, and how much they're eating or drinking, and especially if the cat isn't skinny, try a little forcefeeding, or the other good advice here - but just don't go the tough love route.
posted by mdn at 6:59 PM on July 9, 2004


oh grod, whatever can i do to atone for my mistreatment of your name?! many apologies.

thanks everyone for the great advice. i went to the pet store again this afternoon and tried another brand - something called "organix" - and mixed it in at a ~70dry/30wet ratio with her old brand of food and she ate it right up, including the crunchy bits. she's still eating very small amounts because i imagine her stomach shrinks up like mine does when i don't eat enough for too long (tell me if i'm wrong), but i will definitely keep an eye on it, thanks for those warnings. i saw supersize me, i have seen the havoc that a Fatty Liver can wreak upon a body. not pretty.

as for water, she's been drinking plenty in the last few days, but again, i will definitely monitor carefully since i know she doesn't get the added moisture from her food anymore (at least she won't soon, hooray!)

there were a lot of reasons for the switch from wet to dry food, but the very first of those is that i moved from a 2-bedroom apartment into a studio, and that cat food smell on top of a litter box smell very quickly makes a place unlivable. on top of that, i don't spend every single night at home, and i like to be able to come home in the morning without worrying that she was super hungry because i wasn't around to feed her. basically it's so that she can eat whenever she wants. i do spend a lot of time around her, but it can be somewhat sporadic.

anyway, thank you all so much for your wonderful advice. i am almost sorry i didn't get to try the forcefeeding technique - would have been interesting to see if it's truly the holy grail for making cats eat.
posted by pikachulolita at 8:18 PM on July 9, 2004


How often to do feed your cat the canned food? Once a day?

Here's my suggestion:

1) Iams or Science Diet dry food are good for your cat. Get one of those.

2) Leave a bowl of dry cat food out for you cat each day. Freshen it up every morning.

3) Feed your cat the wet cat food as usual, just give the cat less each day. If your cat is hungry, it will probably decide to try the dry cat food eventually. At least it will still be eating the wet food until it us completely used to having dry all the time.

I'm not sure how long this will take, because cats are terribly finicky when it comes to food. However, you should expect plenty of meowing and those looks of extreme sadness and helplessness that cat's are experts at making!
posted by punkrockrat at 10:40 PM on July 9, 2004


The cat will live -- you just have to out-stubborn it.

People don't have this attitude toward dogs, I notice. Getting along with a cat in an ethical manner is a lot harder than getting along with a dog--they don't have that You are God ! attitude and slavish desire to please. For them, it's a more a relationship between individuals. I'm not a big fan of the cats are furniture, dogs are people school of thought--not that you were suggesting that, dness2.

Tough love...

Tough love is a crock in any context, in my opinion--a party dress for malice--but that's another thread's discussion.
posted by y2karl at 11:57 PM on July 9, 2004


Iams or Science Diet dry food are good for your cat. Get one of those.

Actually, since Proctor & Gamble bought Iams and turned it into supermarket food, and since Science Diet stopped caring so much, both have gone seriously downhill (vets don't get much nutritional education as a general rule, and many just stick with what they learned in school rather than keeping up with things). Wellness, Innova or Felidae are some of the best of the bunch now. See here. What you feed definitely makes a difference.

Oh, and y2karl: oddly enough, you CAN out-stubborn a dog when it comes to food (although why you'd insist on feeding something the dog doesn't like is beyond me), dogs won't starve themselves to death (in the absence of a medical problem), but cats sure will. :) Agreed about tough love.
posted by biscotti at 7:39 AM on July 10, 2004


I wanted to add that leaving dry down all the time, and just feeding a bit of wet twice a day for a "treat" often works in your situation, that way it's not sitting around stinking up the place, but the cat still gets the benefits of it (by the way, you haven't moved the location of the food in relation to the litterbox, have you? They need to be quite far apart, or ideally in separate rooms, cats often won't eat if their food is too close to their litterbox). But gesamtkunstwerk is right that wet food is better for the kidneys as a general rule (this is mainly because it increases the amount of moisture the cat's getting).
posted by biscotti at 7:43 AM on July 10, 2004


Gotta second the recommendation for Nutro Natural Choice found in the About.com link. I put my cat on the "senior" formula (she's 8 years old now, which most brands of cat food consider "senior") and it really helped noticeably with her coat and with her energy level. They recently introduced an "indoor, senior" version which I've switched her over to, and she seems to like that as well.
posted by kindall at 10:07 AM on July 10, 2004


although why you'd insist on feeding something the dog doesn't like is beyond me

Which is what I meant regarding cats and cat food as well. If the smell is a problem, exercise portion control, don't let the food sit for long, clean up the spillage and wash the bowl every day. One should do as much no matter what food is served. One should wash the water bowl every day as well and change the water more often than that. Scooping the poop and clumps from the cat pan should be done at least once a day. Living with an animal makes for a few daily chores.
posted by y2karl at 1:00 PM on July 10, 2004


y2karl, you can't be suggesting that battles of will with cats equates to abuse, now can you? Frankly, I think that often they are the abusers.. Dogs are passive aggressive, cats are totally direct. I can respect that, definitely, but sometimes the human is right, and all the swooning paws thrown over the face and pitiful squacking just have to be ignored. I got my cats off wet food so they could handle me going on vacation or disappearing for the weekend without melting, and, yes, always with water and the occasional ice cream bowl or tuna can to lick. Now, I'm stuck with having to have a very regular cat-sitter, which is fine now that I have a dog anyway because they REALLY require daily chores. The cats still get all pissy when I come back, ingrates. You probably think that leaving the toilet seat up as the backup water source to be horrible, I think it evens out all the hours I spend turning the tub faucet on to drip, turn it off, turn it on, turn it off...
Oh, and the easiest way to avoid cat food festering smell is to get a dog, but lets not talk about the litter box.
posted by dness2 at 12:30 AM on July 11, 2004


Actually, since Proctor & Gamble bought Iams and turned it into supermarket food, and since Science Diet stopped caring so much, both have gone seriously downhill (vets don't get much nutritional education as a general rule, and many just stick with what they learned in school rather than keeping up with things). Wellness, Innova or Felidae are some of the best of the bunch now. See here. What you feed definitely makes a difference.

Gosh. Thanks for the info on this, as I wasn't aware of this at all.

I guess I'm gonna have to trick my cats into eating something else now!

Based on this thread, I wouldn't mind having and "ask metafilter" type site just for cats!
posted by punkrockrat at 11:29 AM on July 11, 2004


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