Raise your paw if any of the following apply to you:
- You are woken at an ungodly hour by a wet nose and amplified purring in your ear.
- You turn your back on your lunch for 30 seconds, only to discover it’s vanished; meanwhile your cat manages to look innocent while washing the crumbs from its whiskers.
- You are ambushed and serenaded every time you enter the kitchen.
- The sound of a tin lid being removed or the fridge door opening summons your supposedly comatose feline from its beauty sleep at the opposite end of the house.
- No one in your home is able to eat without a small furry creature (complete with anticipatory “I’m starving” expression) eyeballing every morsal as it travels from plate to mouth.
Welcome to the club! It’s a large one!
There are a few reasons why your cat might be telling you it’s one whisker away from fading to nothing. The most common of these include:
- A medical condition, such as hyperthyroidism or diabetes mellitus. The first step with any unwanted behaviour is to have your veterinarian rule out a physical cause. This might include a physical examination, taking a dietary history and other diagnostic procedures such as blood and urine tests. Hyperthyroidism and diabetes mellitus are common conditions in cats, especially older cats, resulting in weight loss and hunger; these and other medical conditions need to be ruled out.
- Poor quality diet. Pet foods vary widely in quality (and therefore in price), both in the quality and quantity of ingredients and in production methods. Cats need a diet relatively high in protein compared with dogs, however the type of protein is also important. Protein and other vital nutrients need to be of high bioavailability, meaning that your cat is able to absorb and make use of them. Ingredients in cheaper commercial diets often contain protein sources or other ingredients with low bioavailability, meaning they are akin to “dead calories”. This is one reason why pets (and humans) can suffer from malnutrition even if they are a normal bodyweight or overweight/obese.
- Not being fed enough. Even if you are feeding Puss a good quality diet, it is possible that you are simply underfeeding. Most diets have feed guides on their packaging however these can vary widely between individual cats. My experience is that manufacturers guidelines overestimate the feeding amounts needed, especially for sedentary and indoor-only cats. Your vet or veterinary nurse can help you work out a feeding guide for your cat and regular monitoring will help you tailor amounts to your individual cat over time.
- Psychological dependency on food. This is usually established only after the above possibilities have been excluded. Behavioural dependency on food is becoming more common with cats in domestic environments. Just as humans can eat more due to stress, boredom or habit, so can cats. Some strategies to minimise this in your cat include providing environmental enrichment to reduce boredom (see the Q&A’s “What’s the best way to keep my indoor cat happy and content?” and “How can I make meal times more interesting for my pet?” for ideas). Ensure you maintain regular/set feeding times for your cat and reinforce/reward any good behaviour with verbal praise, pats or a game rather than with food (the reward depends on what your cat likes). In extreme cases, you might need to shut your cat in another room when you are cooking or eating, to prevent them from associating these times with being fed themselves.
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