Dealing with food aggression in a cat can be overwhelming and even scary at times. Food aggression can exhibit itself in a variety of ways, including growling, biting, food stealing, and attacking. Unfortunately, without appropriate management, food aggression will almost always get worse over time. It’s important to begin making changes in your feeding routine to help remedy this undesirable behavior. Here are some of the most useful things you can do to manage your cat’s food aggression.
The 11 Tips for Handling Food Aggression in Cats
1. Visit the Vet
The first step when you notice food aggression in your cat is to visit the vet. This is especially important if your cat has suddenly developed food aggression. Food aggression can be an indicator of an underlying medical condition, like diabetes, thyroid disease, or a neurological condition.
Your vet will be able to determine if the food aggression has a physiological, behavioral, or combined cause. If they find something medically wrong with your cat, be prepared to make multiple changes to remedy the undesirable behavior. Don’t just rely on treating a medical condition to repair the problem.
2. Don’t Allow Begging
Cats with food aggression will often beg between meals or when they see food. Many cats will attempt to beg at the table, with some even stealing food from your plate or kitchen counters. You may have to keep food put up and out of reach of your cat if food stealing is occurring, with some cats requiring baby locks on cabinets to keep them out.
Some people find it funny or charming when their cat begs at the table or attempts to steal food, so they encourage the behavior by not discouraging it. If your cat succeeds in stealing or being given food for begging, this behavior will continue to worsen. If needed, keep your cat put up in another room when others are eating to prevent begging and food stealing. Don’t give in to begging, no matter how charming the behavior may seem.
3. Don’t Reward Bad Behaviors
If your cat receives rewards for begging or stealing, then they will usually continue with the behavior. In fact, rewarding bad behaviors may result in a worsening of the behavior. This doesn’t just extend to your typical begging and stealing, though.
If your cat starts begging for food at 3am, and you get up and feed them just to get the begging to stop, then you’ve rewarded the bad behavior and your cat now knows that begging can result in them getting what they want. No matter how frustrating or annoying begging gets, the whole household needs to be on board with refusing to give into your cat’s demands.
4. Give Attention, Not Food
Oftentimes, we aren’t sure how to show affection to our pets. This often results in people giving treats, snacks, and extra food as a way to show love. Unfortunately, this can result in an increase of the food-aggressive tendencies of your cat. It can also increase begging and food stealing, especially when your cat doesn’t get what they want.
What your cat really needs from you is your attention and affection. Each cat is different, so their specific needs will vary, but spending more time with your cat, whether it’s snuggling, playing, or solving a kitty puzzle, will often give your cat the love and attention you’re hoping to give to them when you give food instead.
5. Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement involves rewarding your cat when they participate in a desirable behavior instead of discouraging an undesirable behavior. Positive reinforcement can involve giving your cat a treat as a reward, but it can also be done with attention, toys, and games. Some cats are rewarded simply by scratching their ears and chin, while others can be rewarded with a quick game of fetch or a new toy.
Using positive reinforcement requires you to stay ahead of your frustration and emotions when dealing with your cat. If you begin offering negative responses to undesirable behaviors, it can make your cat anxious or frustrated. Positive reinforcement involves redirection and reward for desirable behaviors, which helps build your cat’s confidence and trust in you.
6. Give Space
When it comes to meal time, food-aggressive cats will often let you know if you’re too close by growling, hissing, swatting, or all-out attacking. Give your cat space when it’s time for a meal. Once you’ve put their food down for them, don’t try to take it back. Don’t attempt to pet your cat or be near them while they’re eating. Simply put their food down and leave the room. Make sure other pets aren’t crowding your cat’s space, and don’t feed multiple pets in the same space together.
7. Give Privacy
On top of giving your cat space, they need plenty of privacy when it’s time for food. You can do this by putting your cat in a room by themselves, putting their food in a high-up location that only they can reach, or simply letting your cat eat somewhere that is not a high traffic area. By not giving your cat a quiet, private place to eat their meals, you may unintentionally be increasing their aggression. Cats that feel crowded, stressed, or like their food is at risk of being taken are far more likely to show food aggression behaviors.
8. Feed Small Meals More Frequently
Many cats with food aggression show improvement when they receive multiple small meals per day instead of one or two large meals per day. Breaking up feeding time can help reduce your cat’s obsession with food by improving satiety between meals. It can also reinforce to your cat that they aren’t going to go hungry, which can be a real problem for cats that have previously been strays and missed multiple meals.
This approach does require you to more carefully portion out their meals to avoid overfeeding. Feeding small meals more frequently shouldn’t lead to an increase in the amount of food your cat is eating unless recommended by your vet.
9. Provide High-Quality Nutrition
High-quality cat food provides your cat with all of the nutrients they need to be healthy. It can also help your cat feel more satiated between meals by giving them nutrient-dense ingredients that support feelings of fullness and healthy digestion. Low-quality cat foods often result in your cat feeling full but quickly burning off the food they’ve consumed, causing them to be hungry again before their next meal is due. This may require you to spend a little more on cat food, but it will be worth the benefit to your cat.
10. Get Creative
Finding ways to feed your cat that encourage their natural instincts can be beneficial to cats with food aggression. Food puzzles are a great way to encourage your cat to work for their food instead of obsessively and quickly eating it. There are a variety of commercial food puzzles and slow feeders made for cats that can help your cat get more out of their eating experience.
Another good option for cats is to hide their food in small portions around the house. One suggestion for this is to hide a few kibbles in cupcake liners or something similar. While this type of food game encourages your cat to use their natural hunting instincts, it’s not a good option when there are multiple pets in the home.
11. Minimize Stress
Stressed cats are far more likely to develop aggression than happy cats are, and this aggression can be food aggression or overt aggression about many other things. By minimizing your cat’s stress, you’re creating an overall happier environment for them and reducing their perceived need to react with aggression.
Stress minimization for cats includes providing quiet places, helping your cat feel safe from other pets or small children, and ensuring all of your cat’s emotional and physical needs are met. This will take some time and effort on your part, but the payoff for your cat is worth it.
Food aggression can be a tricky thing to manage in cats, and there are a variety of things that can cause it. If your cat has food aggression, the first thing you should do is get a vet visit to rule out a medical cause. Be prepared to implement multiple changes surrounding feeding time and your overall home environment to help your cat feel happier. A cat that feels happy, confident, and safe is less likely to exhibit food aggression.
Featured Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock
- The 11 Tips for Handling Food Aggression in Cats