CAT EATING



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One type of CAT EATING behavior is examined in the following question and answer, which is titled "Cat Behavior - Aggressive When Giving Treats".






Hello!

Quick background before my question.

I have (2) 1-year 5-month old kittens which are sisters from the same litter. I have owned them since they were about 2-3 months old, if I recall correctly. (See top picture; the 1st day we brought them home).

The white cat is Loco (she runs around crazy, for no reason sometimes), and the dark cat is Coco.

They were raised on dry food and wet food at first.

When they were about 8 months old, I gradually started noticing Coco eating much more dry food then Loco. Within a few months, I noticed Coco gaining a bit of weight and growing a bit faster than her sister, so I starting weaning them off dry food for a month while increasing wet food.

They seemed to adjust fine, and Coco's weight stabilized. She was no longer over eating, and although she is still a bit heavier than Loco, but the vet said both are optimal weight.

TODAY (see the bottom picture) they are both eating adult wet food alone, and I feed them a bit more than a can of wet food daily, (each cat getting 7-9oz total), which is split between two feedings, morning and evening. They are currently eating (and loving) Natural Balance Chicken+Liver wet food. Their weight seems still stable.

The larger of the two, Coco, began to eat much faster than Loco. She will frequently finish first and sometimes try to eat from her sisters plate, which is always nearby. Loco no longer allows this and gently swats Coco away, but that hasn't always been so.

It seems to me like Coco is under stress while eating, hurrying to complete her meal in fear she won't get enough or it will be taken away.

They both beg for food in form of meowing whenever they hear me start the feeding ritual, but I think this is normal? The first half of my question, is Am I feeding them enough??

If anything, Loco expends more energy running around aimlessly. But coco is almost 2lbs heavier at the moment and only slightly less active.

The other sister, Loco has always been smaller and lighter, and has been eating at what I consider a normal pace + amount. She realizes she is done eating when the plate is empty, and breaths/looks around between bites. Whereas, her Coco does not.

Now, I mention Coco's fast-eating behavior because I think it is related to my main question, which requires a little more background:

I also feed them natural choice dry cat food, very sparingly as a treat. I usually hand feed the small pieces to each cat, but sometimes throw it on the floor in front of them. No more than 10 each per day tops, but randomly.

When I hand feed my aggressively eating cat Coco, she frequently lunges forward and nips at the treat, sometimes catching my finger as she tries grabbing the treat. It hurts!!! She was never this aggressive when feeding her treats in the first year of her life, up until when she started eating quickly.

When she catches my finger my natural reaction is to pull back, and although I scolded her with a hiss the first few times she did this, I quickly realized it was making the situation worse. She would lean back when my hand approached, and hten lunge forward faster. My logic is that she is fearing being scolded because she thinks im scolding her for eating treats!

So....... Finally.... What is the proper way to stop this cat eating behavior from happening? I thought of blocking her view for a second, which helps her not grab my finger by accident (she doesnt have to lunge as far), but she still grabs the treat like its the last one made by the manufacturer!! I definitely know I should not be scolding her while feeding her treats.. but she doesnt seem to be losing the behavior, even when I praise and give a treat simultaneously.

I would appreciate your advice on the proper way to train my Coco to start eating calmly again, like Loco!

Thank you for your time

P.S. you should make an option in your paypal cart to donate money in addition to the $2.00 required. I Was planning on it but couldn't figure out how!

ANSWER

Hi!

First of all, let me say that you have made my day -- twice! First, I opened your letter and saw these adorable pictures that made me gasp because they're so cute.

Secondly, your last comment about wanting to donate brought tears to my eyes. I work so hard on this website in my "free" time and it is great when someone realizes that and understands that I make nothing off it. Thank you!!!

You are very perceptive when it comes to the cat eating behavior that is going on in your home. I think you understand exactly what is going on and have made several great decisions. You just need a little guidance as to what the next step is.

It is not unusual for cats to have different metabolisms and different levels of exercise and different emotions about eating. Even true siblings have different genetics and also each had a different experience during the nursing period of their lives.

These things led to Coco feeling more "worried" about getting enough food than Loco does. She, thus, ate her own and ate it more quickly and moved to eating some of Loco's also. "Normal" behavior considering her genetics and nursing experience during her first weeks of life.

As Coco ate more, she put on more weight and therefore needed more food to satisfy her and also, due to her weight, exercised less. A vicious cycle: cat eating more, gaining weight, exercise less, gain weight, eat more, etc. Her cat eating behavior is not that uncommon, but not healthy.

You made reasonable decisions in switching to a type of food that you could control in two feedings, i.e. canned food. You did a wonderful thing in taking their weight seriously and controlling it. Obesity is the most common cat eating disorder and leads to many health problems.

You could take away the amount of food consumed, but what you couldn't take away was/is Coco's early kittenhood experiences and her genetics/metabolism. Therefore, you controlled her weight, but not her desperation about food.


That easily led to her feeling desperate about the treats and wanting them so badly, she became aggressive about getting them from you. When you pulled away if bitten, that taught her to be even more aggressive about getting the treats from you. When you scolded her, that made her feel even moreso that she had to fight for her food (the treats) and therefore become even more aggressive toward you.

You have since learned one of the very most important aspects of dealing with any behavioral problem with cats. Negative punishment NEVER works. Positive reinforcement when a cat is exhibiting a desired behavior and no reaction at all when they are exhibiting an undesirable behavior is the ONLY way to treat a cat. Abnormal cat eating behavior is no different from any other behavior in this regard.

So what now? There are a few alternatives. First of all, the only way to truly take that feeling of never having enough food away from Coco would be to have dry food down all the time and let her eat as much as she wants as often as she wants.

There's a couple of obvious problems with that approach. First, she will probably become VERY overweight as she grows older. Secondly, even that doesn't always take that feeling of desperation about food away. I once had a cat that lived to be 17 and from the time I found him at 5 months of age to the day he died, he remained thin, a fast eater, and vomited frequently from eating too fast even though food was down 24 hours a day during those 17 years.

You have a good system going on at the moment by feeding canned food and monitoring the amounts necessary to keep both cats at a reasonable weight. If Loco doesn't keep Coco away from her food (which at the moment seems not to be a problem), then you need to. Sometimes that requires feeding them in separate rooms.

As far as the treats go, I would suggest trying to have each cat eating as far away as possible from each other when you give the treats. The close presence of another cat will make a cat like Coco even more worried and aggressive.

Also, you need to stop having her take the treats from your hands at all. Put the treats on the floor right in front of her while you sit with her and talk to her in a loving, reassuring voice.

Spreading out the treats as much as possible over the day (less treats, more often) tends to also keep each cat eating in a less desperate and more satisfied manner. If possible, you might want to try doing the canned food this way also if your schedule allows for each cat eating 3 times daily instead of twice.

Also, to reiterate, give loving, positive reassurance at all times and only react to negative behavior by ignoring it and walking away.

Thank you for writing and thank you for your kind words. Good luck. I hope this helps. Cat Eating problems are not rare, but you're well on your way to solving this one.

Thank you for the pictures. Send more, anytime! They are two beautiful cats.

Best,

Dr. Neely


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