This article may include affiliate links. If you make a purchase, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.
No two cats are alike, or will have exactly the same eating habits so before you determine whether your cat’s eating habits are consistent with an eating disorder, you first need to know what’s normal for your cat. If you free feed your cat (e.g. leave your cat’s food bowl out all the time) it can be difficult to monitor how much your cat is eating which is why we recommend regular scheduled feeding times.
Eating disorders in cats can be a result of a medical or behavioural issue, or a nutritional deficiency. Cat eating disorders are often attributed to a cat’s history, to an underlying medical condition (such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes or gastrointestinal problems) or to factors such as stress, anxiety, depression or boredom.
The three common eating disorders in cats are over eating, not eating enough and eating non-food items. In this article, we’ll discuss over eating and not eating enough.
Charlie is a classic over eater. As a kitten he ate every meal as if it was going to be his last and was constantly wanting food. We believe this was a result of his early kittenhood – having to fight for food to survive and not knowing where his next meal was coming from.
We slowed his eating down by hand feeding him, spacing small amounts of food out on a large plate, and by using puzzle feeders. We also separated him from the other cats during meal times to avoid the inevitable stealing of food from their plates.
Of all three siblings, he was also the sickest as a kitten contracting calicivirus, coronavirus, giardia, cat flu and ringworm in his first year of life. He has since been diagnosed with IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease), which we thankfully have under control after many months of trial and error, and finally transitioning him to raw food, and introducing probiotics to his diet.
To help Charlie control his eating and manage his IBD, we do a number of things:
- strictly monitor his food intake (two meals a day and no snacks)
- supervise meal times or put him in another room
- feed the other cats treats in absolute secrecy
- distract him from food with playtime, by brushing him or by taking him for a walk in the garden
- remove temptation e.g. we don’t leave dirty dishes with food scraps on the kitchen bench.
Not Eating Enough
Angel Rose (1990 -2007) was a fussy eater, with a small appetite. Adopted from a home with a dog that terrorised cats, (the dog was later euthanised for killing a neighbours cat) Rose had a nervous disposition and spent the first few years of her life hiding under a bed. She was terrified of loud noises and visitors, and only comfortable with a few family members. She had a black fluffy coat (part Persian) but was light in weight and you could feel the bones of her ribcage when you petted her.
Getting her to eat some days was near impossible and stressful for us human caregivers. On many occasions, I’d open three different cans of cat food to try and tempt her to eat something or I’d buy her fresh snapper from the fish market.
If you have a cat who turns their nose up at the food you put down, there are a number of things to consider including the food freshness, smell and taste, bowl type and location, frequency of meals, temperature of the food, whether they are eating anywhere else (e.g at a well meaning neighbour’s house) and any underlying medical conditions or illnesses including stress.
Health Risks for Cats with Eating Disorders
Eating disorders in cats need to be taken seriously to give our cats the best possible chance of a long and quality life.
If your cat is obese, he is at risk of diabetes, heart problems, arthritis and a range of other health issues including general surgical and anaesthesia risk. Fatty liver disease can be potentially fatal for cats that lose weight too quickly or for cats that stop eating altogether.
Cats who eat non-food items are likely to end up with dangerous intestinal blockages that can be fatal. Always supervise your cat during playtime and watch what they get into around the house.
Do you have a cat that eats too much or eats too little? What have you done to help them overcome their eating disorder?
Rene A says
I have one cat who has a thyroid problem, but hasn’t responded well to the medicine prescribed by our vet. He almost quit eating completely, but when I quit giving it to him, he resumed and is eating more than usual. But he is still a thin cat. He’s alert and playful for a 14 year old, so I think he’s doing ok. Like reading some of your suggestions and will try some of the food control with our overweight kitty.
Alice Gerard says
My cat is a fairly good eater. She seems to prefer the dry food to the wet food but she meows loudly for the wet food every day. At least, we think that she is meowing for the wet food. She is a talker! She has a wide variety of meows, each with a different meaning. As to the wet food, she is a very fussy cat. There is only one brand and one flavor that she will look at, much less eat. But mostly, she just meows incessantly.
My childhood kitty used to be a good eater, then I went away to college and never returned. He trimmed down and almost stopped eating when I left. My husband is allergic to cats so I never could take him with me like I planned. It has been 5 years now and he is finally coming out more often to see my parents and he is finally eating much better, but he is still skinny. My mom is home most of the day so that helps her to make sure he is eating enough. Vet says everything is good, he was just a big cat and now is at a healthier weight, but it breaks my heart to see how skinny he is. I will have to see if they have tried any wet food or better tasting food to entice him to eat some more. Thanks for this post! Very helpful!
Ellen Pilch says
Great tips ! Luckily no one has trouble under eating. I have a couple over eaters though 🙂
Great post! My cat Tiger would always be at the bowl constantly eating the dry food. Changing to high quality, protein rich food made all the difference. Combined with a meal schedule he is now fit and healthy.
When the cat is away says
Thank you for this post! I’ve adopted to cats who have to stay for another 2 weeks at the shelter due to medical treatment. I’m a cat newbie, so I’m using this time to prepare for my new roommates.
I’ve been trying to understand the essentials of cat food and behavior. The shelter says that they’ve been unproblematic with food, so I’m focusing on choosing high qualitative food. At the shelter, they’ve always food in their cage. They don’t seem to overeat. I visit them almost every day, and they’d sometimes eat whilst I’m there. They’d eat something and then continue playing or napping. The open food policy seems to work, at least at the shelter.
I’ll probably continue the ‘free food’ policy during their first weeks in their new home, but I’d like to have regular feeding times later on. If I only had one cat, it’d be easier to keep track of its eating behavior, but it feels impossible to know who ate what.
I’m however a bit unsure if it’d be better to establish new rules and routines immediately. Could be easier to introduce the house rules in the moment they’re moving in. On the other hand, I’d like to avoid as many changes as possible. They’ll have a very drastic chance by moving, so it feels better to keep their food routines. I’d also imagine that the first weeks are special: they’ll probably hide for some days / weeks, so routine feeding times are maybe not the best solution at this point.
Elle @ Erratic Project Junkie says
We have one crazy eater. The other two behave themselves. Our one weirdo insists on bawling loudly within an hour of each feeding time, apparently afraid that we will forget to feed him. (He’s almost 11, we’ve had him since he was 6 mos., and he has never had to miss a single meal. He’s just weird.) He also has an odd fascination with the plastic pine trees in our family room. He’s been gnawing on them daily for the past 8 years. We’ve tried everything to get him to stop…he remains undeterred, but thankfully uninjured (just obnoxious).
This was a very informative article – and timely for me, because of my 4 cats – 2 are “problem eaters.” Kade eats way too much, and Sally is known to try to eat plastic bags – we have to hide them! I had never heard of a puzzle feeder, what a cool idea!
We are very strictly portion controlled here and not free fed, so nobody gets a chance to overeat! Sparkle had a LOT of eating issues that were never solved in her lifetime.