How to Solve Cat Behavior Problems

By: Dr. H. Ellen Whiteley

Dealing With Cats That Are Finicky Eaters

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Indulging in your cat's finicky eating habits will only make them worse.

Finickiness is one of the most famous of all feline traits. According to many behaviorists, however, it's a learned behavior and not an inborn one. Cats will happily eat the same food twice a day for their entire lives, provided it's nutritionally complete and tastes good enough.

Don't teach her the habit. Surprisingly, a lot of feline finickiness is taught to cats by their owners. Thinking the cat will get bored with a single flavor or brand, owners stock up on a variety of foods, trying different ones with each meal to determine a pet's favorites. If a cat walks away from a particular brand or flavor and the owner immediately opens another can, box, or bag, the cat quickly learns that finickiness pays.


If you feel you must vary the flavors in your cat's diet, adopt the old-fashioned approach of, "Eat what's put in front of you. If you don't like it, you don't have to eat it -- but that's all there's going to be until the next meal." Unless a cat eats absolutely nothing for a couple of meals running, there's no danger to her health if she has a few lean meals now and then.

Try the 20-minutes-and-up method. If you find yourself opening six cans at every meal and following your cat around the house, trying to coax her to have a nibble, you've got a serious finickiness problem going. At the next meal, put down a food you know the cat has eaten before. Wait 20 minutes, and then pick up the food and do not give any other food, snacks, or treats until the next meal. Repeat the process at that meal and every subsequent meal.

Be prepared for an all-out tantrum by your cat -- loud meowing, attempts to steal food, being an incredible pest, the works. Be strong and don't cheat to try to appease her. This method has a remarkable success rate. Many owners see improvement after three days, although some cats may persevere for several weeks.

When to Call the Vet

If a previously good eater suddenly becomes finicky or finickiness persists despite the 20-minutes-and-up method, your cat may have a physical problem and need veterinary care. Any cat who quits eating completely or has a loss of appetite accompanied by other symptoms of illness should be seen by the veterinarian right away.

Another annoying habit that can drive you up the wall is when your cat is constantly knocking your belongings off of tables or shelves. In the next section, we help you teach your cat to respect your property.