How to stop your cat begging for food
We’ve all heard of ‘puppy dog eyes’, but it can be equally hard to resist the longing looks of a cat craving a tasty tit-bit. Our cats can be vocal when they’re hungry too. You may notice their little, appealing meows grow louder and last a long time.
Whether they’re hankering after what’s on your plate, impatiently circling your legs while you dish up their dinner or stealing from another pet’s bowl, our feline friends simply aren’t shy when it comes to food.
Sound familiar? We all love our pets, but it’s natural to feel frustrated or distracted by begging behaviour. Or perhaps you’re worried that their hunger hints at an underlying health issue. Canagan, the grain-free pet food experts, outline why a cat begs, how to break the habit and how to know you’re feeding them enough so their tummies are happy all day, every day.
WHY IS MY CAT ALWAYS HUNGRY?
Cats are creatures of habit, so will expect their food to be served at the same time every day. They may cry and stare at you until their food bowl is filled, then wolf it down. Don’t worry – they’re hungry, not starving. Just like us, a cat’s empty stomach sends signals to its brain when food is needed, usually at around the times of day that they are used to being fed. If you’re the person that feeds them, they’ll look to you to fulfil this need.
Crucially however, cats aren’t motivated by food in the same way dogs are, so, begging or whining for food between feedings could indicate a medical issue. If you’re concerned, speak to your vet about their behaviour. The following reasons may be playing a role:
Lack of nutrients
Just like humans, no two cats are the same; a diet that suits one cat won’t necessarily work for another. So, your feline may act out of character if their diet isn’t filling them with the nutrients they need. Signs to look out for include; lethargy, low mood, excessive grooming and swelling in the gums. If you’re worried, visit your vet to discuss what you’re currently feeding your cat and, crucially, confirm their dietary needs so you can make any changes.
Any loving owner will shower their cat with affection. In return, your pet may stick close and brush against you. However, if they’re feeling a little neglected – perhaps you’re having a busy day – their eating habits may become affected.
Abnormal feeding behaviour
If you notice your cat is getting very wound up, or even aggressive, when you open a tin of cat food, it may be a sign of more than just a hearty appetite.
Research shows that felines with an overly excessive appetite, including pets who eat non-food items, and who are prone to food-related aggression could be suffering from a condition called ‘psychogenic abnormal feeding behaviour’. Psychogenic is the term given to an illness that is believed to have arisen from emotional stress, like eating.
To resolve this, play is key. Admittedly, it can be difficult to find time to entertain your cat around a busy lifestyle. So, slot it into your schedule - even 15 to 20 minutes of interaction can vastly improve your pet’s behaviour. Also, rewarding positive behaviour and ignoring negative behaviour can help change your cat’s attitude.
Teased by their food bowl
Your cat associates their bowl with food. They may therefore constantly linger near it, look up expectantly, beg or act aggressively. So, take their mind off food (even if temporarily).
If your cat is constantly expecting food, remove their bowl once mealtime is over - out of sight, out of mind. Hiding the object they associate with food can help break bad habits. So, when they see the bowl, they’ll know a tasty meal is on its way - and at no other time. To reinforce this, try not to eat your own meals in front of your feline.
Worms in cats and kittens are common and should be treated routinely throughout their lives. They don’t tend to have serious consequences and are easy to treat should your pet get them. Worms can be contracted by eating infected prey, having fleas and swallowing them whilst grooming or picking up worms from faeces while outside. In cases of lungworm, contact with slugs and snails are to blame. Kittens can then inherit infection from their mother and ingest larvae in her milk.
Symptoms include; sickness, diarrhoea, weight loss, weakness and poor coat quality. Coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath is common in lungworm.
Where does the ‘begging’ come in? Worms steal all the nutrition from food after your cat eats, leaving your feline feeling constantly hungry. You’ll find this hunger isn’t easily sated – it’s a vicious cycle. Adult cats should therefore be wormed every three months, as they don’t always show symptoms of worms. If you’re concerned, check their bottom and faeces. While it may sound like an unpleasant task, it’s crucial to your pet’s wellbeing and comfort. The most common form is ‘tapeworm’ which resemble flat grains of rice, while ‘roundworms’ are long and white.
Hyperthyroidism commonly affects older cats. It’s caused by increased production of thyroid hormones from the thyroid glands, which are situated in the neck. Thyroid hormones are responsible for regulating many body processes. When too much hormone is produced, cats can become seriously ill.
Thyroid hormones also help control the body’s metabolic rate, so cats with hyperthyroidism tend to burn energy too rapidly and lose weight - despite having an increased appetite and eating more. Other signs include; insatiable thirst, restlessness, irritability and an unkempt fur coat. Some cats may experience mild vomiting and/or diarrhoea, show intolerance to heat and pant when they are stressed.
If you’re concerned, seek veterinary assistance. A poorly cat will need a blood test to measure the levels of thyroid hormones in the blood. Fortunately, successfully treated cats usually see a complete reversal of all signs of hyperthyroidism.
AM I FEEDING MY CAT ENOUGH DURING THE DAY?
How much you should feed your cat depends on their breed, lifestyle, body condition and age. Remember - every cat is different.
We all want our pets to be healthy and lean. An active adult cat requires around 240 calories a day. Measure their meal portions carefully to avoid weight gain and support their diet with exercise. Let them run around the garden and up trees. They may hunt prey outdoors, increasing their calorie intake, so every little helps.
If you own an indoor cat, find alternative ways to get them moving. A scratching post or cat tree gives them an opportunity to climb, stretch and sharpen their claws. Find an accessible, elevated space in a clear area of your home so they can jump up. Many cats choose windowsills so they can watch the world go by too! Chasing a fun toy like a ball or a feather on a stick not only entertains felines, but acts as a great form of exercise.
HOW TO BREAK THE BEGGING HABIT
In addition to playtime and strategically removing their food bowl, here are our recommended tips to help curb your cat’s begging habit:
Keep them calm
It can be frustrating when your cat comes running and meowing into the kitchen every time they hear the rustle of a food bag or a tin opening. When this happens, gently pick them up and take them into another area of your home that’s quiet and calm. Alternatively, distract them with a toy for example so you can crack on in the kitchen.
Praise them at mealtime
When your cat’s mealtime swings around, give them lots of positive reinforcement. Calling them to dinner, making a ceremony of laying their bowl down and fussing them for finishing their food; this will give them clear cues of when it’s time to eat and of the portion size they will get. The aim being that they’ll stop begging throughout the day and disassociate your dinnertime from their own. Cats do respond to training, so start up a routine.
Stand firm and ignore the begging
If your cat is crying or begging, try not to indulge them - simply ignore them or walk away. Eventually they’ll focus their attention elsewhere. It may seem hard, but patience is key. Of course, it’s really important to show them lots of love any other time of day to protect their mental health, but it’s worth being disciplined where food is concerned.
Introduce a food puzzle bowl
The active pursuit of food is instinctive for cats. Introducing a food puzzle to their mealtime appeals to their desire for physical and mental stimulation during feeding. The ‘puzzle’ element also slows their eating; this reduces the chance of indigestion and lets their brain ‘catch up’ with their stomach, leaving them feeling fuller and less inclined to beg.
Consult a behaviourist
If your cat’s begging habit is persisting, consider speaking to a pet behaviourist. They’ll look for the root of the issue and recommend a solution. It can take time for cats to change unwanted behaviours and learn new ones, but implementing an expert’s tips in a familiar, comfortable and stress-free environment like the home can make a real difference.
It’s all too easy to feed your cat treats from the table or turn a blind eye when they cheekily steal from another pet’s bowl, without giving the extra calories or ramifications on their behaviour a second thought. While this might make them happy in the moment, the long-term effects shouldn’t be underestimated. Rather than begging, it’s about your cat knowing good behaviour and understanding mealtimes in the home so they - and you - can relax throughout the day.