Food aggression in cats is often misconstrued as a ‘bad behavior’, but that’s simply because we humans don’t understand what’s going on. In this short article we will explain what food aggression looks like and how to help curb the behavior.
Signs of food aggression in cats include:
- Begging for food all the time
- Stealing food from the counter or pantry
- Hissing or growling when food is around
- Guarding the food dish
- Stealing food from other pets
- Attacking people or pets at mealtime
- Eating too fast (scarf & barf)
It’s easy for us humans to deem these behaviors as “hangry”, as we can sometimes feel irritated when we’re hungry too. However, if your kitty is consistently exhibiting these behaviors, it’s not because they are hungry, necessarily. It’s because they are unsure of when and if they will get their next meal, and they need food to survive.
We can take the cat out of the wild, but we can’t take the wild out of the cat.
We can, however, properly train our kitties to no longer fear for their survival when it comes to their food.
Many cats who are weaned from their mothers too early will exhibit signs of food aggression because it’s been engraved in them at an infant state that they may not get food. Cats who have high anxiety (usually seen in shelter kitties) will also be more prone to be aggressive with their food. Also, kitties who were once living outside and scavenging for their prey can fall victim to food aggression once they’ve been taken inside.
First and foremost, if this behavior is very sudden and out of the blue, you should make a vet visit to be sure there isn’t a health issue happening. Cats that suddenly change behavior are often showing you that they don’t feel well. If the health is fine, here are some tried and true tips on how to help your cat feel more comforted and comfortable around their meals.
How to help food aggression in cats:
- Feed your cat solo. In the wild, cats are solitary hunters and eaters, so they like to eat alone. If your cat is anxious about mealtime, feeding them away from other pets and people will help relieve their anxiety around food.
- Feed your cat up high. It’s been proven that cats are less stressed when they are in a vertical space. Outside, cats will climb trees so that they can overlook their environment and best judge their surroundings. This is where they often feel most comfortable. Try feeding on top of a cat tree or shelf.
- Feed your cat in smaller meals throughout the day. Cats who are worried about their next meal often benefit from eating small little snacks throughout the day rather than one or two large meals.
- Always feed your cats on a routine schedule. Ohio State University conducted a study that shows the importance of routine when it comes to felines. Believe it or not, cats can tell time better than us. They don’t need a clock like we do. If you’re feeding your kitties on a regular routine, they will never have to wonder if or when they’ll get their next meal.
- Train your cat through positive reinforcement. When cats beg for food, we must ignore this behavior and reward the alternative good behavior that they redirect to. Using this technique, you can curb several unwanted behaviors in cats but this one is very important for food aggression.
- Try feeding with food puzzles. Food puzzles are a great way to mentally enrich our cats’ eating experience. It can also slow them down and make them less stressed about their meals.
- Make sure that your cat is getting all the nutrients she needs in her meals. If a cat is lacking in certain nutrients, it can affect the gut-brain access and cause food aggression. Adding in some nutrient rich supplements can really help her overall health.
Seeing our cats’ needs through a different lens is sometimes all we need in order to be able to correct unwanted behavior. Try these steps to help your cat.