Cats are like food critics with fur, and you’re not the only cat owner pulling your hair out at your cat’s fussy eating habits.
When it comes to your cat’s food preferences you can compare it to predicting the weather. Today’s delicacy might be tomorrow’s downpour, which is even more frustrating when you’ve splashed out hard earned dollars on a fancy new cat food.
Why are cats so fussy?
And what can we do about it?
Let’s assess our fussy cats:
- Why are cats fussy eaters?
- Solutions for fussy cats
- If in doubt, speak with your vet
- Addressing underlying health issues with fussy cats
- Final thoughts on feeding fussy cats
Why are cats fussy eaters?
There are many reasons our cats are fussy with their food, and to address the issue we should consider all of them.
Most of the time cats are fussy with a new food they don’t recognise, or because they’re suffering discomfort they can’t tell us about.
Below are reasons why cats can become fussy:
- Silent pain – Almost always overlooked, our cats often suffer pain they can’t verbalise. This can be tooth pain, gastrointestinal pain, or a developing illness. Check your cat’s teeth – is there tartar? Plaque? If there is, you should do something about it – more on this later.
- Bad diet – Cats are smarter than we give them credit for, and most of the time we feed them foods which are inappropriate. If you feed your fussy cat any brand of biscuits, it’s very likely inappropriate. Do you know what it’s made from, and are the ingredients suitable for your cat as a carnivore?
- Illness – If your cat has become suddenly fussy overnight, then they might be suffering a temporary illness. This could be viral, or they could’ve ingested something nasty in the garden which is making them feel unwell. If in doubt, book in with your vet asap and have them checked out.
- Stress and anxiety – Environmental factors such as stress, changes in routine, or the presence of other animals can affect your cat’s appetite. Even the presence of a neighbourhood cat in your garden can cause your cat stress, and most of the time with outdoor cats we’re not aware of these territorial issues. Has anything changed recently to cause your cat stress and anxiety?
- Previous negative experiences – A cat can develop a dislike to a specific food if they’ve had a negative experience, such as food poisoning or illness. When we feed the same brand of cat food all the time (which we shouldn’t), it is easy to build a false trust in the brand. In my many years experience, one batch of cat food can be totally different from previous batches. All it takes is some bad ingredients or manufacturing problem, and lots of cats can get sick off a batch. If this has happened to your cat, then they’ll associate that sickness to the smell, taste, and texture of that brand of food.
- Changing preferences – Sometimes our cats are just fussy cats. The way we treat them can make them even fussier. My cat Bernard has learned I’ll give him some nice tasty chicken if he ignores his kibble. I can’t blame him for being a clever cat, but the dangers of this are not feeding a balanced diet. I’ll cover more on this later.
Your cat may be affected by one or many of the above, so have a think, and hopefully you’ll already have some ideas of the cause of the fussiness?
Next we’ll cover possible solutions to help your cat get over their fussiness, but further down I will also cover the health concerns in more depth – read that too if you believe your cat might be suffering.
Solutions for fussy cats
Depending on the reason your cat has become fussy, you may have success with some of the following solutions.
If any work for you, or don’t work, then please let me know in the comments. Or do you have other solutions?
Choose a high-quality cat food or diet
Most cat foods in Australia aren’t species appropriate for your cat as an obligate carnivore. That may sound a little crazy – how can cat food be inappropriate for cats?
The reason is actually very simple:
Our cats need a diet mostly of meat, organs, and bone content, whereas most cat foods are grain or starch based.
Feeding stuff like this to an obligate carnivore is like feeding a fish a pancake.
Cats don’t need the masses of grains, potatoes, legumes, tapioca, or other ingredients which make up the bulk of your cat food.
Read the ingredients of your current cat food, and ask yourself if a lion would eat it. Your cat’s a miniature lion, and they have the same natural instinct of prey animals.
Can you imagine a lion gnawing on corn on the cob?
Nope, I thought not.
If you’re in doubt about your particular brand of cat food, read the review of the brand.
Maybe your fussy cat simply doesn’t like the crap you’re feeding them?
Variety – The Spice of Life
Imagine if you had an owner, and your owner fed you the same packet processed food all the time.
How would you feel?
I bet you’d turn your nose up, and your owner would shrug and refer to you as a fussy human.
I feed my cat a wide variety of foods. I rarely feed the same brand of cat food twice in a row, and I make sure he has lots of tasty, beneficial foods in his diet.
I know most of us feed dry foods, as when we adopt our first kitten it’s likely the breeder will recommend a particular brand of dry food. Cats eat “cat food”, right?
Try not to be limited to this belief. Many cat owners these days make their cat’s diet at home from raw meats, organs, and raw meaty bones, with great success.
In Australia you can buy BARF patties from most pet stores, which are essentially a balanced raw diet with convenience (for those who don’t like chopping up organs). The downside of BARF as a soft food is your cat’s teeth may suffer, but when it comes to human-grade BARF patties they’re nutritionally excellent.
Why not feed some BARF along with the kibble? It’s a good start…
I see variety as important in many ways, and I talk about this often in my reviews. Not feeding a variety can cause numerous issues such as intolerance build-up, toxin build-up, dietary sensitivities, and of course, cause you cat to be fussy.
Experiment with food types and textures
My cat will eat any kind of raw meat except liver. He likes his liver slightly cooked, and more so if I cook it in a little bit of butter. He’d probably like it even more if I dressed up as a butler before serving it to him.
Our cats, like us, have preferences, and sometimes we need to experiment to find what they like.
Here’s some tips:
- Change the brand of cat food, or even the formula – Just note many cheaper (or more “affordable”) cat foods don’t really have different recipes, just different packaging, with most being cereal-based. Avoid those. Feed something healthier for your cat.
- Change the type of food – If you’re feeding canned, your fussy cat may be put off with the amount of gelatin – the unnecessary gunk which is used to fill the can and keep production costs down. Perhaps switch to a better brand which has more meat, or try pâté or chunks. If you haven’t read the above section on variety, read that too.
- Transition to new foods gradually – Let’s say you’ve invested good money on a fancy air or freeze-dried cat food as recommended by a pet nutritionist such as myself. You’ve given it to your cat, and he’s sat there looking at you with a “WTF is that” look on his face. We fail to realise our cats get confused with changes in diet – research has suggested our cats have a level of autism which causes this. Gradually transitioning a cat with a mix of their old food and the new one can help, or enticing them by soaking it in bone broth or similar can really help. Plus, sometimes, a little persistence.
Food presentation may also help. You may be surprised how many seriously fussy cats will eat from one bowl and not another.
You don’t need to dress up like a butler.
Experiment with different bowls and dishes, and always make sure they’re squeaky clean and free of dirt, grime, and bacteria.
Use proper storage and limit opened bags to 3 weeks
When cat food goes off, which it does, it may look like the same brown nuggets of kibble to you, but your cat can tell.
Sometimes they’ll eat spoiled food anyway, because they’re hungry, and suffer the consequences.
I realise it sounds a bit radical, especially if you try to keep costs down by buying bigger bags of cat food, but did you know cat food can begin to spoil as soon as it leaves the factory?
This is why I try my best to get through a bag of cat food within 3 weeks max.
It may mean buying smaller bags, which cost more per kilo, but it’s far less risky.
Did you know cat food can be affected by humidity, heat, insects, or mold, even before you buy it? Thankfully this isn’t the norm, but it can and does happen.
For these reasons, I highly recommend you take precautions with proper pet food storage, and be warned cheap tubs do very little to preserve pet food.
Good information on pet food storage solutions can be found on DogZone – The Best Dog Food Storage Ideas (same advice applies to cat food).
Yet again, fussy cats aren’t really fussy if they instinctively know their food has spoiled.
If in doubt, speak with your vet
Before I discuss common health issues which cause our cats to appear fussy, I must urge you to speak with your veterinarian if you have any doubts whatsoever.
If your cat’s fussiness is a sudden change or there are signs of weight loss, vomiting, or diarrhea, I strongly recommend consulting your vet to rule out any underlying health issues.
You can still consider the health conditions in the section below, and you can discuss these with your vet. When it comes to dental health and rotting teeth and gums, I find these issues aren’t always addressed or detected by veterinarians as much as you may think.
Addressing underlying health issues with fussy cats
In the earlier section about why our cats are fussy eaters, I mentioned a number of underlying health conditions.
If your cat is suffering then it’s not so much they’re a fussy cat, it means we need to help them.
The main health issues which cause our cats to be fussy with their food are dental pain and gastrointestinal pain. A third significant issues is a disrupted microbiome, and this can be caused by a previous bad diet, illness, or medication such as a course of antibiotics.
Let’s consider these health issues in more depth:
Dental pain and periodontal disease
Many cats suffer dental pain, and most cat owners will put their resulting lack of appetite down to fussiness or a diminishing appetite of old age.
If only our cats could speak.
Dry cat foods, wet cat foods, air-dried, freeze-dried, BARF, or deluxe delivered-to-your-door fresh meals – none really address dental health, even if they say they do.
Don’t get me started on dental treats, which are usually cheap cereals, texturisers, and even sugars, with a touch of added sorbitol (a sugar alcohol) to allow the treat to be marketed for dental health.
Sometimes our cat’s teeth start rotting before they’re older than a kitten, and many cats at a young age need tooth extraction. If your cat’s teeth are rotting and causing pain, getting them taken out is usually your best way forward, even if it means their tongue hangs out and they’re forced to use their remaining teeth – they can adapt to this.
Don’t take this point lightly. A friend of mine is a senior veterinarian, and I’ve had the privilege of seeing the harm most pet foods can do to dental health, from rotting teeth to rotting jaws.
Rotting teeth causes bad bacteria which can start attacking your cat’s organs. Bad news.
So how can you avoid dental pain and periodontal disease?
Firstly, always monitor your cat’s teeth for plaque and tartar buildup. Don’t assume this is caused by ageing, it’s caused by bad diet.
Secondly, feed them a good species-appropriate diet. Some recommendations can be found here.
Thirdly, consider giving them things to gnaw on, like raw meaty bones, dried meat or fish-based treats, or get a kitty toothbrush and try and brush your cat’s teeth (good luck!)
My cat is 13, and his teeth are still pearly white and free of decay.
I expect the combination of a healthy, nutritious, meat-based diet, along with raw meaty bones to chew on – chicken necks, wings, feet, or other bones normally given to me for free from my local butcher.
Ignore dental treats, and don’t be fooled by dental cat food formulas unless you’re confident they cater for your cat’s dietary needs as a carnivore.
I have not once, in 13 years, brushed my own cat’s teeth.
Gastrointestinal pain, like dental pain, is yet another silent pain which causes our cats to become “fussy cats”.
I’m sure you don’t feel like eating either when you have gut ache or a stomach virus.
Sudden gastrointestinal pain in cats can result from various underlying causes:
- Poor quality, inappropriate, or spoiled cat food – More common than you may think with numerous brands of cat food, or food which has spoiled from poor packaging or storage.
- Ingestion of foreign objects or toxic substances – This can be from cat food, or something your cat has eaten out and about.
- Bacterial or viral gastroenteritis.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a chronic condition, can result in chronic gastrointestinal pain and discomfort.
Other factors include hairballs, which may obstruct the digestive tract, or dietary sensitivities (sometimes incorrectly referred to as allergies) caused by inappropriate ingredients in your cat’s diet.
Serious conditions like pancreatitis, cancer, or intestinal obstructions must also be considered, especially if the pain is persistent or accompanied by vomiting, diarrhea, or changes in appetite.
Cats with gastrointestinal pain often show symptoms like abdominal discomfort, restlessness, vocalisation, and reduced grooming habits. Most of the time we completely miss or disregard these symptoms, or palm them off as fussy cats.
Gut issues and the microbiome
The microbiome is a complex community of bacteria in the digestive tract.
If a bad diet, illness, or medication has disrupted your cat’s microbiome (put the bacteria out of whack), then this can cause a lot of discomfort and take a very long time to rectify.
Switching cat food brands or ingredients abruptly can alter the balance of the microbiome. Antibiotic use, while sometimes necessary, can also disrupt the microbiome by killing both harmful and beneficial bacteria.
Stress, which can result from changes in your cat’s environment or routine may lead to gastrointestinal issues and microbiome disruption.
Additionally, infections, parasites, and certain medical conditions like inflammatory bowel disease can negatively impact the composition of the microbiome.
Maintaining a stable and balanced microbiome is essential for a cat’s overall health, as disruptions can lead to digestive problems and other health issues.
A good diet and stress free life is the best way to avoid disruption to your cat’s microbiome, or even help rectify it.
Pre and probiotics may help rebuild the balance of bacteria, either with supplements or natural options like a little bit of kefir, but your main focus should always be a nutritious, healthy, meat-based diet appropriate for your fussy cat as a carnivore.
Final thoughts on feeding fussy cats
I realise this has been a long article, with a lot of information. Sorry!
Hopefully this has put you on the right track to finding out why your cat is fussy, and given you ideas on what you can do about it.
Fussy cats are everywhere, and sometimes we just need to accept it as our cat’s individual personalities. Just make sure the fussiness isn’t caused by an underlying illness or silent pain.
If you have any thoughts or suggestions feel free to add them to the comments.
How is your cat fussy?
How have you resolved “fussy cat syndrome” yourself?