Does your caring cat suddenly become an unfriendly and hostile little monster during feeding? This behavior is a typical form of food aggression.
This short article discusses the possible reasons for food obsession, explores psychogenic abnormal feeding behavior, and gives valuable tips for healthier and happier cats and owners.
Food Aggression In Cats
Food is needed by all creatures, humans and animals alike. But what happens when your furry baby becomes a tiger at mealtimes?
Food aggression in cats materializes as resource guarding. It is more common in dogs, with very few events reported in cats. Although relatively unusual in cats, it is a cause for concern as the behavior can posture a threat to proprietors and other pets. The actions manifest as resource guarding and is linked to obesity, cardiovascular disease, liver diseases, and other chronic health problems.
How to determine if your cat is food-obsessed?
Felines that act aggressively before and throughout feeding time might not just be hungry; they could exhibit food aggression symptoms. Some signs are:
- Bowl guarding.
- Roar, swats, or hisses during meal times.
- Scares other home pets away from their food.
- Steals food, tears pet food packaging, and ransacks the trash.
- Attacks when food is present.
- Spend abnormal times in the kitchen, exceedingly vocalizing and pleading for food.
- Constantly looking for chances to steal food and browse counters.
Causes of Food Aggression In Cats
The reasons for food aggression in cats can be varied and complex. These make it challenging to find methods to address the aggression in an ideal manner. Cat parents need to recognize re reason/s why their pet displays hostile behavior to develop a plan for effective treatment. Some things to consider first:
- Cats are obligate carnivores; their diet has a high demand for protein, so they can not live on fruits or plants. The cat's inability to process a vegetarian or vegan diet increases the risk of malnourishment when prey and food are scarce.
- Felines, as rigorous meat-eaters, have added strict nutritional demands and seem to be less adaptable than dogs to cope with dietary discrepancies, so their diet should be complete, balanced, absorbable, palatable, and nutritionally safe.
Kittens or adult cats who experienced early weaning, nutrition starvation, or abandonment are predisposed to food obsession since food confiscation is viewed as a danger. In contrast, indoor felines relying on humans for food may develop resource guarding due to a dispute and pre-feeding aggression when given large quantities of food one or two times daily.
Living outdoors can cause a feline's survival instincts to enter into overdrive. Food can be minimal, leading to dietary deprivation. The scarcity of sources also implies they have to compete with other felines and animals for food and nutrients.
Roaming or feral cats go hungry for days, and when they're embraced, their previous experiences of being hungry continue to fuel their impulses to forage even when they're well-fed. Thus, an adopted stray or feral pet cat may seem regularly starving and always watch for anything to eat.
Cats, as solitary predators, prefer to eat alone and frequently. When cats are compelled to compete for food, it can increase the chance of establishing food aggression. Being near other cats, a cat will learn to protect and shield resources, particularly when there's insufficient food for all cats in the house.
The inability to gain access to food securely and eat independently can be essential factors of food aggressiveness. Being in a multi-cat family can incline resource competition in indoor cats, especially when they are fed in large quantities of food once or twice daily.
Emotional consumption is a coping mechanism, while overindulging might signify that a pet's mental well-being is unwell. Munching in response to stress or negative emotion is seen in humans and animals and has been proven to work by alleviating the negative psychological experience. This eating practice, called stress-induced or emotional eating, is connected to the development of obesity.
Stress and anxiety
Cats are highly delicate animals which makes them susceptible to different stress factors. Appetite and stress can be a lethal mix that might quickly become aggressive. Some of the top stress factors of pet cats include:
- Living in shelters
- Moving to a new home
- Introduction to a multi-cat household
- Changes in the household's daily routine
If your cat is relentless in pleading for food, succumbing to your pet's pleas reinforces the behavior. Your cat will perceive the reinforcement as an 'incentive' for his persistent vocalization and will go on doing it whenever it feels hungry.
A hidden health issue can also cause food obsession in cats. Hyperthyroidism, which is more common among senior felines, can trigger an increase in the body metabolism making affected cats feel hungry. Discomfort connected with gum disease can make cats cranky and susceptible to displaying hostile behavior while eating.
Psychogenic Abnormal Feeding Behaviors (PAFB)
In this situation, the feline's over-obsession with food could be caused by an underlying mental or psychogenic problem. The reasons for PAFB have not been completely researched, but several specialists think it could be connected to stress early on in the cat's life or a learning disorder.
The famous case of PAFB was discovered in an 8-month-old Siamese called Otto. Otto steals food from his owner after he has eaten his meal and resorts to eating plastic toys, seeming dissatisfied no matter how much food he eats. Experts efficiently treated it with a routine that targeted reducing the cat's exposure to stressors and desensitization to food and counter-conditioning to feeding. The case study, which was performed by Mongillo et al. (2012), is considered the first characterization of the clinical aspects of PAFB that includes the efficacy of therapy.
How to Manage Food Aggression in Cats
If you observe your cat exhibiting signs of food aggression, we highly recommend examining your pet to ensure that a medical problem does not cause the negative behavior. If an underlying health problem causes your pet's habits, early diagnosis and proper medical intervention are vital to preventing the behavior from becoming more difficult to address.
If your cat is cleared from health issues, here are some tips you can try to deal with the behavior:
Do not tolerate pleading at the table
Giving food will teach your cat that it can expect to get food at all times. Keep your begging cat away from the dinner table during mealtime by constraining him in a separate room.
Instead of food, shower your cat with attention
You may not recognize it, but your feline is 'training' you. Some feline parents are guilty of giving food or treats when their cats bother them. While it's a quick way to please and appease your annoying cat, giving in can only reinforce the actions. Giving play opportunities is better to supply positive reinforcement and physical and mental stimulation.
Feed your pets independently
If you have a multi-pet house, feeding each pet in separate spaces can lower stress during mealtime. Sharing the area can sustain competition, resource guarding, and negative behaviors. If you practice free-feeding, putting feeders in different house areas can lessen the propensity to guard or become aggressive around the food bowl.
Give smaller meals several times a day.
To mimic the natural behavior of felines, divide your cat's everyday food portions into five or more meals. Feed at regular periods throughout the 24-hour duration.
Use Food Puzzles
Motivate your cat's exploratory behavior and boost physical and psychological excitement with food puzzles. These food-dispensing toys motivate scavenging and enable felines to eat tiny meals throughout the day from different home areas.
Decrease stress factors
Determine potential stressors in your cat and reduce their exposure to these stressors.
Food aggression in cats can manifest in complex behaviors. Knowledge and understanding of possible triggers and causes will enable you, as cat parents, to properly deal with and modify your cat's behavioral responses to food. With the proper feeding and environmental changes, you can reduce your feline's stress and help your cat develop a healthier relationship with food.