Does your cat seem unusually hungry or preoccupied with food? According to a June 2012 study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, your pet may have a psychological condition. The Italian case study, conducted by Padua University’s Dr. Paulo Mongillo and a group of fellow veterinarians, concluded that some cats may overeat simply because they are obsessed with food. Fortunately, many veterinarians agree that there are a number of steps a cat-owner can take to eliminate or lessen this unhealthy behavior.
1. Signs of a Food-Obsessed Cat
If your cat has this type of eating disorder, it may act as if it is starving even though it is receiving a sufficient amount of food. Instead of nibbling its food throughout the day, it may wolf down its meal within minutes. If it lives in a multi-cat household, it may steal food from other cats at the first opportunity. If your cat begs incessantly when you open the refrigerator, leaps on the table to snatch scraps, or behaves aggressively at feeding time, it may have an eating disorder. Your cat may also exhibit signs of Pica, a related disorder characterized by the constant tendency to eat plastic wrappers, strings, and other non-food items.
2. Eliminate a Physical Condition
The first step in helping your cat overcome its obsession with food is to discuss the issue with a veterinarian. Your vet should run tests to make sure that your cat has no serious health issues. Anemia, gastrointestinal problems, brain disorders, parasites, and a number of other medical conditions can cause a cat to become excessively hungry. If tests show that there is no underlying physical problem, there are a number of techniques you can try to modify your cat’s behavior.
3. Stop Eating in Front of Your Cat
The results of the Padua University study suggest that eating in front of your cat can encourage obsessive behavior, especially if your cat has a habit of begging for food. Confining your cat to another room while you eat will limit its associations with food to its own prescribed meal times. After you have done this for several months, you can gradually allow your cat into a room where people are eating. Once your cat has not been exposed to human food for a time, it may lose interest.
4. Never Feed Your Cat From the Table
If you have been giving your cat table scraps or treats from the refrigerator, you may be contributing to its insatiable desire for food. Once you feed your cat from your plate, Mongillo says, your dinner table can become a sort of slot machine. Even if you occasionally reward your cat with a scrap, you reinforce the idea that constant begging eventually pays off.
5. Schedule Your Cat’s Meals
Feeding a typical cat a larger portion of dry food once or twice each day is often sufficient. Cats usually nibble their food throughout the day. Just like a person with an overeating disorder, a cat with such a condition may be unable to self-regulate. It may gobble its entire allotment of food and still feel hungry later in the day. To prevent a cat from gorging, many veterinarians suggest feeding it three or more smaller meals at the same time each day. If this is inconvenient, you can buy a special feeder that is designed to dispense food at timed intervals.
6. Separate Multiple Cats During Feedings
A cat that is obsessed with food will often eat everything in sight, including another cat’s entire meal. It may even push other cats away from the food bowl or become aggressive. If this occurs, you will need to feed the cat with the eating disorder in a separate location. There are two ways that you can handle this feeding arrangement, depending on your schedule. You can acclimate all of your cats to a meal-feeding schedule by feeding them small portions during several 5 to 10 minute intervals. An alternative method is to keep the cats separated for a longer period at each feeding. This allows normal cats time to graze but prevents the gorger from overeating.