6 reasons for cat food rejection

I can think of 6 reasons for cat food rejection or to put it another way your cat rejects the food you give him, and you believe that he is a finicky eater. And sometimes a pain in the rear end. And wasteful of the money that you plough into cat food which can be as expensive as human food. Correction: more expensive πŸ˜‰. We love ’em but ensuring that they eat everything that we provide can be tricky.

Cat feeding
Cat feeding. Image: Image by Birgit from Pixabay.
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Sometimes when cats ask for food – or even if they don’t ask and you provide it – they might approach the bowl, sniff it (cats identify the palatability of cat food by its smell) and casual wander off with a twitch of the skin (slight irritation). Or perhaps they might try and bury it by scrapping their forepaw on the ground as if burying the food with earth.

Assuming the cat is healthy and the food is nutritious there are 6 possible reasons for the rejection.

Not hungry

Your cat is not ready for her next kill 😒. This is according to Dr Desmond Morris, but this is not quite right because every time a domestic cat eats from a food bowl they are scavenging, and cats are not great scavengers.

But the point is that he or she might not be hungry enough. You have to gauge when he is hungry. Sometimes cats ask for food out of sheer routine and boredom. They are used to eating at a certain time. The habit has been established by both caregiver and cat in unison. The time kicks in but the indoor/outdoor cat has eaten a mouse and is no longer hungry or eaten some dry cat food that was left out for grazing at night. He is not hungry enough.

I believe that it can be quite difficult to decide if your cat is genuinely hungry. You have to assess it by looking at his demeanour and behavior and learn from past ‘failures’.

Portions are too big

This section applies to cats who frequently leave a part of the food provided. It may be a substantial part. The theory here is that a cat’s stomach is smaller than you think at about the size of a ping pong ball. Often the sachets or amount put down is too much. I have always favoured the small sachets. My cat eats pretty much all of the food provided and sometimes the bowl is licked clean to the point that I no longer need to wash it before the next meal.

Wet cat food bowl used for 5 meals without washing it
Wet cat food bowl used for 5 meals without washing it. Image: MikeB

A small mouse is a portion size. Compare that with some amounts provided and you might agree that they are too large. I recommend the smaller sachets.

Hills wet cat food sachets are too large?
Hills wet cat food sachets are too large?


Mood can affect appetite. Dr. Desmond Morris in Cat World writes: “When sex rears its head, a domestic cat will temporarily go off its food”. And he adds that if the weather becomes hotter or more humid it may have the same effect. Sterilised cats can remain interested in sex.

Subsidiary owners

Domestic cats are notorious for wandering into neighbours’ gardens and sometimes befriending the property’s owner. Cats can ask for food. Why not? And sometimes neighbours are keen to supply food to a wandering cat. It is a natural instinct to feed to make friends.

The cat has fully fed by the time his next meal comes around at his home. He does not have the required appetite and rejects the food. Cats who do this may have fluctuations in their appetite which may flummox their caregiver.

Location of food

Sometimes cats dislike the location of the food bowl as they feel uneasy about eating there. Morris states that ‘cats do not like to feed in a spot that is too brightly lit, too noisy or too busy’. All you have to do is suck and see to find out her/his preferred spot if you think that this is an issue.

I have found that it is better to not disturb my cat when eating. For instance if I want to go outside into the backyard while he is eating, I delay until he has finished as I know that he will want to join me. And certainly, noise can disturb eating.

Cats are very sensitive to noise, and they are inquisitive. They’ll break off feeding to investigate or hide if they believe something hostile has arrived.

Food variety

Our darling cats, like us, prefer if they have a variety of food tastes and textures. They can become bored with a certain product. This is unsurprising. I keep around half a dozen different brands of wet cat food for variety and one dry cat food – Hill’s Dental Care – for night-time grazing. This dry has larger pellets which I believe are essential in order to stop domestic cats swallowing pellets whole without mastication (slice up with molars).

Sometimes my cat will reject a wet cat food brand. I will wait about 6 weeks before trying again and usually he will gobble it up.

This desire for variety might be inherited from the wild cat ancestor as it is more reliable and healthier to eat a variety of prey animals when and where they are available.

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