7 reasons why your cat sometimes rejects food

Sometimes people brand domestic cats who reject their food is finicky eaters. It may be true for some individual cats (sensitive stomach?) but I think, in general, it is unfair. Sometimes cats ask for food, or you think they are asking you for food, but when they go up to it, they sniff and then wander off. The skin on their back might ripple when they wander off or they might shake their hindlimb, both negative signals.

They might also try and bury their food with their forepaw by scraping on the ground or the countertop if the food is on the countertop. It’s a rejection that might puzzle some cat owners who do their best to please their cat. And the food is often nutritious, good and fresh et cetera. I can think of 7 possible reasons why cats might appear to be finicky eaters.

Cat tries to bury their food

Cat tries to bury their food. Screenshot from video.


Size of meal

I have contended in the past that some sachets of cat food are too big. Certainly, the cans of cat food are often too big but some are very small. The cat’s stomach is really quite small at about the size of a ping-pong ball. And the wildcat ancestor to the domestic cat will eat a mouse as a meal. A mouse-sized meal is considerably smaller than many sachets of commercially prepared meals.

Cat burying his food or bring prey back to the food

Cat burying his food or bring prey back to the food

Often cat caregivers give their cat too much food. The average meal that they provide might be the equivalent of five mice. They might eat some of the food, the equivalent of a mouse, and then wander off. They may return to eat the remainder even if it has gone off somewhat. My cat does that but most times the food will be unpalatable after an hour or so especially in warm weather.

The question of how much to feed at one sitting and how many meals that cat caregivers should provide is currently debated. I am in favour of more meals but small portions.

Asking for food out of habit but not ready

I think it is possible that some domestic cats might ask for food out of a routine or out of habit. But in truth they are not ready for a meal because they are not ready for their next “kill” in terms of their wildcat mentality. Or she may have lost her appetite for a range of reasons including illness. Loss of appetite is a very common symptom of illness. Even then cats might ask for food out of habit.

Cat’s mood

It is said that when a cat is in the mood for sex, they temporarily go off their food! My cat still has sexual urges despite being castrated.

Hot and humid

If the weather is hot and humid. You cat might have lost his appetite.

Wrong place to eat food

Cats don’t like to eat in a place that is too brightly lit, too busy or too noisy. If your cat is receiving food in these sorts of places it might be wise to move the food dish to a quiet position, which may make all the difference.

Food variety

I know through experience that domestic cats like variety in their menu. I rotate my cat’s food through about six or seven different types, mostly wet with some dry. I use the same dry food each time which is Hill’s Dental Care. He eats his dry cat food from an interactive feeder. It is a plastic ball with holes in it and he pushes it around the floor and the dry food pellets pop out. In the wild, cats feed on a variety of prey animals and therefore the concept of food variety in the home for domestic cats makes a lot of sense. Sniffing at food and not eating it indicates that it is not the flavour of the month. Normally high-quality cat food smells and tastes better than the cheap stuff.

Wrong bowl

The ball is too deep and not wide enough which means that their whiskers brush against the side. This may irritate. It may put them off eating if they are borderline as to whether they want to eat or not. It’s called whisker fatigue in the cat world!


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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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