Cats are blamed for being picky eaters but is it true? I’ve never found that my cats are picky eaters. My current cat doesn’t necessarily eat everything I give him, and sometimes he doesn’t want to eat it, although that’s quite rare, but I don’t think this is a demonstration of picky eating. It’s perhaps more to do with giving him food when he’s not hungry or the food is not ideal. There is still a lot to learn about flavour, aroma and the texture of pet food all of which influence whether a cat wants to eat it or not. If you do believe that domestic cats are picky eaters, there are some theories for this from the scientists.
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Protein and fats
One theory is that domestic cats are programmed to eat foods with a ratio of protein to fat at 1 to 0.4. At that ratio protein and fat provides the same energy. This is according to a study published on June 15, 2016 in the Journal Royal Society Open Science. The suggestion is that cats are not always receving this balance in their diet. The lead author of that study, Adrian Hewson-Hughes, also suggested that cats display neophobia, which means that they are unwilling to try new food. I’m not sure that’s true because when I give my cat entirely new pet food he checks it out with his nose and if he likes it he’ll eat it with gusto. I just don’t see the truth behind that statement.
Another theory as to why domestic cats might be picky eaters concerns feline bitter receptors. Yes, it is believed that cats can taste bitterness because it helps protect them from toxic substances in the animals that they might eat if allowed to prey on animals. The receptors may also help protect their lungs and heart at an automatic level.
It is suggested that cats might be more sensitive to bitter chemicals than dogs. They may pick up bitter compounds in their day-to-day diet which puts them off. This is speculative. When people are criticising domestic cats for being picky eaters they are referring to a reluctance to eat pet food made by manufacturers. Pet food manufacturers have spent decades getting their pet food right and therefore it shouldn’t contain bitter compounds which put cats off. Although as mentioned the manufacturers can do better.
Human food treats
When domestic cats love their human food treats but might be reluctant to eat pet food manufactured commercially it does point to the fact that the pet food is less appealing than the human food. Pet food manufacturers could make their food more appealing but perhaps it’s a compromise between cost, convenience (i.e. dry cat food is highly convenient) and palatability. You have to give cats a balanced diet which means you can’t just give them the human food that they like and gobble up. In balancing the diet food becomes less desirable to a cat.
Are domestic cats always fed when they are hungry? I think not. It can be difficult to know when a cat is hungry. When you put their food down to eat you can’t be sure that all of it will be eaten. You can’t guarantee that your cat will be hungry at the same time of day, every day. What if they are allowed to go outside and then visit a neighbour who feeds them? What if they hunt mice outside and eat them outside? These activities will affect their appetite inside the home.
Variety of food is an important factor in appetite. We don’t feed ourselves with the same food every day and I don’t think we should do the same thing with our cats. Perhaps when a cat looks up at their owner in a sign that she is disinterested in the food provided it is a signal that she wants a bit more variety.
Free-grazing of dry food
A lot of cats are fed dry cat food on a free-grazing basis. They can eat when they like which is partly why they end up overweight, it is said by the veterinarians. But the point I’m making is that free-grazing on dry cat food never presents as a cat being a picky eater. Dry cat food is palatable in an artificial way. A lot of cats prefer the smell and taste of dry cat food over better quality wet cat food. Perhaps this is partly why people buy dry foods. Their cat always eats it. The fact that a full-time diet of dry cat food is not a good diet indicates a problem with the pet food manufacturers.
You can’t avoid discussing health, briefly. Health dictates appetite. If a cat is feeling a little unwell or emotionally down they may lose their appetite. Often, cat owners don’t have an awareness that there cat might be feeling unwell, bored or emotionally depressed. They’re not in tune with that aspect of their cat’s life. It might be shown as the cat becoming a picky eater when the real reasons are genuine and concerning.
Perhaps the idea that domestic cats are picky eaters is more to do with what humans are doing with respect to the quality of the food provided, when it is provided and how it is provided than with the appetite of the cat concerned.