Why are cats so finicky?

I remember Jo Singer writing about her finicky felines; a good article featuring her Oriental Shorthair cats. I am sure many cat caretakers have the experience of their cat being difficult with new food even if it is better than the existing food.

There is a different perspective on this well known feline attribute and it is this.

Finicky felines
Finicky felines
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The domestic cat’s wild cat ancestor is not finicky. They eat what is available. As the domestic cat is very similar at heart to the wild cat, we can say that the domestic is not fussy either. It is not fussiness which compels the domestic cat to be irritatingly finicky but acting out what he has learned in the same way that the wild cat cub learns from his mother what prey to catch.

The domestic cat learns what food works for him having been provided with it by us.  Once a cat has learned this he is reluctant to change because he knows that what he has eaten has resulted in survival. It is a success. Why change?

A domestic cat, though, can learn to change. It just takes time. A good example comes from Margaret Gates of the feline nutrition website and whose thoughts form the basis of this article.

She says her cat, Kai, absolutely refused to eat a new and superior raw diet. She tried everything to make him switch. She mixed raw and canned but he’d pick his way around the raw and eat the canned…grrrr.

She tried a new tactic. She fed him his usual canned food and put a small amount of raw next to the commercial wet food. The purpose was to get him to associate the raw food with feed time.

For three months she diligently placed the raw next to his usual ration of commercial wet and for three months he ignored the raw. One day he suddenly wolfed down the raw as if he’d been doing it all his life. It was raw rabbit.

Margaret says that he needed time to unlearn what he had learned about cat food. It just took three months.

The argument, then, is that it is a myth that cats are finicky. They just do what they know works and because such an important lesson has been learned at an early age, it takes time to unlearn.

I would expect the speed at which a cat learns to change to be dependent on the cat’s personality. Perhaps a more confident cat will be more open to change compared to a more timid cat.

1 thought on “Why are cats so finicky?”

  1. That’s an interesting theory and one I’d never heard of before. Cats are creatures of habit and there’s no reason why that wouldn’t extend to their diet.

    Being “finicky” is probably more common amongst well fed cats. If they don’t fancy what’s on offer, they can afford to skip a meal or hold out for something better. A hungry stray or feral cat will eat all kinds of food because they don’t know when or where they may find their next meal.

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