by Barbara George
Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Having looked at some of the symptoms and possible causes for food obsession in cats, now we can look at what we can do to help these cats.
As always, the first action that should be taken when a cat displays any serious behaviour, or any change in behaviour that has no reasonable cause, is a thorough check-up with the vet to rule out any medical issues, as behaviour can usually be reduced or eliminated by medication or medical procedures.
Since the behaviour we are looking at concerns food, the next area to investigate is diet. Cats that do not receive the nutrients that they need to keep their systems at optimal levels are always on the lookout for the missing elements. A healthy cat receiving the necessary nutrients at the right time has an immune system able to fight illness and infection.
While an approved, balanced, supplemented, raw diet is the best option for the obligate carnivore cat, this method of feeding is not always practical. There are a number of companies producing frozen raw diets for cats, check what is available in your area. The benefit of these is the ease of feeding – thaw and serve. As with all changes in diet, it may take a while to introduce a very different type of new food; it may be necessary to try a few brands to find the one most acceptable.
If raw feeding is not possible, use the best-possible vet-approved dry or tinned food. Other foods can be used for an occasional treat only.
Timing of feeds is important too. A cat’s digestive system is built for small meals often; think: catch a mouse, eat it, hunt for another, etc. It has been shown that cats eat most of their food in the early morning, typically between 4 and 6 am, less during the day, and some again in the evening. Simulating this schedule will help the digestive system to work appropriately.
One way to make eating more natural is to use puzzle, or interactive, feeders. See previous articles on this topic or visit the website www.foodpuzzlesforcats.com for good advice and many examples. Some of the benefits of this method of feeding include weight management and happier cats.
Identifying the trigger for eating may help to create an environment that reduces the behaviour. This may include moving the eating station to a different, calmer, area.
Some behaviour is attention-seeking, so providing additional focused and appropriate attention may help. When working from home or relaxing after work, include the cat in as many activities as possible, even if only in a ‘supervisor’ capacity.
Creating more stimulation and satisfying the other needs of the cat can help reduce the dependence on eating. Indoor stimulation, scheduled games sessions, and interactive toys all help to take time and remove the focus on food. Movement is known to generate happy endorphins and is a great way to stimulate the mind. All games should end with a small treat to complete the hunt-catch-kill cycle.
Depending on the root cause of the behaviour, it may be possible to apply behaviour-modification techniques – see Counter-Surfing Cats.
There will always be cats that will not give up an obsession; for these it requires management – and a good relationship with the neighbours, as restricting access to food will cause the cat to look elsewhere to satisfy his need.