by Barbara George
Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Is your cat very fussy about what he eats in his bowl but quite happy to try whatever you are eating? Does your cat demand food as if his bowl is empty when there is still food in it? While many cats will eat every last crumb in their bowls some will leave food then ask for more.
There may be a number of reasons for this, including attention-seeking behaviour. For this article I will ignore this particular behaviour and concentrate more on issues around eating. Possible reasons for Empty Bowl Syndrome may be the inability to see, smell or access the food remaining in the bowl.
Looking at the bowl first; is it suitable for your cat to easily eat from? Size, shape, height of rim, angle of rim to base, position, and colour are factors to consider. Does he eat differently out of different bowls? Which are better-suited to his needs? Is it always clean? Do other cats eat from this bowl?
Continuing with the bowl, look at the pattern of eating. Many of the photos on the Internet of cats complaining about empty bowls have eaten the food in the centre but not around the edges. Some cats may eat the food on one side of the bowl only – can they reach the other side comfortably and safely? If he has a tag on his collar check how far he can reach across a bowl without the tag catching on the rim of the bowl?
Look at the food in the bowl too. How does it contrast with the bowl, especially around the edges? How much light is there in the area of the food bowl – can he see the food? Is the food left in the bowl easy to pick up in his mouth – small pellets of food in the corners may not be accessible. Does the food have a smell that is easily detected amongst all the other smells in the area. Does he recognise that there is food left in the bowl?
Cats that catch their own prey do not cut it into small pieces and place it in a bowl before eating – they eat right there on the ground and spread out the food. Every part of the meal is accessible as they have the freedom to move around or move the prey.
I have been observing one of my cats who tends to be both fussy and hungry. She is a large cat with a large face so has a few large bowls with low rims (Beco bowls) and some china saucers of varying colours. She will eat most but usually not all of her soft food from the bowls and varying amounts of either soft or dry food from the saucers, seemingly depending on their colour. One saucer is white with a dark pattern around the edge; she will only eat food that is in the centre of this saucer. She rarely eats from the highly-patterned saucers.
The easiest way to give her food so that she eats as much as needs is on a flat surface; in this case laminated A3 card in a pastel colour so that it contrasts with the food. When she eats off this flat surface she eats more and has reduced both her fussiness and constant demand for food.
How does this removal of boundaries for food impact on puzzle feeders where food is ‘hidden’ for cats to find within a boundary? It is actually the same because the cat will remove food from the puzzle feeder and eat it in the open.