Does your beloved fur baby suddenly turn into a monster at dinner time? You're probably the victim of food aggression in your very own home.
Survival requires several specific resources for all species. Among these are air, water, and of course, food. If we stop to consider this, it may not be all that surprising if food aggression rears its ugly head when feeding beloved pets.
What Does Food Aggression Look Like?
It’s not uncommon to see food aggression in canines, but it appears to be much rarer in felines. Yet, there are food-obsessed kitties that turn into little tigers and behave aggressively as soon as it’s dinner time. Typical aggressive behavior includes:
Guarding the food bowl
Hissing, growling, or swatting during feeding
Swatting or striking if food is out
Terrorizing other family pets and chasing them away from food
Searching through rubbish for food
Present in the kitchen most of the time
Begging for food all the time
Carnivores and Solitary Predators
Cats are carnivores, so their normal diet will consist mostly of meat or fish and rodents when left to their own devices. As solitary predators, they eat alone and often. A cat’s inability to access a vital resource like food safely and alone, as would happen in nature, is thought to be a contributing factor to them not eating, overeating, obesity, and food gorging resulting in vomiting.
Potential Causes of Feline Food Aggression
Premature Weaning and Deprivation
Early experience with food can influence feline behavior in maturity. If a kitten is weaned too early, abandoned, or deprived of food and nutrition, it is more likely to develop a problematic relationship with food as it ages and develops. Because our feline family members depend on us for food, cats with bad experiences will be more inclined to food competition and conflict, especially when fed with other pets and only once or twice a day instead of multiple meals.
Feral Cats and Outdoor Strays
For felines that live outdoors, survival is an everyday challenge. Scarcity of food translates into competition for limited resources. These unfortunate kitties may go days without eating, so even if the cat is eventually adopted, the outdoor experience remains steadfastly in their psyche. They will continue to forage even when well-fed.
Felines are subject to stress just like we are. Common stressors for our beloved kitties include moving to a new home, introducing new cats into a household, changes in routine, and having lived previously in a shelter.
As sensitive as cats are, it doesn’t take a great deal for them to get stressed. It could even be that you’ve started spraying a deterrent in the home to keep the cat out of the fireplace or to stop them scratching the furniture. Changes like these can cause stress in cats leading to aggression.
Multi-Cat Families and Homes
Our favorite felines are naturally solitary predators. Cats hunt by themselves and prefer to eat alone. Therefore, if a cat is fed near other cats, he or she will instinctively guard their resources, especially if they are limited.
If cats need to compete for food, aggression is a logical reaction. Multiple cat homes can involuntarily create resource competition situations that lead to aggression in some felines.
If your cat is highly vocal when insisting on being fed, and you give in to constant food requests, you reinforce this behavior. Your cat will expect a food reward every time it vocalizes incessantly.
Hunting vs. Meal Feeding
In nature, cats will eat multiple small meals throughout the day and their digestive system is geared for this. Feeding cats two or three meals a day may frustrate them and contribute to aggressivity.
Dental issues can make eating painful, leading to aggressive behavior. Also, conditions like hyperthyroidism that rev up the metabolism, may make cats feel hungry most of the day contributing to aggression.
PAFB-Psychogenic Abnormal Feeding Behavior
Cats that are obsessed with food may be suffering from a mental condition that may be linked to a learning problem or stress early in life.
Dealing with Food Aggression in Cats
If your cat shows signs of food aggression, your first step will be to have your fur baby checked by your vet. This is to establish if there is an underlying medical issue that may be causing it. If your cat is healthy, here are several tips for managing feline food aggression:
Do not permit begging at the table. If necessary, confine your cat to another room when you are eating.
Do give treats constantly. Instead of rewarding with food, reward with attention.
Reinforce correct behavior with praise and interaction.
Ignore bad behavior.
If your cat is aggressive or growls when eating, give the kitty some space. Do not approach the food bowl or allow other pets or humans to invade your cat’s space while eating.
If you have a multiple pet household, feed your pets separately.
Give smaller, more frequent meals, at least five or more.
Place your cat’s food in a location with little activity, no traffic, and free of disturbing elements like bright lights, lots of noise, the litterbox, and distractions in general.
Choose a high-quality cat food
Minimize any of your cat’s stressors.