Finicky cat with food choices

Finicky Cats and Fat Cats: How we affect the way our cats eat

Finicky cats

Cats are notorious for being picky eaters – the pet food industry has responded to this by coming out with more products with different textures, tastes, and novel ingredients. We know that cats can taste the amino acids in food and are discriminating when it comes to spoilage and quality of protein in their food.  Are they really that picky?  What does my cat taste?

It is natural for you to become concerned or frustrated when your cat eats a few mouthfuls and walks away. You may think that she does not like the food so you offer a different type; you offer the food again, trying to coax her to eat. When we become increasingly involved in our cats’ eating, we may inadvertently cause stress and anxiety for them.

Your cat may not be finicky – he has a small stomach and can only eat so much. Perhaps the meal portion is too large – smaller frequent meals suit his physiology better.   How to Feed Your Cat : Feeding Multiple Small Meals

Leave That Cat Alone!

Surefeeder for Cat
Athena’s Surefeeder opens only for her. Note the bubble on the back to keep the other cats out.

My oldest cat, Athena, is 15 years old and has chronic kidney disease. The younger cats in the house want to eat her food and would wait close by while she eats to get what she leaves. Athena would eat a few mouthfuls and leave. I started to follow her around with the food dishes to make sure she had an opportunity to eat. She often would walk away from me and the food bowl. She was losing weight!

The Problem

  1.  Athena should have a diet with a phosphorus binder in it due to her kidney disease
  2. She needs to have food available for grazing throughout the day that other cats can’t eat
  3. She needs to access her food herself without an over attentive owner (me!) hovering over her.


A Solution

  1. Athena is offered 1 tbsp of food twice daily at the same time the other cats are meal fed.
  2. The cats are spread apart (over 6 feet away from each other) while eating.
  3. We bought Athena a microchip feeder and put food for day and night time grazing in it.
  4. Her chip feeder is in the second floor bedroom where she spends most of her time during the day.
  5. I don’t follow her when she is done the twice daily feeding – I allow the younger cats eat her leftovers that are not in the chip feeder.

The Fat Cat -How we affect the way our cats eat

  • The fat cat has no reason to prowl around looking for food
  • Food is left out in the same place every day
  • In multi-cat homes, it is not uncommon for all cats to eat in the same place
  • The fat cat may gorge himself to make sure other cats don’t eat his food
  • A bowl of food left out for our fat cat to graze on may trigger self-soothing activities such as over-eating and over-grooming

Solutions for our fat cats…

  • Feed several smaller meals – measure them!
  • Place food in different locations – keep him moving
  • In multi-cat homes, feed the cats apart and use individual bowls
  • Consider microchip feeders to restrict access to other cats’ food

Don’t forget you can feed on different levels – cats who prefer high spaces may like to snack up on the cat tree or other high space!

How Much Should I feed My Cat?

Cats, like people, are individuals and some can eat more than others and remain slim. Below is a link to a chart of weight and calories. Calorie amounts for indoor cats are on the lower end of the range. Calories for most cat foods can be found on the package or on the manufacturer’s website.

Calorie Needs for Healthy Adult Cats

My cat should lose weight…

  • measure what your cat eats
  • evaluate their body and muscle condition
  • weigh them
  • do not adjust their calories by more than 10-20% at a time
  • consult with your veterinary team to make sure your cat gets the right amount of calories!

How to Tell if Your Cat is Fat

Frequent meals – happier cats?

A recent study found that once daily canned feeding for cats may help with weight loss. One group of cats had 90 minutes to eat 198 kcal canned food once a day. The second group were offered the same amount of food in 4 feedings, 20 minutes long.

Although group 1 consumed less calories than group 2, the cats fed 4 x daily were observed to be more active, particularly during the daylight hours (when the staff was around).

Frequent meals stimulate your cat and keep him from becoming bored and depressed. Frequent meals also increase your interaction with your cat.

Once-per-day feedings for cats

Daily Food Portion Cat
Gus looks at his daily food allotment. Treats count!


How do you tell if your cat is fat?

Cat on Baby Scale
This scale does not tip when your cat walks on it. I have added a non-skid mat.

You can weigh her.  The easiest way to do this is to purchase a baby scale.  There are many brands online for purchase – check the customer reviews.  You will not be putting the scale through the heavy use a veterinary clinic does, so one of the less expensive ones should work.  I prefer the style that does not have a separate tray – these do not “tilt” if your cat backs up or steps on the edge.

But weight does not tell the entire story…

The Body Condition Score – how do you tell if your cat is fat?

  • assigns a number between 1-9 to your cat
  • uses your cat’s profile
  • uses how much fat covers the ribs
  • uses how big is the fat pad on her belly
  • a score of 1 is skeletal
  • a score of 9 is very overweight
  • a score of 5 is JUST RIGHT!

The BCS ( Body Condition Score chart ) in 3 steps

  1. Look at your cat from overhead
  2. Look at your cat from the side
  3. Feel your cat’s ribs

Your Cat from Overhead – your cat should have a “waist” between the end of his ribs and his hips

Your Cat should have a waist
From Left to Right: Gus as he lost weight BCS 8, BCS 6.5, BCS 5

Your cat from the side – your cat should have a “tuck” when seen/felt from the side – this is separate from the loose flap of skin on the belly

Your Cat should have a tuck when seen from the side
Zelda as she lost weight: Left – BCS of 9, and BCS of 6

Feel Your Cat’s Ribs



  • Feel your cat’s side with FLAT fingers – you should be able to feel her ribs; there will be small layer amount of fat
  • If you have to “dig” (turn your fingers in ) a little, her score may be a 6 or 7
  • If you can’t feel her ribs at all because of the fat covering, she is most likely a score 8 or 9 – she will have a rounded belly with an easily felt fat pad.
if your cat is long-haired, it is much harder to score her visually.  You will have to feel her waist and “tuck” through the fur.

Muscle Condition – part of your cat’s body condition


How do you tell if your cat is fat? Check her muscle condition.

  • Use your fingers to feel the muscle along either side of the spine.
  • What you are feeling for is the thickness of the muscle.
  • A healthy young cat’s back muscles will feel like the outer edge of the palm of your hand.
  • As your cat ages or becomes sick, the muscles will thin out and feel more like the balls of your hands (MILD muscle loss).
  • Further aging and disorders like chronic kidney disease can reduce muscle mass further. The muscle will feel more like the backs of your hands (MODERATE muscle loss).
  • With very old or very sick cats, the vertebrae and pelvic bones become more pronounced  and feel more like your knuckles (SEVERE muscle loss).
You can assess your cat’s muscle condition when you are stroking her – think of it as a back massage!

Feeding Your Cat – Choosing a Food

Cats evolved as predators. They get most of their nutrition from meat. They have small stomachs and short gastrointestinal tracts designed to digest animal protein (meat). Cats are what we call “obligate carnivores” -they must eat meat, unlike dogs and humans who are omnivores (eat a combination of plant and animal foods).

Cat hunting treat ball
Zelda “hunts” some dry food from a treat ball

So what do I feed my cat? A diet high in protein.

How much protein?

  • Feral cats consume of diet of about 52% kcal of protein and 46%  kcal of fat.
  • Nutrient Profiles of Feral-Cats
  • Adult domestic cats when given the choice, eat 52% kcal protein, 36% kcal fat and 12% kcal carbohydrates
  • Protein and carbohydrates provide about 4 kcal per gram of food, while fats supply 9 kcal per gram of food.
  • A 100 kcal portion of food of choice for an adult domestic cat would contain about 13 g protein, 4 g fat and 3 g carbohydrates.
  • The guaranteed analysis on the pet food label refers to weights of the nutrients.

The Label on the Cat Food

Pet food is regulated somewhat loosely – the The Association of American Feed Control Officials or AAFCO is an organization with no actual regulatory authority although individual members may have jurisdiction in their countries. The FDA is a member of AAFCO and has regulatory authority in the United States.

  • AAFCO sets recommended standards for nutrient levels and ingredients in pet food.
  • Most pet food manufacturers make their food to meet or exceed these requirements. 
  • AAFCO also provides models for feeding trials.
  • AAFCO recommends a minimum of 26% crude protein in cat foods.

Don’t Forget the Water!

The label on a can of Purina Pro Plan canned cat food reports a minimum protein of 10%.  The food has a maximum moisture level of 78%. The canned food has 100%-78% = 22% dry matter. Per 100g, 10g are protein, 78g are water resulting 12g of dry matter. 10g/22g = 0.45. Multiply by 100 to get 45% of crude protein dry matter.

Comparing Pet Foods

Maintenance Diet Label

Label Maintenance Cat Food
This a label for a maintenance diet for Maine Coon cats.

Note the protein exceeds the minimum of 26%. This food is for maintenance of adult cats.

Restricted Diet Label

AAFCO cat kidney food
The feeding statement on this label says the food is for intermittent feeding.

This is a label from a food designed for cats with kidney disease – it is lower in protein than a maintenance diet. It should be fed under the direction of a veterinarian.  You may see this type of label on food toppers and other products that are not a balanced diet.


Feeding Trial Label

AAFCO feeding test

This food was tested by being fed to a cats in a research setting.  Cats are monitored by evaluating their weight, stool, urine, and blood periodically.

The feeding trial is the GOLD standard to evaluate a pet food. Most pet foods are recipes and few pet food manufacturers can afford to maintain colonies of cats to feed the food to and monitor their health. This falls to the larger, more established pet food manufacturers who can afford this expense. If you see the feeding statement on the bag or can, you know cats have eaten the food and thrived.

Canned or Dry?

Cats will thrive on an all dry diet as well as a 100% canned diet. Cats appreciate variety and feeding your cat a mixture of canned and dry may fit the bill.

Canned Foods

canned cat food meal feeding
Canned foods lend themselves to meal feeding.
  • most of the time (but not always) has more protein than dry food
  • provides water to your cat
  • cats in the wild get most of their water from the prey animals they eat
  • Canned foods lend themselves to meal feeding


Dry Foods

Dry cat food in puzzle feeder
Dry foods are easy to use in puzzle feeders.
  • convenient
  • do not spoil when left out
  • work well in puzzle feeders, that can provide your cat with some much needed stimulation while you are away
  • Like potato chips for humans, dry cat foods are formulated to be tasty and are often high in calories.


Feeding Your Cat – Which Food?


  • Choose a food that lists meat and/or fish at the top of the ingredient list.
  • Choose a food that meets the AAFCO nutritional minimums.
  • Choose a food from a reputable manufacturer, one that employs a veterinary nutritionist
  • Beware of marketing that targets us, the owners. For example, some brands offer cranberries or blueberries in their foods. While not harmful, there are no clinical studies at this time that show the benefits of these ingredients to cats.