Cats Demanding Food

Dr. Houpt suggests ways to stop your cat’s begging

Q. I feed my cats twice a day at the same time, but I’m finding that my cats start acting out an hour or so before feeding time. For example, in the mornings, they’ll climb onto me in bed and start to paw at my face.

In the evening, they’ll start to paw at my house plants (and recently even pulled one off the shelf and shattered it on the floor) and excessively chewing on things. It just started happening within the past year or so.

I was thinking they were just hungry, but honestly, it’s starting to become annoying. I’m wondering if I should be feeding them the same amount, but spacing it out more throughout the day, or if there is any advice you can offer for how to mitigate their bad behavior before feeding times.

A. Katherine Houpt DVM, James Law Professor Emeritus, Section of Behavior Medicine at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, responds to our reader:

There are several steps in dealing with food-begging behavior. First, determine if your cats are fat, thin, or at an appropriate weight. If they are thin, feed them another meal a day. If they are fat, gradually switch them to a weight-reducing diet for cats. These high-fiber diets seem to reduce hunger while providing fewer calories.

If your cats’ weights are just right, then you can feed multiple smaller meals so that they are getting the same number of calories in a greater number of meals.

If you’re looking for more scientifically accurate behavior information, Decoding Your Cat is the book for you. Released by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists this year, it gives you an in-depth understanding of common cat behaviors and how to best handle them.

If your cats could, they would eat 12 mice a day apiece. With that in mind, it might be worth investigating one of the many automatic food-dispensing toys for cats or even the Hunting Feeder (No Bowl), which is a feeding method in which cat food is placed in plastic mice that then can be hidden around the house.

To deal with the specific problem of early-morning disturbances, you can purchase an automatic feeder that can be set for 6 a.m. or whenever the cats normally bother you. You may have to lead them to the kitchen a few times before they realize that the feeder opens, but most cats will then meow at the feeder rather than at you when they are hungry.

Finally, be sure that you give them regular evening play sessions with a fishing pole toy or laser pointer. Remember that a tired cat is a happy cat, if not a somnolent one.