Testing Cat Food Palatability

Simple ways to see if your cat is happy with his food


We all want our cat’s food to be nutritious and enticing. AFB International, a pet food research company that concentrates on evaluating how tasty foods are to pets and how to encourage pets to enjoy their diets, uses applied behavior research to determine which foods cats prefer. With a little effort, you can adapt this method to use on your own cat.

The standard method is to provide two bowls, each with a different diet, and then measure how much the cat eats from each bowl. You can also use just one bowl, but alternate which food a cat is fed and see how much the cat eats.

But AFB wanted to mimic palatability under conditions similar to what a cat might have at home. Sixteen cats were used for the feeding trials. The first was a simple “Food Focus—Nose in Bowl” trial. Cats were timed as to how engaged they were in eating, how easy it was to distract them and how distracted they were, as well as how much food was consumed.

The second test was “Work Effort—Puzzle Trials.” In this case, cats had food puzzles to work through to get the food. As the cat worked through one puzzle, it became harder to earn the treats. A second puzzle that was easier but containing a different treat was also available. Cats tended to continue working the harder puzzle if it had the treat they preferred.

The third and final test was “Interaction – Hand Feeding Trials.” For this trial, treats were offered by hand. The goal was to get the cat to get into the tester’s lap. Ideally the cat would then stay for additional petting, suggesting that the food/treat was important for bonding.

If you’re unsure if your cat truly enjoys his meals, these are simple ways for you to test at home and determine the palatability of cat foods.