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Viewing cats’ eating behaviors from this perspective leads directly to some ideas about their causes. As we know, cats are a prey as well as predator species, and eating is a vulnerable time. Because of this, cats in threatening environments may wolf down their food, pick at their food, or run off to eat portions of their food away from the bowl and other cats before returning for more.
All of these behaviors minimize the time spent in what the cat may perceive to be a threatening area. These perceived threats might be emanating from other cats, appliances, high-traffic areas of the house, proximity to windows, etc. Creating individual feeding stations in safe, quiet areas of the home can usually resolve these eating behaviors if they are of concern.
Some cats prefer canned or dry food or a particular prey to other alternatives, and sometimes cats will eat only a single kind of food. (Always have your cat examined by a veterinarian to make sure there isn’t a medical reason for the preference, such as dental or oral disease.) There are a number of possibilities for these behaviors.
Food preferences develop in cats early in life, influenced by what their mother eats and provides for them. That is why some veterinarians recommend that kittens be offered an assortment of foods, so that they become used to variety. The home environment also plays a role, in that cats, like many animals, are more interested in novel foods when they feel they are in safe rather than threatening environments. In threatening environments, they prefer familiar, safe, foods.
Differences in prey preferences during hunting or play can be observed by owners and used to guide choices of toys — food based and otherwise — to offer your cat. Cats who jump at objects in the air may prefer “birdlike” toys, whereas cats who chase bugs may prefer laser pointers or pieces of dry food rolled across hard floor surfaces. The range of toys for cats is seemingly endless, as a quick Internet search for “cat toys” demonstrates. A bit of time spent observing what your cat chooses to play with as “prey” will help you choose toys that will provide the most fun for both you and your cat—a bonus ofyour attention to his diet.
Some owners also report that their cats bring them hunting trophies.Because cats are opportunistic hunters who will hunt any time game is available, they do not stop killing to eat, but instead store food to eat later. And what safer place to store a kill than with one’s feeder (that's you)?
When your cat brings you a mouse, he is more likely saying, “Hold this; I’ll be back,” rather than, “See what I brought you?” Along the same lines, owners often become concerned about their cats leaving food in their bowls, but as long as a cat is healthy, this can be considered normal behavior. The cat may simply feel that it is safe to leave uneaten food in your presence.
Of course, cats are individuals (because of history, context and expectation), so your cat may or may not engage in any of these eating behaviors. If he is engaging in a feeding activity you have questions about, you may be able to figure out what is going on with your cat by taking a closer look at all of his behaviors, the context in which they occur, and the quality of the environment in which he lives.
Read more articles by Dr. Tony Buffington:
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