how to stop a cat from meowing for food
Behavioral Problems

How to Train Your Cat to Stop Begging for Food

Cats are extremely food-focused animals, so it’s common to find that a cat constantly begs for food. Sometimes, this plea is due to genuine hunger. Your cat is wondering where their dinner is, and is reminding you that it’s long overdue. On other occasions, however, a feline may just be greedy.

Never let your cat get their own way as it will reinforce negative behavior. If your cat learns that making a nuisance of itself gets results, they’ll never stop. You need to establish a routine. Feed them cat food only, in their own dish, at the same time each day. If the behavior continues, have them seen by a vet. Some illnesses can leave felines in a perpetual state of hunger.

If you’re consistent, cats can be trained. Felines may be strong-minded and independent, but they love routine. We will look at how you can teach your cat the appropriate boundaries for food. For the sake of your pet’s health, it’s important that you do so at an early stage.

Why Do Cats Beg for Food?

There are various reasons why a cat begs for food. Some potential explanations include:

  • Your cat is hungry, and it’s past dinnertime.
  • Your cat has their food, but they think what you have is potentially tastier.
  • Your cat is sick. There are many illnesses that lead to food begging.
  • Your cat’s metabolism is wired to eat little and often, not substantially once.
  • Your cat associates food with human attention. It may be playtime that your cat wants, not additional food.
  • Your cat is attempting to assert dominance over you. Providing food every time they demand it sends your pet a message that they’re in charge.

Before you tackle your cat’s food fixation, you need to determine what is causing it. Are they unwell – physically or psychologically – or just greedy?

Are they anxious about food because they cannot be sure when their next meal is coming? Do they feel neglected, and think that mealtimes are the only occasions they receive sufficient attention? Do they think that human meals are tastier?

Once you have learned why your cat acts this way, you can start to deal with it. Most food-related behaviors can be managed with training at home.

Be prepared, but you may need to bring in professional help. If your cat’s food obsession becomes an eating disorder, you won’t be able to handle it alone.

How to Stop a Cat from Meowing for Food

The first step to dealing with a cat that cries for food constantly is training.

You’ll need to be consistent and strong with this. It may take time to stick, and your pet is likely to be grumpy. However, in many cases, it will pay off. Think of food training as a short-term struggle for long-term gain.

To make the training process easier, let’s break it down into some golden rules. We will then discuss each of them in greater detail.

  1. Never directly engage with the begging cat.
  2. No human food ever.
  3. Establish a clear routine surrounding food, and stick to it.
  4. Ensure that all of your cat’s other needs are also being met.

All of these rules are pivotal, but rule one is key to getting the training process started.

1) Do Not Encourage Begging

As far as your cat is concerned, any attention is good. This goes double where food is concerned. If your cat learns that incessant meowing gets a response, they’ll do it more. Do not react.

That means not caving in, and offering something from your plate or a treat. That means not stroking and petting your cat. It certainly means not scolding them and telling them to shut up.

If you really can’t face the meowing any longer, consider putting your cat in time out. Set up a different room for them, and close the door.

They’ll need a litter tray, fresh water, and a scratching post in there. Just don’t be surprised if your cat is grumpy when you release them again.

cat cries for food constantly

2) Never Give Your Cat Human Food

Rule #2 is also hugely important. It only takes one taste of human food to get a cat hooked. What’s more, felines can be famously fussy eaters. If they decide your meal is more appealing than theirs, cats can be hugely stubborn. This leads us back to rule #1.

A healthy cat won’t willingly starve – they’ll eat their own food eventually. Don’t place temptation in their path by introducing human food, and don’t leave leftovers lying around. That’s an invitation to a cat to leap onto a table and help themselves.

3) Establish Consistent Feeding Habits

Routine is pivotal to cats, especially where food is concerned. Ensure that your cat is fed at roughly the same time every day. This way, they’ll know when to expect the food to arrive. If you can’t guarantee this, invest in an automatic feeder.

Be consistent with what your cat is fed – both quality and quantity. Don’t mix-and-match between wet and dry food. It’s one or both, every day.

Don’t change brands each day, either. Your cat will find something they like, and reject alternatives. Also, don’t give your cat a full tin one day, and half a tin the next. This will confuse them.

If you’re unsure exactly how much you should be feeding your pet, welcome to the club. Some claim that cats should eat once and heartily, others that several, small meals are better.

Providing your cat with their meal before you eat is also a good habit to establish. If a cat’s stomach is full, they’ll usually groom themselves or take a nap. This means that they’ll be otherwise occupied while you eat, and not bother you.

4) Provide Your Cat with Non-Food Focused Attention

If you live a busy life and work full time, your cat may feel a little neglected. Even though felines are wholly independent, they crave the attention and companionship of their owners.

Many cat owners accompany your pet’s dinner with lots of strokes, cuddles, and affection. In your cat’s mind, this creates a link. Food equals attention. This means that they’ll beg for more food, when they’re pining for playtime.

Carve out at least 20 minutes of every day for one-on-one cat playtime. Separate this very distinctly from your cat’s eating time.

This will break the link between food and attention in your pet’s mind. They may then beg for playtime instead, but that’s another issue for another day.

My Cat is Obsessed with Human Food

If your cat will not leave human food alone, there could be various reasons why.

Your cat may have developed a taste for it. Have you let your cat sample what’s on your plate? Do you leave dishes lying around before washing them? Cats like what they’re not supposed to have. This is a fast track to a picky eater, and something that must be avoided at all costs.

There’s always the possibility that your cat is just bored with their own food, too. We have previously mentioned that consistency is critical when it comes to cat food. However, you can change up the flavors within the same brand and consistency.

If you must incorporate human food into your cat’s diet, do so delicately. Try drizzling some tuna juice over their food. This way, they can get a taste without packing in too many calories.

One thing to be careful of is the possibility of psychogenic abnormal feeding behavior. As DVM360 explains, this is a mental health condition that sometimes impacts upon felines.

The closest equivalent is food aggression, which is more closely linked with dogs than cats. Cats with this condition will typically display the following behaviors:

  • Aggressively demanding food constantly
  • Stalking and guarding food sources
  • Snatching human food from plates
  • Snatching a food bowl from human hands during feeding time
  • Hissing and growling at anybody that approaches the food bowl
  • Wolfing down food at a rate of knots
  • Stealing food from other cats

Psychogenic abnormal feeding behavior is a form of pica, the compulsion to eat. Pica is usually diagnosed when a cat eats non-food items. There is no medication for this condition, but it can be managed through cognitive behavioral therapy.

Dealing with psychogenic abnormal feeding behavior requires more delicacy. If your cat has this issue, never eat in front of them. Your cat should not encounter food unless it’s theirs, and it’s mealtime. Beyond this, keep your cat in a routine and prevent them from becoming stressed.

Don’t attempt to self-diagnose psychogenic abnormal feeding behavior. This should be reviewed by a veterinarian. They will likely recommend lifestyle changes, but it’s always better to receive a professional opinion.

My Cat is Always Hungry and Gaining Weight

If your cat seems to have a constant hunger, it will likely take its toll on their waistline. Obesity is a severe problem for cats, and must be managed carefully. The first step of this is assessing whether your cat is hungry. Are you sure they’re not just comfort eating?

Cats can build an emotional relationship with food. Senior cats may eat as a hobby, as they’re bored. As cats grow older, they exercise and play less.

Sometimes, they fill this gap in their schedule with eating. That must be avoided, so stop free-feeding dry food in such circumstances. Encourage your cat to play and exercise instead, whether they like it or not.

cat demanding food

Some cats also eat when they’re stressed. They could be mourning the loss of an owner or cat, or experiencing a change in routine. Keep your cat calm in whatever way you can, and distract them from food with attention.

It’s possible that your cat sees food as consolation and relief. Show them that they can feel great without eating by providing attention and kindness.

You should also review the nutritional value of your cat’s food. If they are eating a low-quality meal, they won’t remain satisfied for long. You can feed wet or dry, depending on their preference. They need to be nutrient-dense ingredients.

Things to look out for include a named, and specific, protein source. If the food says, “meat,” avoid it. Would you eat non-specific tinned meat? Instead, look out for something like, “chicken liver” or “turkey heart.”

Consider the fat in the food carefully too. This, again, should be named – not just labeled as fat. Ensure that your cat food lists the animal used (chicken, salmon, etc.), and any oils. Much of the energy in cat food stems from fat, so it’s important to get this right

The National Academy of Science explains quantities. A typical cat needs 12.5g of protein and 5.5g of fat each day. Avoid exceeding these quantities, as that can harm your pet.

You should also be aware of the carbohydrates found in the cat food. Avoid wheat and grain wherever possible. These ingredients are used as filler in many dry foods, but they’re wholly unnecessary.

Cats struggle to digest these ingredients, and they’re just empty calories. Some felines are even allergic. Peas, yams or starch are ideal carb-centric filler ingredients.

Should I Put My Cat on a Diet?

If your cat is piling on the pounds, they’ll need to trim down. Exercise plays a pivotal role in this, but so does food intake. If your cat consumes more calories than they burn, they’ll gain weight.

An adult cat should weight around 8 – 10 lbs. When it comes to maintaining weight, indoor cats should consume 20 calories per pound of weight.

If your cat roams outdoors, this can be increased to 35 calories. This should be dropped if your cat needs to lose weight. PetSci has a handy calorie calculator that recommends intake based on a target weight.

Don’t attempt too much, too soon. Losing one pound a month is realistic, unless your vet recommends a crash diet.

You could try breaking your cat’s food allowance into several, smaller meals too. This will help them psychologically, as they will not feel like they are being starved.

My Cat is Always Hungry but is Losing Weight

Sudden, inexplicable weight loss when eating a lot is a sign of poor health. Health concerns including cancer, kidney disease, diabetes or hypertension could be to blame. These issues must be quickly reviewed by a vet. The earlier you capture them, the better the prognosis for your pet.

Internal parasites are also a potential explanation. Worms, in particular, will burrow inside your cat’s body and steal any nutrition. This means that, no matter how much your cat eats, they’ll always be hungry. They’ll also likely start to drop weight rapidly.

Keeping on top of your cat’s worming schedule is the best treatment. Prevention is better than cure, after all. If your cat does end up with an infection, however, take them to a vet.

Deworming is possible at home, but it’s best handled by a professional. Cats do not have much weight in reserve, so don’t take any chances.

Cat begging is an unwelcome habit, and one that must never be encouraged. Felines are masters of manipulation, and will soon have you right where they want you.

If you start to cave, you’ll never have control over your pet’s eating habits again. What a cat wants and what is good for them are often mutually exclusive concepts.