Why Don’t Cats Finish Their Food?

If an owner, you’ve likely experienced your cat leaving food in its bowl after eating. This can be concerning, especially if you suspect your cat’s not eaten enough food. There are several reasons why cats do this.

Cats won’t eat all of their food if they lack a set feeding routine. They’ll also turn their noses up if they don’t like the food you offer them, eating only enough to survive. Illnesses and mouth issues are also to blame, so watch out for any signs of pain or discomfort while your cat eats. Your cat might able be getting food elsewhere – by hunting or from a neighbor. As a result, it might not be hungry enough for an entire bowl of food. Stress, instincts, sensitive whiskers, too many treats, and old, decaying food are also common reasons your cat doesn’t finish its food.

To ensure your cat doesn’t go hungry, you should attempt to understand the reason your cat refuses to eat everything in its bowl. That way, if it is because of a health problem, you can get it checked out by a vet.

Why Do Cats Never Finish Their Food?

A cat’s stomach is roughly the size of a ping pong ball, which can only hold 1-2 tablespoons of food at one time. Their stomachs aren’t designed to store too much food, and over-eating causes them to vomit it back up. This is why your cat might only have a small nibble at its food now and then.

Cats only need 250 calories a day. For wild cats, this is equivalent to 7-8 mice. This seems like a lot, but the average mouse only contains around 35 calories. Commercial food is formulated to give your cat the nutrients it needs every day, so it’s vital you only provide the recommended daily amount. Any more will be too much for your cat’s small stomach to handle.

As a rule of thumb, cats should have approximately 24-35 calories per pound a day to keep them at a healthy weight.

Why Do Cats Leave Food in Their Bowl?

There are several reasons why cats leave food in their bowl. While your first thought might be that it’s due to a health condition or disease, that’s rarely the case. However, you must monitor your cat’s behavior for signs of pain and distress, just in case. These are the most likely reasons your cat doesn’t eat all of its food in one go:

Not Hungry

One of the most obvious and common reasons your cat leaves food in its bowl is because it’s not hungry. It’s sometimes hard to tell whether cats are ready for food or not, especially if they hunt and eat their prey. Similarly, some cats regularly visit neighboring houses for food, so there’s every possibility your cat’s already filled itself up without you realizing it.

If your cat doesn’t beg or cry for food and doesn’t seem to be losing any weight, you can be relatively confident it’s getting food elsewhere. It might be worth investigating to ensure that a well-meaning neighbor isn’t giving your cat extra meals without your knowledge or permission.


In the wild, cats save food for later. That’s because they never know when their next meal’s going to come. Cats instinctively hunt throughout the day, eating multiple small meals. Hunting isn’t triggered by hunger, but they consume to boost their energy levels and receive the nutrition they need.

Most cats prefer to eat several small meals a day instead of 2-3 large ones and won’t eat all of the food you give them in one sitting because that’s not what their instincts tell them to do.

Being full also hinders their athletic abilities, meaning they’re unable to run away and save themselves from danger. Leaving out a bowl of dry kibble that cats can nibble on throughout the day ensures they fill up when they need to and allows them to stock up on the right vitamins and minerals.


Some cats are fussy and only eat certain foods. Because foods are so palatable, it’s not too common to find a picky eater, but it can happen. VCA Hospitals explains how providing cats with too much variety can overwhelm them, turning them into fussy eaters.

Cats commonly eat food they don’t like for a little while, then soon give up. Their survival instincts will eventually kick in, but forcing them to eat food they don’t like can actually lead to health and behavioral problems in the long run.

To encourage your cat to eat its food, leave its breakfast meal out for 15-30 minutes, then take it away. When the next mealtime comes around, offer your cat the food for another 15-30 minutes before removing it. Discard anything your cat doesn’t eat.


If your cat feels unwell, it’ll only eat what it needs to survive. It might not have an appetite altogether, but it won’t let itself starve. As described by MSD Veterinary Manual, gum disease is common in cats. This causes pain, making it uncomfortable for cats to eat everything in the bowl.

Mouth ulcers and tongue inflammation are also common and occur due to infections, diseases, and wounds. Other health conditions that could affect your cat’s eating habits include:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Tooth pain
  • Urinary obstruction
  • Pancreatitis (inflamed pancreas)
  • Digestive obstruction
  • Upper respiratory infection
  • Kidney disease

If your cat appears unable to eat all of its food, monitor it for any signs of pain, discomfort, or distress and take it to a vet for an examination.

why do cats leave food in their bowl?


Stressed cats don’t usually have much of an appetite. They’ll eat to keep themselves alive, but they don’t enjoy eating their food. Several things cause feline stress, including:

  • Loneliness
  • Boredom
  • Changes to the environment
  • Aggressive pets
  • Lack of privacy or hiding spots
  • Moving house
  • Loud noises

The location of your cat’s food could also be a problem. If it’s too close to the litter tray, it’ll refuse to eat, especially if the litter’s soiled and needs cleaning.

Similarly, if you have others cats or pets in the house that compete with one another for food, your cat will eat what it can before making itself scarce. This explains why your cat’s not always able to eat everything in the bowl.

Tongue Problems

Some cats have difficulty grasping their food with their tongues. This is particularly common in brachycephalic breeds with flat faces, such as Persians. Because of their unique head shape, they have soft palates, which means some struggle to pick up their food and do so with the underside of their tongues.

This makes eating difficult, particularly if you feed your cat wet food or use a deep bowl. In some cases, you’ll need to hand-feed your cat to ensure it gets the nutrition it needs. Otherwise, a vet will need to look at your cat’s eating abilities and decide whether there’s a treatment for it.

Sensitive Whiskers

Another reason your cat can’t eat all of its food is that its whiskers are too delicate to go rooting through the bowl. Their whiskers are highly sensitive, and they sometimes affect the amount your cat can eat.

Each whisker comprises mechanoreceptors, which are tiny tactile receptors responsible for handling information about mechanical pressure. They’re located along their fur and whiskers, increasing the cat’s sensitivity to the world around it.

The roots of whiskers have blood vessels and nerve receptors, allowing information to be sent straight to the brain, giving cats their lightning-fast reflexes.

Whisker fatigue is caused by small bowls or bowls that have high sides. Their whiskers brush against the plate or bowl, causing stress or inappetence over prolonged periods. Eventually, your cat will only manage a few small bites of food.

To prevent this, you’ll need to provide a bowl that’s large or wide enough for your cat to eat without it brushing its whiskers on it.

Too Many Treats

If you regularly feed your cat tasty treats, it won’t be hungry enough to eat all its food. Remember, cats only have small stomachs, so they can only cope with a small amount of food. Treats soon add up, leaving cats feeling full.

Similarly, if your cat’s a picky eater and you tempt it with its favorite treats, it’ll learn that refusing to eat its food gets them something better, breeding bad feeding behavior. To combat this, you’ll need to cut the number of treats you feed your cat and only provide it with its healthy, everyday food whenever it’s hungry.

Lack of Routine

Cats without a regular feeding routine are more likely to leave food in their bowl, as they’re unsure of when they’re next going to eat. Free-feeding isn’t a good idea for cats who don’t hunt for food. Establishing a routine by feeding your cat at the same times every day should make your cat feel more comfortable about eating everything in the bowl, preventing routine-related stress.

Inedible Food

Dry kibble can be left out for a little while, but you must replace wet or raw food as soon as possible. If you leave it to go dry and stale, your cat will turn its nose up at it. And the longer you leave it out, the smellier it’ll get, making it particularly unattractive to cats.

Old food is at risk of flies getting in and laying their eggs. It’s also likely to harbor harmful bacteria, so only give your cat what it’s able to eat in one sitting. Some cats prefer eating little and often, preventing waste and illness from spoiled food.

Do Cats Get Bored of the Same Food?

While we wouldn’t want to eat the same thing day in, day out, cats are different. Cats need six things to survive:

  • Water
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Protein
  • Carbohydrates
  • Fats

Their instincts rely solely on getting the nutrients they need to stay alive – they’re rarely motivated by taste. After all, wild cats eat a diet of mice, birds, and other small rodents.

Cats are creatures of habit, so they actually prefer to eat the same food because they know it’s safe. Eating something new and unfamiliar could be harmful, so cats prefer to avoid it.

Cat Starts to Eat Then Runs Away

Your cat will run away, leaving food behind, because of its instincts. Cats are programmed to leave some food behind, rushing to eat before moving on to the next hunt. Domestic cats are hard-wired to do the same, even if they don’t hunt. This doesn’t mean they won’t eat – they’ll come back for the rest of their food later.

Fear is also another factor. If your cat feels scared or gets startled while eating, it’ll run away to protect itself. That’s why you must carefully position your cat’s food bowl and water so that they’re in the safest spot, allowing your cat to eat uninterrupted. Place them in a quiet area without too much traffic to let your cat eat in peace. Otherwise, it won’t feel comfortable enough to feed.

why do cats only eat the middle of the bowl?

Why Do Cats Only Eat the Middle of the Bowl?

If you notice your cat only eats in the middle of its bowl, it’s likely because of its sensitive whiskers. We’ve mentioned how they’re sensitive, and when the bowl’s too deep and narrow, they’re forced to put their entire faces into the bowl to eat. Eating from the middle prevents their whiskers from hitting the sides of it.

Similarly, rooting around in the middle of the bowl pushes the food up to the sides, making it difficult for cats to pick it up with their mouths. They don’t have long, strong tongues to clean up the remaining food, so they’ll leave it until you fill up the center of the bowl.

You may even notice your cat acting as if there’s no more food in the bowl. It’s not going blind – it just can’t eat it.

How To Encourage Your Cat To Eat More

If your cat’s a fussy eater or refuses to eat enough food, there are several things you can do to stimulate its appetite, such as:

  • Keep the food bowl away from dangers, such as other pets that are likely to steal it.
  • Don’t watch your cat eat, or it may see you as a predator.
  • Switch a deep bowl for a shallow dish so that it can scoop up the food more easily.
  • Try different food. If your cat doesn’t finish wet food, try dry kibble (and vice versa).
  • Feed your cat smell meals every few hours and monitor the amount it eats to see if this makes a difference.
  • If your cat doesn’t take to cat food, try offering it cooked chicken and rice, tuna, or scrambled egg to see if it encourages eating.
  • Mix the food in fish oil or broth to entice your cat. The smellier, the better.
  • Always refresh and replace old wet food to prevent any avoidable health issues.

Don’t pressure your cat into eating, or it’ll have the opposite effect. If you try all of these things and your cat still has trouble eating, get it checked over by a vet to rule out any health conditions.

While it’s tempting to supplement the food your cat doesn’t eat with tasty treats, this will only cause bad habits, making your cat even more of a fussy eater. Once you’ve got your pet into a good routine, stick to it, and your cat should eat more often.

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Richard Parker

I'm Richard, the lead writer for Senior Cat Wellness. I'm experienced in all cat health-related matters, behavioral issues, grooming techniques, and general pet care. I'm a proud owner of 5 adult cats (all adopted strays), including a senior cat who is now 20.

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