Cats are known to be finicky eaters. At the same time, it’s essential for them to eat enough food. They have low stores of fat and protein, so they can quickly become anorexic and unhealthy if they aren’t getting enough food, particularly protein. 

Many worried owners find themselves hand feeding their cat, because it’s the only way their cat will eat. However, you may quickly become tired of providing all your cat’s meals by hand. 

Why does my cat only eat out of my hand?

There are several reasons why your cat may only eat out of your hand, and not the bowl. If you want to stop hand feeding your cat, it’s important to know what caused the issue to begin with. 

Positive Reinforcement

The most common reason your cat will only eat from your hand is actually you! If you allow your cat to eat from your hand, you can expect them to do so. 

The cat enjoys eating from your hand. It makes them feel cared for and pampered. It gives them guaranteed attention. It’s no surprise that they want to eat from your hand. 

When you allow your cat to eat out of your hand, you are rewarding them for not eating out of their bowl. It’s similar to a child who is throwing a fit for a toy. If the parent gives in and gets them the toy, they will throw a fit in the future, expecting the same positive result. 

Of course, a child will usually not cause themselves harm by throwing a fit, but a cat not eating is a concern. It’s understandable for you to feed them by hand, just so they will eat. However, it is important to realize the impact this has on future feedings. 

Whiskers Touching Bowl

If you feed your cat from a bowl, it may be the problem. Cats use their whiskers to help them navigate the world around them, along with their sense of sight. 

You may have noticed your cat is very sensitive about their whiskers, and doesn’t like them being touched. They are finely tuned sensory tools. 

If you feed your cat from a bowl with high sides, their whiskers will touch the bowl. Your cat may find this uncomfortable or disruptive to their meal. Imagine if you were constantly rubbing your hands against something while eating. The sensory input would make eating more difficult, and you’d certainly prefer not to deal with the extra input. 

When you feed your cat from your open palm, this eliminates the problem posed by the tall sides of the bowl. 

Bowl on Floor 

Your cat may not like eating from a bowl or plate in the floor, because it’s hard for them to observe their environment while eating from the floor. 

They have to put their head down to reach the food, which means they can’t watch the area around them. 

Cats are not completely domesticated. They have more of their wild instincts than their canine counterparts. This leads them to be more cautious and wary, even when safely indoors. 

Vision

Cats have a blind spot directly in front of their noses. Sometimes, it’s difficult for them to see their food, particularly when it is at floor level. Your cat may prefer your hand because it’s easier for them to see their kibble target. 

Attention Seeking

Some cats are aloof and rarely want to be petted. Others are very affectionate and want constant attention. You must pay attention to your cat when feeding them by hand, so it’s a perfect way for your needy kitty to con you into extra affection. 

Orthopedic Problems

Is your cat simply carrying out a psychological operation aimed at getting more attention,or is something more serious going on? Your cat may have an orthopedic issue. 

Pain or mobility issues can make it hard for your cat to eat from their food bowl, particularly if it is on the floor. If your cat is old or has difficulty moving, this is likely the culprit. 

Dental Problems

Dental problems can make it difficult for your cat to eat, particularly hard kibble. If your cat eats wet food from their bowl happily, but will only eat dry food from your hand, their teeth may be the issue. 

Tooth pain can cause your cat to not eat. The extra encouragement provided when you feed them by hand may coax them into it, even though it’s painful. 

Floor Smells

Cats’ noses are much more sensitive than ours. If your cat smells something unappealing on the floor, it can make them not want to eat their food. 

Humans have a well defined idea of good and bad smells. Of course, your cat will have different smell preferences. Have you ever smelled sardines and thought the smell was nice? Me either! Your cat probably loves the smell though. 

When it comes to the smell of your floor, the cleaner is often to blame. It smells clean to us, but to your cat, it may smell like chemicals. It’s easy to see how this can disrupt their eating. 

Disliking the Food 

If you’ve recently changed your cat’s food, that may be the issue. If your cat doesn’t like their food, they won’t want to eat it. When you encourage them to eat by hand feeding, it provides the nudge they need to eat the food. 

It’s also possible that your cat has become bored with their food. If you’ve been feeding them the same food for a period of time, they may have lost interest in it. 

Is it bad to hand feed your cat?

There are times when feeding your cat may be necessary. It can also be a useful bonding tool. However, hand feeding your cat can cause some unwanted issues.

It Becomes Expected

Once you begin feeding them by hand, you may find that they refuse to eat any other way. This isn’t a problem if you don’t mind providing all their meals one bite at a time, but most owners will get tired of having to do this after awhile. 

Leaving Your Cat Alone

If you leave your cat alone, hand-feeding can be difficult. You can’t simply put food down in the morning before work, and know they will eat when they get hungry. 

If you plan to go out of town and someone else will be feeding your cat, it can be very problematic. Your cat will already be stressed because you are not there. Being expected to eat from a bowl when they are accustomed to eating out of your hand will cause extra stress. Your cat may refuse to eat, because they are used to you feeding them. 

Why won’t my cat eat on her own?

It’s natural to wonder why your cat won’t eat on her own. The typical advice is, “they will eat when they are hungry”. However, this isn’t always true. 

Animals, including cats, have an instinctual need to eat, known as appetite. This motivates them to eat, which is essential for survival. However, sometimes problems with appetite, health issues, or severe anxiety will override this instinct, causing your cat not to eat. 

Affection Eaters

In addition to the reasons listed above, some cats are affection eaters. Because cats are solitary hunters, they usually prefer to eat alone. They may view you as a threat to their food.

A healthy, well adjusted cat will not attack a person or another cat when they come near their food bowl, but they certainly prefer to dine in private.

On the other hand, you have affection eaters.  This will look slightly different based on your cat’s personality and experiences. 

Some cats will not eat without their owner in the room. Some need to be cuddled or petted while eating, and others need to be hand fed. All of these behaviors fall under affection eaters. 

Affection eating often occurs when your cat has been through a stressful situation. If there’s been a change to the cat’s routine or environment, this can cause them to become affection eaters. 

It’s similar to a human who loses their appetite because they are stressed. When you are near your kitty or are feeding them, it helps them relax enough to eat. 

How to get my cat to eat out of his bowl?

If your cat isn’t eating out of their bowl, there are some things you can try. Hopefully, they will be chowing down on their own soon after. 

Get a Checkup

First, you’ll need to get a checkup. In addition to orthopedic or dental problems, there are diseases that can cause your cat to lose their appetite. 

Once you’ve ruled out a medical issue, you can try the other suggestions for getting your cat to eat out of their bowl. 

Change the Location

Cats prefer to eat in a quiet and clean location. If you have multiple cats, its best to feed them in separate areas. If your cat’s bowl is in a busy area, try moving their bowl to another location. 

You should also keep their food bowl away from their litterbox. Cats do not like to poop where they eat.

Place a Treat in the Bowl

If your cat has a favorite treat, you can try placing that in their food bowl. Once they are eating their treats from the bowl, they may begin to eat their food from the bowl as well. 

Try a New Food 

If your cats food is the issue, they may respond well to another food. If they prefer wet food over dry, you may try changing them to wet food. You can also try a different brand or flavor of food. 

Change Their Bowl or Height

If you think the bowl itself is the culprit, try switching to a new one. A shallow bowl or small saucer may be better than a deep bowl. 

If the problem is the food being too low on the ground, then try raising their bowl. You can get a raised bowl, or you can make your own. Just take a bowl and place it upside down. You can then sit their food bowl on top. 

How to get my cat to eat when I’m not around?

You love your cat, but you are busy. You may be away from home for a long part of the day. You may dream of going on vacation, but your scared your cat will starve while you are gone. How do you get your cat to eat without you there?

Be Present Part of the Time

The best way to handle this issue is in stages. The first stage is to feed your cat, and hang out for part of their meal. Start walking away partly through their meal. 

If they stop eating when you walk away, wait 5 minutes and then come back. Each time you do this, extend the time by 5 minutes, until you reach 15 minutes. 

Over time, your cat should continue to eat when you walk away. Once they do, start leaving earlier during the meal. Eventually, you should be able to put their food down and walk away. 

Give Them Lots of Love

Stop giving your cat extra attention when you are feeding them. If you must be near them for them to eat, follow the steps above. Don’t talk to them or pet them. Just be there. 

Even if you have to hand feed them, do nothing but feed them. Make it as boring as possible. This will help them let go of your presence and the attention it brings. 

At the same time, find other times to give them extra attention. You want to make sure they are getting enough affection. You want them to know you aren’t neglecting them when mealtimes become less fun. This can include extra play sessions, petting, or even talking to them as you go about your daily tasks. 

Don’t wait till your cat seeks you out. Find them at random times and give them a quick pet and cuddle. 

Reduce Stress

Another thing you can do is reduce stress. Stress can contribute to your cat being overly needy. After all, when you are stressed, you probably want extra attention and support from loved ones. 

Cats can be stressed by loud noises, other pets, and changes to the household or routine. Even a change to their regular feeding schedule can throw them off temporarily. 

If your cat is dealing with stress, be patient and supportive while working to eliminate the source of the stress. 

Author

I created and currently run Kitty Cat Tips, the website that you can go to when you have questions about your cat's behavior. It's my hope that you find Kitty Cat Tips to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your cat. You can read more about me and my website here.