Have you ever sat your plate down for a moment, only to find your cat helping themselves to your meal? Perhaps they are even brave enough to steal directly from your plate while you are eating. 

Some human foods are safe for cats, but many aren’t. Beyond potential health issues, it’s not pleasant to have to guard your food from your cat. If your cat is trying to eat your food, it’s something you will want to stop. 

Why does my cat try to eat my food?

There are many potential reasons for your cat wanting to eat your food. These range from simple curiosity to medical issues. Once you understand why your cat is eating your food, you’ll have a better idea of how to stop them from snacking on your meals. 

Hungry

The most obvious reason your cat is stealing your food is simply because they are hungry. Many cats aren’t able to regulate their food intake. These cats will always want food, regardless of whether or not they are actually hungry. 

Other cats simply get insistent when they are hungry. If they don’t have food in their bowl, they will naturally turn to yours. 

Generally, 1/3 to 1/2 cup dry food or 5-6 ounces of wet food a day should be adequate. However, this is just a general guideline. How much to feed your cat can vary widely. It’s based on your cat’s age, activity level, size, and current weight.

.Over 50% of cats in America are overweight or obese. Because a cat’s dietary needs vary, it’s best to discuss how much to feed your cat with your vet. Then you will know if your cat is getting enough food, without feeding them too much. 

Cats should be fed at least twice a day, approximately 12 hours apart. It’s hard on their digestive system to go more than 12 hours without eating. You can also feed them 3 to 4 times a day, just be sure to feed 1/3 to 1/4 of their daily food allowance at each meal. 

Curiousity

Curiousity killed the cat, as the saying goes. Cats are naturally curious creatures. It’s part of their charm. However, it can also get them into trouble. It’s natural for your cat to be curious about what you are eating. When they check it out, you can expect them to taste test it as well. 

It’s a trait humans possess as well. It’s common for us to ask, “What are you eating?” and “Can I try a bite?”. The problem is, once your cat tries the food, they may decide they like it. 

Immitation

It’s often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. One reason your cat enjoys your food may be because it’s what you are eating. If you notice your cat imitating your behaviors, this may be why they are interested in your food. They want to do what you are doing. 

Being Fed Human Food

If your cat is accustomed to eating human food, it is no surprise that they will want to continue doing so. Some cats show little interest in human food, while others prefer it to their own food. 

It’s thought that what they ate as a kitten plays a big role in their preferences as an adult cat. Just like human children, they tend to prefer what they grew up eating. If your cat ate human food as a kitten, they are more likely to want your food as an adult cat. 

If you’ve fed your cat human food, you are telling them it’s ok to eat it. Once this begins occurring, your cat will expect you to keep it up. 

It’s not always about the food itself. It can also be about the attention they get when you feed them. Cats seem to know when they are being spoiled, and they may revel in that aspect of it more than the food itself. 

It’s More Appealing

Your cat may find your food more appealing than their own. This will depend on the food you are eating. If your cat shows an interest in every dish, it’s likely not motivated by a preference for specific foods that you eat. 

However, if it goes crazy when you have fish for supper, but shows no interest in soup, they may prefer your food to their own.  

Previously Abandoned

If you’ve adopted a shelter cat, they likely survived on human food before they found their way to you. Wild cats, particularly those in residential areas, often forage for food in human garbage. Well-meaning people may also toss scraps out for the local wildlife, including cats. 

This helps cats survive. Cats are able to hunt, but hunting in a city is much different than hunting in the woods. Cats will also prefer what’s available and easy. If they have a choice between eating human scraps or catching a mouse, most cats will opt for scraps. 

Once they are used to surviving on human foods, it can be difficult to get them to eat cat food instead. 

Naturally Food Motivated

Cats are naturally food motivated, because they are predators. The easiest way to understand this it to compare them to their canine counterparts. Dogs are also food motivated, but to a lesser extent than cats are. 

Dogs are also motivated by social interaction with you and other dogs. Cats, on the other hand, seem to have more of a one-track mind. Food is their main interest. It’s what drives most of their behavior.

This makes sense for cats in the wild. After all, they must find food to survive. Your domestic cat doesn’t have to worry about searching for food, but the instinct will remain. 

Stealing 

Some cats are playful and enjoy a challenge. For them, it’s more about the game of stealing your food than the food itself. If your cat gets bored easily, or needs lots of mental stimulation, this may be why they want your food. 

Medical Issues 

Your cat may be interested in your food due to a medical issue. Does your cat seem to be starving all the time, no matter how much they eat? If the issue is food in general, and not just your food, this may be the reason why.

Parasites can cause your cat to be hungry all the time. Parasites grow in your cat’s digestive tract, stealing vital nutrition. You may have heard the phrase, “got a tapeworm” to describe a person who wants to eat all the time. Particularly if they don’t gain weight, but eat more than average. 

Other signs your kitty may have intestinal parasites include a dull coat, coughing, lethargy, diarrhea and vomiting. 

Diabetes can also cause constant hunger. In addition to hunger, your cat will have increased thirst and urination. They may also become lethargic, losing their zest and desire to play. Their appetite can increase or decrease, depending on the type of diabetes. They may also gain or lose weight. 

Hyperthyroidism is another potential culprit. The thyroid gland controls appetite and metabolism. When a cat has hyperthyroidism, the thyroid becomes overactive. 

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include increased appetite combined with weight loss, hyperactivity, increased thirst and urination, and a lack of grooming. 

How to get my cat to stop stealing my food?

The first time your cat steals your food, it might be cute. However, the behavior will quickly become anything but charming. You can get your cat to stop stealing your food with patience and consistency. 

Don’t Feed Them Your Food

If you want your cat to stop stealing your food, you will have to make it off limits. If you feed them food from your plate, you can expect them to help themselves to it without an invitation as well. 

Some cats can learn the difference between being offered food and stealing it, but some can’t. If your kitty is snatching your grub, it’s best to curb them eating human food completely. 

It can be difficult to resist your cat’s begging, but it is necessary. Instead of feeding them your food, keep some treats or kibble nearby. If you must feed them while eating, use these options instead of giving in and feeding them your food. 

Clear Leftovers

Cats are opportunistic. In addition to not allowing your cat to steal from your plate, you’ll need to put leftovers away before they can sneak into them. After meals, all food should be put away immediately. If you give them a chance to steal your food, you can’t expect them to not take it. 

Feed Them First

The best way to make sure your cat isn’t stealing your food because they are hungry is to feed them first. Schedule their meals to coincide with yours. If they have food in their own bowl, they are less likely to steal yours. 

Change Up Their Food

If your cat isn’t interested in their own food, you may need to change it up. Start by seeing if their food is good. Once your cat’s food is exposed to oxygen, it begins to degrade. Over time, it will smell and taste less appealing. 

Dry food should be used within 6 weeks of opening. You can store it in a plastic or metal container to increase freshness, but keep it in the original bag as well. The bag is designed to prevent light and air from getting to the food. 

Wet cat food can be stored for years unopened. Just check the best by date to ensure it’s still good. Once it has been opened, it can be stored for a few days in the fridge. Wet food shouldn’t be left out more than 4 hours. Dry food can be left out for 24 hours. 

If the food is fresh, your cat may prefer a different flavor or type of food. Some cats prefer wet food, while others prefer kibble. If you want to change your cat’s food, begin by feeding them 1/4 new food and 3/4 old food. Over a few weeks, increase the new food until that’s all they are eating. 

Make Their Food More Appetizing

In addition to changing your cat’s food, you can make it more appetizing. Some cats prefer their food warm, particularly wet food. It’s not necessary to get the food hot. Instead, it should be room temperature or slightly above. This is the temperature of their prey in the wild. It also improves the smell and taste of wet food. 

You can also consider using a topper. You can purchase food toppers, or create your own. However, if you create a topper from human food, this may contribute to your problem. It’s best to use foods that you don’t eat to differentiate between your cat’s topper and your plate. 

Low sodium chicken broth is an easy topper, particularly for dry food. Fish oil is another option. Meat baby food provides extra protein. Sardines or anchovies are another great choice. 

If you want something besides protein, pumpkin is healthy for cats, and many enjoy it as a food topper. Boiled chicken or fish are appetizing toppers, but you should avoid these if you want to keep your cat out of your plate. They are too similar to your own meals. 

Puzzle Feeder

If it’s the challenge your cat loves, consider a puzzle feeder. A puzzle feeder dispenses kibble or treats as your cat turns the toy. This gives your kitty mental stimulation. It also mimics their experience in the wild. In the wild, your cat would catch food and then eat it. 

Give Lots of Love

If your cat is feeling a little neglected, they may steal your food for attention. If they don’t receive enough interaction with you, they will get your attention any way they can. Stealing your sandwich certainly causes you to interact with them. 

Be sure to give them some quality time each day before mealtimes, so they get the love that they need. 

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.