I have six cats. We have had at least 40 felines pass through our home over the last 30 years. We have had some cats that indeed opt for treats rather than a meal full of all the proper nutrients to keep them healthy. Cats are much like their humans and a lot like our children.

I have to ask you this.

  • What would my children like more, a big bowl of yummy ice cream with hot fudge, whipped cream, and cherry on top, or a bowl of lovely green peas?
  • I wonder if my child would like a bowl of my nutritious homemade chicken noodle soup or a McDonald’s Big Mac, French fries, and a plate of chocolate chip cookies?

Treats always win.

Why Will My Cat Only Eat Treats?

Stop to think about the fact that cats are highly independent critters. Cats do so much more for themselves than any other pet, including dogs, as much as I love dogs. There is little you have to do for a cat except feed it, assure it an ample water supply, brush it, set aside playtime, and keep a clean litter pan. Your cat cannot eat anything but what you give it.

  • How did your cat get its treats? 

We have been there and done that many times and I call my hubby the Cat Treat Czar. Since our cats eat moist food on demand and always have dry food sitting around, hubby will reach for the container of treats when Lil’ Luke wants to eat, versus going all the way to the kitchen for a kitty meal. Hubby is as guilty of this as I am, especially if we are watching an exciting television show. I believe we started some bad habits with this fur baby because he has the biggest, cutest eyes and face and is the baby of our group of six. We are trying to turn around this bad habit.

I find that Lil’ Luke will turn down his food once we bring out the treats because dessert is always tastier. If I have a temporarily sick cat who will not eat, but will chew on some treats, I allow them as many as they want. At least treats are something until they feel better. The directions on the treat container say that you can substitute treats for a meal by providing about 1/4 cup per meal. I disagree with doing this because I believe treats are what they claim to be, treats.

There is such a thing as overdosing your fur baby on desserts or cat treats. If you keep giving your kitty treats, they are wise enough to put two plus two together and not eat their food and beg for the goodies. Cats are so very smart.

I had worried in our early years of feline care that the poor thing would not eat food, but would eat treats and this was OK. Giving the cats treats made me feel better because they were eating and not starving. Cats are wise enough to not starve unless they are ill, which is entirely different.

If you are ill and do not feel up to eating nutritious food, a small bowl of ice cream sounds mighty good. You have to use some common sense. Your cat may refuse food but eats cat treats, and if the cat is not ill it is a bad habit. Cats are really picky critters, especially where food is concerned.

  • Some cat professionals believe that the number one reason why a cat does not eat is that something has changed in the cat’s environment or routine. Perhaps something has changed in your routine. Cats are sensitive to the slightest change, which can upset them enough to not eat. Cats are creatures of habit and do not adapt to change well.

Are there any slight changes in your home’s infrastructure?

  • When dry food sets out for extended days, it gets stale, especially when the days are hot and humid. Cats know when food has spoiled and they will not eat it.
  • Cats do not like a haphazard feeding schedule. Feeding times should be somewhat set, so the cat knows when dinner is served. However, we prefer to feed our six cats on demand because it works well with our group of fur babies.

Do you set a specific time for your cat to eat?

What happens if someone serves you dinner at the stroke of 5 pm and you are not hungry and you would rather eat at 6 pm?  

We noticed that if we feed our six cats at 8 am, some will not eat. Our Lil’ Luke seems to have to check things out first, go out on our porch and sit for a spell. An hour or so later, he is asking for his moist food.

Some pet professionals do not believe that dry food should be set out all the time. Some professionals say you should. Here is where common sense comes in again and what is suitable for your household and kitty. We do not like set times for meals in our house.

Our cats tell us when they are hungry. Lil’ Luke refuses to eat, but Sophia wants to. Our Wee Willy is 17 years old and prefers to consume about one tablespoon of food six to eight times a day, typical for cats. Our other cats eat twice a day. Our cats tell us when they are hungry. You have to figure out feeding options that work for you and your cat.

  • Dehydration can be a factor in your cat refusing food. We have a pet water fountain, plus two more water dishes sitting next to their dry food dishes. Most of our cats prefer to drink from their water fountain.
  • Our cats like a change in their food. We buy various grain-free brands because they tire of eating the same every meal.

Is your cat inside or outside?

  • Cats who spend the majority of their time outside may get their food sources elsewhere, and when you try to feed them, they are not hungry. Outdoor cats need to wear a breakaway collar with tags. This tells neighbors that your cat has a home and a food source.
  • Perhaps your cat has tooth or gum issues? Cats get cavities, gingivitis, periodontitis, rotten teeth, and gum disease affecting the ability to chew the same as a human.
  • Parasites in the digestive tract can decrease appetite.
  • Inflammatory digestive issues can reduce the desire to eat.

What to do if My Cat Will Only Eat Treats?

Just as with children, you must be gentle, compassionate, firm, and strict. When a cat is hungry, and you put food in front of it, they generally eat it. We know which food varieties our cats enjoy. I never put fish in front of Sophia because I know she refuses fish and likes chicken. I will not make her eat fish or withhold food because she refuses to eat the fish. That is plum cruel.

An annual wellness visit and dental cleaning at the vet assure your cat is healthy. Vets like to practice prevention because prevention is the best cure for illness. A vet can reduce potential health problems that may affect its appetite. Consider any bad habits you may have gotten your cat into, such as feeding them treats instead of meals.

Cats have likes and dislikes the same as you. Be sensitive to these likes and dislikes. If your cat turns its nose up at a dish of food, try another type. This may sound silly to many people, but this is what I do and it seems to work.

For example, I have a can of chicken and a can of fish open. I place both cans in front of a cat, and they will smell each can. They start to lick the food they want, and I put it in their dish. I only give them one tablespoonful. If they eat that and want more, I give it to them. If they walk away from both, they are not hungry. I’ll try later.

  • Never get in the habit of giving your cat table food of any kind. It is so difficult to break this habit with your cat. Many human foods, spices, and more can make cats ill or die. Do not take this chance.
  • Exceptions to the rule are a few baked chicken or hamburger pieces with nothing on them. However, it is hard to break this habit of giving your cat table food.
  • Make sure the cat food is not spoiled.
  • Make sure the texture is what your cat likes. My cats will not eat shreds or meaty bits, while they may eat Gravy Lovers Fancy Feast and pate, except for Isabella, who has IBS and eats only grain-free foods and any texture. All of our dry food is grain-free. We are trying to change our other cats to grain-free moist food. Otherwise, we must be sure Isabella does not eat any leftover food.
  • Feeding your cat a higher grade of food is more filling and satisfying for them.
  • Try to wean your cat off from eating treats versus balanced meals. Try mixing a few kibbles of treats with a tablespoonful of moist food. Decrease the treats every time you feed the cat. If it works, it’s a step towards decreasing treats. If not, try something else until you have a winner.
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.