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When Finicky Cats Refuse New Diet

Clinician's Brief (Capsule)


|June 2012

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Cats are known for developing strong food preferences to specific textures, forms (canned vs dry), and flavors. One of 2 general trends in feline feeding behavior is preference for the diet that adults were exposed to as kittens, including exposure from weaning to 6 months of age and the mother’s diet during pregnancy and lactation.

This study evaluated 18 adult cats exclusively fed either moist or dry foods. Moist foods included commercial canned, commercial raw, or homemade raw diets. The length of time cats were fed exclusively dry food between pre- and postexposure to moist food affected the cat’s acceptance of moist food and ability to maintain weight. Moist food acceptance was mostly poor when offered to adult cats after 7 months of eating dry foods alone, indicating that any benefit of feeding moist foods early in life was overridden when dry foods were fed for an extended period. Kittens fed canned diets in the postweaning period showed greater acceptance of raw or canned foods as compared with kittens fed raw diets. It is likely, therefore, that textural differences between canned and raw foods were sufficient to prevent generalization among all moist foods.

Persuading a cat to accept a newly prescribed diet can be challenging. In this study, the authors hypothesized that feeding canned or raw food to kittens would enhance later acceptance of a similar diet. Although the results of this study were equivocal, veterinarians may wish to encourage owners to feed a varied diet, including different textured and flavored canned foods and dry kibble, throughout the lifetime of a cat to potentially facilitate later acceptance of a medically necessary dietary change.—Debra F. Horwitz, DVM, DACVB, & Amy L. Pike, DVM

Effects of early experience on food acceptance in a colony of adult research cats: A preliminary study. Hamper BA, Rohrbach B, Kirk CA, et al. J VET BEHAV 7:27-32, 2012.

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