Why Are Cats So Finicky?

Updated on November 11, 2017
Bob Bamberg profile image

Bob's been in the pet supply business and writing about pets, livestock, and wildlife for a period spanning three decades.

"My human bought me a whole case of my favorite food.  Now I can't like that one anymore."
"My human bought me a whole case of my favorite food. Now I can't like that one anymore." | Source

I spend 30 hours a week in various pet supply stores talking with pet owners while promoting a brand of pet food. In talking about cat food the most common owner observation I hear is that “my cat is so finicky.”

Most every cat is finicky, and most people just chalk it up to “cats will be cats.” But are cats really finicky by nature, or is the cat’s owner an unwitting enabler, thus making them finicky"

“Moi?” says the owner. “I buy one of each flavor of cat food on the shelf every time I shop. What could possibly be wrong?”

There’s an interesting white paper by Dr. Nancy Rawson, Ph.D., a scientist with AFB International, a company that produces palatants for the pet food industry.

The purpose of a palatant, by the way, is to optimize the animal’s response to the food. You usually see the palatant listed as “natural flavors” in the ingredient panel.

A lower quality ingredient that serves as a palatant is listed as “animal digest” in the ingredient panel.

Animal digest is slaughterhouse leftovers, that can vary from batch to batch, and that are hydrolyzed and sprayed onto the food.

Natural flavors are formulated from recipes and stay consistent.

Palatants can be wet or dry, applied onto the kibble's surface, or cooked into the food, and they can be used alone or with fats.

No matter how they’re used, they’re largely responsible for the pet’s acceptance of the food.


No one knows for sure why cats are finicky, but Dr. Rawson made a number of interesting points--mitigating factors, if you will--to suggest that it isn’t the cats’ fault after all, and that maybe they’re not finicky by nature, which is what most of us lay people think.

Because of their unique taurine requirement, cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they must get their nutrients from animal flesh because taurine is available exclusively from animal based proteins. Ferrets, by the way, are also obligate carnivores.

Taurine to cats is an essential amino acid, because they’re unable to manufacture it on their own and, thus, must get it from their diet.

Most other species can produce their own taurine, an important nutrient, especially for eye and heart health.

So, for one thing, cats have fewer food options. Additionally, Rawson points to anatomical and physiological differences in cats that factor into food acceptability.


She says that the cat’s unique genetic makeup drives distinctive anatomical adaptations, nutritional needs, metabolism and sensory biology.

An example of this is their lack a “sweet gene” a protein in their taste receptors that would enable the cat to perceive sweetness.

They also are unable to digest lactose and other dietary sugars, and they have no salivary lactase, an enzyme that breaks down starch.

Rawson suggests that this distinction, alone, could result in the perception of ‘finickiness’ when compared to the human food experience.

So how come we’re to blame? Well, Rawson speculates that cats aren’t finicky, but that we perceive them to be.

We have certain expectation about food and sometimes the cat’s food expectations aren’t in sync with ours. And we can be hypocritical about it, too.

Rawson says, “‘Cat people’ often report appreciation for cats’ independence, including their ability to fend for themselves during owner absence.

Yet when this same independence and lack of owner-directed behavior occurs at feeding time, we call it finicky.”

Dr. Rawson points to the tendency of many cat owners to free-feed, that is, leaving food out all the time.

In fact, a common practice I often hear cat owners admit to is feeding canned food once or twice a day, but leaving dry food out all the time.

Rawson says free-feeding may allow the cat to notice subtle differences it might not note when food is limited, as it is in the wild.

When food isn’t as readily available, the cat may be less selective. In the wild, after all, they take what they can get.

Thus, in attempting to please our cats with varied and plentiful food options, we may actually be setting them up to be finicky.


Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Bob Bamberg


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      • Bob Bamberg profile image

        Bob Bamberg 5 months ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

        Hi, Pat,

        Putting the food in the microwave oven for a few seconds brings its temperature up to "body temperature," which can make a difference in the cat's acceptance of the food. Getting paid for doing something is great, but getting paid for doing something you love to do is the greatest! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Hugs and prayers, Bob

      • pstraubie48 profile image

        Patricia Scott 5 months ago from sunny Florida

        Yeah...I do think we kinda' are to blame for so called finickyness in our kitties. My friend for whom I cat sit...has truly spoiled her kitties....when I serve their wet food it is heated for 6 seconds prior to being served. And I am PAID to love and adore these two precious critters....lucky me.

        Hoping all is good with you and yours....many Angels are headed your way ps

      • Bob Bamberg profile image

        Bob Bamberg 6 months ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

        Hi, Janice,

        I don't have any particular information, but I bet if you Googled the subject, there would be plenty of sites that would provide reliable information. You might try professional sites such as the American Association of Feline Practitioners (catvets.com), theAmerican Veterinary Medical Association (avma.org), or the American Animal Hospital Association (aaha.org). Thanks for stopping by.

      • profile image

        janice walker 6 months ago

        Do you have info ob Burmese cats?

      • Bob Bamberg profile image

        Bob Bamberg 7 months ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

        Hi, Jackie, nice to see you. My cat's weakness was cantaloupe. She ate her dry food and refused most treats, but would come running when I cut a cantaloupe open. You probably could have made a rug out of those tails :). Thanks for stopping by.

      • Jackie Lynnley profile image

        Jackie Lynnley 7 months ago from The Beautiful South

        My cats are so different and their likes. I had sister cats where one loved plain oatmeal and fried eggs while the other wouldn't touch either. I have never had overweight cats.

        My very best cat lived almost 20 years and all she ate was dry Friskies, well, besides what he caught on her own. I think rabbit was her favorite catch. She used to leave me the bunny tails.

        Sure miss her.

      • Bob Bamberg profile image

        Bob Bamberg 7 months ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

        I'm glad you appreciate the caption, Linda, but I can't take full credit for it. Liz Elias, in a comment below, referred to a meme she saw and I adapted it from there. But the caption fits the picture purrfectly. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 7 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thanks for sharing the very interesting information. I love the caption under the first photo! I'm glad you used it.

      • Bob Bamberg profile image

        Bob Bamberg 7 months ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

        I love that meme, Liz. Too bad I couldn't have incorporated it into the article. I still may be able to if I can get Prof. Google to locate it for me and if it's not copyrighted.

        I'm of the opinion that if a cat, or dog, eats something once, they'll never get tired of it because they pretty much can't taste it...hence the use of palatants.

        My own cat lived 16 years and ate one brand for 13 consecutive years, then another brand for her last 3. The latter was a new brand that the same company came out with. Her treat was a thumbnail sized piece of cantaloupe every once in a while (with my vet's blessing).

        She was putty in my hands when I cracked open a cantaloupe. She could be anywhere in the house and within a half a minute, she'd be doing figure 8's around my ankles. She never cared for regular cat treats, and I tried a few of them.

        Nice to see you, Liz, thanks for stopping by.

        You're right about packing on the pounds, FlourishAnyway. Some 65% of the country's cats are overweight or obese, and free feeding is probably the number one cause.

        Although it's not always the case. My step-daughter free fed her cat for 19 years and Ipsy was mean and lean right up til the end. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      • DzyMsLizzy profile image

        Liz Elias 7 months ago from Oakley, CA

        Very interesting, and it makes sense. In our household, we have a number of cats (single digit, however...LOL), and we are somewhat dependent upon donated food from an assistance organization. Translation: the cats may never get the same brand/type of food twice, but we are given a large bag of kibble that lasts a good month, and sometimes, we get freebies of canned food.

        I ration the canned food for a 'treat,' and feed the kibble twice daily. There is seldom any left in the bowls, and if there is, it usually gets left there because they are saying they aren't too fond of that brand. I figure if they are hungry enough, they'll eat it.

        However, this article reminded me of a "meme" I recently saw on Facebook. It features a cat with a sad look on its face, and the caption/speech bubble reads, "Human bought a whole case of my favorite food. Now I can't like it anymore."

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 7 months ago from USA

        This was excellent information. I knew it was OUR fault instead of theirs. Leaving dry food out and allowing them to graze all day can also pack on the pounds.