How To Get Your Cat To Stop Begging For Food


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How To Get Your Cat To Stop Begging For Food

It might seem like dogs have corned the market when it comes to being begging experts but any experienced cat parent can tell you that simply isn’t the case. While each feline will have their own style of begging for food, it’s hard to mistake a hungry cat and it certainly isn’t the best part of living with a feline friend.

So how do you get your cat to stop begging for food?

After ruling out any medical concerns or nutritional deficiencies, you can stop your cat’s begging by introducing an automatic feeder to remove yourself from the equation, adjusting your cat’s diet to help them feel more full, and reducing your cat’s boredom as much as possible with toys and interactive play. 

We’re going to take a closer look at each of these solutions in detail but first, let’s clarify why cats beg in the first place along with explaining one important fact about your cat’s natural diet.

If you want to get straight to the solutions, you can also skip ahead using the table of contents below:

Are You Feeding Your Cat Frequently Enough?

One of the first things you should consider is whether or not your cat simply needs to be fed more.

I know, that sounds like I’m saying your cat is right and that their begging is justified but that’s not exactly the point.

Consider that in the wild, cats would eat many as 20 small mouse-sized meals a day but most days it’s probably somewhere around 6 to 10 smalls meals depending on how successful they were at hunting.

That’s very different from the morning and evening meals that most cats get. It’s not fool-proof, but feeding many smaller meals on a schedule that’s closer to a cat’s natural approach may help to minimize begging.

But be careful because if you suddenly switch to high-frequency feeding your cat could see this as confirmation that their begging is extremely effective. After all, their begging is getting you to feeding several more times than usual!

We’ll talk more about this in detail but instead of adding the extra feedings yourself,  I’d suggest using an automatic feeder to pull this off.

You have a ton of options when it comes to selecting an automatic feeder but this one from PetLibro is a great starting point since it can be programmed for several small meals throughout the day along with a handful of other fun features like voice messages to your cat. Just as important, it will mean your cat no longer associates YOU with dinner which usually means much less begging.

5 Reasons Why Cats Beg For Food

Before we can really understand how to train our cats to stop begging, we need to understand what’s motivating them to beg in the first place. So let’s take a look at a few of the most common reasons why cats can’t stop begging.

I’d suggest considering these explanations in the same order that they’re listed here and even though I believe reason number 3 to be the most likely explanation that doesn’t make it the best place to start!

Let’s get into it!

Reason 1: Medical Concerns

Whenever we have a behavioral concern, we should consider the medical side of things first and it’s no different with a begging cat. This is especially true if begging has started suddenly or is occurring along with changes in weight or other behavior.

There’s a wide range of conditions that could cause begging but they’ll rarely only cause begging.

For example, hyperthyroidism in cats can cause a significant increase in appetite (and begging) but will also occur alongside weight loss, vomiting, and changes in coat condition along with other symptoms.

Intestinal parasites are another concern that can cause both increased or decreased appetite depending on the cat and the parasite. Again, increased hunger won’t be the only symptom and diarrhea is extremely likely with any internal parasite along with other changes like lethargy.

Intestinal parasites can be quite common, especially for outdoor cats, and according to the experts at the Cornell Veterinary College “Gastrointestinal (GI) parasitism is a common problem in cats, with prevalence rates as high as 45% in some populations.”

Granted, if your cat is kept indoors 100% of the time there’s a low chance of an intestinal parasite but that doesn’t change the fact that a sudden increase in begging is a reason to consult your veterinarian and rule out any medical concerns.

Reason 2: Your Cat Feels Hungry

Whenever we talk about feelings and cats, things can get confusing. Heck, it’s hard enough to figure out how other people feel let alone our cats!

But in some cases, cats may not feel the satisfaction that comes with being full. That could be because they’re not actually getting enough food or they simply have high standards!

We’re going to look at several ways to help cats feel more full but before trying those techniques make sure that you’re feeding your cat the appropriate amount of food. Chewy has a great chart for understanding how much to feed your cat and you’ll also want to make sure you’re familiar with the label on whatever food you feed.

Still, just because your cat feels hungry doesn’t mean they need more food. If your cat is overweight and begging has started as a result of their new diet then of course your feline friend will feel hungry- but it’s just going to be part of the diet process.

As you’d expect, if you’re not sure how much to feed your cat it’s a good idea to consult your veterinarian. They can help you understand what a healthy body condition is for your cat and consider factors your like cat’s age which can impact muscle mass. 

Reason 3: Begging For Food Works For Your Cat

This is by far the most likely explanation for why cats beg!

Even if you don’t think you’re encouraging the behavior your cat might believe their begging is very effective…and that’s what really matters. If your cat’s begging only gets you to feed them a few minutes early, that might be considered a win for your feline friend.

Remember, feeding your cat may be a small part of your day but it’s a BIG part of your cat’s day and your feline friend is paying close attention to everything you’re doing. That means even subtle changes could be taken as positive reinforcement especially when the reward is as high value as breakfast.

It also means that one of the best ways to solve this problem is to remove yourself from the feline feeding equation by using an automatic feeder. We’ll talk about this in-depth later on but an automatic feeder can’t be persuaded to do anything other than what it’s programmed to do- which is exactly what’s needed here.

Your cat will quickly realize that the automatic feeder is running the food show which will take pressure off you!

There are several options on the market, but I typically recommend this automatic feeder from PetLibro which you can see on Amazon by clicking here. It’s backed by more than 5,700 five-star reviews and it allows you to schedule multiple meals throughout the day which is important.

Reason 4: Your Cat Wants Tastier Food

It could only take only one bite of something delicious like tuna or other people food for a cat to decide that dry kibble is for the birds!

We know how much cats love fish, despite despising water, and while a little tuna juice is okay here and there too much and your cat could become addicted.

Seriously. Some veterinarians and cat experts like Pam Johnson Bennet refer to these cats as “tuna junkies”.

Unfortunately, there’s no 12 step program for tuna addicts and salmon fiends so you’re going to have to stop your cat cold turkey in most cases. But that doesn’t mean giving your cat cold turkey as that could create a new problem!

Instead, drop the people food and check out some of the other options below for keeping cats happy without bad eating habits. There are plenty of things that cats can drink besides water which will not only give them their tasty food fix but also help them feel more full.

Reason 5: Your Cat Is Begging From Boredom

What do a lot of people do when they get bored? They often have a snack.

Your cat isn’t that different and hassling you for food can not only be a great way to have fun but eating is a good way to stay entertained as well!

Interactive play can solve a lot of behavior problems, including begging, but it’s not the only way to keep your cat entertained and there are dozens of fun things you can do with your cat to prevent boredom-related begging.

How To Get Your Cat To Stop Begging (8 Techniques)

Now that we have a much better idea of why your cat is begging we can really start to tackle the problem.

The 8 techniques below are going to assume two things: 

  1. That you’ve ruled out any medical concerns that could be causing your cat to beg more
  2. You’ve familiarized yourself with your cat’s food level and caloric needs for your cat

In other words, your cat is healthy and already getting enough food. With those qualifications out of the way, let’s get started with the number one recommendation.

1. Get An Automatic Feeder

If you want an easy solution, this is where you start. But easy doesn’t mean ineffective and not only is this approach simple but it also works really well in most cases.

Again, assuming your cat is healthy, an automatic feeder is the easiest solution for a begging cat and it makes perfect sense when you think about it.

Realize that YOU are what your cat associates with mealtime. You’re the keeper of the kibble or the can and the only way they can get what they want is by going through you. But if you completely remove yourself as the middle man to mealtime then your cat will leave you alone.

After all, why bother you at 3 AM for a snack if you’re not even in charge?

Instead, the robot is the boss and the robot doesn’t care how much your cat meows, headbutts, flops around, licks, or nibbles…the robot isn’t going to budge.

I can’t emphasize this enough, so let me be completely clear: in almost every case, by introducing an automatic feeder your cat will stop associating YOU with food which means they will stop begging you. It may take time for them to break the association but it usually works.

Just check out this cute little cat (named Zahra) recognize the sound the automatic feeder makes before it dispenses food:

That’s the same excitement that’s currently reserved for you when you go near the cabinet that the kitty food is in!

You have plenty of automatic feeders to pick from and most of them are pretty decent but my go-to recommendation is this automatic feeder from PetLibro on Amazon. It’s well built, backed by a ton of five-star reviews (more than 5,000), and has several programming options.

Most importantly, you have the option to schedule multiple meals throughout the day. That’s more in line with a cat’s natural eating instincts since our feline friends would eat several small meals throughout the day in the wild.

Remember, your little predator would have to hunt to eat. That means a lot of work catching a mouse and then a small meal followed by the same process a few hours later.

It’s pretty difficult to stick to that schedule when you’re at work all day but an automatic feeder can make it possible. So even if you don’t go with my recommendation, look for something that allows you to schedule several meals throughout the day.

If you prefer to feed only wet food you can still use an automatic feeder and we’ve written about the best automatic wet food feeders here.

2. Don’t Reward Begging…In Any Way!

Whatever you do…don’t reward begging!

One of the major reasons that cats beg is because it works so well. Introducing an automatic feeder makes it dead simple to not reward begging since you’re removing yourself as the provider of food.

But regardless of whether you go the automatic feeder route, you need to be careful not to inadvertently encourage your cat’s behavior in any way. Begging shouldn’t even get you to walk into the kitchen or wherever the food is kept since your cat will likely see that as progress and a reason to keep begging.

Instead, do something completely different that can’t be misinterpreted and your cat will slowly learn that begging just doesn’t work.

You could show your cat some love every time they beg but my favorite option is to pull out their favorite toy (but skip the laser pointer) and have some playtime. Not only will this keep your cat healthy but they’ll soon stop associating begging with food and instead connect it with playtime.

In other words, cats will figure out that you’re just not picking up what they’re putting down and every time they beg you try to play with them instead of filling their bowl.

This response is particularly effective because it’s very clear but in order to work it also needs to be immediate.

A reaction like picking up your cat or petting them can be much more ambiguous since that’s something you do all the time. Instead, to stop the begging behavior you want your response to be as clear as possible, and picking up a feather wand is certainly specific enough to get the point across.

Along with this, you’ll want to have a very specific time that you feed your cat. Try to stick to this time as closely as possible which will further help your cat understand that it’s not their begging behavior that leads to mealtime and instead it’s a set in stone routine.

It will take time for this to work, especially since there’s likely a long history of begging working well for your cat, but with some persistence on your part, this can help break the begging habit.

3. Move Your Cat’s Food Bowl and Food

We’ve written a lot about where you should put your cat’s water bowl but the food bowl is just as important- especially when it comes to begging.

Almost an extension of the above guideline, if begging is a problem we want to put our cat’s food bowl and food in a low traffic location.

To explain why let’s imagine you keep your cat’s food in the pantry. Not only will you likely go into the kitchen quite regularly, but you probably open the pantry door pretty regularly too. For the especially eager feline, this may feel like you’re just about to feed them every time you do it.

While you may not even be thinking about it, if your cat begs and you walk to the pantry where their food is kept, they may take that as a sign that their begging strategy is paying off when you’re just trying to grab a snack or a glass of water.

If possible, put your cat’s food bowl and their food in a location that you’ll only go to for that purpose. It won’t completely transform your cat’s behavior but it will be one more step towards minimizing begging and making sure there are no mixed signals.

5. Consider High Fiber Food

When it comes to helping your cat feel more full, and hopefully be less food-obsessed, high-fiber food is a good starting point.

Fiber is a popular ingredient in weight loss diets and can also be a good tool for managing smelly cat poops.

Dr. Beth Flickinger, while writing for DVM360, explains that “Dietary fiber may help dogs and cats feel fuller by diluting calories. Fiber is essentially calorie-free, so adding fiber to a diet helps reduce the caloric density, which allows the pet to eat a larger volume of food without consuming additional calories. This larger volume of food helps contribute to gastric distension, which is one of the satiety cues that signal to the pet that it is full.”

While the focus of that advice is related to weight management, anything that keeps cats feeling full can help with begging too.

Still, there’s some debate around whether fiber is a good choice for cats at all, and a cat’s natural all meat diet would contain little to no fiber at all. If you’re unsure, it’s a good idea to talk to your veterinarian about this option before diving into the highest-fiber food you can find.

When it comes to finding high-fiber food, you can find options across a variety of brands but most diets that are labeled as weight control will have higher fiber. Because fiber can also help manage hairballs, you can also look for diets that are marketed as hairball control and many recipes will be labeled as both weight control and hairball control.

Blue Buffalo has a good all-around hairball recipe that has 7.9% fiber (by dry matter basis so with moisture removed) which is quite a bit higher than your standard recipe. You can check it out on Amazon by clicking here but again you can look for a weight loss or hairball control from your preferred brand too.

6. Try A Food Puzzle

It’s not quite as handsfree as an automatic feeder but a good food puzzle can keep your cat entertained, give them a chance to exercise, and give them something to focus on besides begging you for food!

These will still require you to do your part and your cat will still associate you with food time which is why this shouldn’t be your only solution.

You don’t need anything too fancy for this to work and if you’re going with dry a simple maze-style puzzle like this a good fit.

If you’d prefer to use wet food then I always recommend the LickiMat which requires cats to really work to get their wet food from all the cracks and corners. You can check out the LickiMat on Amazon by clicking here.

But you aren’t required to even use a food puzzle to get the same effect of requiring cats put more effort into mealtime. If you have the right space for it, scatter feeding (which is just a fancy way of saying throw the food on the floor) can keep cats busy for quite some time.

You can also try stashing your cat’s kibble or wet food in small areas around the house. You wouldn’t want to risk underfeeding with this approach, but if you make a habit of adding some dry kibble around the house your cat may decide to leave you alone in favor of tracking down that hidden kibble in the cat tree.

Most food puzzles should be seen as a supplemental solution but if your cat has a habit of begging before mealtime, introducing a food puzzle can help them stop begging.

Just be careful that you don’t become the keeper of the food puzzle which could make things worse. Instead, try your best to remove the association between you and the food puzzle. Try to make the food puzzle a happy surprise for your cat rather than something that only you can provide.

7. Use Liquids To Make Cats Feel More Full Without More Calories

Similar to introducing higher fiber foods, adding water or other liquids to your cat’s meals can help cats feel more full and potentially decrease begging. Even better, if you choose the right liquids there won’t be any concerns about adding too many additional calories and you’ll be helping your cat stay hydrated.

Water is the easiest choice and it can work not only for kibble but also wet food. Simply add some extra water to kibble to create a mush or a little extra water to wet food.

However, cats can safely drink a lot of other liquids besides water so you have a lot of choices here.  One of my favorite non-water liquids is bone broth which is not only low calorie and delicious for cats but can also provide some health benefits too.

Make sure you pick up some cat-specific bone broth to avoid harmful ingredients like onion and excessive sodium and if you have the time you can make your own at home.

Whatever liquid you go for, not only can this help cats feel more full but if you take the high-frequency feeding approach then bone broth or another liquid can be a great low-calorie snack.

8. Keep Your Cat Entertained

Boredom-related snacking is responsible for a lot of extra pounds on people and cats can pick up this habit too.

After all, eating releases dopamine for both cats and people which makes it an easy and pleasurable way to pass time. But cats can’t feed themselves so boredom-related hunger naturally leads to boredom-related begging.

That’s where play therapy and generally keeping your cat entertained comes in. Play therapy is one of the most common recommendations from feline behaviorists thanks to the wide range of benefits it can provide. Just as keeping a regular exercise routine is important for us, it’s important for cats and can help with a lot more than just begging.

But playtime isn’t the only solution for fighting boredom and there’s a long list of fun things you can do with your cat to keep them both mentally and physically stimulated. A tired cat is a happy cat and it’s also a cat that’s less likely to beg!

Time Outs And Punishments Don’t Work

Besides inadvertently encouraging begging behavior, the next big mistake that cat parents make is turning toward punishments or negative reinforcement to discourage begging. That could be things like time-outs, spraying with water, or any other form of punishment.

The big problem is that cats are very unlikely to understand that begging is the reason for their punishment.

In most cases, cats will simply be confused.

Instead, stick with positive reinforcement of good behavior and redirecting cats into more appropriate behaviors like playing. Locking your cat in a room or yelling at them will usually suppress far more behaviors than just begging and leave cats feeling confused.

Closing Thoughts

It is absolutely possible to curb your cat’s begging behavior!

Once you’ve confirmed that there are no medical concerns and your cat is getting the appropriate amount of food, it’s a good idea to pick up an automatic cat feeder. Your cat will figure out that you’re no longer the keeper of the kibble and instead the robot is the one to beg- which won’t be very effective.

On top of that, consider more frequent feeding that’s more in line with your cat’s natural feeding schedule and a variety of techniques to help cats feel more full. Whatever you do, make sure you don’t reinforce begging behavior but don’t worry about trying to punish the behavior either as that will just leave cats confused.

I’d love to hear how things go for your and your cat along with what was most effective for your feline friend.

Logan M.

Logan has always loved everything about cats! Growing up with a family full of pets and a lifelong passion for animals he pursued work in the veterinary industry. After 10 years, he started BetterWithCats.net to help cat owners learn more about their feline friends.

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