You may find that your cat wants you to watch them eat, and perhaps won’t eat unless you’re in the room. This can become unhealthy if they refuse to eat unless you’re around. So this article will help you understand why cats want you to watch them eat and how to break the habit.
WHY DO CATS WANT YOU TO WATCH THEM EAT?
Your cat may want you to watch them eat out of habit, for protection or attention, or simply because they’re social and don’t want to miss out on any action. Sitting by them while they eat, talking to them, or petting them may make them feel safe, comfortable, and happy.
Although this behaviour may be cute at first, it’s important to correct it so your cat doesn’t go without eating when you can’t be by them, or when you go on a trip.
If this behavior is new and their environment hasn’t changed (i.e. you haven’t moved recently), it’s a good idea to contact your veterinarian. Your pet may be dealing with some type of illness and feel especially vulnerable, wanting you near for protection and for comfort. Your vet can ask you the right questions to determine if you need to bring them into the clinic.
It may also be a sign that they’re not happy with their food and aren’t nutritionally satisfied. Talk to your vet about switching up their diet to see if that helps.
You may have formed a habit of being around your cat when they eat, maybe even without realizing it.
Perhaps when they were kittens you had to feed them by bottle or were near them as they ate, ensuring they were getting enough food. They may be used to getting that attention from you at mealtime and come to expect it.
Or, you may have previously lived in a smaller space where you were almost always near their food dish, whether you meant to be or not. This may have gotten them accustomed to you being around when they eat. If you change your habits by not being home as much, moving to a bigger home, or being in a different room while they eat, they may still be craving that attention at mealtime.
HOW TO BREAK THE HABIT
Just as habits are slowly built and reinforced over time, you can start to undo a habit or create a new one to replace the old habit.
If your cat is extremely attached to you and won’t eat unless you’re next to them, you may be worried they won’t eat enough if you cut back on their attention. Try slowly introducing a new behaviour during mealtime.
You may start by simply moving back a foot or two as they eat, or not petting or talking to them while they eat. After a week of introducing a new behaviour, you can increase your distance from them. Slowly work your way up to sitting across the room from them when they eat and eventually being in another room altogether.
It may help to put some calming music on or even talk-radio, so they feel like someone is in the room with them.
Cats like to feel safe, especially when doing things that make them more vulnerable, such as eating, sleeping, or using the washroom. If you have a busy household and their mealtime feels chaotic, they may require you to be near them while they eat to ensure they’re safe.
HOW TO BREAK THE HABIT
You may try moving their food dish to a space that is less out in the open. Moving the food dish can also create a new event that helps break the memory of you always being around while they eat (just like moving the litter box can help break a bad litter box habit).
You could try placing their food and water in a different room and close the door during mealtime. A corner may even work if they can have their backs to the corner, so they feel protected from behind, and can look out into the room as they eat.
You may even try using a big cardboard box. Cat’s love boxes because they’re enclosed spaces. Placing their food and water inside of a box (one big enough to allow them to move around) may give them the privacy and safety they require.
If moving their food dish isn’t possible, try making sure they have quiet time while they eat. You may slightly and slowly shift their feeding times. Perhaps you start feeding them a little earlier in the morning before the kids get up and are running around. Or you may get in the habit of feeding them right before your family sits down to eat in another room. Having some quiet time may make them feel as though they don’t need your protection.
Never place their food dish next to their litter box or it may lead to litter box aversion. Just as you don’t like to eat where you go to the washroom, neither does your cat.
Your cat loves you; you’re likely their parent now. We all yearn for our parents’ attention and seek their approval. Your cat may simply want you to watch them eat to get some extra attention.
If you live a busy life or have a busy household, feeding time may be the only routine you have with your cat that gives them your undivided attention. It’s a constant they can rely on when it comes to your attention. At the same time each day you may ask if they’re hungry, pour food into their dish, give them a few pets, and ask if that was good as you clean up their dish.
This attention may have them being more needy during mealtime.
HOW TO BREAK THE HABIT
Try shifting the reward of your attention to before and after feeding time. If you spend some time playing with your cat before they eat, leave them alone while they eat, and then give them attention again after they finish, they may break the habit of needing your attention while they eat.
You can even go a bit over the top once they’re done eating to really exaggerate the reward they receive after eating on their own. Be really quiet, or even leave the room while they eat, and once they come to find you, or you notice they’ve finished, speak excitedly to them so they understand: attention comes after eating, not during.
Be sure not to reward them if they don’t complete their meal or they constantly look for your attention during the meal. You don’t want to punish them by holding back love from them, but you don’t want to reward them either.
If you use the 5 – 10 minutes after they finish eating to do something a little above and beyond what you normally do, they should get the message of what type of behavior is rewarded.
We love our cats a lot and they may become a little too attached to us. When they go everywhere you do, follow you to each room, sleep with you, etc. they won’t want to eat if you’re in another room.
HOW TO BREAK THE HABIT
You don’t have to start giving your cat less attention, but you may want to start building the habits of being away from them for certain times during the day so they realize everything is still okay, even if you’re not next to them.
Try giving them toys they can play with on their own and choosing one or two times during the day to separate yourself from them; mealtime being one of them. You may need to start small by keeping them out of the washroom while you shower and work your way up to putting them in another room while they eat. You don’t want to cause them stress by changing their routine too quickly.
5) BEING SOCIAL
Most cats are social creatures and they like to be where you and your family are, at all times. They may not want to miss out on anything while they eat, and feel as long as you’re next to them, they’re in on the action.
HOW TO BREAK THE HABIT
Try to create quite-time when your cat eats, or slightly shift their eating time to when it’s a bit more quiet in your home. Help your cat feel they’re not missing out on anything when they eat.
You can also form the habit of playing after mealtime. Your cat may begin to realize that the real party happens after they eat and they have nothing to worry about while they eat. Try not to start playtime immediately after eating, or they may start rushing while they eat or walking away from their food dish prematurely.
WHAT IF MY CAT DOESN’T WANT ME TO WATCH THEM EAT?
That’s completely normal, and preferred. You don’t want your cat’s food consumption tied to you being next to them. Your cat should be able to eat without you in the room.
If your cat won’t eat when you’re around, it could be because they’re protective of their food due to previously being a stray or around other cats and feeling the need to protect their food.
Or they may have experienced something unpleasant while they were eating. When our cat became diabetic, we attempted to give him insulin while he was eating, but he didn’t like that and it caused him to stop eating any time we got too close. We had to build his trust back up (and find a different method for giving him his insulin).
You don’t want this behaviour to escalate and for them to become aggressive towards you, kids, or other cats when they eat.
Try working in the other direction and slowly be more present when they eat. Not to the point that they require you to be there, but to the point that they don’t mind someone being near.
You may start by talking to them while they eat or staying in the same room as they eat, but keeping your distance. Slowly work your way closer and closer until they become comfortable with you being around when food’s in their dish.
I hope this article has helped you understand why your cat wants you to watch them eat 🙂