Eating for cats is a very personal thing. They can get very sensitive and cautious when eating. This is because a cat’s attention is focused on its meal and not on the surroundings.
As cat owners, we know how skirmish and edgy our cats can be at times. Loud sounds and sudden movements can make them behave like the world is coming to an end.
Your cat wants you to watch him eat because your presence calms him down and gives him the confidence to enjoy his food and not be worried about any nasty surprises. Your cat trusts you and wants your company.
I understand it can be rather difficult for many people to understand that cats, despite their aloof demeanour, still desire their owner’s attention.
Let’s dive deeper into this cat behavior.
My Cat Won’t Eat Unless I’m There
The way a cat eats pretty much goes in line with its DNA. Cats are born to be solitary and independent animals.
By 18 weeks of age, most kittens in the wild are ready to get weaned off their mother and leave the nest to start their own lives. They will live and hunt alone until it is time to mate and reproduce.
For lone hunters like cats, they have to be very aware and cautious of their surroundings after killing their prey. The smell of fresh meat could attract other cats to steal its kill and leave the poor cat hungry. A predator could also be alerted and hunt the cat instead.
All these possible outcomes can make many cats very cautious whilst eating.
This behavior is something that I’ve noticed in both domesticated and stray cats. They always tend to look up and scan the area for a few seconds and continue eating. If I’m there, they tend to be more relaxed and can focus on their food bowl.
This cat behavior can also be due to other reasons.
Out Of Habit
Adult cats can develop weird and unusual eating habits as kittens. It could be due to your cat being one of only two kittens it is litter. Therefore, while it was suckling on its mother’s tit, its sibling was always by the side hence it became a source of security for your cat.
Now that your cat is with you, the role of its former sibling has been replaced by the cat owners. Your cat needs the feeling of companionship to eat.
Sometimes, this role can even be revered whereby you have cats that prefer to watch their owners eat.
Another reason could be that your cat was fostered by humans at a very young age and had to be bottle-fed. The constant attention and affection that your cat was shown during its kitten days have carried forward to its adult years.
Your cat now requires the same level of human commitment and accompaniment before it can start eating from its food bowl.
Out Of Fear
Fear could be another plausible reason why your cat refuses to eat unless you are there watching. Your cat could have been a stray or feral cat before it met you. These cats can live rather stressful lives always having to watch their backs and the next meal.
There’s a possibility that your cat was eating and was chased away by another cat or by a bigger animal like a dog or wolf.
One bad experience is added to give a nervous cat a negative reaction that can last a lifetime. This is why every time your cat is about to eat its dry or wet food, the fear of being chased comes to mind and the cat refuses to eat until you are there.
What To Do About Such A Behavior?
Truth be told, it might seem adorable to pet owners that their cats want them around before they eat. But such an action is actually reinforcing whatever insecurities that they might have.
It is not possible for pet parents to always be around when their cats want to eat. The last thing any cat owner wants is for the cat to start starving itself due to this reason.
It is very dangerous when cats stop eating. They can develop liver failure and eventually die within a short period of time.
Such cats need to learn how to eat without their owners around before it starts to affect the cat’s health.
When trying to correct your cat’s behavior, be prepared to be patient and put in the effort. Unlike dogs, cats can be more stubborn and inconsistent when undergoing training. Use lots of positive reinforcement and some treats to reward your cat.
The Training Process
- Be aware of your cat’s eating area. If it is outside the house like on the patio and backyard, this can cause your cat to be more cautious of wandering stray and other animals taking its food. Move your cat’s food bowl inside the house and place it in an area where it is quiet and private for your cat.
- Accompany your cat as per normal for its mealtimes. After preparing your cat’s food, let your cat eat normally when you stand there and watch. Once your cat is about 80% done, start to walk away. If your cat stops eating or follows you, join your cat back at its dining area till the food is done.
- Over the next few weeks or days, gradually start to move away quicker while your cat is eating. Even if that causes your cat to stop eating, your cat should start to eat again on its own out of hunger.
- If your cat is being really stubborn about it, try making your cat’s food more irresistible than you by putting some treats or homemade tuna juice in it.
- If your cat’s anxiety level goes through the roof when you step away, it would be best to bring your cat to the vet for a proper checkup and veterinary advice.
Many cat owners will cave in to their cat’s demand and start to mess up the whole training process. A slightly colder heart would be required for this to be a success. Just make sure that your cat doesn’t start to starve itself.
Should I Pet My Cat While Eating?
If your cat is one that likes you to be around and watch him eat, it can be a good idea to pet your cat while it eats.
This will signal to your cat that it is safe to eat and that you are here to keep watch. Your cat will appreciate this gesture and can even purr loudly while eating.
There are some cats that might not like to be touched while they are eating. All they want you to do is watch them while they focus on their food bowl.
If you have a dog at home, it is usually not advisable to go near or pet it while it eats. Dogs are more prone to resource guarding which makes them rather territorial of their food. They are opportunistic eaters and have the tendency to gobble down what is in front of them before competition arrives.
However, don’t be surprised if your cat shows signs of food aggression. These cats can attack their owners when they are hungry or when they feel encroached upon while eating. Such a behavior needs to be corrected before it gets out of hand.
Even though your feline friend might not appreciate being touched while eating from its food bowl, your presence in the same room is usually good enough.
Why Does My Cat Want Me To Hand Feed Him?
Some cats love to be hand-fed at times and it is a great way to build and strengthen the bond with your cat. All you have to do is to put some of your cat’s food on your hand and it will start to lick it off.
This is also a great way to socialize cats that are wary of humans. It isn’t the smartest thing to be doing when the cat is aggressive towards you.
Wait until you can pet the while it is eating before trying it or you might lose a few fingers.
By handing feeding your cat, you are telling your cat that you are here to provide and take care of its needs.
Our feline friends can be rather eccentric and weird at times but we love them all the same. The most important takeaway here is that your cat refusing to eat when you’re not around isn’t normal behavior and needs to be worked on.
Be patient with your cat and show it lots of love. It won’t be long before your cat would prefer to be alone whilst eating.