Q: Dear Nora, I feed my cat a combination of wet and dry food. Even though she only eats a portion of the can of wet food, I have to toss the leftovers because she won’t go anywhere near it the next day. Any ideas on how I can keep her food fresh so I can trick her into eating it?
A: We smell things much more strongly than humans, and I’ve been known, too, to stick my nose up at something that wasn’t as fresh as I’d like. How are you treating the leftovers? I recommend a lid that is specially made to fit over the top of cat food cans to seal it up tight. Also make sure that your fridge is cool enough.
The problem, though, may not be about freshness at all. Many cats don’t like food that is too cold. When we’re eating, we like to pretend that our food is freshly-caught prey, and as such, we like it to be room temperature or slightly warm. I suggest heating your cat’s food up a bit (not too hot– you don’t want to injure her). About 30 seconds in the microwave should do it.
Q: Dear Nora, Sometimes I catch my cat scratching all around her water dish. Why does she do this?
A: We scratch around our dishes (water and food) to say “hey, this is mine– hands off!” to our parents and other animals in the home. This works in two ways. First of all, we have scent glands in our paws (near the base of our claws), marking the area when we scratch around the bowl. Second, scratching feeds our instinct to bury our prey for future snacks.
If you live in a multi-cat home with an alpha cat, or if there is obvious tension between your cats, you can help alleviate stress by providing multiple feeding and watering stations throughout the home. That way, your less aggressive cat won’t feel the need to battle with your more aggressive cat to get food and water.
Q: Dear Nora, My cat ‘s water bowl rarely needs re-filling and I’m concerned that she’s not drinking enough water. How can I get her to drink more?
A: Is your cat’s only water bowl near her food dish? Cuz that’s gross. Us cats think of our food (even if you buy it for us from the store, and even if it’s dry and super processed) as being our prey. As prey, our instincts tell us that our water may be contaminated with bacteria if it’s close to our food, so we will often avoid it.
We’ll seek out fresh water elsewhere– that’s why you may see your cat lapping up water from the faucet, or dipping her paw into your own glass of fresh and cool water (in fact, that’s my favorite place to drink from!).
You can encourage your cat to drink more water by providing more water bowls or cat water fountains throughout your home– located in many spots far from her food bowl. Clean the bowls and add fresh water daily for maximum water consumption.
Q: Dear Nora, I’ll be hosting a cookout at my home for the 4th of July. My cat is very clever and sneaky, and I’m worried that she’ll eat some foods she shouldn’t be eating. What average cookout foods are toxic or dangerous to my cat? I can be more proactive about keeping food away from her if I know what to look for.
A: Thanks for reminding our readers that fireworks aren’t the only holiday threats to animals. Many human foods can be dangerous to your cat. Here are some items that make an appearance at your 4th of July party that you should keep away from her:
Alcohol – can cause coma or death
Bones – choking hazzards
Chocolate – can cause vomiting, diarrhea, or a heart attack
As you may know, cats also just have very sensitive digestive systems and are prone to vomiting and diarrhea even with the most simple diet changes. For that reason, it would be smart to keep your cat away from human food always, toxic or not.
If you suspect that your cat has eaten something toxic, call the Pet Poison Helpline at 1-855-764-7661.
Q: Dear Nora, My cat is a rescue who was denied food for a portion of his life before he came to me. As a result, he’s a bit wild about food. At mealtimes he scarfs it all up immediately, then sometimes vomits before he even has a chance to digest it. How can I help him slow down so he’s benefiting from his meals (plus, you know, help me not clean up cat vomit a couple times a week)?
A: This behavior is pretty common in cats who have come from similar situations. As you can guess, he’s got some emotional issues that make him believe that if he doesn’t eat the food as quickly as possible it’ll disappear. And he has no trust that he’ll have a chance to eat again tomorrow. Eventually, as he learns and trusts that you will consistently feed him every day, he may ease up on the scarfing (But don’t be alarmed or offended if he is a lifelong scarfer. These issues can be very deeply rooted). While you work on helping him understand that you will always feed him, you can add food puzzles to his meals. A food puzzle like the Stimulo will make it impossible for your cat too eat quickly, making it easier for him to digest his whole meal. As an added bonus, it’ll help stimulate his hunter instincts and keep him alert.
Q: Dear Nora,
I catch my cat drinking out of the toilet a few times a week. He hasn’t gotten sick from it, but it squicks me out to think about. Why does he think toilet water is so delicious, and could he get sick from it?
A: Cats lick their own butts several times every single day. Drinking toilet water is the least of your problems if you’re scared of germs. That being said, if your cat’s love for toilet water is causing you real distress, you can simply get into the habit of putting the toilet lid down when you’re done doing your business.
Your cat is likely attracted to the water in the toilet because it’s cold, fresh, and not stagnant. Are you refreshing his water bowl enough? An easy solution is to invest in a watering fountain. That way your cat will always have access to fresh moving water and won’t be so bummed to see the toilet lid down.
Q: Dear Nora, I recently adopted a new cat and want to give him the best life I can. I’m confused about all of the options for food and water dishes. When it comes to my cat’s dishes and safety, is there really a difference between plastic and stainless steel?
A: First of all, congrats to you and your cat!
When it comes to materials for your cat’s dishes, there is in fact a difference between plastic and stainless steel, and the stainless steel is worth paying a bit more for. Plastic gathers nicks and scratches easily. They may be too small for you to even notice, but those scratches can become breeding grounds for bacteria. Plus, many cats are allergic to plastic and can break out with small bumps on their chins.
Most veterinarians recommend stainless steel bowls because they are easy to clean, unbreakable, and don’t harbor bacteria. Ceramic dishes are also a good choice as long as you make sure they have a lead-free glaze. If the cost hike is prohibitive, you can often find stainless steel bowls at thrift stores for a fraction of the cost.
Q: Dear Nora, One of my cats drinks water by dipping her paw into the bowl and then licking the water from her paw. Why?
A: Your cat may be doing this for one (or more!) of several reasons. First, cats have very sensitive whiskers. If the bowl is too small, or if the water is low and your cat’s whiskers will touch the sides of it if she drinks, she may choose to drink from her paws instead. If you think this is the case, try a shallow bowl with a large circumference.
Next, we always prefer the freshest water, and water seems freshest when it is moving instead of stagnant. Dipping our paws into the water is a way to try to achieve this with the tools we have (dirty water + paws = fresh?). Try a water fountain so your cat won’t have to do all that work.
Q: Dear Nora, My cats have a large water bowl that I always refill when it gets low. Still, I frequently find them sneaking water from the kitchen sink, my own water glass, etc. What gives?
A: There are two things that may be happening. First, the water may not be fresh enough. Our wildcat-ancestor survival instincts are still very much in tact, even though we let you think you’ve domesticated us. If your cats are thirsty and the water smells or tastes bacteria-laden, they may avoid it. Keep in mind that our senses are a lot stronger than yours, so something that seems fine to you may be disgusting to us. Try using smaller bowls, which will force you to refresh the water more often. Also, give the bowls a good washing at least once a week.
Secondly, in a multi-cat household, weaker cats may seek out alternative water sources if a bully-cat is watching over the bowl. To solve this problem, put water (and food) bowls in several locations throughout your home, so there is always a safe and accessible alternative.
Q: Dear Nora, Sometimes my cat throws up after eating. Is this normal?
A: Frequent vomiting, from any animal, should be considered abnormal. Remember that we get our nutrients from our food, just like you. In order to absorb all of the nutrition we need to be active an healthy, we really need the food to stay in our bellies.
If there are other cats in your home, your cat may feel like she has to compete for food. This will make her scarf it down as quickly as possible and cause her to throw it up. If this seems like a possibility, try separating your cats at feeding time. It may also be that your cat simply has no self-control when it comes to food. If this is the case, try a food puzzle— it will force her to slow down, while also adding some great mental stimulation.
If neither of these seem to be the problem, take your kitty to see the vet, since there are a lot of medical reasons that could cause regular vomiting.
I’m not a veterinarian (obviously. Cats aren’t allowed into veterinarian school). The information you’ll find here is strictly for educational and entertainment purposes. Dear Nora is not intended to diagnose and we encourage regular visits with your local veterinarian to address any medical or behavioral problems.