Skip to main content

How to curb food aggression in cats

Most cats get deeply excited about feeding time, but sometimes the appeal of food can spell trouble. Some cats feel so strongly about their food that they become possessive of it and aggressive toward people or pets in the home. This food aggression can make feeding your cat difficult and even unsafe for you and others who happen to be around at the time. It also indicates that your cat is feeling excessive stress about where his next meal is coming from. If your cat is displaying symptoms of food aggression, there are multiple ways you can help curb that habit.

Grey cat eating out of a blue bowl indoors

Understanding food aggression in cats

It’s important to first understand the causes of food aggression before you can fix it. At the most basic, his reaction may result from instinctive behaviors that your cat still possesses. In the wild, cats hunt and eat independently, and having other animals around would threaten their ability to eat their prey.

There are multiple environmental factors that can contribute to this aggressive behavior. Your cat may be stressed by the presence of other pets in the home, and feeding your cat a few larger meals may leave him more determined to eat as much as possible since it will be a while before he gets his next meal. Boredom can also contribute — when your cat doesn’t do much during the day, mealtimes become bigger, more significant, and more exciting events.

As a result, your cat may exhibit aggressive tendencies like growling, hissing, or even scratching anyone who approaches him while he eats. He might guard his food bowls or the area where he’s fed, wolf down any food that he’s given, and beg you for more.

Start with a vet exam

Some physical issues, including hyperthyroidism and neurological conditions, can result in food aggression in cats. If your cat starts exhibiting these aggressive symptoms, then start with a trip to the vet. Your vet may perform a physical exam and order blood work to make sure your cat doesn’t have a physical condition causing the aggression.

Separate your cat

Once physical issues are ruled out, it’s time to make some changes to your cat’s environment. At feeding time, make sure he has space so that he doesn’t feel threatened. This might mean feeding him in a different room that pets and people won’t go into until he’s done.

Changing how often you feed your cat may also help him feel more reassured that food is always going to be available. You might try free feedings rather than having structured mealtimes. If you can’t leave food down, then break up your cat’s big meals into smaller meals every few hours. Not available to feed your cat every few hours? Try using an automatic feeder (or a few, if you have multiple cats) that will give your cat access to his food at pretimed intervals.

Cat eating out of a bowl in a yard, looking stressed
Ralphs_Fotos / Pixabay

Entertain your cat

Boredom can make mealtimes into more significant events, so find ways to get your cat occupied. Make sure that you play with your cat multiple times a day. To satisfy your cat’s natural hunting instinct, after play, give him a treat, which can resemble how he’d hunt prey and then eat his catch in the wild.

You might also want to hide little bits of food or treats throughout the home. Your cat can follow his nose and go off in hunt of these special treats. This is an ideal option when you’re going to be out of the house for a while and want to keep your cat entertained.

You can also invest in a cat tree or a window box. These options can give your cat new vantage points and help keep him occupied.

Curbing food aggression in cats can be difficult, and it can take some time. It’s important to take immediate steps to keep humans and pets in the house safe, especially if your cat’s behavior is severe, so don’t hesitate to separate your cat during mealtimes until you can resolve this behavior. Then, try different changes and adjustments to see if you can get your cat feeling a bit more secure about his meals. With some time and experimentation, you should be able to find solutions that work for your cat and that leave him less focused on defending his food and better able to exist peacefully in the home.

Editors' Recommendations

Paige Cerulli
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Paige's work has appeared in American Veterinarian, Business Insider, Healthline, and more. When she's not writing, Paige…
8 essential tips for disciplining cats
8 Easy and effective tips for training your cat
Two kittens on wooden shelves

Cats may be one of the most popular pets worldwide, but even they have reputations (mostly with non-cat people). Felines are known for indifference, sass, and even attitude. Cartoons, comics, and movies portray them as impossible to reason with, but if you ask a cat owner, they'll assure you cat discipline exists. Here's the catch: you need to know how to discipline your cat -- safely and properly -- for that training to stick. With these seven simple tips and tricks, though, you'll be on your way to perfect feline behavior.

Rule out medical concerns as a cause for misbehavior
Surprising as it sounds, the source of a lot of cat misbehavior has roots in medical conditions. Cats may stop using the litter box, demonstrate new aggression, or start hiding in unexpected places -- all from changes inside their body. So, before you start wondering how to punish your cat, make an appointment with your veterinarian. You may find a medical cause for the behavior. If not, you'll get peace of mind and can move on to further tips on cat discipline.

Read more
Why do cats throw up? (Plus, the one thing you should always do)
Don't ignore your cat when they do this
an orange and white cat lounging on wood plank

When you signed on to cat parenthood, you likely knew you'd have to deal with waste management, like cleaning litter boxes (or scooping poop if your kitty is an outdoor one). Feeding and providing a cat with plenty of water are also expected basics of having a cat. However, cats are full of surprises, from wake-up calls for pets (aren't felines anti-social?) to a Bah-humbug relationship with holiday trees.

An unwelcome surprise of kitty parenting? Cleaning up vomit. To be frank, it's gross. However, seeing that your cat threw up is likely also concerning to you. When people throw up, they're often sick — can the same be said for cats? If you're wondering, "Why is my cat throwing up?" your first call should be to a vet. Here's why.

Read more
Cats sleep with their eyes open — it’s creepy, but here’s why they do it
Cats do all sorts of weird things, including sleeping with their eyes open. Here is why.
A one-eyed cat sleeps with the other open

Cats do weird things sometimes, and we love them for it! What would we watch on TikTok otherwise? But their strange behavior can also cause us cat owners some concern. If you’ve ever seen your cat sleeping with her eyes open, you know exactly what we mean. Not only does this look frightening, but it also might spur some crucial questions in your mind. Why do cats sleep with their eyes open? Is it a medical problem? Should I be worried? Keep reading to find out.

Can cats sleep with their eyes open?
They can. If you’re reading this article, you have probably already observed your cat sleeping through the day with her eyes open. Not all cats do it, and cats that can don’t usually do it all the time. The first time you notice your cat sleeping with her eyes open, it can be quite jarring. It looks a little spooky, and you may start to worry that something is wrong with her.

Read more