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If your cat is a chronic fast eater, then it’s time to take a closer look at what might be going on. How fast is too fast? If your cat can finish her meal in about two minutes or less, they’re likely eating too fast. If you can’t hear or see your cat chewing, they’re eating too fast.
A cat eating too quickly doesn’t always mean a trip to the vet. But when fast eating is accompanied by unwanted behaviors, digestive upset, or weight loss, then it’s time to schedule a checkup. Cats who eat too fast can savor their meals with a few tweaks at home; one of the best and most popular ways to slow your cat’s eating is with a special slow feeder.
Sure, your cat could eat fast because they really enjoy their food. But according to Dr. Laura Greene, DVM, DACVIM, Senior Professional Services Veterinarian and national internal medicine expert at Merck Animal Health, it’s more common for cats to eat fast because there is a medical or behavioral factor at play. The following are the most common culprits behind your cat’s speedy eating.
Your Cat Is Stressed
“Cats are not naturally family-style eaters like we are,” says Dr. Mikel Delgado, a cat behavior expert and consultant at Feline Minds. “Eating next to another cat is unnatural to them.” In fact, it’s not just unnatural—it’s stressful for some cats.
Cats happily live in multi-cat households and create strong bonds with other cats. But when fed in close proximity, competition for food and territorial behaviors can lead to speed eating, food stealing, and unhealthy body condition scores.
Your Cat Needs More Enrichment
Are you more likely to binge eat when you’re bored or sad? So is your cat, Dr. Greene says. “Like humans, it is suspected that some cats may display impulse control when they are bored or unhappy, and this may lead to excessive or more rapid eating.”
Your Cat Experienced Trauma
Pets can experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), not unlike humans. If your cat’s traumatic life event included a lack of food resources, they may express aggression at mealtime or eat quickly in fear that their food may be taken away.
Your Cat’s Diet Is Incomplete Or Biologically Inappropriate
Commercial cat foods are developed to meet your cat’s nutritional needs when fed in appropriate amounts. Veering away from a recommended diet could leave your cat hungry and eager to gobble their next meal. If you’re unsure of the best diet for your cat, it’s always smart to consult with a vet.
Your Cat Has A Medical Condition
When a medical condition causes a cat to be hungrier, that’s called polyphagia. Common medical conditions that cause polyphagia include the following.
- Intestinal parasites
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Certain intestinal cancers
- Pancreatic exocrine insufficiency
- Diabetes Mellitus
How To Slow Down a Cat Who’s Eating Too Fast
If your cat’s eating too fast, luckily, there are many different options to stop it. The following are some of the best ways to curb your cat’s speed-eating antics.
- Give your cats space. If you live in a multi-cat household, Dr. Delgado recommends feeding your cats from separate bowls at least a few feet apart. If your cats are hyper-sensitive to their territory and food resources, try feeding them in separate rooms.
- Use a microchip feeder. Dr. Greene and her colleagues at Merck Animal Health often recommend the Sure Petcare® Microchip Pet Feeder Connect. Using microchip identification, the feeder opens only to your specified pet. Microchip feeders like the Sure Petcare® Microchip Pet Feeder can be especially helpful in reducing territorial behaviors and building confidence in PTSD cats.
- Feed your cat a high-protein diet. Before changing your cat’s diet, talk to your vet about the right food and serving size for them. Ask your vet if a high-protein diet can keep your cat feeling fuller for longer while meeting their dietary needs. Switching to a high-moisture diet or adding water to a meal can also help your cat feel full.
- Use a lick mat. Silicone or TPR rubber lick mats work by grabbing spreadable food on textured surfaces. Your cat must work harder to get their meal, naturally slowing them down. Lick mats are especially popular among pet parents with anxious pets since the act of licking is said to reduce stress and self-soothe.
- Use food puzzles or a slow-feeder cat bowl. In the wild, cats forage and hunt for their next meal. This prevents overeating, slows down mealtime, and stimulates cats mentally and physically. You probably shouldn’t release a live mouse in your house, but Dr. Greene says you can incorporate food puzzles and slow-feeder bowls to slow your cat’s eating and mimic their natural feeding behaviors.
- Serve many small meals. A cat’s natural dietary schedule is many small meals throughout the day. By replicating this feeding schedule, cats have a lessened chance of overeating and regurgitating their meal. Of course, we can’t all stay home to serve our cats (as much as they think we should)—that’s where automatic cat feeders come in.
- Make a DIY slow feeder. Slowing your cat’s mealtime down doesn’t need to come with a hefty price tag. Spreading your cat’s food across a flat plate rather than plopping it in a pile will slow your cat’s eating. Or, craft a slow feeder puzzle using everyday items in your house—from a used toilet paper roll to an ice cube tray.
What Happens When Your Cat Eats Too Fast
A cat’s stomach is the size of a ping-pong ball. Typically, a cat in the wild would forage and hunt multiple small meals a day, not overextending their small stomachs but staying fueled for the next hunt.
It’s thought that eating too quickly doesn’t give the brain time to receive signals from the stomach saying, “stop, I’m full!”. When this happens, the food that doesn’t fit inside your cat’s ping-pong-ball-sized stomach extends into the esophagus and is regurgitated.
But regurgitation isn’t necessarily barfing. “Regurgitation is a passive process of bringing the food back up. It does not involve abdominal contractions, nausea, or repeated gagging, and the underlying cause is a problem with the esophagus,” Dr. Greene explains. In other words, regurgitated food hasn’t had a chance to break down in the stomach.
When your cat gulps down their food, they also gulp air. This increases the likelihood of your cat passing gas (yes, cats fart and burp) and can cause cramping and pain.
Pro-tip: You can identify if your cat eats too fast and throws up rather than regurgitating their food by the consistency of the contents. If your cat is vomiting, they are expelling contents of the stomach that have begun to be broken down by stomach acid. Unlike regurgitation, you’ll also spot repeated abdominal contractions. Your cat may show signs of nausea, like licking their lips and drooling.
Vomiting in cats may be a sign of a medical, behavioral, or digestive issue. It’s common for cats to vomit, but it’s never normal. So, schedule a visit with your vet if your cat is feeling unwell.
Is my cat choking from eating too fast?
Cats can also choke when eating too quickly. Look for these signs that a cat is choking:
- Pawing at the face or mouth
- Rubbing of the face against a surface
- Labored breathing, gasping, or wheezing
- A panicked expression
- Blue lips and gums
If your cat is choking and you don’t know pet first aid, they need immediate medical care.
Cats can be picky eaters—or just the opposite and scarf down their food. If you worry about how to feed your cat, what to feed them, and the speed at which your cat eats, you’re not alone. According to a survey conducted by Blue Buffalo in 2021, 40% of cat parents agree that cats are fussier than kids when it comes to mealtime.
But providing your cat with an appropriate meal doesn’t need to feel complicated. There are lots of approaches to feeding your cat in a way that feels natural to them and fits your lifestyle.
If you’re worried about your cat’s health or eating habits, talk to your vet before making any dietary changes or adding fiber, probiotics, or vitamins to your cat’s meals. Feeding your cat nutritious cat food in a way that feels natural to them will support their overall health—from digestion to their mental well-being.