The Hervey Foundation for Cats

How to Help a Cat Who is Eating Too Fast or Overeating

Overeating cat graphic

With respect to dry food, some cats are grazers. They nibble on their food here and there – knowing it’ll always be there if they want to come back to it. 

Then there are the cats who work themselves into a frenzy before mealtime, or whenever they even think about food, and when the food arrives, they wolf it down aggressively and end up regurgitating it shortly after. Some eat so quickly they don’t even chew their food, instead opting to more or less inhale it.

With their stomachs full of dry food, these cats will go for a drink of water, and when they do, the food will expand and suddenly your cat needs to throw up. 

What Is Causing This?

There are many reasons why a cat might have food issues. Some cats are fixated on food because of their past. Some of the catalysts for this may include not having enough food as a stray, being the runt of the litter and not getting enough as a kitten, or perhaps just having a hyperactive personality prone to whipping themselves into a frenzy before they eat.

Some cats also learn this behaviour over time with owners less regimented in their mealtime schedules. When cats know they can bug their owners and be fed, they will take advantage of this. 

Stress eating is also very real for our feline companions. According to the Pet Health Network, ‘Primary causes of polyphagia can be behavioural or psychogenic. Reduction of stress, associating food with pleasure, simply liking a particularly palatable food — all might initiate eating too much. Failure to regulate the appetite centres because of a brain disorder is less common, but also possible.’

How to Fix the Problem

As with all pet-owner relationships, it is on us to determine our pets’ needs and figure out solutions to keep them healthy and happy. A cat with food issues may be otherwise happy, but likely experiences real stress around mealtime. There are a few steps you can take as an owner to help your cat ingest their food at a reasonable pace, and limit the amount they are taking in.

  1. If you have more than one cat, feed them in separate rooms

This removes pressure and stress from both animals as they are no longer worried about one eating the other’s food and they cannot see each other. This can help them relax and take their time.

  1. Don’t leave bowls of food out anymore

Bowls of food always readily available lead to a number of problems beyond cats overindulging and throwing up. It also leads to obesity and other obesity-related issues such as arthritis and diabetes. Not only are these hard for your cat, but they are expensive for owners to care for. 

  1. Trade in the bowl for a plate

Plates have a larger surface area, but they are also flat – this means the food you pour onto it won’t flow towards the centre as many bowls do. Anything with a large surface area will work. The idea behind this is to encourage your cat to take on each piece of kibble one at a time. When they are all pushed together in a bowl it is easier for cats to ‘inhale’ them without chewing.

  1. Place an obstacle in the bowl

If you insist on using a bowl for your cat’s food, placing something in the bowl will force your cat to eat around it. This requires them to think about where they are eating from and get in the way of food bunching up together – hopefully removing the urge to gorge. The obstacle should be big enough to get in the way but also light enough it can be moved around by your cat while they eat. Think – ping pong ball-sized.

  1. Slow Feeders

Slow feeders are puzzle/maze-like feeding stations designed to force your cat to eat its food slower and one piece at a time. The food spreads throughout the feeder in a way that is still easily accessible but strings the pieces of kibble along in a way that adds space around them. This works well as the cat has to work their way through the feeder to access all the food.

  1. Automatic feeders

Automatic feeders are great for single-cat homes or even multi-cat homes where separate feeding areas are established. These feeders allow you to control the number of times food is dispensed throughout the day in addition to the amount each time. The only weakness in a multi-cat home is it becomes easy for other cats to learn when food is dispensed and they will often steal from other feeders when it drops. One of the major positives of an automatic feeder is the ability to still feed your cats while not being home.