Ask A Vet: Why Does My Cat Only Like Canned Food?

| Published on March 30, 2017

Wouldn’t it be convenient to offer your cat dry kibble all the time? Dry kibble does not have to be refrigerated and stays fresher longer. It does not smell as strong as canned foods can.  But many cats prefer canned food and some will eat only canned diet and never kibble.  Why do you think that is?

People can look at the canned food and tell that the aroma is stronger and more enticing. The food seems more like what a live prey item would be if your little carnivore caught it. It seems to be even more palatable if it is room temperature or warm, also like a fresh kill would be.

Sometimes diet changes are a part of a medical protocol, but certain cats are not amenable to the idea of eating something different from what they are used to. Would you believe that it is more than just a preference?

In his book The Behaviour of the Domestic Cat, John Bradshaw suggests that young cats are influenced by the foods that their mother introduced them to as kittens.  He believes that their preferences are learned from an early age. If kittens are exposed to only canned diets and are taught by their mothers that canned food is preferable, they can develop food predilections as adults that are ingrained in their brains. Changing their preferences can be very difficult.

Individual kittens can react differently to early food training, but Bradshaw thinks that nervous or high-strung kittens are more apt to be suspicious of new foods. This suspicion of new things is called neophobia. Adult cats also experience neophobia and can be very difficult to introduce to new foods. If your cat is used to a certain food type and is not particularly brave and adventuresome, he might refuse to try a new food, even if it tastes delicious.

To help offset this early indoctrination, kitten owners should offer their young kittens a variety of textures and types of quality diets, so that fewer foods seem novel if your cat ever needs to eat a special diet. Exposing your kitten to lots of options and letting him learn about many types of foods, so that nothing seems “new,” can avoid trouble down the road as your cat ages and his chances of needing a prescription diet grows.

For the most part, offering what your cat prefers is fine as long as you choose intelligently, but if you ever need to modify the diet for medical reasons, a cat that will only eat a certain type of food can make things difficult. Be patient with your cat if she only likes canned food. Remember that it might actually be “all in her head”!

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  1. Bradshaw, J., Casey, R.A. and Brown, Sarah (2012) The Behaviour of the Domestic Cat: 2nd edition. 132-34.

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