The Best Cat Food for Picky Eaters, According to a Vet

updated Apr 24, 2024
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Did you know that cats are even pickier than dogs? If your cat is a picky eater, then you know that getting them to eat can be a total battle. In addition to the fact that your kitty might not be getting the nutrients it needs, there are also concerns that it might be gaining or losing too much weight, which could cause health complications in the future. But just because your cat regularly turns up its nose at the food you feed them doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re picky. “Don’t just assume that your cat is a picky eater,” says Dr. Carly Fox, Staff Doctor at NYC’s Animal Medical Center. “You should first have your cat evaluated by a veterinarian to make sure that they don’t have a disease or condition that causes them to have a finicky or decreased appetite.” Then, if it turns out that your feline friend is perfectly healthy but just has a discerning palate, you can go ahead and make some changes to their eating habits.

Opt for a Wet Food Diet

Dr. Fox recommends feeding your picky cat a wet food diet or a combination of wet and dry food. “Wet food diets are typically more tasty,” she explains. Plus, she adds, “they have more water in them, which is beneficial since cats are prone to developing kidney diseases as they age. Wet food keeps their kidneys happy, since it keeps them more hydrated than dry food.”

Make Their Food More Appetizing

If your cat won’t eat its food the way it comes in the can, there are a few things you can do, according to Dr. Fox. First, you can add chicken stock or tuna water to their canned wet food to enhance the flavor. (You can also add either liquid to their drinking water if they’re having trouble staying hydrated.) Second, try microwaving their food, since this makes it smellier. Cats actually find smelly food extra appealing.

Be Intentional About Feeding Time

Just like we humans have meal times, it’s important to keep your feline friends on a consistent eating schedule. Dr. Fox suggests leaving your cat’s food out for a timed period — around 20 minutes, she says — and then taking it away, so your cat will learn it has to eat at that time. If you’re not around at your cat’s meal time, you can buy a cat feeder to do it for you. Dr. Fox recommends the PetLibro Feeder and the Cat Mate C200, which have automatic feeding timers that only allow your cat’s food to be given at a certain time.

She also advises against leaving dry food out all day, since too much grazing can lead to obesity, which can have adverse health outcomes. And just as we enjoy gathering together around the table to enjoy a meal, some cats are social eaters. If your cat is picking at its food while eating alone, try having it eat alongside another pet, or even try eating with your cat yourself to keep it company.

Switch Up the Diet

We all need a little variety in our diets from time to time. If your kitty is being picky, Dr. Fox suggests switching up the protein source you’re feeding them. “Switch it up from the usual chicken and tuna to something like duck, venison, or turkey,” she says, since “cats appreciate different flavors in their diets.”

However, she also cautions against throwing too many different types of food at your cat. While she advocates for a rotation for food, you should be making the switch gradually. And never give your cat a smorgasbord of brands to choose between all at once — while your inclination may be to buy as many as you can and let your cat choose, “this can actually do the opposite of what you want because you’re feeding into their pickiness,” Dr. Fox says. Turns out, letting your picky cat take its time to pick their food out can actually make them more picky.

Take Your Cat’s Age and Health Into Account

Kitten owners should make sure they’re buying kitten food and not adult food, says Dr. Fox. “Kitten food will have nutrients to help with growth as well as calcium and protein for growth,” since adult cats and kittens have different calcium and protein needs. And for those pet owners with older cats, you’ll want to make sure your cat’s food is accessible since they “won’t want to jump on the counter that much because they likely have arthritis or orthopedic disease,” Dr. Fox notes. So, you’ll want to make sure their food and water bowls are reachable so they actually eat.

Here are Dr. Fox’s top food recommendations for picky cats.

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Dr. Fox recommends Hill's Science Diet Tender Tuna specifically for picky cats because it's smelly, which cats find appetzing. It's packed with high-quality protein and key nutrients that your cat needs, so you know the food is supporting your cat's health and growth. Plus, its natural ingredients are easily digestible for a pleasant and easy eating experience.

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was $20.99

This cat food is packed with live probiotics and natural prebiotic fiber to support your cat's digestion and gut health, which is key for making them want to eat. Chicken is the #1 ingredient in this kibble, which contains 40 percent protein to provide your cat the best nutrition. It's also rich in antioxidants for an immune system boost, and the vitamin A and omega-6 fatty acids keep your feline friend's coat glossy.

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was $45.36

Dr. Fox recommends Merrick Backcountry cat food because of its chunks of real deboned chicken, which can entice even the choosiest of kitties. It's basically like a raw diet for cats, since it's gluten free to ease stomach distress and combat chronic skin conditions. Plus, its natural fats and amino acids will keep your cat's skin and fur healthy.

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As any parent of a picky child knows, sometimes you've got to give up on your organic diet and let them eat chicken tenders every night in order to make sure they eat, and this food is no different. According to Dr. Fox, Friskies Extra Gravy Chunky is basically junk food for cats. It's got big meaty chunks in savory gravy, which you can serve as a stand-alone meal or dribble over dry food to entice an especially finicky eater. It also contains essential vitamins and minerals, so your cat is still getting important nutrients.

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This 100 percent natural freeze-dried cat food has a different consistency than your average wet food, giving your picky cat nice variation. It's packed with feline-friendly fruits, veggies, and proteins to support energy, good digestion, and a shinier coat. The ingredients are sourced fresh and then gently frozen, so there's no loss of flavor or nutrition.