The cat food experiment

Cat food

We have a cat who is, shall we say, fond of food. And it has only gotten worse with the advent of a second cat in the household, who — despite never attempting to steal Primary Cat’s food — still managed to panic her into thinking that if she didn’t wolf down every bit of food in sight, it might be taken from her.

This resulted in a fat cat, so I put her on a diet.

That eventually resulted in a sleek, active cat, but there was a problem. She became obsessed with food. And I do mean obsessed. Every time anyone even looked down the hall toward the bathroom (where her food bowl is located), she’d leap up and run at full speed to the loo, just in case kibbles were about to fall from the sky. She probably burned 500 calories a day just running to the food bowl.

She stole food from our other cat.

She broke house rules and sneaked up onto the kitchen counter, hoping to scavenge food.

She would wake up from a dead sleep and come in at a run if I so much as breathed on the cat food bag.

And she followed and watched every member of the family like a vulture if they happened to have any edibles in front of them. You could shoo her away, but she’d be back.

This week we tried an experiment. Since all of her bad behavior seemed to stem from a conviction that she never got enough to eat (which I can assure you was entirely in her imagination), we thought maybe we should try giving her so much food that she couldn’t possibly eat it all.

My last cats were totally self-regulating when it came to food. I kept their bowl topped off, and they ate what they wanted to, and never gained any weight. Our current Number Two cat is the same way. So we know it’s possible, and hoped that perhaps we could overcome this mysterious mental block by making sure that Primary Cat never ran out of food. I anticipated huge amounts of eating the first day or so, but figured that once her belly was as full as it could get, her appetite would calm down. Right?

Here is what happened.


At breakfast I filled the food bowl to the brim with kibble, equal to an entire day’s serving. It was gone in five minutes. I refilled it. She ate until she couldn’t eat any more, and slunk away from the bowl, leaving it half full. Score!

Around lunch time, I checked the food bowl. It was empty. I filled it again. She buried her face in it immediately, but that night it still had a few kibbles in it, so hey, progress! (Is it progress if she eats three days worth of food in a 12-hour period?)


The bowl was empty that morning. I filled it up. This time she only ate half of the food, giving me hope. But by lunch time it was empty. I filled it again. It was all gone by bedtime. I filled it again, and it was all gone by the next morning.


Short version: another two to three days’ worth of food went down her gullet.

Now, the good news is that her behavior completely changed. She didn’t vulture us while we ate. She never even thought about getting up on the kitchen counter. (I suspect because her belly was so heavy she was physically incapable of it.) She didn’t come running when I fed our other cat, and didn’t dash to the bathroom whenever anyone in the house moved toward it. She also chewed her food instead of swallowing the kibble pieces whole. In other words, she calmed down and reverted to the sweet companion animal I knew before.

The bad news is that she is basically a balloon with feet attached.

I had planned to run the experiment for a week, figuring that any weight gain could be smoothed out again over time. But after seeing my sleek, active cat turn into a sedentary blob who skulks through the house because she’s having to drag her belly behind her, I’ve given up. If we keep this up for another four days, she might actually eat herself into a coma. There’s something broken in her body chemistry — the trigger that’s supposed to turn off the appetite just doesn’t get tripped.

The experiment ended today. I expect a couple of days of calm behavior while her body processes the huge amounts of food she’s eaten, but after that she’s probably going to go into starvation panic mode again.

In the meantime, I’ve learned something: Giving a cat unlimited food results in many, many cleanings of the litter box. If nothing else, at least now I know my cat’s intestines are working really well.


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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15 Responses to The cat food experiment

  1. Power Wench says:

    Been there. Our previous cat was a stray who was not managing to scrounge enough to eat so was thin and bony when he showed up on my doorstep, and in the subsequent 14 years he never got over thinking he needed to eat any and all food that came his way. It was a constant struggle to keep him at mildly portly. Good luck with your starving kitty.

    • oregon expat says:

      “Mildly portly,” ha. Great choice of words. But that sort of lifelong behavior can be justified in an animal that spent its early months/years starving. My cat hasn’t gone hungry a day in her life. I’ve no idea where this came from.

  2. mckreations says:

    More food does indeed equal more poop! Ugh! My cats have all been self-regulating eaters of kibble, then get a treat (aka dinner) of wet food. Only one ever gained weight and she didn’t seem to eat more than any other cat, but she was alone all day and some nights with very little activity. *guilt* The cat I found in a Denver alley did not eat ravenously at all, but the cat born in the shelter, and well-fed since birth, would attack a grain of rice if it hit the ground! Their psyches are very delicate and mostly odd.

  3. Hick Crone says:

    Just moments before reading this, I read (ok, skimmed) an article about animal mental illness. The site is called Brain Pickings.
    I’m not saying your cat is mentally ill, but…

  4. xenatuba says:

    We had a cat who could self regulate with the dry food, but knew no limit with wet food. I tried to find it once, and stopped at 4 cans. He slept for two days!

    Poor cat… maybe she will reset her food thermostat.

  5. Ana_ñ says:

    Poor dear!
    I wonder if she would achieve self-regulation in the hypothetical case you could arrange your experiment so as to she had to do some physical activity to get each portion of food; she could get as many portions as she wanted, but always at the cost of a little exercise. At what point would she stop eating? Imagine you could change the amount of exercise required to get each portion.
    Hmm, poor dear!

  6. says:

    Hi, I enjoy your blog very much! I was first turned on to it by my physical therapist – we would discuss various postings (and your gorgeous photos) during treatment sessions, and it helped make the time pass more pleasantly. So, thank you! For the cat – Have you had her checked out by the vet? Excessive appetite (technically termed “polyphagia”) can be one of the signs of diabetes. Is the cat also drinking a lot of water, or urinating excessively? This can point to diabetes also. The good news is that with proper treatment, cats with diabetes can still live long and good lives. Wishing the best to you and your cats, Margaret – Dix Hills, Long Island, New York

    • oregon expat says:

      Thank you for sharing your story; that made my day. (Also: I have a reader who is a PT in NY? So cool.)

      I haven’t seen excessive drinking or urinating, and in every other way my cat seems active, happy and normal. But I’m thinking a vet check at some point might be in order anyway. Appreciate your thoughtful words…

      • Ines says:

        I’ve been a reader for a while, but don’t comment often. Here’s another reader who is PT and has lived in NY, MD and now RI. I find your blog really fun to read, it’s like a mirror of my experience here!

        • oregon expat says:

          Thank you, Ines! Ah, RI — we visited Providence there and were knocked out by the huge Portuguese community. Grocery stores on many corners, bakeries, and Portuguese flags flying all over.

          So I have to ask: did you go to the game and see “your” team play on the pre-Cup tour?

          • Ines says:

            I love all the Portuguese food I can find here! In MD I was lucky if I could find good bacalhau and chouriço that would not cost me a week’s groceries…

            Unfortunately I missed the game, I was traveling that day and couldn’t make it. But I happily watched the game against Ireland on tv!

          • oregon expat says:

            Ah, homesick for one’s regional food, I totally understand. Salmon and tuna are NOT the same over here on this ocean. And nobody knows what “Mexican” means. But there are great consolations, because I love Portuguese cuisine. In fact, I just finished a bowl of tremoços…

          • Ines says:

            Nice! The other day I tried to teach my (American) husband how to eat tremoços and they kept flying all over the place. He ended up just biting the skin off and making a bit of a mess. My laughing probably did not help…
            I always say that if I leave the US I’m going to have to learn how to make bagels. For Mexican food I can already make decent guacamole and salsa, I guess venturing into taco and burrito territory should be next. Have you enjoyed some sardinhas yet? It’s about the right time…

  7. oregon expat says:

    Mmm, sardinhas and fresh bread. And beer. 🙂

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