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.