Ask the Cat Doc: Cat Wants to Eat in the Middle of the Night, Cat Refuses to Eat Wet Food, and More

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Welcome to our regular “Ask the Cat Doc With Dr. Lynn Bahr” segment! Once a month, Dr. Bahr answers as many of your questions as she can, and you can leave new questions for her in a comment.

Dr. Bahr graduated from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine in 1991. Unlike most veterinarians, she did not grow up knowing that she would become a veterinarian. “It was a cat who got me interested in the practice and I am forever grateful to him,” said Dr. Bahr. Over the course of her veterinary career, Dr. Bahr found that the lifestyle of cats has changed dramatically. As the lifestyle of cats has changed, so did Dr. Bahr’s client education. In addition to finding medical solutions, she also encourages owners to enrich their home environments so that their cats can live long, happy, and healthy lives.

This new understanding led Dr. Bahr to combine her passion for strengthening the human-animal bond with her veterinary background and knowledge of what animals need and want to start her own solution-based cat product company, Dezi & Roo, inspired by two cats of the same names.

For more information about Dezi & Roo and their unique and innovative cat toys, please visit Dezi and Roo on Etsy.

Do you have a question for Dr. Bahr?
Leave it in a comment and she’ll answer it in next month’s column!

Scab on cat’s face

Hi, my cat is 8 years old, just recently on the left side of whiskers a looks like a scab has appeared over night, I removed it, however it just reaperd, it is brown in color and about the size of a pencil eraser a little bit smaller, it doesn’t seem to affect or bother her. Thank you for your time. – Steven

Hi Steven,

Thank you for your concern and for writing in. It would be very difficult for me to diagnose the problem your cat is experiencing without actually getting a chance to look at the lesion firsthand. Otherwise I would be totally guessing as to the cause.

Due to the location of the scab you have described, my first thought runs to the possibility of a tooth root abscess. What is the condition of her teeth and has she had a dental cleaning lately? The best way to determine whether or not a tooth is infected is with oral radiographs and a dental probe.  If it is an abscess, then the tooth will likely need to be removed.  But, since I cannot actually see the wound you have described, I am only guessing and have a 50-50 shot at being correct. I would certainly encourage you to see your veterinarian for a real diagnosis based on clinical findings.

I would love to hear back from with an update. Please let me know what the scab turned out to be from.

Cat wants to be fed three or four times during the night

Hope you can help with this one. My cat is 12 years old and has always had an eating disorder. Since she is a rescue cat, we figure this is where it started. Lately, she wakes up at 2:00 in the morning and wants to be fed 3 or 4 times in the night. This is a cat who will not take no for an answer. – W. Scribener

Cats waking owners up to eat during the night is an extremely common issue that frustrates owners and their cats. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to address this problem.

It stems from the fact that cats are frequent eaters and were designed to eat small meals throughout the day and night. It is the most natural way for them to sustain themselves and, in the wild, cats eat approximately 20-40 calories at a time (the size of a small rodent or bird) and hunt and catch prey about 5-10 times a day. While our indoor kitties no longer hunt, they still need to eat small portions throughout the day and night in order to maintain their natural metabolism.

How often are you feeding your kitty? Is there a reason you don’t leave food out for her during the night? Have you thought about purchasing a timed feeder so that she can be fed while you sleep? This will help her from waking you up seeking food instead.

Another solution is to set out food puzzle toys, nightly, around the house or put small amounts of food on paper plates and strategically place them in different rooms for her to hunt while you sleep. That will keep her busy both mentally and physically, as well as, satisfy her hunger.

Fortunately, this is an easy fix. If you want to keep her from waking you up every night, simply find easy ways to give her the food she is seeking. Make sure you decrease the portions you are feeding during the day so that you aren’t adding calories, but rather increasing the frequency of mealtimes instead.

Good luck and we hope you start getting a better night’s sleep soon.

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Cat refuses to eat wet food

Liz Lucero

I’ve heard that a diet of strictly dry food is not always the best diet for a cat. My torti is about six years old ( she’s a rescue so I don’t know for sure) and the only thing she will eat is dry food. She refuses to eat canned food, raw food, or people food. Right now she’s a good weight for her size – 10 pounds. Because she’s relatively young is eating only dry food for the rest of her life something I should be concerned about? – Liz Lucero

Hi Liz,

We hear about dry food addicts all the time and it is indeed an unfortunate problem many owners face. You are right that a dry food diet is not ideal or the best diet for cats but, at the end of the day, cats choose what they will eat whether we like it or not. Don’t ever think that you can starve, trick, or force a cat into a new diet. Not only won’t that work, but it can cause severe medical issues like fatty liver syndrome. Bottom line – it is more important that a cat eat than what it eats.

However, that does not mean as an owner you can’t keep trying to convince your cat otherwise. They are creatures of habit and one of the best ways to transition a cat to a new diet is by placing a small amount of the desired food on their plate at every meal. Over time, this technique tends to habituate them into thinking the new food is no longer new, but rather part of their normal diet, and no longer something they need to be suspicious about trying. It can take anywhere from 30-60 days for this technique to work, but it is an effective way to get dry food addicts to eat other types of food.

There are many other techniques and resources to help owners transition their cats to wet or raw diets and I encourage you to look at them all. Since every cat and every household is different, find ones that resonate with you best and give them a try.

Don’t give up! It is pawsible to successfully transition your cat to a better diet but it almost always takes time, patience, and perseverance.  Give it your best effort and maybe your cat will surprise you. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

8 Comments on Ask the Cat Doc: Cat Wants to Eat in the Middle of the Night, Cat Refuses to Eat Wet Food, and More

  1. Mavis B. Starner
    June 28, 2020 at 7:42 am (5 months ago)

    I got 2 kittens 4 years ago, (2016) Flora was 8 weeks and Sparkle 10 months. It was just the 2 of them and they bonded and were very close, literally wrapped around each other, ate, slept, played together. Sparkle was diagnosed with kidney failure in Nov. and I had to have her put to sleep this past March (in the middle of all this virus craziness). Flora misses her and is grieving deeply. She craves more of my attention, has to be in whatever room I am in, sleeps with me still but doesn’t seem to be able to get close enough to me. Wants brushed which she did not before. I tried bringing in another cat for a week, but Flora started vomiting every day, so I returned the other cat to my friend. Maybe I tried too soon to get her another companion, and maybe she will never want one. How can I help Flora with the grieving process? I know she is grieving and hurting and missing Sparkle. I am too. Thanks for any help you can give.

    Reply
  2. Holly Rogers
    June 8, 2020 at 12:30 am (6 months ago)

    The whole column today was excellent and very informative!

    Reply
  3. shelley shoreland
    June 5, 2020 at 12:43 am (6 months ago)

    Charlotte is 13 yr old spayed female. 4 yrs ago she started with a periodic runny eye, then both eyes. Vet said was not an infection, but gave me meds to put in them, but did not work. for the past 2 years she has got so bad, Her nose runs constantly, she has sneezing fits that produces large chunks of snot, most times I can hear her breathing 15 feet away, and she has licked all the hair off of her lower back and tail. Vet has no idea. She eats raw food and I rotate protein source, I’ve bought every type of holistic allergy meds and gut health supplements and nothing affects her, she looks so miserable. I would appreciate any ideas to help her feel better

    Reply
    • Sue
      June 7, 2020 at 5:24 pm (6 months ago)

      Have you considered she may have developed an allergy to something you’re feeding her? May want to review articles referencing raw food allergies cats and possibly see a vet who specializes in allergies, or at the least obtain a second opinion from another vet.

      Reply
  4. Linda
    June 3, 2020 at 10:35 am (6 months ago)

    Why do my cats get along fine inside but not outside? It’s like they don’t recognize each other and the one chases and beats the other up making him hide and growl and hiss at me when I’m trying to rescue him. The sounds are aweful!!

    Reply
  5. Louise Ayers
    June 1, 2020 at 10:32 am (6 months ago)

    I have been told that dry food isn’t always bad. Our cats are on Hills Metabolic Dry. Our 3 are siblings and the 2 girls are a ideal weight, and our boy was a glutton when little and blossomed to 20 lbs. We have since by Vets orders changed to the Hills. He is now lost a pound and a half, it’s a gradual loss. To be sure they get enough water, we have a fountain for them to drink out of, and also when they get their dry we put water in it to help also.

    Reply
  6. Christina Bach
    June 1, 2020 at 6:13 am (6 months ago)

    Cat won’t let me sleep if hubby is awake.
    I work day shift and my husband works night shift, so no matter how the cookie crumbles, I will often need to sleep when he is awake and vice versa. We have 3 cats, but 2 of them don’t care. The last, however, is a different story. He is a Ragdoll, Mugen, of 7 years and he is a Velcro cat with no sense of personal space. He decided early on, that he was my baby and I absolutely adore him. He’s always near me and sleeps next to my pillow or is the small spoon. However, if I sleep (bedroom door open) and my husband is awake (usually playing video games or watching TV in his man cave – door ajar) Mugen will do everything in his power to keep me awake – meowing, scratching doors, knocking stuff off desks. We’ve tried everything we could think of; playing with him, letting him go in and out as he pleases (they’re indoor cats but we have a catio), leaving the lights on, hubby keeping his door closed, leaving the TV on – nothing works, except if my husband goes to bed. Why does he do this? And how can we teach him it’s ok for me to sleep? There are no problems when hubby sleeps and I’m awake.

    Reply
  7. Abby F.
    June 1, 2020 at 1:45 am (6 months ago)

    I spent the past 40 years of my life with cats, but was not aware of how much I didn’t know. I’ve been feeling guilty for more than a decade because I feed my sweeties small meals round the clock (when they let me know they’re hungry). I thought I was spoiling them too much. Now, I discover that it’s the norm. Who knew?

    Reply

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