Last Updated on: November 10, 2023 by Crystal Uys
There are a lot of things to remember when it comes to taking care of a cat. Not only should you remember what they can and can’t eat, but you should also keep in mind the potential addictions or obsessions they can develop.
Treats and food can both become dangerous addictions for our favorite felines. On the other hand, despite using catnip as a way to trigger catnip highs in cats, it’s completely safe and non-addictive.
Food, treats, and catnip all carry individual risks and it’s important to consider all of the potential downsides to overusing your cat’s favorite things. This guide contains everything you need to know about addictions to foods and treats, and how to use catnip safely.
Can Cats Become Addicted to Food or Treats?
At some point, all of us have given into our cat’s wide eyes and demanding meows and handed over a treat. Maybe it’s because they haven’t had a treat for a while or it’s just to get some peace. However, cats can become addicted to their treats. The more you give them, the more they’ll crave.
This isn’t just limited to treats. Your cat can be just as prone to developing an addiction to their dry food too. While dry cat food is designed to be more nutritionally balanced than treats, your cat might be more than happy to finish off the entire bag in one sitting if you let them.
How to Tell if Your Cat Is Obsessed With Food
Your cat might not be able to demand food like your hungry toddler demands cookies, but they use similar tactics to get their way. Most of the time, these methods are effective too. We’ll inevitably get so frustrated by their antics and constant pestering that we’ll give them a treat just to distract them.
A lot of toddlers get grouchy when they don’t get their own way and some cats are the same way. If you do manage to ignore their begging for a treat, you might find that your usually mild-mannered kitty grumbles at you a lot more. They might also swat the treat out of your hand or snatch it from your fingers when you do give them one.
Walking up and down the corridor or running back and forth between you and the treat cupboard is your cat’s way of getting your attention. While we all love some cat cuddles, sometimes it’s obvious your cat has ulterior motives. This is especially true if their relentless pacing leads you right to the door of their treat cupboard.
Scratching at the Treat Cupboard
Cats aren’t as daft as a lot of people assume. They know exactly where you keep their food even if they can’t get to it. One sign of possible food addiction is if your cat never wanders far from the cupboard you keep the treats in. They’ll scratch or paw at the door in an attempt to convince you to give them a snack.
Some particularly smart felines might even figure out how to open the cupboard themselves if it’s not secured.
Perhaps the most annoying habit our cats develop when they’re after something is being obnoxiously loud. When you’re trying to watch your favorite TV show or get some work done, the incessant, high-pitched meowing is grating.
Unfortunately, giving your cat a treat to convince them to be quiet only encourages the behavior. The more times you give in, the more likely they are to make more noise to demand food.
How to Stop Your Cat’s Addiction to Treats
Treats should only make up about 10% of your cat’s diet. Your cat’s favorite biscuits should never become a major part of their diet due to the lack of nutrients in the recipe and the risk of overfeeding. Fortunately, there are several ways in which you can break your cat’s addiction to treats, it’ll just take some dedication:
Designed to give your cat food at set intervals throughout the day, automatic feeders also have the benefit of teaching your cat not to associate humans with food. It might take a while, but your cat will eventually learn not to expect food from you whenever you enter a room.
Automatic feeders also let you keep cat food out of reach instead of leaving it out in an open bowl during non-feeding hours. This will help your cat learn that they get fed at certain times of the day rather than when they demand it.
This is easier said than done, especially when our cat’s big, heartbroken eyes come into play. Ignoring their behavior is an essential part of breaking their addiction to treats though. The more you offer them treats to get them to leave you alone, the more you’re reinforcing the behavior.
If your cat demands food, don’t give in. They should only get a treat to reward good behavior like taking medicine or as a one-off treat as a nice change.
Visit Your Veterinarian
Sometimes, it’s not the treats that are the problem. Your cat might be suffering from an underlying medical condition that means they’re not getting enough nutrients in their diet. Your cat could be suffering from health problems like diabetes, parasites, or thyroid issues.
One of the biggest warning signs for possible health issues is if your cat’s behavior towards food changes abruptly. Arrange an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out any possible medical-related issues your cat could have.
Can Cats Become Addicted to Catnip?
A member of the mint family, catnip contains a chemical that’s well known to trigger excitement, sleepiness, drooling, or increased purring in some cats. If your cat is one of the many that reacts to catnip, you might be worried about them developing an addiction to the herb. However, despite making some cats go crazy, catnip is completely non-addictive. Your cat is more likely to become immune to the effects of catnip if it’s used too often.
Some cats also don’t react to catnip at all. Kittens less than six months old and senior cats are the least likely to react to the effects of catnip. There are also a lot of adult cats between these ages that barely react to catnip at all, whether because they’re immune or just not susceptible to the effects.
What Are the Risks of Catnip?
Generally, catnip is completely safe for cats, especially when it’s used in moderation. As with most things, however, there are some risks you should keep in mind if you give your cat catnip.
One of the biggest issues is using too much catnip. Overdosing is unlikely to be fatal but it can cause diarrhea, dizziness, lack of coordination, or vomiting. Catnip can also cause aggression in some cats or make aggressive cats last out more against you and other pets.
In these cases, giving your cat less catnip—or none at all if your cat is aggressive—is often enough to get them back to normal.
How to Use Catnip Safely
As non-addictive and non-toxic catnip might be, it’s still important to use it properly. Both to ensure your cat gets the most out of their catnip high and to keep them safe.
Adjust the Dosage
There are a few ways to use catnip. Fresh, dried, as a spray, or stuffed in a toy. The dosage in each case can vary. Fresh catnip, for example, will be a lot stronger than the dried form so you’ll need less to entice a reaction. Concentrated catnip oils will also be a lot more potent than diluted options or the dried leaves in cat toys.
Not all cats react to catnip but it’s still important that you don’t leave them unattended around the herb. Don’t let yourself get too distracted by your cat’s high though, you want to ensure that they’re not getting too excited by the herb. If your cat gets too hyperactive around catnip, it’s might be a sign that the dosage you give them needs adjusting.
Observing how they react to catnip also helps you make sure your cat doesn’t become aggressive when they come into contact with it.
Once a Week
While a catnip high is entertaining for both us and our cat, it only lasts between 5–15 minutes. Since it’s so easy for your cat to get bored with the substance, it’s important to not overuse catnip. For the best results, limit your cat’s interaction with the herb to once a week rather than an everyday treat.
Too much of a good thing can be detrimental to your cat’s health. Overdoing the amount of food and treats you give your cat can result in obesity which increases your cat’s risk of diabetes and other health issues. Catnip can also cause stomach upset if your cat eats too much of it, or your cat might become immune to the effects altogether.
We hope this guide helped you figure out if your cat is addicted to their food, how to fix the problem, and also how to use catnip responsibly.
Featured Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock
About the author
Cat mom to Ivy – a feisty little rescue kitten that is her one and only child. For now! Throughout her life, she has been introduced to the special love that can be found in the bond with a cat. Having owned multiple felines, she is more than certain that their love is unmatched, unconditional and unlike any other. With a passion to educate the public about everything, there is to know about felines, their behavior, and their unique personalities, Crystal is devoted to making sure that all cats and their owners know the importance of conscious living – and loving!