For your cat, mealtime should be healthy, tasty, peaceful and secure. Many cat parents focus on the first two things but don’t pay enough attention to the last two. When your cat walks over to the food bowl she shouldn’t have to worry about whether she can eat in peace or whether she’s going to have to deal with a threat. So, in addition to making sure you put good quality, tasty food in her bowl, make sure you’ve created an appealing and secure feeding station.
Cats Don’t Eat in the Bathroom
Most cat parents know this but just in case, the number one rule is that the food bowl should never, never, never (have I made myself clear?) be placed near the litter box. You don’t want to eat in the bathroom and neither does your cat. For a cat, this fact holds even more importance because it’s based on survival. Cats don’t eat, sleep or raise their young where they eliminate because it can threaten their security. Predators will be drawn to the scent of the waste and that’s why cat’s eliminate away from their personal living area and they cover the waste afterward. To put a food bowl near the litter box will be stressful on the cat and it’s inviting a litter box aversion problem to happen. If the only location of the food is near the box, the cat will eat the food and then change her elimination area. That means, she may stop using the box and start peeing on your carpet. Sometimes cat parents try to create a convenient “cat area” by putting the food, the cat’s bed and the litter box all in one spot. Again, that’s a countdown to a litter box problem.
The Route to the Food Bowl
Here’s something many people don’t think about: evaluating the route your cat has to take to get to the bowl. When dinner is served does she have to walk through a feline landmine where she’s faced with potential threats from companion animals? In a multicat household where there are some tense relationships a cat may not feel secure enough to walk through the room another cat tends to control. If that’s the case, set up an additional feeding area in an area where an intimidated cat feels comfortable.
To increase security during mealtime in a multicat home, don’t feed out of one community-type bowl. Give each cat her own bowl to avoid intimidation and bullying. Set up additional feeding areas in multiple locations so one cat doesn’t nose another out of the bowl and nobody feels the need to resource-guard. This is also helpful if specific cats are on special diets. If everyone has their own feeding location it’s easier to make sure each cat gets their own food.
Is Your Cat Nervous While She Eats?
Observe your cat’s body language as she eats her meal. Does she look relaxed or does she look nervous and in a hurry to get out of the line of fire? Is she looking over her shoulder repeatedly or is she constantly lifting her head to watch out for potential ambushes? Help her feel more comfortable by setting up the feeding station in a more secure location. Even in a secure location, if your cat seems nervous, slide the food bowl out from against the wall so she can look toward the entrance to the room while she eats. This way, she doesn’t have to have her back to the door or keep looking over her shoulder. Position the food bowl on the side of the room opposite the entrance so your cat has adequate warning time if someone enters. For some cats, it helps to elevate the feeding station. Follow your cat’s lead and pay attention to where she seems most secure.
For timid cats, close the door of the room during mealtime so there’s absolutely no chance of another cat, dog or person entering and startling her.
Need More Information?
For more information on mealtime issues, finicky eating problems or how to create a more peaceful feeding station, refer to any of Pam Johnson-Bennett’s books including Think Like a Cat. For multicat issues during mealtime, refer to Cat vs. Cat. This book was the first of its kind to cover the unique challenges that multicat households face. You can also find the latest information on cat behavior and training in Pam’s brand new book, CatWise.
We’re sorry but Pam is unable to respond to comments. If you have a question about your cat’s behavior you can find many answers in the books by Pam Johnson-Bennett as well as in the articles on our website. If your cat displays a change in behavior, contact your veterinarian because there may be an underlying medical cause. This article is not intended as a replacement for your cat’s veterinary care.