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Why is my cat addicted to treats?

Cats have a reputation for turning up their nose even at the fanciest of feasts, leaving their owners to guess what their finicky feline friends are willing to eat. It’s frustrating, but unfortunately an all-too-common element of owning a cat.

Some cats, on the other hand, are bona fide Garfields with an insatiable appetite for treats, often gobbling up everything in sight before meowing for more. While their gusto may seem like a harmless quirk, it could be indicative of a bigger problem.

Cat treat addiction, as silly as it sounds, is a real thing. The addiction could be a sign of undiagnosed or untreated medical issues, an unbalanced diet, or just plain boredom. Determining the cause of their treat addiction is integral in determining the best course of action to treat the addiction and lead your cat back toward a healthy lifestyle.

Are you ready to stage an intervention for your cat’s treat addiction? 

Read on to find out common causes of treat addiction, strategies for addressing the problem, and other tips that will help you and your cat enjoy a happy, healthy life together.

Potential causes of treat addiction in cats

It’s not always easy to determine why your cat has fallen head over heels for those tempting treats. After all, we can’t ask them and expect an answer. This means we’ll have to do a little deducing to determine the reason they’re so voracious for treats.

The most common causes of treat addiction in cats include medical reasons, boredom, and poor diet. Determining which will be crucial in addressing the addiction and working through it.

Medical reasons

There are some medical conditions that could cause or contribute to cat treat addiction, including:

  • Diabetes: Cats with diabetes have a difficult time regulating their blood sugar levels. This can cause them to feel hungry and seek out high-calorie treats to compensate.
  • Hyperthyroidism: Cats with hyperthyroidism have an overactive thyroid gland, which can increase their appetite and cause them to seek out food and, you guessed it, tasty treats.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): Cats with IBD may experience chronic inflammation in their gastrointestinal tract, which can cause them to have a decreased appetite and become picky eaters. Cats suffering from IBD may stage small-scale hunger strikes in anticipation of their owners providing more palatable food like cat treats and table scraps.
  • Dental issues: Cats with dental problems may have difficulty eating their regular food, causing them to seek out softer, easier-to-eat treats.

A cat coping with one or more of the above issues is more likely to seek out treats. If you suspect your cat might be suffering from any of the above ailments, it’s prudent to bring them into the vet’s office as soon as possible.

Boredom

Is it so hard to believe that our kitty cats, like us, enjoy killing time just vegging out and noshing on some junk food?

Just as with us, the occasional snack won’t ruin our health, but overindulging in treats due to lack of physical or mental stimulation could be very detrimental as a habit. Many cats turn to treats as a source of entertainment or comfort when they are not provided with other means, especially indoor cats who may not have access to the same level of activity and stimulation as outdoor cats.

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Unbalanced diet

An unbalanced diet could contribute to treat addiction as well. Just as with humans, cats need to meet nutritional requirements each day to fulfill their biological needs. When one of those nutritional requisites is not met, there will be a deficit.

A cat experiencing nutrient deficiencies or coping with calorie deficits will seek out other means to fill those needs, which is where that tantalizing bag of treats comes in. If your cat is eating an unbalanced diet, it could contribute to an overreliance on treats to help fill in the missing nutrients, or flavor, from their diet.

How to address treat addiction in cats

First, cut it out with all the treats already! 

Start by gradually decreasing the number of treats you give your cat each day, replacing “treat time” with other forms of positive reinforcement like more playtime or some cuddles and pets. Of course, the reason why your cat has become overly fixated on those tempting treats in the first place will determine the next best course of action you take from there. 

Remember that identifying and addressing treat addiction takes time and patience. Be consistent and persistent in your efforts to help your cat overcome their addiction, and always prioritize their health and well-being.

Here are some strategies you could use to help your feline friend overcome their bad habit. 

Rule out any medical conditions

Most importantly, you’ll want to consult with a veterinarian to rule out any underlying health issues that may be causing the treat-seeking behavior. After all, a cat combating a medical condition won’t benefit from having more playtime if they’re in need of medication.

Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian and voice your concerns. They may perform some tests to check for the most common conditions and will offer medically-backed advice from there and how best to proceed.

Provide mental and physical stimulation

If your veterinarian says that your feline friend A-okay, then it’s time to rule out boredom as the cause of your cat’s treat addiction.

Grab the feather wand and jingly-jangly balls because it’s time to get your treat-loving couch potato off the recliner and onto the floor for some much-needed playtime. A little extra exercise and mental stimulation should help them move past their need for constant treats. Scratching posts and corrugated cardboard are helpful in redirecting their attention as well.

Puzzle feeders or toys that dispense treats can help satisfy your cat’s desire for treats while also providing mental stimulation. They also slow down the speed at which your cat is able to consume high-calorie treats, ultimately reducing the amount they’re able to eat at any given time.

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Make sure the cat has plenty of opportunities for play, exercise, and mental stimulation through activities such as toy puzzles and scratching posts.

Feed a balanced diet with appropriate portion sizes

Often, a well-balanced diet will stave off cravings for treats. 

Take a look at the packaging of your cat’s favorite food and make sure it indicates it is “complete” and “balanced” by AAFCO’s standards. Food that is not balanced will often say on the packaging it is intended for “supplemental feeding only,” meaning your cat cannot subsist on that “food” or treat alone.

Next, double-check the portion size. Feeding your cat the appropriate portion size relative to their weight is equally crucial in making sure they’re getting all the nutrition they need to sustain themselves.

When in doubt, consult your veterinarian about healthy diet options for your cat and how you could provide them with an excellent diet that fits their nutritional needs and keeps them satisfied all day long.

Consider healthy treat options

Instead of high-calorie, high-fat treats, offer your cat healthy alternatives instead. This helps them get a tasty reward for being a great cat while also prioritizing their health and needs.

Here are some healthy treat options for cats:

  • Freeze-dried meat: Freeze-dried meats, such as chicken, beef, or fish, are a high-protein, low-fat treat option that many cats love.
  • Cooked meat or fish: Small pieces of cooked chicken, turkey, or fish can be a healthy, protein-rich treat for cats.
  • Canned cat food: Some cats may enjoy a small amount of canned cat food as a treat. Look for high-quality, grain-free options with minimal additives.
  • Cat grass: Growing cat grass indoors can provide your cat with a healthy treat option that also helps aid digestion.

When giving your cat treats, it’s important to remember to do so in moderation. Treats should not make up a significant portion of your cat’s daily caloric intake and should be given as a supplement to their regular diet, rather than as a replacement. 

Conclusion

It’s tempting to want to spoil our feline friends with treats, but it’s important to remember that moderation is key. Overfeeding treats to your cat leads to obesity and could contribute to a number of nasty health problems if left unchecked. In fact, an overreliance on treats could be indicative of an undiagnosed medical condition as it is.

That’s why it’s imperative to identify and understand the causes of your cat’s treat addiction and take steps to address it. Providing extra playtime and positive attention, examining your cat’s diet, replacing lower-quality treats with premium alternatives, and, of course, a trip to the vet’s office to rule out medical causes are all great steps to take while addressing your cat’s treat addiction.

Remember, it’s for their own good. So, the next time your cat gives you that irresistible “treat me” look, don’t be afraid to get creative with some healthy options and remind them that being healthy is just as important as being happy.

Of course, that doesn’t mean they can’t have a little treat now and then!