Let me set the scene for you:
You’ve got a new cat, a lovely little thing, straight out of the cat shelter. Pulled her out yesterday.
Picture from post Avery’s Baby Pictures
(I’m cheating – as these are pictures of my male cat, but you get the picture 😉 ).
She was so cute when you found her – you absolutely love the way she came straight up to the front of the cage and meowed at you as if to say, “You – you’re the one! You’re taking me home!”
So you did just that, took her home. She’s adapting to her new, cushy life quite well. She had her dinner and is now settled into the bed of blankets that you made for her. Used her scratching post earlier. You’ve even played with her a little with the laser toy you bought from a pet store. Life is swell – for both of you.
Guilty as charged – you have all too many cute cat pictures on your phone now. Yes, already; yes, it’s only been a day. Actually, you’re more guilty than you let on – the pictures of your cat have already outnumbered the rest of the photos you’ve taken this month (and it’s already half way through the month), so it seems you’ve with one cat in one day managed to become a crazy cat person. Of course, you don’t mind one bit.
Aww, how cute. Kitty’s shifted, and is now sleeping curled up in a ball. You go to pet her and she’s happy. Starts to purr. How much better could life be? Okay, but now it’s human dinner time, and you need to get you some grub. So time to fire up the stove and start cooking the steak you got yourself. One of your favourite meals for such a special day. How could life be better?
Then all of a sudden, oh what’s that? Kitty seems to have smelled the steak cookin’ and has woken up. In a flash, she’s at your feet, not just looking at you, but actively meowing, beggin’ for some of your grub.
You finish cooking your steak, all the while trying to hush your kitty, assuring her she’ll need to hold on until you’re done. All to no avail, she keeps meowing. You assure her she’ll get some, you’ve gotta make sure it’s cooked all the way through! Then before you even get a chance to take a bite yourself, you plate the steak, cut off a small piece, and give it to your still-begging cat.
Any issues with this picture?
Well your steak had no seasoning on it, and it was nowhere near raw, so no, it isn’t particularly unhealthy for your cat to be eating it. That’s not it.
But that wasn’t what you guessed, anyway, since you read the title of this post (Clever you 😉 )
What you’ve guessed is just what’s been done in this case: essentially what’s wrong is you’ve trained a cat to meow and whine – to beg for food!
Why’s that, you say? You’ve just given her some food because she wants it, and you’re happy to share. She’s happy, you’re happy, so where’s the crime?
Imagine this goes on for months or even years. Each time your cat whines, you give her a little piece of food – whenever she wants. What happens when you can’t give her food – because it’s not healthy to give a cat what you happen to be eating? What happens if you have guests over for dinner?
No change of course, she’ll still whine and beg until you give her the food she’s after.
Well no problem, you say. You’ll just hold out a long time and won’t give her food when she’s not supposed to have it.
Great, sort of. If you ever give in (which I’m sure you will – cats are quite often far better than we are at the waiting game, and they’re very convincing when they want to be), you will have made things enormously worse.
Why? If your cat begs a lot and then is eventually given what she wants, your cat is going to assume in the future that the only way to get food is to whine for long enough. You’ve essentially trained your cat to whine and whine – consistently, insistently, and as annoyingly as possible – until she finally gets what she wants. After all, it’s worked in the past.
In her mind, if you haven’t given her what she wants yet, it’s because she hasn’t cried and begged enough for it yet. She’ll have to be even more annoying and then eventually – yes, you’ll give in!
So now you’ve trained your cat not only to beg whenever she wants and thinks she can get food (all the time apparently!), but to whine long and hard until she has what she wants at last. She’s not going to give in before you. Why should she? She’s worn you down in the past and she knows she’ll be able to do it again.
Not fun for our poor human ears.
How can you remedy this issue? How can you make sure your cat doesn’t beg so much for food anymore? How on earth do you train a cat to stop crying and meowing for food constantly? And, after all these years, is it too late?
Lucky for you, it’s never too late. You might not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but you almost certainly can teach an old cat some new ones.
All you have to do is train yourself first.
When your cat begs for food – do not let her have it.
Okay, great in theory but how does this work in practicality?
How to Un-Train a Cat Who’s Already Been Trained to Beg for Food
- When your cat whines and cries for food, make sure you do not give her food.
- Say, “No!” repeatedly to the whining. If the meowing persists, ignore. Rinse and repeat this step.
- If your cat is quiet for a moment, congratulate her with a “Good girl!” – then some petting – and finally, if the silence goes on long enough, even a piece of kibble that you conveniently brought to the table beforehand just in case she was good.
- If your cat meows again, be sure to go back to saying, “No!” and ignoring her – until the point where your cat is quiet. Then (when quiet) shower her with accolades, affection, and finally, food.
- Rinse and repeat. Forever.
So the rules are:
- Do not give your cat food when she begs.
- Only give your cat food when she is quiet.
Again. Rinse and repeat forever.
Your cat will most certainly behave if behaving is rewarded in such a positive way. What cat doesn’t love treats and affection and verbal congratulations on his or her behaviour? If you switch from giving your cat food when she is noisy to giving your cat food only when she is quiet, you’re in for a very well behaved cat in your future.
Now, if your cat is meowing way too much initially, and you absolutely cannot handle it and you nearly want to give in just to make her stop (yes, it does happen, don’t feel too guilty about it) – give kitty a time out by picking her up and placing her in another room with the door shut until she gives up and goes quiet, then open the door (only when he or she is being quiet), petting her, and letting her re-join you amongst the food to let her know that the meowing and begging is the problem and nothing else.
Is it really that simple? Yes it really is. But it’s not easy. It will it take a lot of hard work on your end – resisting the temptation to give in: absolutely.
We all know just how utterly irresistible a cute little meep from a pretty little feline can be. We all love giving our cats what they want. It’s so lovely to spoil them, makes them happy and makes you feel good. But if you’re not careful, and begin to give in to begging, you’ll be training your cat to whine for food all over again.
Have You Accidentally Trained Your Cat to Beg for Food?
Have you ever accidentally trained your cat to beg for food over the months or years you’ve had him/her? Have you ever tried un-training your cat so that he/she wouldn’t beg when food was around anymore?
Think you might try the technique suggested above? Ever done anything similar with success? Please let me know in the comments!