If your cat is aggressive when hungry:
See a veterinarian as soon as possible to rule out health problems. Then, train your cat by ignoring them when aggressive, feeding them outside of the kitchen, and eating in a separate room from them.
Provide other outlets for your cat’s energy such as playtime and scratching posts.
No one wants to be injured by their cat during feeding time, or to be bit by a cat who’s demanding food from your hand. This behavior is even worse if you have children in your home, or your cat is showing aggression toward other pets in your household.
In this article, I’ll explain how to get to the source of the problem and combat food aggression in cats.
See a Veterinarian to Rule out Health Problems
If your cat is showing aggression, the most important thing you can do is to take them in for a check-up at the veterinarian.
It’s possible your cat is in pain or has an underlying health problem causing the aggression, especially if it’s new behavior for them.
Some diseases that can make your cat more hungry than usual include:
These may include aggression, especially Psychogenetic Abnormal Feeding Behavior—which is essentially a mental disorder where cats become obsessed with food and display aggression.
In addition, aggression can be a symptom of pain or illness and can affect cats with a wide array of health problems.
Changes in your cat’s environment can also cause changes in behavior. If you’ve recently moved house, adopted a new pet, welcomed a baby to the family, changed your cat’s diet, or your cat has undergone any other big life changes, this could be the cause of their food aggression.
Some medications also have excessive hunger or aggression as side-effects.
Be sure to mention any of these to your veterinarian so that they can get a full picture and therefore give your cat a better diagnosis.
Do not Reward your Cat for Aggression
Once you’ve seen your veterinarian and ruled out health concerns, you can begin modifying your cat’s behavior through training.
The first step? Don’t reward your cat for being aggressive! If you can, ignore their behavior completely until they calm down.
Walk away from your cat when they show bad behavior, closing the door to the next room behind you if needed.
If your cat holds a bite and you cannot simply walk away from the situation, press in toward their mouth rather than pulling away. This should make them let go.
Watch bites or scratches that break the skin closely, and go to the doctor if you notice any signs of infection. Wounds from cats can become infected very easily and can be serious if left untreated.
Eat separately from your Cat, and Don’t Feed them in the Kitchen or Dining Room
Does your cat get aggressive when they want to take food right from your plate, or maybe even your fork? Do they jump onto counters while you’re preparing food?
It’s best to keep human and cat meals in your household completely separate. When someone is eating, close off access to the kitchen or dining room (or wherever else they choose to eat). Don’t let your cat inside the room, and don’t share table scraps.
Don’t feed your cat in the kitchen or dining room, but choose another place in your home to be their meal area.
This creates a boundary and shows your cat that they don’t get to interfere when a person is eating food. If you do choose to share healthy human food, such as unseasoned meat, with your cat, simply put it in their bowl and feed them in their feeding area like you would normal food. Don’t toss bits of it from the kitchen table or allow them to eat on the countertops, as this is counterproductive to their training.
Leave them Alone While they’re eating
Similarly, teach your cat that no one will interfere with them during their own mealtimes.
When your cat is eating, stay away from them, and keep any children, pets, or family members away, too.
This is especially important if you have children in your household. If your child tries to take your cat’s food and the cat is biting, growling, or hissing at them in return, your cat is setting a boundary. Teach your child to respect that by keeping them away from your cat’s food dish.
This can also apply to other animals in the household—keep the dog in another room while the cat is eating, or feed cats separately with dishes on opposite sides of the room or, if needed, in separate rooms altogether.
Your cat does not need to be trained to accept people or animals stealing their food or messing with them at meal times. This is a problem with the person or animal causing the disturbance, not your cat.
Have Set Feeding Times throughout the Day
Does your cat know when to expect their next meal? If not, this is a problem!
Cats who know when they’ll be fed are less likely to beg throughout the day, and may limit that behavior to an hour or less before their next meal.
Don’t expect your cat to go too long without food, though—feed them at least three times a day.
I recommend limiting your contact with your cat during these feeding times as much as possible to reduce their chance to become aggressive.
Dish out your cat’s food in an enclosed space, allowing them into the room once their filled dish is on the floor within their reach. Then, leave the room while they eat.
Ensure your Cat is Getting Plenty of Attention, Playtime, and Independent Play
Begging for extra food and aggression can both be signs of a bored cat. Cats might eat extra when they’re bored, just like some humans.
Aggression is a problematic behavior that sometimes arises when your cat isn’t being cared for properly and begins looking for their own fun, since none is being provided to them.
If your cat doesn’t get at least 30-45 minutes of playtime a day, you need to change that. They also need toys that they can play with independently, and at least one or two scratching posts.
Break playtime into a few 10-15 minutes sessions throughout the day. I highly suggest scheduling them right before each of your cat’s meals.
This is a good time to play with your cat anyway, but if this is when they’re showing aggression, it can be especially helpful as a way to redirect and tire them out before feeding.
Puzzle feeders are another way to engage your cat during meal times.
Having more activity in their day might be enough to end your cat’s aggression for good, but it’s not guaranteed. However, it is a part of taking proper care of your cat.
They need things to do throughout your home, so providing them is definitely not a waste.
Learn the Difference between Aggression, Begging, and Playfulness
Make sure you’re truly understanding your cat and what their intentions are. Cats can bite and scratch for several reasons that aren’t aggression, including begging for food and playfulness.
Does your cat scratch at your bare legs when you have a can of food in your hand? While you might see this as aggression because it hurts you, your cat likely doesn’t mean it this way. They’re getting your attention and begging for you to put the food down.
You can solve this problem by closing the door while you prepare your cat’s food. Let them into the room once it’s in their dish.
If your cat pounces from beneath furniture at your feet, that’s a sign of playfulness. Playful cats may need more proper exercise throughout the day to avoid problematic behaviors like this.
Of course, whether your cat is truly being aggressive or not, you can’t allow them to behave in a way that hurts you or other family members. But understanding their motives can help you to know how to deal with their behavior and stop it more quickly.
I am a freelance writer who specializes in the pet industry. My full bio