Cat Not Eating Food But Eats Treats – Is This Ok?

a young white pawed tabby cat reclining and reaching out for a bowl of kibble placed infront of it

Have you got a cat that’s not eating food but eats treats? This can be a worrisome problem. Is it ok for cats to just eat treats? Why has your cat become treat addicted? How can you get your cat off the treats and eating normally again? These are all common questions that owners have in this situation.

Let’s take a look at these questions and identify some tactics that can resolve the issue. Not all tactics will work for your cat but you should find one that gets your cat eating properly again.

Cat Not Eating Food But Eats Treats

This is a common problem for cat owners and comes from acting with good intentions. Many of us like to give our cat a special meal or some cat “candy” from time to time. It can help relieve boredom for your cat and make you feel good about your cat as well!

Whether you give your cat treat meals or formulated dry food treat snacks, a cat that turns picky and will only eat the treats, becoming treat addicted, instead of the normal meal is a problem. It can sometimes seem as if your cat will starve itself rather than eat normal food and all you can do is give them their favorite treat! How do we resolve this and do we even need to?

cat eating tuna from dish on kitchen top
tuna – but just this once!

Is It Ok That My Cat Only Eats Treats?

If you have a severe case of treat addiction and your cat will only eat treat meals or snacks it is reasonable to ask whether it really matters or not. They are eating something after all! Are treat meals and snacks a decent substitute for normal cat food? Will these treats actually have any impact on your cat’s health and well-being?

Some brands claim that their dry food-style treats can be used as a meal replacement, others class themselves as complimentary food or make no claims at all. 

It is safe to assume that where the packaging makes no claims or defines the food as complementary then this is probably not a suitable food around which to base your cat’s diet. They will not be nutritionally balanced enough for your cat’s needs!

Even with dry cat treats where the manufacturer claims the treat can be used as a meal replacement you should note that a meal replacement is not a dietary alternative! In terms of issues, your cat will probably be unable to get the necessary vitamins and nutrients from such replacement meals.

Additionally, your cat may end up with long-term sensitivities to carbs and other ingredients as these dry food cat cookies are often carb-heavy. In truth, any dry cat food eaten for long enough by your cat might cause such food sensitivities. 

The safest course of action would be to assume that dry cat food treats that are complimentary food, meal replacement, or say nothing, are probably not suitable in the long term as your cat’s main diet else the manufacturer would just make their standard dry food just as palatable for your cat as the treat!

What about those treat meals like tuna, sardines, or fresh chicken? Many cats enjoy these human foods and might then develop picky habits when it comes to resuming their normal cat food diet?

If you treat your cat with seafood like fresh or canned tuna, sardines, or salmon you should be aware that some cats can suffer from allergies to fish protein. The allergy may build up over time or may cause problems quite quickly. 

In general, the main issue with feeding your cat such foods on a permanent basis is that they offer unbalanced nutrition which could prove to be an issue in the long term. Additionally, it is worth mentioning that heavy metal poisoning can be a concern if you are feeding your cat fish like tuna. 

Fresh chicken used as a treat can be a decent food for your cat in the long term – just be aware that your cat needs taurine in their diet and whilst chicken contains taurine, it is the darker cuts that have the highest concentrations in chicken – breast is not best!

close up of a grey tabby cat eating a saucer of chunky wet food

Why Has My Cat Gone Off Their Food And Only Eats Treats?

This is usually straightforward to answer. Your cat simply prefers the treats because they taste better! If your cat licks their food but doesn’t eat this is a sure sign the food doesn’t taste that good or something is off! Compared to their reaction to the treat the answer is obvious…

Some cat owners even refer to cat treats as “kitty crack” such is the preference for the treat snacks! The treats are often manufactured containing animal digest that is irresistible to cats.

Additionally, your cat has probably learned that when they refuse their normal, plain food you break out the treat food in order to ensure they eat something! So, they simply consistently demand the food they prefer!

How Can I Break Their Treat Addiction?

This is what we really want to know. But, unfortunately, there is no easy or straightforward, foolproof answer. Results will vary depending on the cat, their personality, and how addicted to treat food they have become. Here are some tactics you can try.

close up of a cat eating chunky wet cat food from a purple bowl

Cold Turkey Approaches

A cold-turkey approach requires complete cessation of the treats and a return to standard food. Expect complaints, but be insistent! 

With each of these tactics, it is best to remember to remove the treats from the home – the treats stink and your cat knows they are there. If the treats are removed from the home they may capitulate to your methods more quickly!

It is best to have your cat on a feeding schedule for these tactics so you can allow your cat to develop a strong appetite during the day. Additionally, playing vigorously with your cat 30 minutes before a scheduled meal time can help fire up their appetite and improve the odds of success.

Serve More Appetizing Food

The first thing to try is to completely change out your cat’s normal food for something more appetizing. If your cat is on dry food then try a wet food that is flavored with their favorite food -chicken, fish, rabbit, etc. 

Enhance the attractiveness by warming the food gently so that it really develops a full flavor and aroma. Your cat may find this alternative so attractive that the treats are forgotten!

If your cat won’t eat wet food then try a different dry food than the usual to stimulate curiosity.

If your cat already eats wet food then use the heated food tip to enhance their usual food, and try a different flavor if they have been on the same wet food for too long and have grown bored.

If all else fails, break out the human foods or natural foods like cooked chicken, tuna juice, and fresh fish and add to their standard food to try to improve them to such a degree that your cat can’t resist.

close up of a tabby cat eating from a stainless steel bowl

Use the Starve Or Eat Approach 

Use the put-down and pick-up technique. Offer normal food, remove when refused, reinstate an hour later and repeat until your cat understands the offer. They get this or nothing else. You are attempting to leave your cat with no choice but to accept that which is offered.

Gradual Weaning Off Approach

If cold turkey is just too unbearable for you – your cat is super insistent then the other general approach you can take is to gradually wean them off the treat food or snack.

Mix in the treat with normal food initially, and then day by day, reduce the amount of treat included.

Or, put food down, but only give smaller portions of treat compared to usual till you wean them off – so if they get five treat biscuits at a point during the day, reduce the ration to three and then one over a week or so.

Final Thoughts

A cat not eating food but eating treats is a problem, but is not usually something that is going to threaten their health immediately. So long as something is eaten then you have time to resolve the situation. Usually, a bit of gentle bribery and persuasion works! But, if your cat refuses to eat anything for more than 36 hours then a visit to a vet for a check-up is essential to avoid some of the fatal issues that can develop when cats don’t eat.