Do you have a furry, four-footed thief in your house? Has the paper clip you just set down on the desk suddenly gone missing? Or maybe it’s some food from your plate that has vanished? Your keys? A sock? Your daughter’s hair bow? If you live with a very stealthy but oh, so adorable, feline thief, you’re not alone. Many people share their lives with cats who seem to have very sticky fingers… or rather, paws. What’s the Attraction?
Cats Who Steal Food
This is an obvious one to figure out. Cats are predators and most are extremely food-motivated. You have so many enticing food aromas that pass in front of your cat’s nose several times a day and it can be hard for a hungry kitty to resist. This is especially true if your cat is on a special diet and not particularly pleased with that fact.
A contributing factor to food-stealing behavior may be the result of being fed from the dinner table. If you have offered your cat pieces of your own meal as you’re eating or you’ve rewarded her with food when she begs during the family meals, you may have put the notion in her head that she doesn’t really have to wait for someone to give food to her – she can just help herself. Offering food from the table can also create an interest in a food she may not have otherwise been attracted to, such as sugary tidbits.
Stealing food can also occur if it’s left out on an unattended counter or table. If you know you have a feline food thief, remove temptation by making sure leftovers aren’t kept out on the counter or table.
To reduce, and hopefully eliminate food-stealing behavior, consider incorporating puzzle feeders into your cat’s mealtime routine. Whether you feed wet or dry food, you can buy or construct puzzle feeders to encourage your cat to eat slowly and also enjoy some added playtime while eating. Since a cat is a predator, the concept of working for food is very natural and a puzzle feeder is an easy way to provide that. There are many types of puzzle feeders available. Check your local pet product store or Google the term “puzzle feeders for cats.” You’ll find many products that provide varying degrees of difficulty so you should be able to find one that fits your cat’s personality and skill level.
If you feed on a schedule but there’s a huge chunk of time in-between meals, then that could also be contributing to your cat becoming a food thief. Cats have small stomachs and in an outdoor setting they would probably hunt and enjoy several small meals per day. If you only feed once or twice a day, your cat may be getting too hungry. Try dividing up the meal portion so you can feed three meals a day. You don’t have to increase the amount of food, just the timing of the portions.
If you think you may not be feeding enough food to your cat, get your veterinarian’s guidance. The labels on pet food packages are meant to be general guidelines. Your veterinarian can help you determine the amount to feed your cat based on her current weight, age, health condition and activity level.
Cats Who Steal for Play
Some cats will steal objects just for the opportunity to play with them. Some objects are so light and can easily be pushed with the slightest touch of a paw that it’s impossible for a playful cat to pass up a chance for a little game. Before you know it though, that rubber band or paper clip ends up under the sofa or stuck under the desk.
Unfortunately, many of the objects your cat may steal out of play can be potentially harmful. If your cat plays with a rubber band, earring or other small object and decides to chew on it, the object could end up getting swallowed. Cats have backward-facing barbs on their tongues and that makes it hard for them to dislodge particular items once in the mouth. Yarn and string for instance, are particularly difficult for a cat to remove from her mouth so those items often end up getting swallowed and that can lead to a potentially life-threatening health risk.
The best solution for a cat who steals objects out of play is to 1) put tempting objects away, and, 2) offer safer alternatives. The alternatives should come in two forms. First, make sure you’re engaging your cat in a couple of interactive play sessions per day. Interactive play therapy is a great way for you to control the action and give your cat the opportunity to really shine as the mighty hunter. Next, increase the fun factor in your home by stepping up the environmental enrichment. Give your cat something to do during the day while you’re at work so she won’t feel the need to steal in order to relieve her boredom. I know you have a bunch of solo toys for your cat but they’re probably just scattered around the house gathering dust. Instead, try staging the environment so it’ll be more interesting: