Is My Cat a “Social Eater”?

I was browsing through the Ottawa Humane Society listings one lunch time, checking out the new cohort of cats and dogs looking for new homes. It’s not that I’m looking to add a friend for Ivy, but for entertainment purposes, I enjoy reading the cute biographies and appreciate the effort that goes into writing each one.

In the description of a handsome domestic short haired cat named Bryson, I paused when I read: “I also would love it if you could spend meal times with me in the beginning as I can be a social eater.”

“Social eater”?… is that a thing? Is that what Miss Ivy has been trying to tell me for all these months?

When it comes to her wet food, Ivy always seemed to prefer being served dinner in the basement. I always assumed it is because it is one of the quietest spots in the house. If that’s her preference (and now habit), I’ll happily oblige her.

But in recent months, she introduced a twist in the meal game.

Now, when she’s hungry, she’ll leave whatever room we’re in, approach the staircase, look down, and wait… and wait… and wait… until I get up from what I’m doing, at which time she proceeds to meow to catch my attention.

When I approach her to ask what she would like, she takes off for the basement and looks back. If I’m not following, she meows, increasing the volume gradually like a teenager might do with their sound system.

One day, I gave in and just followed her downstairs. When I arrived, she dove face down into the food bowl, merrily enjoying her meal.

When this behaviour started turning into a pattern, I started to wonder if there is a reason for this or am I just getting sucked in (“trained” by Ivy) into spending more quality time with her? I certainly don’t object to indulging her in this way as she’s definitely a social kitty who enjoys the company of her human.

When I Googled “cat social eaters”, I was surprised to see as many references as there were. But behind it, there was a difference of opinion.

On one hand, some think the owners are spoiling their cats. (But isn’t that my job, especially after her tough life on the streets before she was adopted?)

Some say owners should engage with their cats more. (But you should hear the conversations we have at the end of a long day!)

Some say the owners don’t spend enough time playing with their cats (But Ivy has a steady rotation of toys and activities to keep things interesting and engaging. Plus we usually play every night until she starts ignoring me.)

On the other paw, there are just as many owners who say their cats love the extra attention while they are eating. Some even suggest moving social eaters’ food bowls closer to where the human action is.

A post by the Paws for Life Animal Rescue in Troy Michigan presents a very interesting statement on the subject, suggesting that the idea of cats being social eaters is a myth “because cats are solitary hunters, most would prefer to eat alone”. (Check out the full post at this link)

Having heard stories of my friends’ cats bringing home “gifts” from the wild, I think the idea of “solitary hunters” is a solid point of reference on the matter and could indeed be our answer for most cats.

For a mellow indoor cat who backs up slowly (and keeps walking) at the sight of an insect, I’m not sure I am ready to say that Ivy is a fierce solitary hunter. She’s weird like that, but I love her anyway. Just like most cats adore cardboard boxes, Miss Ivy seems to be an exception to that one too.

All I know is that if I drop her bowl of food and take off, she will most likely nibble and graze over the bowl over several sittings and might leave some leftovers. If I stay in the same room while she is eating, her tendency will be to eat more in one sitting and will likely finish the bowl in 3 sittings with no leftovers. It’s nothing scientific, just observations.

And as we all know, even though cats like structure and consistency, this could all change tomorrow if she decides to make it so.

Either way, I don’t worry about it too much. Whether I am home or not, the cat food disappears anyway whether she grazes over it through the day or devours it in a couple of sittings.

Whether cats being social eaters is a myth or not, if my cat wants a few extra minutes of attention as she eats her breakfast or dinner, who am I to deny her some quality time? If the timing is convenient and the experience gives us another opportunity to bond for her to feel comfortable and secure, then it seems to me like win-win all around.

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Filed under Cats, Humour, Misc blogs

8 responses to “Is My Cat a “Social Eater”?

  1. David

    Scooter used to get his treats in the kitchen while I had my morning coffee, while his meals were “served” (yes Served, because if the proper routine wan’t followed he let me know it) in the basement. Like Ivy, if I hung around, he’d eat his wet food in one sitting and munch on his kibble over 24-hours. If I departed before he ate all his wet food, it generally was eaten over a period of a couple of hours. That is of course, unless I had given one of the Fancy Feast varieties that was not on his favourite list, then he might just lick the gravy off and leave the meat behind completely. Cats aren’t independent, they SHOW their personalities if we truly observe.

    • Hey Dave, thanks for the great comment and for the personal story. I think it is fascinating to try to connect the dots and figuring out their behaviours and you are absolutely right.. they tell us what we need to know, we just need to pay attention!
      Cheers and thanks again
      P.S., Ivy has also been known to lick up gravy and leave the solids behind (especially peas!)

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  3. Hmm that’s interesting! My cat will only eat when we’re eating. Her bowl is in the kitchen where we spend a lot of time. Occasionally, she meows at us for food, even though she has some in her bowl. Then when we start eating, she does too! Maybe that’s another sign of social eating in cats?

  4. Noelle L Scoullar

    My Domino is a social eater as well! He will come to wherever I am and meow until I follow him into the kitchen. I have gone so far as to sit down on the floor next to him while he eats. I have no idea what his past life was like. I do know he was found as a stray. If he wants me to be near him while he eats…I indulge him…he’s my sweetie!

    • Hi Noelle
      Thanks for the wonderful comment and for sharing Domino’s story! It’s very nice to know we’re not alone.
      Like you, I wonder if (before her adoption) Ivy felt insecure at meal time and now she prefers if someone is on lookout while she eats, even though it’s just her and me in the house.
      It doesn’t take much to make Miss Ivy happy, so I am more than happy to keep her company.

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  6. Randi

    We have a one year old Himalayan who is a social eater. We keep her food bowl, which happens to be close to the dining room table, full so she can graze as she like, and without fail she will come and join us at meal times to eat and drink. Sometimes when she realizes late that we have started dinner without her, she looks a little hurt and rushes over to join in.

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