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What are Neophobia in Cats?

Neophobia is the fear of a new food. This phenomenon isn't exclusive to our four-legged friends — humans can be neophobic, too. Neophobia most commonly occurs in cats fed the same diet for an extended period. Neophobia can become an issue for cats who require dietary changes. Such changes are necessary for several reasons, like managing a healthy weight or accommodating a health condition. Keep reading to learn more about neophobia in cats and how to safely transition your feline friend to a new food.

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Symptoms of Neophobia in Cats

The main symptom of neophobia in cats is reluctance or refusal to try a new food. This is different from loss of appetite in cats, which makes them reluctant to eat anything. If you notice other symptoms in addition to neophobia or loss of appetite, consult your vet.

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Causes of Neophobia in Cats

Experts believe neophobia served an important purpose thousands of years ago, before cats became domesticated. In the wild, eating something new could be dangerous or even deadly for a cat. (Or virtually any creature, for that matter.) Although many cats live safe and sound indoors today, that instinct still remains.

Kittens and young cats who don't experience a wide variety of tastes and textures can develop neophobia later in life. Neophobia can also be a sign of stress. For example, cats who are hospitalized may be reluctant to eat due to their environment.

Several factors influence a cat's willingness to eat, including:

  • Hunger level

  • The cat's age

  • Moisture content

  • Ratio of protein to fat

  • The food's pH balance

  • Temperature of the food

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Diagnosis of Neophobia in Cats

Chances are you won't need a veterinarian's diagnosis to figure out if your cat is neophobic. If your cat is perfectly happy eating their usual food but won't go near something new, they could be neophobic.

Neophobia isn't the same thing as picky eating. While felines can be finicky about what they eat, the reluctance lies in the unfamiliarity of the food in this case. If you have concerns about switching your cat's food, talk to your vet.

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Treatment of Neophobia in Cats

Treating neophobia in cats is relatively straightforward. When transitioning your cat to a new food, don't immediately stop feeding their old food. The trick is to mix the new food with the old. Changing too quickly can cause stomach upset.

Before transitioning to a new food, consider your cat's preferences. Do they like wet or dry food? Are there certain textures or flavors they like more than others? Then, try to choose a new food with those preferences in mind. If your cat is switching over to a prescription food, ask your vet about the best way to transition.

Here are some general guidelines for switching to a new food. Over a 10-day period, gradually phase out the old food by decreasing the amount you feed each day and replacing that amount with the new food. For the first 3 days, feed 25% of the new food with 75% of the old. By day 4, you should be able to feed them 50% new food and 50% old food. On day 7, increase the new food to 75% and decrease the old to 25%. By day 10, they should be eating 100% new food. (Check out our guide on transitioning your cat to a new food for more information.)

To ensure a seamless transition, don't change anything else about your cat's usual feeding routine. This includes the time, location, and even the temperature of the food. Cats are creatures of habit, and changing too many things at once can make the issue worse.

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Recovery of Neophobia in Cats

Changing your cat's diet can be easier said than done. Your cat may take longer than 10 days to adjust. Whatever the case, don't stop feeding the old food until your cat is consistently eating their new food.

Watch your cat to see their reaction to the new food. We recommend being discreet when doing this — many cats are shy eaters, and they won't take too kindly to you hovering over their bowl!

If they like their new food, you might notice the following signs:

  • Narrowing their eyes while eating

  • Smacking sounds

  • Ears forward

Sometimes, new foods can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Your vet will be able to tell if the new food is causing your kitty's gastrointestinal distress.

If your cat is still reluctant to eat their new food despite your best efforts, talk to your vet or chat with a vet now.

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Written by Mel Lee-Smith

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 05/17/2021, edited: 05/17/2021

Neophobia in Cats Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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