Cat eats like a slob — what could be wrong?

Q: Why does my cat make such a mess when she eats? As she’s gotten older, this problem has only gotten worse. Do you have any suggestions?

A: Cats are typically neat feeders, unlike plenty of other small mammals. But as you’ve pointed out, this isn’t always the case.

In some cases it seems like a personal style thing. These cats are simply sloppy by nature. Whenever they eat they leave a toddler-style trail.

For some, this is a behavioral issue. For example, a small percentage of cats will pick up their food and relocate it someplace safer before eventually eating it. This is a common resource-guarding scenario that may have something to do with the competitive pressure she feels at mealtime.

Others will display what seems more like a behavioral eccentricity. These cats may play in their food and water bowls, pawing at the stuff whenever they’re feeling frisky.

Unfortunately, messy eating isn’t always so benign. Cats with breed-specific issues related to facial conformation (flat-faced Persians and Himalayans, for example) are especially predisposed to physical problems that prevent them from eating normally.

These cats can actually have trouble putting food inside their mouths and keeping it in there long enough to chew it properly. Other cats may be unable to swallow normally without coughing, gagging or regurgitating food or water. Still others may chew but the food will fall out of their mouths as they do so.

In some cases pain may be the cause. Overtly painful eating may be observed when pets begin to develop a love-hate relationship with their bowls. They seem to want to eat but can’t seem to muster the courage.

Here’s a list of some of the more common problems that can lead to sloppy eating and drinking:

▪ Brachycephalic conformation (as seen in Persian-style breeds)

▪ Periodontal disease (including dental abscesses and fractures)

▪ Oral or facial trauma

▪ Stomatitis (an oral condition that results in severe swelling)

▪ Esophageal disorders (like strictures and reflux esophagitis)

▪ Oral ulceration (often due to kidney disease, burns or toxins)

▪ Oral cancers

Whatever the case, regardless of the cause, whether it seems natural, abnormal, behavioral or physical, sloppy eating or drinking should always be brought to a veterinarian’s attention. This becomes especially crucial should the issue come on suddenly or become progressive in nature, as is the case here.

Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is Send questions to