How to stop your cat from stealing food from the table

Is your cat stealing food from the table? Many cats do this—and not always because they are hungry. Stealing food is similar to hunting, and Mother Nature dictates to the cat that, if an opportunity arises, it must be taken.

a cat stealing food from table
Photo by sal, CC BY 2.0.

But not everyone wants to eat from the same plate with the family cat. It goes beyond not wanting to share: there may be concerns about hygiene and spreading of parasites, one might have trouble maintaining their cat’s healthy weight or the fact that human foods are not always safe to cats. In this article, you are going to learn how to stop your cat from stealing your food.

  1. Do not reward your cat’s begging. That is, do not let your cat get away with it. If your cat begs for human food, never give in. If you give your cat at least one bite, he will surely be after another. This also applies to when you accidentally drop something as you eat or prepare. Don’t leave it as, “Nah, wasn’t gonna eat that anyway.” Make sure your cat does not get it.
  2. Keep the food away. Do not leave containers open on the counter. Do not leave prepared meals alone on the table. Do not leave food anywhere your cat can get it. If your cat is smart enough to open the cupboard doors, invest some money in baby-proof locks. If your cat is able to figure those out, install a padlock or nail the cupboard shut.
  3. Use a cat deterrent. If you have to leave the food out for some time, you can place a sssCat cat training aid next to it. It’s a motion-activated cat deterrent that sprays air whenever someone approaches. Alternatively, you can apply double-sided sticky tape on the table or counter near the food, which is cheaper but less convenient. You will find more ways to deter cats here.
  4. Increase your cat’s activity. Food always has something to do with your cat’s natural energy for hunting. If you are able to drain that energy through playing, you are very close to stopping your cat from stealing food. The most effective method will involve playing with your cat using an interactive toy, moving it like real prey would move. Let your cat catch it and bite it now and then. You must also provide your cat enough activities for solo plays. It may be as simple as catnipped plush mice left on the floor, or as technical as an automatic cat toy.
  5. Increase the amount of your cat’s meals. Maybe your cat simply can’t wait for his dinner. As much as we work with our clients, most people feed their cat twice a day. That is not enough to prevent a cat from stealing, because your cat indeed becomes hungry during the day—or night. Normally, at least three meals per day would be great, whereas a cat in the wild may eat up to ten times a day. How do you provide three meals if you are away during the day? Easy—serve the first meal before you leave, the second meal as you come home and the last meal before you go to sleep. This will help to stop your cat stealing, but not only that. See here for more benefits of scheduled feeding in cats.
  6. Two cats playing with a treat ball
    Providing a treat ball is a great way to keep your cat active. Photo by John Wright, CC BY 2.0.

    Provide your cat’s meals through playing. There are puzzle feeders, food dispenser balls and hide-and-seek games available. If your cat is stealing your food at particular times (e.g., as you prepare meals), you can provide your cat’s meal at the same time. Place some of his food inside a treat-dispensing ball, such as Catit Treat Ball, and your cat will be busy with hunting his own food instead of stealing yours.

  7. Will punishment work? Not over the long run. Punishment will only be effective to stop your cat stealing food in your presence. That is, your cat will learn to be afraid of you and to avoid you. But just as soon as you are in the next room, or just turn your back on him, things will be different. You can interrupt the stealing with a sudden noise or by throwing something to land near him, but that’s it. Don’t follow him afterward; you only want to stop the behavior, not punish.
  8. Check the amount of food you give to your cat. Do you actually feed your cat enough? The best way to know how much your cat must eat is to check the recommended feeding guidelines on the package. Remember that those are “recommended” values and depend on your cat’s preferences, activity level and physiologic peculiarity. The real way to know if your cat receives enough food is to check your cat’s body condition. If your cat is too skinny, feed more.
  9. Visit a veterinarian. In case you were wondering, your cat’s stealing may be caused by several health disorders, most popular being diabetes and hyperthyroidism. Worms can also cause a cat to constantly want food and steal it. Note that you can get worms from your cat, and plate sharing is a common way to do it. While stealing food may indeed be corrected as a behavior problem, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Remember: with every disease, the surest way to successful treatment is early diagnosis.

Remember that stealing food, or simply getting it, as it is from your cat’s point of view, is a natural behavior. Your cat does not even suspect that he’s doing something bad, similar to an outdoor cat who does not view hunting and killing as dishonest.

If you really want to make your cat stop stealing your food (or participating in other unruly behaviors), you must keep it inaccessible and make sure your cat gets a ton of activity on daily basis.