Friday, September 10, 2010

How to Deal with Food Aggression in Pets

By Linda Cole

You may have a loving pet who would never do anything to hurt a family member – as long as no one touches his food. A food aggressive dog or cat is more apt to be given to a shelter or put down because their owner didn't know how to deal with the problem. Food aggression doesn't mean you can't live with the pet; it simply means you need to change their behavior to one that's acceptable to you. Here are some tips on what to do (and what not to do) when dealing with food aggression in pets.

Food aggression in dogs is a serious and potentially dangerous issue that needs to be stopped before it gets out of hand. When a dog growls at other pets or people while he eats, or even when his bowl is empty, he's showing food aggression. It's never cute, and a puppy who shows signs of food aggression needs his behavior changed before he grows into an adult.

Punishing the dog won't work. If you take away his food, you reinforce his fear and proved to him he has to protect his food. Yelling only leaves him with negative thoughts. Neither one will stop his food aggressive behavior. Dogs learn what's acceptable when we use positive reinforcement and rewards to get rid of unacceptable behavior.

If your dog displays mild aggression, meaning he doesn't try to take your hand off when you get near his food, try holding him back from his bowl while you pick it up. Have him watch as you add something tasty like cheese or cooked chicken. Let him eat that, then repeat the process. He's learning that not only are you not trying to take his food away, you're adding something tasty to his bowl.

To deal with a more serious food aggression problem with a dog, you need a different approach. Put his bowl on a table and have him sit. Feed him one piece of food at a time. If he tries to grab or snap it from your hand, wrap it in your fist and tell him “careful” or whatever word you want to use. Give it to him when he's being gentle. He'll learn that you control his food. It might take a couple weeks to change his behavior, so stay consistent and positive. After a week, put his bowl on the floor with half his normal amount in it and add more food as he eats. Drop in some CANIDAE Snap-Bits™ treats with the food to reinforce his good behavior.

Cats aren't as likely to have food aggression issues, but some may. Usually, they're showing aggression that comes from other sources. I’ve had cats that insisted on dining alone and made it clear they didn't want to share. However, that behavior is more of a hierarchy issue than a display of food aggression.

Food aggression can be difficult to diagnose in cats because there can be other factors involved that have nothing to do with food. Anytime a cat exhibits any aggression, they should be checked out by a vet to make sure there's no medical problem causing it. If they get a clean bill of health, observe your cat to see if there are other reasons that could be making them aggressive, like another pet.

Stray cats or ones adopted from shelters can have food aggression issues if they had to fight for or protect their food at one time. Even though we provide them with daily food, they still think they have to protect it from other pets and sometimes, their owner. Food aggression, in most cases, can be stopped by feeding the cat in another room, away from other pets in the home. If it's a dog upsetting the cat, feed her where the dog can't get to her food. Most cats will resolve their own food aggression once they learn no one is going to “steal it” from them. If your cat protects her food from you, an effective and humane way to deal with an attacking cat is to spray her in the face with a squirt bottle filled with clean water. Be careful not to spray in the eyes or ears. It'll get her attention and help refocus the mind so she can learn the behavior you want.

Food aggression in pets can be dealt with as long as you recognize the problem and then work on resolving it before someone in the family gets hurt. It's up to us as responsible pet owners to let them know what is acceptable behavior, and it can be taught with patience, understanding, positive reinforcement and praise.

Read more articles by Linda Cole


  1. Funny, I actually had this on my mind a few days ago and now I come across your blog...


  2. i have a rescue dog that is not aggresive over food but when i give her a bone or treat she shows signs of aggesive behavior I'm glad I came across this blog, thank you. I actualy got brave one day and just picked her up and startied petting her while she had a bone. It seemed to work but she is still protective when she has a bone. So I just keep picking her up while she has one trying to show her I wont take it from her.

  3. My dog is not FA with people but with the cats Nf his brother. Different dig. Suggestions?

  4. I have a kitten. Raised and born indoors. The only kitten of the litter. But after introducing him to my american bobtail he goes nuts around food. Hell stack my older cat. Has caused me to take older to vet for stitches and put claw tips on younger. I've tried putting both cats in a carrier at meal time. Like. Gull my younger in his crate and pilly the older in his. First across the room then closer and closer. But every Tim gull fights and claws and males an lawful amount of noise.
    I've tried giving him wet food and pilly dry but even then he stacks pilly. Idk what to do but get rid of gull. I really don't want to though because he's a rare colored Persian and super sweet any other time. I've also tried the separate room and holding him making him see pilly eat before he can eat. And the dog trick of take the food add yummy stuff andgive it back. Plz help! Any ideas can b sent to


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