Hungry cat, unhappy cat?

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Russian prison guards have caught a feline courier carrying cellphones and chargers. File photo: sxc.hu

London - Does your cat meow for titbits from the table or rub against your legs as soon as you open the fridge?

It seems you may need to dish out some psychological treatment rather than a bowl of Whiskas.

According to a group of vets, if your feline pesters you for food it could be a sign that they are in the grip of an eating obsession.

While doting owners might find it endearing when their hungry moggy mews and paws at them, the researchers say this eagerness to eat can indicate “psychogenic abnormal feeding behaviour”.

Other symptoms of the condition apparently include a bottomless appetite and “food related aggression”, such as grabbing the cat food tin with their paws and “growling and hissing”.

The vets studied eight-month-old Otto, a male Siamese cat who would devour his food before stealing from other cats’ bowls and jumping on the table to scoff his owners’ dinner. He even ate plastic toys.

After finding no medical explanation for his behaviour, they diagnosed him with the first confirmed case of food obsession.

The vets prescribed a regime of behavioural therapy, which included banning Otto’s owners from eating in front of him, scheduling regular playtimes but telling them to ignore him at other times, and rewarding calm behaviour.

Gradually, Otto was allowed back into his owners’ presence at mealtimes, and after a while they were even allowed to eat “appealing” foods such as fish in front of him.

Within five months the problem appeared to have been cured, the researchers wrote in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, adding: “The cat did not show any abnormal behaviour at the sight of food and it remained relaxed when present at the owners’ meals.”

While there is little mention of eating disorders among animals in scientific literature, the vets speculated that they could be associated with stress in early life.

Study leader Paolo Mongillo, from the University of Padua in northern Italy, said: “If you feed them from the table, just once in a while, the cat will think it is like a slot machine - if they always ask, every so often they will get what they want.” - Daily Mail

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