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We adopted a stray cat a little over two weeks ago; she’s about a year old. She's a total house cat, but she was very skinny when rescued so we have no idea how long she spent in the streets. Now that she’s settled in and is at a healthier weight, we’re trying to figure out whether there’s a strategy to calm her food anxiety/aggression, which manifests itself in the following ways:

  • She follows me into the kitchen every time I go there and begs for food, even if she was just fed. If I’m just there doing dishes for 30 minutes, she’ll pester me non-stop.
  • She gets defensive when you pick up her food/water bowl, particularly if it’s not empty; she tries swat at my leg when I change her water because she thinks I’m taking it away. She used to aggressively guard her bowls when we first got her and would run over to them if you so much as looked in their direction, but she’s eased up on that significantly.
  • It’s difficult to reward her good behavior with treats because she gets so obsessed with finding where the treat came from and I feel like that negates any learning that the “reward” was supposed to elicit.

Weirdly, she seems to be doing ok with self-regulating her portions. She generally munches on wet food throughout the day instead of eating it all at once, unless it's her favorite flavor. I free-feed her dry food and find that a 1-cup scoop lasts about 2.5 days (both wet & dry are Wellness). We haven’t had any issues with her eating non-food items, and if she sees us eating something she’s not interested in, she doesn’t beg. The vet found no health issues or parasites, but she’s not spayed yet. She’s the only pet.

Our long-term strategy is just giving it time, patience and not giving in to begging, but I’m wondering if there’s anything we should try in the short-term to help calm her down. For example, would it be more effective to just move all her food to the kitchen so that there’s always food there (she currently has all her food in her room)? Any ideas are welcome.

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Time is the key really, if she spent long enough on the streets struggling for food that her weight had dropped substantially below "normal" for her then it's going to take some time for her to relax about it and trust that food really is coming on a regular basis, not "going away" again and she doesn't have any competition for it.

Sounds like you are doing the right things, feeding her at regular times will help and as you say not giving in to begging. Stick with it and over time (possibly weeks-months) she'll probably start to relax about it a bit.

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