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We took this cat from a shelter 4 years ago when he was 1 year old, but this problem did not happen until recently. Basically, it's not possible to leave any food anywhere in the open. He climbs the table and steals it. Sometimes he eats it and sometimes just breaks to pieces. What's puzzling that he often steals food that he would not eat, e.g. bread. Other times, it would be fish, or ham, which he would nibble at.

What can we do to mitigate this, apart from not leaving food in the open? (It gets ridiculous, you go to the bathroom during a solo meal and you return to your plate razed.)

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  • Honestly, Food left in the open is fair game. It's literally the animals nature to hunt and scavenge for food. You can't change it without resorting to unnatural cruelty and a traumatised animal. If you also had a pet mouse the only way to keep it safe from the cat would be in a cage - not training the cat to not hunt the mouse. Same logic applies to food or any food like stuff that interests the cat. It can be discouraged from playing with non-toys like books etc. But food is different. – Yogesch Sep 29 '20 at 12:20
  • @Yogesch, I disagree, first, you conveniently overlooking the fact it's also food he won't eat. And second, it has not been a problem with him for many years, or with cats of anyone else I'm familiar with, so to me saying that it's a norm sounds silly. – Andrew Savinykh Sep 29 '20 at 20:21
  • Yes I did overlook that I guess. Has anything changed recently in its environment or behaviour etc? Has it started going outside more often? The traits I mentioned apply more to (semi-) outdoor cats. Purely indoor cats are more pliable and compliant. – Yogesch Sep 30 '20 at 6:35
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    @Yogesch He spends much less time outside lately. Every time he is fed he asks to go outside for about 10-30 minutes and then returns. Spends the rest of the time at home. He used to go on long forays before but lately he seems to prefer to stay inside. – Andrew Savinykh Sep 30 '20 at 6:49
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    Since the pandemic hit the whole family is spending more time at home, so I guess he figured that he can now be let in/out upon request. Before that someone needed to be home to let him in. (or out). – Andrew Savinykh Sep 30 '20 at 6:51
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This is a tough problem. Firstly, looking for ways to deny him food will not work. While you spend 10 minutes to think of how to deny him the food, he spends his entire waking hours watching you, scheming how to get his paws on your plate.

There is a series of actions to take to discipline a cat. Cats, unlike dogs, cannot anticipate your thoughts and they usually fail to make connection between their actions and the discipline. Therefore, you have to discipline him only when he is on action, i.e., you have to ambush him.

Here are some suggestions when you catch him red pawed:

  • Blow air to his face.
  • Spray water to his face.
  • Hit on the ground with a stick/club, like a meter or two from the animal.
  • Start a vacuum cleaner near him.
  • Chase him with a vacuum cleaner in your hand.

Do not do these things after the deed is done, you have to do it during the stealing process.

Another method might be beating a puppet. Take a cat puppet and put some bread in his mouth. Make sure your cat sees it. Then beat the puppet with a club or with your hands, right in front of your cat. He will probably make connections between the beating and the food stealing. You can try this a couple of times if he can't make the connection.

Keep in mind that this is kind of an extreme method, due to the intense psychological violence. I only used it to make sure that my freely wandering cat doesn't walk on the kitchen counter.

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