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There’s a cat food shortage, and Tampa Bay felines are not happy about it

Cat food, a consumer good we used to be able to take for granted, is suddenly scarce on grocery shelves courtesy of the pandemic. Cat owners are scrambling.
Another pandemic shortage: Cat food.
Another pandemic shortage: Cat food. [ SUE CARLTON/Times ]
Published Jan. 5

Remember when grocery store shelves practically sagged with rows of every kind of cat food imaginable?

Here is what a cat-owning colleague experienced recently when this latest supply-chain shortage stripped some local shelves bare:

His house cats, presented with not their regular wet food but the unfamiliar dry, staged a hunger strike. They knocked their bowl over twice, in case the message wasn’t clear. And when it became apparent things would not change anytime soon, they threw up in a bedroom in what is believed to have been a deliberate act.

Supply-chain issues that have made scarce everything from cars to cream cheese are currently wreaking havoc on cat owners (or as some put it, people who act as their cats’ staff). With some cat foods hard to find — particularly the popular pate and shredded wet varieties — owners are scrambling to feed notoriously finicky felines.

Take Tina Pawlowski, a legal assistant who lives in Tampa with her husband and cats Cooper, Greyson and Bella, who favor Fancy Feast. The multi-can boxes started disappearing from her store, so these days she bounces between Amazon, Chewy and PetSmart websites.

“We have to try to mix and match where we’re getting our orders of cat food from just to feed three cats,” she said. “You can’t expect the cat to say, ‘I’ll just take this.’ They’re way more picky than dogs.”

The Humane Society of Tampa Bay has also been hit by the lack of the pate-style wet food they mix with dry for their shelter cats. That’s made it “harder for us to give any canned food at all to our food assistance program,” which helps low-income locals feed and keep their pets, said executive director Sherry Silk. (Donations are always welcome.)

A mother cat cares for her kittens at the Humane Society in Tampa.
A mother cat cares for her kittens at the Humane Society in Tampa. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]

Cat people have even turned to making their own food, though some experts say it’s not necessarily healthier. PetMD.com recommends getting recipes from a veterinary nutritionist through your vet or the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.

You can blame the same factors causing other supply shortages, among them the availability of transport and drivers and cargo ship delays. The aluminum shortage isn’t helping get cans back on the shelves, either.

Meanwhile, demand is up ― remember all those kittens and pups that got adopted in the pandemic? Nationwide, it’s being called a pet food shortage, as in dogs too, though locally it’s cat food shelves that appear decimated.

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Cats can be picky about what they eat.
Cats can be picky about what they eat. [ DAMASKE, JIM | Times ]

Pet Food Institute president and CEO Dana Brooks encouraged consumers to buy only the amount of food they normally need and to directly contact companies about a specific product they’re looking for.

“We’re just not used to this,” said Robert Hooker, University of South Florida professor in the Muma College of Business who teaches courses in supply-chain management. “We’ve grown accustomed to having everything at our fingertips as soon as we want it.”

Shelves emptied of cat food at a Tampa grocery store.
Shelves emptied of cat food at a Tampa grocery store. [ SUE CARLTON/Times ]

Globally, Hooker expects we’ll experience shortages for another year.

But take heart, beleaguered cat people: He said the current pet food problem “may last a few more months.”