SHOULD I FREE-FEED OR SCHEDULE MY CAT’S MEALS?
Just like humans, different cats prefer different mealtimes and feeding styles. Having a cat that was once a stray, Daphne has taught me how feeding styles really are. As a former stray who had to eat whatever she could get whenever she could get it, if I leave a large bowl of food out, she will gorge herself on as much as she can and get sick. After experimenting, I found the best way to feed her. I leave her bowl out throughout the day with one generous scoop each morning to last all day and she is fine with it. As with all my cats, they had their times they preferred to eat like clockwork. Luckily, Daphne has adapted to this and is just fine with her scoop of food to manage for the day. Now, she does still go outside some days and hunt for treats, but that is the exception. However, some cats may not be able to adjust to this style of feeding and are better suited to scheduled meals.
Why Are Feeding Styles Important?
Age, lifestyle, health needs and activity levels are all important determining factors in the best way to feed your cat. Your own lifestyle and availability throughout the day is also important to take into consideration. It can become even more puzzle-like when you have a multi-cat household! Let’s take a look at some determining factors to figure out which option is best for your family.
Indoor vs. Outdoor Cats
Cats are natural hunters and love to play with their food. In the wild, cats worked for their food and ate several little meals a day. They tended to graze throughout the day and not sit and gorge then lay around. Move indoors to the world of a lazy domesticated cat and therein lies the new problem. Indoor cats don’t move as much and expend much less energy than an outdoor cat who is nearly always on the move. Having adapted to being served their food, indoor cats are very humanlike in their eating habits. They eat out of boredom, stress and anxiety, and Daphne’s reasoning – because the bowl is full and she can. Some cats simply don’t have will power or control and will eat for the wrong reasons. This can lead to weight problems and possible health issues for some.
Health and Weight Concerns
If this pattern is happening in your home, talking to your vet first is key. Checking the cat’s weight and seeing what range it is in is important. Cats come in all different sizes and bone structure so a nice big Maine Coon cat may be right in a normal healthy weight at 22 lbs but a regular size tabby at 15 lbs may be tipping the scales. Your vet can help determine how much food needs to be given in a day or even what brand. Some brands are not as healthy as other brands and contain fillers and nonsense food sources (think fast food). Grain free or weight management foods are better choices for a chubby kitty. Following your cats natural eating schedule is a good way to start as your cat may not need to eat every three hours if just two meals per day will suffice.
If your vet recommends (or you prefer) wet food, free-feeding might not be the best option. Wet food sitting out all day can attract flies or create a smell. We all have let wet food sit out and watch it turn into a hardened mess! Wet food is a great choice for a scheduled feeding time. One issue my sweet Maddie had with free feeding dry food is that it must have become soggy or stale as she would refuse dry food if it sat out more than a few hours. It made me think of when I leave a bag of chips open and then go to snack and the crunch is gone.
Free feed or scheduled times are definitely unique to each cat and situation. Just remember that if you do decide to try the scheduled feed times that you may end up with a hangry cat! Moderation is everything so cutting back food intake but not depriving. Slowly adapting for your cat is key to a happy and healthy cat.
All in all, pay attention to your cat’s patterns and body. Do they finish the whole dish the second you put food down? If so, smaller scheduled meals might be a better option. If your cat is more of a conservationist and nibbles here and there, free feeding might be best.
Rock the Cat Spa owner Cari Thompson is a life-long cat lover. When she's not running the luxury cat spa & hotel, she's playing with her cat, Daphne. She writes weekly blogs on cat behavior, health, and care. To learn more about her, check out the About Me page!