Most of us feed our cats with bleary eyes at dawn after they’ve scratched a hole through the door, but there is another way. How you feed a cat, it turns out, can change its behaviour.
The AAFP (American Association of Feline Practitioners) have offered a consensus statement on how exactly to feed a cat, with an eye towards behavioural issues.
Apparently, a “normal” cat diet doesn’t involve gulping down a can of wet food and passing out on the clean laundry. Instead, it should consist of “hunting and foraging, and eating frequent small meals in a solitary fashion.”
That may sound like a lot of planning for cat meals, but here are the benefits of getting as close to “normal” as possible:
Allowing cats to exhibit these normal feeding behaviours regularly, can help alleviate or prevent stress-related issues such as cystitis, and/or obesity-related problems such as inactivity and overeating. Reducing stress with appropriate feeding programs can also help anxious cats, who in an attempt to avoid other pets in the household, may not access the food frequently enough and lose weight.
Basically, cats get bored. Or, if they’re stressed about their food bowls for any reason, they gorge and then runaway to barf in your shoe. Luckily, there are a couple of simple ways to help them.
Make Eating An Activity
While it shouldn’t be difficult for your cat to eat regularly, you can make some part of its daily intake into a game with a puzzle feeder. These are like cat treat mazes, where they have to figure out how to drag the food out of various holes and lines
As you can imagine, this works best with dry food. There are puzzle feeders for sale for less than 20 bucks, but you can also make one out of an egg carton or Tupperware as a test to see if your kitty enjoys it.
They probably will, because they’re curious critters who like to get up to nonsense. This challenge mimics those foraging behaviours that are so important, and keeps them engaged and occupied.
Separate Feeding Areas
If you have more than one cat, feeding them in different places can significantly reduce stress. AAFP recommends observing your kitty dynamics. Who gets along with who? Do they avoid certain areas? Then make a plan:
Feeding plans should include multiple feeding stations that are visually separated. Feeding station placement should consider the agility of each cat (to utilise elevated spaces such as shelves or tables) and dietary needs. Meals can be offered through programmable feeders, some of which utilise individual microchips. Feeding areas can also be separated by baby gates, or by using size-limiting entrances to access the food. Cats should be fed in locations where they feel safe. Additionally, feeding stations should not be close to litter boxes.
This probably won’t be too hard if you only have two cats. Not to judge anyone who has more than two cats.
Breaking Up Meals
If you have the time to separate cats, you might also have the time to break up meals. The food puzzles can help with that, because your cat will get a portion of its food over time as it figures out the game.
But if you can, give it smaller amounts throughout the day rather than one or two big meals. Your cat will have fewer digestive issues and you’ll have a less desperate kitty at feeding time.
Check Those Calories
Most of us don’t know exactly how much a cat should be eating. Be sure to check with your vet about the number of calories your cat needs, keep in mind that those numbers can change as the cat ages or if it’s sick, and monitor how that intake is going. Do they seem to be gaining or losing weight?
Again, have the vet check regularly. Your cat can’t monitor its own health, so let’s be sensible on behalf of our beloved little monsters.