Animals, yes even cats, know to eat just until they are full. I’ve watched my cats over the years and have found that – at a certain point – they know they’ve eaten enough. Then they find a comfortable place to give themselves a bath and digest. It doesn’t matter if they’re inside cats, outside cats, people-friendly cats, cats who are part of the family, or feral cats – they naturally know when they’ve had enough.
So, you’d think there’d be no way a cat or dog could possibly get overweight, right? After all, they know when to stop eating, so there’s no chance they’ll overeat, right?
Wrong-o. That’s where we come in.
If there’s a bowl of constantly available dry food lying around for her to graze at whenever she feels a little bored or under stimulated – Alexa… I mean she’ll do just that. We generally don’t have a full plate of our food sitting on the table all day for us to graze on each time we pass. I wonder why we ever get in the habit of leaving food out for our pets to eat at leisure.
Naturally, we think we’re doing them a great service – Here, baby, eat whenever you want to! The problem is, it leads to obesity and a host of health problems.
That being said, some cats do fine with free-feeding. Our outside cats have dry food available at all times and not one of them is overweight. Prissy always had dry food available and kept a nice, trim little figure for over 20 years! It all depends on the individual cat. If you leave dry food out for your babies and they take advantage of its availability a little too often, maybe you should try putting it up for the most part of the day.
So how often should you feed your cat?
According to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, it depends upon the cat’s age and health.
Kittens require more food per pound of body weight to support their growth than do adult cats, and therefore should be fed more often throughout the day. “Growing kittens up to six months of age may require three meals a day,” says Francis Kallfelz, DVM, PHD, board certified by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition and James Law professor of nutrition at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. “From age six months to maturity, most cats will do well when fed two times a day.”
Once the cat becomes an adult, at about one year, feeding once or twice a day is appropriate in most cases. Senior cats, age seven and above, should maintain the same feeding regimen. “Once cats reach adulthood, once a day feeding is fine as long as they are healthy and have no disease problems suggesting a reason to feed differently,” says Dr. Kallfelz.
The Health of Your Cat Matters
If your cat suffers from a health problem such as diabetes, you may need to feed him based on whenever he is administered insulin, depending on the type. “Talk to your veterinarian,” says Dr. Kallfelz.
If your cat has hyperthyroidism, he may want to eat all the time. “Treat the disease,” says Dr. Kallfelz. “If it is a treatable problem, treat it and then feed your cat normally.”
When a cat ages, his teeth may go bad, or he may develop gum disease that may make it difficult to chew dry food. “If they get to that point, then offer them canned food or dry in a finer nugget size,” says Dr. Kallfelz. You can also mash up the dry and mix it with water to make it easier to chew. – Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine
Should You Feed Your Cat Wet or Dry Cat Food?
Experts seem to agree that the type of cat food isn’t that important. However, keep in mind that you should feed your cat CAT FOOD -not dog food and not human food. There are certain things cats need that they can get only from cat food.
Read the labels on your dry cat food and wet cat food. Make sure you select the brands that are the most balanced and offer the most nutrients. If you feed your cats dry cat food, be sure they always have plenty of fresh, clean water to drink. (Then again, all cats should have fresh water at all times!)
“If a cat can maintain his weight, free choice feeding is okay,” says Dr. Kallfelz. Even dry food left out for your cat to free feed needs to be fresh, so be sure to provide new food each day. If free feeding doesn’t work, you need to control how much they eat. “Several small meals may make them feel less hungry,” says Dr. Kallfelz. “But one is okay nutritionally.” – Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine
When it comes to a feeding schedule, cats are like babies (but we already knew that, right?) – they need to keep a schedule as much as possible. Most cats do best when fed in the morning – then later in the evening.
If you cat seems to genuinely be hungry, however, during the middle of the day – give him or her a little to eat. After all, we’d want someone to do the same for us!