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Free or Scheduled Feedings for Companion Cats?

Free feeding is putting out a cat food bowl, leaving it out until your companion cat finishes the food and then topping it off. Scheduled feeding is giving your companion cat a portion of his recommended daily food allotment at set times of the day and then taking it away whether or not it is finished. 

What does Hemopet prefer? Hands down we prefer scheduled feedings. 

If you just sighed at the prospect, we get it. Cats have minds of their own. However, there are several reasons why you should schedule feedings for your companion cat and it is easier than you think to switch to scheduled feedings. Don’t worry, we also give you tips here to make the transition.

Why You Should Feed Your Cat on a Schedule

#1. Let’s remember that cats are inherently more feral than dogs. So, we should look at what their feline relatives do in the wild. Outdoor cats are hunting and eat several small meals per day. Indoors, what we consider “playing” is actually a cat’s version of hunting. Which brings us to our next point…

#2. If a cat is allowed to graze as occurs with free feeding, he typically will not play. Without play time, he will more than likely become obese because he has no reason to hunt. 

#3. Further, companion cats with chronic (constant) pancreatitis or irritable bowel disease need to be fed on a schedule. Additionally, scheduled feedings reduce the potential for acute (sudden) pancreatitis that can lead to chronic pancreatitis.

#4. For health again, the majority of veterinarians recommend feeding wet cat food such as canned or raw. We do too. Wet cat food significantly reduces the chances of urinary tract infections (UTI) and kidney failure in cats. In fact, one of the top reasons why cats go to the vet is for a UTI. In the wild, cats get the majority of their hydration through food. 

#5. Also, leaving wet cat food out for longer than 15-20 minutes will cause it to spoil. Kibble is susceptible to storage mites. Not only are both bad for the cat, it also doesn’t do any favors for your pocketbook. Plus, leaving out any kind of pet food invites rodents and crawling toddlers. 

#6. Are you noticing peeing and pooping outside the litter box even after you’ve changed it? Scheduled feedings allow you to control the litter box.

#7. In multi-cat households, one cat may dominate the food bowl leaving another cat undernourished or even starving. So, a schedule allows you to observe and curtail a dominant cat’s behavior. 

Now that we have discussed some of the reasons to schedule your cat’s feeding, are you wondering how to do it? That’s next.

Switching Your Companion Cat to Scheduled Feedings

Switching your companion cat to scheduled feedings is easier than you think. Does your cat meow and herd you at certain times of the day to fill their bowl? Do they wake you up to fill the bowl or is the food bowl empty when you get home? See, they are already on a schedule. You are halfway there. 

#1. Talk to your veterinarian about how much food your cat should eat during the day. If anything, look at the label on the can or bag to find out how much is recommended daily by weight from the manufacturer. Then divide it into 2-4 meals per day.

#2. Optimally, it should be four meals per day. However, we get it if your schedule does not allow for it. So, you can feed one meal in the morning, one at dinnertime, and the last before bedtime. Many veterinarians say you can also try an automatic feeder. While the concept is great, there are concerns about food spoilage if you are not home. If you choose to purchase one, we wouldn’t do it until you know for sure how much you need to have the machine dispense. 

#3. Pick up the food bowl no matter how much food is left after 15-20 minutes. Again, we do not want the food to spoil. You can refrigerate the unused portion and use it for one more meal. We would suggest warming it up as cats prefer warm food. (Think of a fresh kill. We know, gross. But, cats are hunters.) In any event, it will also help you determine if you are feeding too much or just the right amount during the day. Cats that are used to grazing may vomit stomach acid between feedings. To avoid this fate, you can feed more small meals of the daily recommended amount, give small treats, or try some (1 teaspoon) unsweetened applesauce about 30 mins before meals. 

Is it work? Yes. Can transitioning cats to scheduled feedings be harder than dogs? Yes. Remember, they are your companions and family members; and it is better for their health. Period. 

References

Brown, Jackie. Is Free Feeding Cats the Best Way to Feed Your Cat? Catster, 13 Nov. 2017, https://www.catster.com/cat-food/is-free-feeding-cats-the-best-way-to-feed-your-cat.  

Galaxy, Jackson. You’re Feeding Your Cat All Wrong! Jackson Galaxy, 24 Mar. 2014, https://www.jacksongalaxy.com/blog/youre-feeding-your-cat-all-wrong-e49123/.  

How Often Should You Feed Your Cat? Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 10 Feb. 2020, https://bit.ly/3x7PmdZ.  

How to Transition to Timed Meals from Free-Feeding. Food Fur Life, https://www.foodfurlife.com/transition-to-timed-meals.html#/

Llera, Ryan, and Robin Downing. Feeding Times and Frequency for Your Cat. VCA, https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/feeding-times-and-frequency-for-cats.  

Munkevica, Signe, and Maris Munkevics. 6 Reasons Why You Should Stop Free Feeding Your Cat. Pet Happy LLC, 24 Feb. 2014, https://pet-happy.com/6-reasons-why-you-should-stop-free-feeding-your-cat/

Munkevica, Signe, and Maris Munkevics. How to Start Scheduling Your Cat’s Meals? Pet Happy LLC., 7 Mar. 2014, https://pet-happy.com/how-to-start-scheduling-your-cats-meals/

Syufy, Franny. How Long to Safely Leave Canned Cat Food Out? The Spruce Pets, 2 July 2021, https://www.thesprucepets.com/canned-cat-food-safety-554408.     

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