The specific dietary needs of the cat are now known and foods have been developed that provide adequate nutrition for all stages of its life, as well as for many feline medical conditions.
However, no importance has been given to how satisfying the cat’s natural feeding behaviors and environmental needs can achieve its physical and emotional well-being. We have a lot of information about what to feed cats, but little information about managing the feeding process to improve the quality of life of this species and the ability to cope with the lifestyle we have chosen for it.
As a consequence of this concern, the American Association of Feline Veterinarians (AAFP), developed by consensus the “Feline feeding programs: addressing behavioral needs to improve the health and well-being of felines”, where it studies medical, social and emotional issues that can arise from the way most cats are currently fed.
Below I show you the guidelines provided by this program to know how to feed your cat.
You may also be interested in reading this article on feline feeding.
- Feline natural feeding behavior
- Lifestyle impact on cats
- The indoor cat
- The cat that goes out into the street
- The multi-cat house
- Problems that current eating methods can cause
- Problems related to obesity
- Stress-related problems
- Solutions: how to develop proper feeding methods
- The food puzzles
- Frequent meals and proper nutrition
- Containers in separate areas for multi-cat households
Feline natural feeding behavior
All felines eat meat, are strict carnivores, and therefore have a strong hunting instinct .
Cats are solitary predators that consume small prey and prefer to eat often and alone. Their prey provides them with few calories, so they need several prey per day to satisfy their basic nutritional needs. This is a lot of energy expenditure.
Therefore, since they spend their time eating, they can eat several times a day without the risk of gaining weight. Also, hunting allows them stimulation not only physically but also mentally .
Lifestyle impact on cats
1. The indoor cat
Most domestic cats live indoors, this lifestyle avoids normal behaviors such as hunting and foraging , which negatively affects the well-being of a cat. In fact, behavioral problems are known to be more common in cats that do not have access to the outdoors.
Most indoor cats need humans to rely on humans for their food supply. They are often fed with other cats at the same site and given relatively large volumes of food once or twice a day or at will, regardless of the individual energy requirements of each cat.
2. The cat that goes out into the street
Cats with access to the outdoors generally feed similarly to indoor cats, eating readily available, very tasty food, often very quickly, and have little need to search for food.
3. The multi-cat house
In households with several cats, they do not usually share the space of the home equally. In these homes, cats may be restricted or self-limited to certain areas or rooms due to their social relationships, personalities, and genetics. Some cats enter all rooms and others have rather small spaces in which they feel comfortable and safe.
As mentioned, cats naturally prefer to eat small, small meals alone, so competition for food can cause conflict and pre-feeding aggression. An important point to keep in mind is that cats may not show obvious signs of tension or stress, and therefore are often not recognized by their owners.
Problems that current eating methods can cause
1. Problems related to obesity
- The practice of feeding one or two large meals from a single container does not address the domestic cat’s need to eat alone and eat several small meals a day. This form of eating can lead to inactivity and even distress, often leading to overconsumption and obesity.
- Pet food is very appetizing and easy to eat quickly, due to its small pieces. These factors can contribute to overeating and weight gain.
- If a cat is bored and has little to do, eating itself can become an activity, even in cats with access to the outdoors, leading to excessive calorie consumption and obesity.
2. Stress-related problems
- Stress-related unsuccessful cat relationship behaviors, especially in multi-cat households, such as long intervals between litter box uses, can lead to or aggravate conditions such as cystitis.
- In an attempt to avoid an unpleasant encounter with another pet or even a family member, a cat may develop a habit of gobbling up food, with subsequent vomiting, to quickly return to hiding in a safe place.
- There are cats that can have an inadequate nutritional diet due to lack of access to food.
Solutions: how to develop proper feeding methods
The goal of a feeding program should be to mimic the cat’s natural feeding behavior . Simulation of normal feeding behavior in cats decreases impulsive need to eat, feline frustration, and conflict between cats. It also helps reduce resignation and improves the bond between cats and their owners.
You can follow the following recommendations when feeding your cat:
1. The food puzzles
They are toys that stimulate foraging ( treat dispensers or special feeders), to motivate cats to search for food. The basic principle is to use your daily food or special treats to fill the toys. The cat gradually learns to manipulate the toy so that food comes out. You can use static feeders with mazes or others that move and add the movement factor and can be designed for dry or wet food.
Using puzzle feeders and hiding kibbles at home increases activity, provides physical and mental stimulation, and improves weight control. Some models require more effort than others on the part of the cat to obtain food, either by manipulating the feeder or by using its legs or tongue to reach the food. Usually simple and easily manageable puzzle feeders should be introduced first.
Cat owners can also make our own puzzles, poking holes in things like yogurt cups, toilet paper rolls, egg cartons, or water bottles.
2. Frequent meals and proper nutrition
The cat’s daily food allowance should be spread over several small meals and 24 hours a day , using puzzle feeders when possible. The automatic feeders can also be useful, although they tend not to encourage foraging and predation. You must make sure that your cat is eating an adequate amount and that the placement of the food is such that the cat can obtain it. Weight and body condition should be monitored regularly, especially in cats that are elderly or debilitated, or that have chronic diseases or particular needs.
Your vet will advise you on the calories your cat should consume on a daily basis and determine the best way to set food portions, either using a digital kitchen scale or a measuring cup.
3. Containers in separate areas for multi-cat households
Although cats are used to eating together, it does not hurt to place separate feeding areas. Forcing a cat to eat near another cat that it might otherwise want to avoid will create anxiety, stress, and health problems.
Therefore, the first task is to know the behavior of the cats to know where to place the feeding and water containers. These questions must be answered by the owner: What cats spend time together? What cats are avoided? Where does each cat spend its time?
L os meal plans should include multiple feeding stations that are visually separated. The location of the feeding station must consider each cat’s agility and dietary needs. Meals can be offered through automatic feeders . Also, feeding stations should not be near litter boxes.
- The important thing is not only what kind of food to give our cats, but also how to feed.
- Do not forget the predatory, foraging and playing behaviors of the cat when providing its food.
- In multi-cat households, offering separate feeding stations with adequate distance and visual separation between them, and taking advantage of the raised space, can reduce stress and health problems.
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