Free feeding cats is a very common practice in many households, but just because it is common does not mean it is the best option.
Indoor Cats are typically not Highly Active
Typical indoor cats are not considered “highly active,” rather they are more often a moderate or low activity level. Living indoors simply does not provide the space or stimulation that cats are adapted to. In an environment that lacks stimulation, cats will often eat when there is nothing else to occupy them. Free feeding makes it easy for indoor cats to consume more calories than they are expending, leading to weight gain and possible obesity.
Cats are not natural Grazers
When food is always available, you may see your cat eating at a variety of times throughout the day. Although it seems like your cat is grazing all day, picking out just a few kibbles here and there, in reality they are eating meals. Having a full bowl of food available 24 hours a day allows cats to eat many full meals in a day, often more meals than they should based on their energy expenditure.
Food Intake is an important Indicator of Health
Cats are very stoic and often do not present signs of illness that are obvious to us. A loss of appetite or reduced food intake can be a helpful early indicator of disease. Early detection of illness increases the chance of successful treatment. When cats are free-fed, it can be difficult to see when consumption has declined.
Cats prefer Fresh Food
When we set food out in a bowl, the oxygen in the air begins to degrade (oxidize) the fat in the diet. Cats are very sensitive to oxidized fat; even a slight breakdown in the structures decreases palatability, leading to a less enjoyable eating experience for cats.
Weight management relies on proper Measurement
When free fed cats begin to gain excess weight, creating a weight loss plan can be tough because it is difficult to know how many calories the cat has been consuming each day making it a challenge to restrict calories. When weight management diets (lower calorie diets) are free fed, cats will typically consume a higher volume of food, resulting in minimal, if any, calorie reduction.
Tips for transitioning to Meal Feeding
When cats are accustomed to having food always available, they end up on their own schedule which might not align with yours.
Measure out half of the day’s food and set it out in the morning, allowing the cat to eat on their own schedule. In the evening, serve the other half of the day’s food.
Adding canned food to the meal can encourage consumption right away and your cat will get use to the new schedule.
Engaging in play stimulates feline appetite, so spend some time interacting with your cat prior to meal time.
Meal feeding promotes Health
Feeding meals instead of free feeding can increase your cat’s health and prevent things such as obesity, which is a precursor for many feline diseases. Feed your cat fresh, appropriately sized meals to enhance their enjoyment and health.
Cats are fascinating animals. They are fun, loving and intuitive, but they can also be temperamental and unpredictable.
A bored cat may become destructive and aggressive, and result in excessive grooming or inappropriate litter box use, ie. urinate in other areas of your home.
Caring for a cat is a big responsibility as it’s difficult to keep them healthy in the same manner as dogs, who head outside for walks every day. Many pet parents keep their cats indoors for safety reasons (it helps to reduce death, injury and disease), which can pose other health risks for them if they’re not receiving enough physical and mental stimulation.
Cats need more than just the basic – food, water, litter pan. While your cat may do a great deal of sleeping it`s critical that you provide regular mental stimulation and exercise, which will enhance their living environment and help them live a happy and healthy life.
The onus is on you, and/or other members of your family, to help indoor cats keep their minds alert and sharp. Failure to do so may cause your cat physical and emotional stress which in turn can lead to physical health issues.
Keep your cat active by creating a stimulating environment with these tips below:
And finally, the greatest stimulation that you can provide your cat is simply spending time with them each and every day. This special time will improve your cat’s quality of life. Research shows that spending 30 minutes of quality time with a cat can calm your nerves and boost your mood. Time spent with a cat can increase your body’s production of serotonin, a chemical that boosts feelings of well-being, and decrease your cortisol levels. Like high pressure, cortisol is caused by stress which may lead to high cholesterol and hypertension. Not only will the quality time spent with your cat keep you healthier, but your cat will benefit greatly from the time spent with you too!