How to Feed Your Cat in a More Natural Way
Imagine a cat in the wild. She spends the majority of her waking hours thinking about and hunting for food. A cat needs to eat a mouse-sized meal six to ten times per day to meet her caloric needs, and since some of those meals will escape her clutches, she will need to locate and attempt to catch many more than ten mice in a 24-hour period.
All of this strategizing, stalking and, of course, the actual kill, takes quite a lot of mental focus and burns a lot of calories. Comparatively, our indoor cats typically do very little thinking about what they are eating. For many cats, their food bowl is always in the same place and always full.
A common misconception about how cats eat is that they are good at self-regulating their food intake, but for many cats, this is not true at all. In the wild, because cats have to work for their meals, they are hardwired to eat food whenever they find it. If food is always available, some cats have a tendency to gorge their food until they are overfull, which could result in them vomiting up their meals, or lead to obesity. Cats also snack out of boredom - so you have a bored cat who is not using calories to hunt, eating food it does not need just because it's there.
Luckily, the understanding of how a feline is supposed to eat is growing. Not only is it known that cats are better off eating small, portioned meals throughout the day, but there are all sorts of smart products and ideas springing up about how to meet the biological hunting need. Food puzzles and hunting feeders not only help to spread out the portions, but they engage the cat's brain in the drive to find food. They also slow down the cat's eating and prevent gorging. This mental and physical stimulation is good for the physical fitness of your cat, and also helps to avoid behavior problems that are associated with boredom.
What you feed your cat is an equally important factor in creating a satisfying feeding routine for your cat. Cats are obligate carnivores, which means that they must eat meat. Their cat food should be made from good quality protein, and low in carbohydrates. At least some of their food should come from canned or fresh food, because it is a more natural way for them to absorb nutrients and fluids. Both dry and wet food should be portioned and served in small meals throughout the day. There are puzzle feeders on the market for both wet and dry foods, and there are multiple diy videos on YouTube, so there is an option for any budget. All you need is a little creativity - remember to change up the routine now and then to keep things fresh and interesting for your cat.
When you are considering changing up the way you are feeding your cat, it is a good idea to begin by talking with your veterinarian. In our case, the journey to finding what works for our cats and their personalities led to a morning and evening "hunt" with Doc and Phoebe's indoor hunting feeders, hidden in different places through the house, using their dry food, in combination with an afternoon serving of wet food, served in their dishes. The hunting feeders not only help them scratch that predatory itch, they also allow the cats to eat in solitude if desired - which can be quite important for cats. It's not technically natural for a cat to eat alongside other cats, and can cause some cats to feel threatened and hoard food. For our cats, we have found that even the afternoon meal is best served on opposite sides of the room. The next step will be to incorporate a puzzle feeder for wet food into this routine.
Baby steps are best when you are making changes to your cat's feeding routine, to give time for adjustment and for you to gauge how the changes mesh with your cat's personality. With a little bit of creativity, we know your cat will enjoy the satisfaction of feeling more like a cat in the way that they eat.