Surprisingly, how you feed your cat may be just as important as what you feed him in terms of his overall health and behavior. And, a revolution is underway led by leading veterinarians to feeding your cat’s innate needs by losing the cat food bowls and forgoing a twice-a-day meal serving schedule. Below, we review just some of the mistakes we make when feeding cats — and how to easily fix them!
You may unintentionally be depriving your cat of being his true self by plopping down a bowl filled with kibble in the morning and at night. Lining up a row of bowls for your three or more cats may be causing more harm than realized. Same goes for feeding your cat with your dogs.
“Although your cat may coexist beautifully in your home with your other cats and your dogs, eating for a cat is a vulnerable time,” said Elizabeth Bales, VMD, a veterinarian at the Red Lion Veterinary Hospital in New Castle, Delaware. “Keep in mind that cats are solitary hunters and predators. They want to hunt and eat alone. They are also prey and do their best to hide any signs of stress or weakness.”
Veterinarians are seeing the impact environmental stress plays on a cat’s health. A stressed cat is at risk for obesity, “scarf and barf” incidents, skin diseases and urinary tract infections.
“Cats need small, frequent portion-controlled meals each day, and they need to interact with their ‘prey,’” she said. “It is normal cat behavior to take one to three bites equaling about 30 calories and walking away. It is a misconception that this is being finicky. And, when we fill a bowl of highly palatable food, some cats can overindulge and that leads to what we refer to as ‘scarf and barf’ because the stomach is only the size of a Ping-Pong ball and can only hold so much food at one time.”
Dr. Bales would come out of feline lectures at veterinary conferences armed with information on the link between feeding and behavior/medical issues. Like her peers, she felt frustrated as to how to use that knowledge to better the lives of indoor cats.
“The No. 1 cause of death in cats is euthanasia, and the No. 1 cause of euthanasia is cats being surrendered to shelters, predominately because of behavior problems,” she said. “We now know about the need for environmental enrichment, and giving cats back their natural feeding behaviors in the home is a great start.”
Dr. Bales is a key player in the growing “catvocate” movement committed to providing safe, healthy and engaging lives for indoor cats. She is educating pet parents, shelter groups and pet professionals about supporting a cat’s “seeking circuit” mentality to hunt for food, play with the food, “kill” it and then eat it. During this circuit, the brain releases dopamine, which heightens a cat’s arousal and triggers a feeling of happy anticipation rewarded by finding and eating the found food.
She points to a recent Norwegian study published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery that concluded that cats want to be in charge of their feeding schedule.
“Cats spend 60 to 80 percent of their waking hours looking for prey,” she said. “We are depriving our indoor cats of their innate need to hunt and catch their prey by feeding them in bowls.”
This concern has led her to create the NoBowl Feeding System, oval-shaped plastic molds designed to mimic the body of prey. Measured kibble can be poured into two openings. These molds are fitted in outer cloth wraps to stimulate the tactile feel of prey for a cat to grab, claw and use his teeth on.
“This is not my science. This is my solution,” said Dr. Bales, who relied on a highly successful Kickstarter campaign to create and launch her product late last year.
Start by placing these kibble-filled faux mice on a floor in a closed room. Once your cat discovers how to swat or bite to get the kibble, gradually increase the challenge by hiding these easy-to-clean NoBowls for him to find. Dr. Bales’ cat, Carlos, can now find the faux mouse inside a hidden shoebox with a lid.
Tell us: Do you use cat food bowls to feed your cat? What do you feed your cat and how often?
This piece was originally published in 2017.
Arden Moore is a pet behavior consultant, author and master pet first aid instructor who often teaches hands-on classes with her cool cat, Casey and very tolerant dog, Kona. Each week, she hosts the Oh Behave Show on Pet Life Radio. Learn more at four leggedlife.com and follow Arden on Facebook and on Twitter at @ArdenKnowsPets.