We’re Feeding Cats Wrong — Ditch the Cat Food Bowls and Change the Schedules

Feeding cats twice a day from cat food bowls alongside other pets may cause behavioral issues. Here’s a few suggestions for feeding cats differently.

A white cat waits by a food bowl.
A white cat waits by a food bowl.

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 feed cats, the right way! 

Related: Cat Won’t Eat Wet Food? Read: The Wet Cat Food Versus Dry Cat Food Debate

feeding cats
Newsflash: Feeding your cat from a traditional cat food bowl could be giving him behavior issues. Photography by yevgeniy11;dmitrij skorobogatov/Shutterstock.

1. Don’t Feed Your Cat Alongside Other Cats and Dogs

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.

2. Change How Much You Feed Your Cat — and When

“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. When we fill a bowl of highly palatable food, some cats can overindulge. That leads to what we refer to as ‘scarf and barf.’ That’s because the stomach is only the size of a Ping-Pong ball and can only hold so much food at one time.”

3. Feeding Cats From Cat Food Bowls Can Actually Cause Behavioral Issues

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.”

4. Feeding Cats Without Cat Food Bowls Taps Into Their Instincts

This concern has led her to create the NoBowl Feeding System, oval-shaped plastic molds designed to mimic the body of prey. It allows you to pour measured kibble 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. 

This piece was originally published in 2017.

Read Next: How Much Should I Feed My Cat?

434 thoughts on “We’re Feeding Cats Wrong — Ditch the Cat Food Bowls and Change the Schedules”

  1. I've known this about cats for the last 10 years. I didn't learn it on my own though. Our cat insisted we feed her about 6 meals a day where she eats about 5 bites and walks away only to bat at us to feed again a couple hours later. In between, she sleeps and sometimes she sleeps most of the day feeding only at certain times. She's 12 years old and not overweight, and she only eats Fancy Feast and a little kibble, I wish she would eat more dry food it's good for their teeth and gums. I just did a blood drawl to peek at her stats and they were all exceptional. Now, on the other hand, we have 19 other cats who don't eat like that, and they do eat kibble with one meal a day of wet food of their choice, who are all very healthy and happy together in the same household. I wish when you put a reference to a study in an article you would give a link to the study or a URL. I've found reading other articles in human medicine they always refer to studies with links. I have no idea what to look for in the Journal of Medicine and Surgery to find this study.

    1. Just a bit more about cats eating smaller or more frequent meals. This makes a lot of sense to me, and after having worked with all animals and specifically cats for so long, I can see where feeding cats multiple meals and not feeding ad lib would be a useful tool. It would make many behavior problems in cats I've seen in the past have a proper solution. The relationship cats have with humans is unique and through food or feeding the bond strengthens as the bond between the rodent/prey does with the cat. A cat in the outdoors doesn't chase rodent or bird if they aren't hungry, too much energy is expelled. Indoor cats too have a lot of urinary problems which are solved by using the smaller more frequent meals. That's been proven through studies. I just wanted to add a bit more because everyone seems to be attacking this article, but it is the truth.

  2. I agree with much of this but you lost me big time when your expert suggested kibble–they should not eat kibble at all in my opinion and certainly not as their primary food.

  3. Interesting read but i only feed my cat raw which is also added to their behavioral health due to carb diets causing diabetes, digestive disorders, carb addicition, uti's (in kibble) which causes pain amd obesity also dental health. Many of these lead to discomfort, agitation.
    The feedong devices spoke about would bw interesting but where to get them from?

  4. As a first-time owner of two kIttens, I do not know too much about cats. However, my common sense tells me that that vets wants create a domesticated animal into a wild beast when it comes to food. How about all other centuries-old-domesticated behaviors? Should we act as wild cats to interact with them?

  5. Shawn McConaghy

    Please educate yourself before trying to educate others (I can tell you’re definitely American by how far your head is up that dark, scary, and smelly place), and the fact you’re trying to force your opinions and how you live your life on others all while not having the slightest clue what your talking about. Now I am American born and raised but it’s people like you that make me ashamed to be American (there’s way too many of you Karen’s or whatever term you would like to declare for yourself as being an ignorant person that tries to impose there views on everyone. I can tell you were given too many participation trophy’s and someone gave you way too much bs encouragement into thinking your the greatest person to ever exist and the smartest person in every room (news flash you wouldn’t be the most intelligent person on the short bus and that’s with the driver not being on the bus). I would give the suggestion for you to get your head out of that dark place and stop thinking you have the right to tell anyone anything about how their living their life, but your so full of yourself I can see that’s never going to happen. How about you actually educate yourself before telling people that didn’t even ask for your help how they are doing something the incorrect way. Maybe next time try spending a couple minutes to google something instead of just talking out your @$$, here is just one reference source (there’s a lot of QUALIFIED EXPERTS saying the same thing.

    “Reputable brands such as Science Diet and Royal Canin have been quality-controlled and specially formulated to meet a cat’s nutritional requirements.”

    And before you try calling my source as bs, think again:


    1. after your article on being able to see cat at night, I have always used a glo in the dark collar and it really works, many times the cat gets up when I do at night and leads the way and i don/t have to worry about falling over her. Beverly

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