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Will a Cat Overeat If They Get Excess Food? Vet-Approved Facts & Feeding Tips

Written by: Christian Adams

Last Updated on June 6, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

brown white cat eating from feeding table

Will a Cat Overeat If They Get Excess Food? Vet-Approved Facts & Feeding Tips

VET APPROVED

Dr. Luqman Javed Photo

REVIEWED & FACT-CHECKED BY

Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

Cat owners who spend time away from their pets often worry about their pets going hungry. To ensure that their pet is never too far from a meal, they often leave food out for them to freely snack on during their absence.

Unfortunately, free feeding or overfeeding cats can be a problem. Will a cat overeat if they get excess food? Yes, almost all cats will overeat if they get excess food, and it’s more difficult to moderate your cat’s intake with free feeding or overfeeding.

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The Downsides of Free Feeding and Overfeeding

Many cat owners approach mealtime with a bowl that’s filled and left out for the cat, allowing them to eat as much as they want, whenever they want. This is typically done with dry food, since that’s less likely to spoil than wet food.

Similarly, owners may overfill a bowl and let their cat eat it all before picking it up, giving the cat a larger portion than they should have. This is not exactly “free-choice” feeding, but it can have the same result.

These feeding styles are largely about convenience. Owners do not need to worry about being home at a certain time to feed their cats, and it’s more convenient to feed a multi-cat household this way.

Unfortunately, cats are not the best when it comes to regulating their intake. Most cats will overindulge if they’re given the option. This behavior is largely instinctive; as hunters, cats don’t necessarily know when they will eat next and therefore, if they ever get access to an extra meal, they’ll readily gorge. Their primordial pouch is thought to help with this gorging, as its ability to stretch means a cat can eat much more in a single sitting. However, this behavior can also stem from boredom – if your cat has nothing to do all day, they may just spend their time eating food.

In multi-cat households, feeding free choice, even with multiple bowls, may allow one cat to hoard food. One cat can become obese while the others are denied nutrition, and conflict can occur over the food.

Free choice feeding or overfeeding makes it more difficult to monitor your cat’s intake. This not only makes it challenging to help an overweight cat, but your cat’s intake is also important information if they get sick. You can’t tell if your cat is eating more or less if you’re not monitoring their food in the first place, and this information can be valuable if your cat develops a health issue.

In a multi-cat household, these issues are amplified. You can’t properly control portions to address over- or underweight cats if everyone is eating from different free-choice bowls. It’s also challenging to determine if one or more cats have a change in eating habits in response to a health problem.

fat cat
Image Credit: Andreas Almstedt, Pixabay

What’s the Best Way to Feed Cats?

Free feeding is generally not advised for cats, because it can easily spiral into an overfed and overweight feline. Scheduled, portion-controlled feeding is the ideal way to feed your cats. If your schedule allows, feeding cats two or three times a day helps you determine the amount that your cat eats at each meal and helps you carefully control the portions to manage their weight.

With scheduled, portion-controlled feedings, it’s best to measure the portions following the food’s guidelines for your cat’s weight, breed, health status, activity level, sex, neuter status, and life stage. Then, you have a baseline to adjust if your cat needs to eat more or less. It is best to ask your veterinarian for more information on determining the correct amount to feed your cat. Be mindful of the additional calories your cat gets from their treats.

Cats that are on a prescription or weight management diet should always get controlled portions without exception. This is also important for cats that receive medication with their food (if the medication is prescribed in such a way).

Kittens are still growing and may need smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. A recently weaned kitten, approximately 8-9 weeks of age, needs to be fed up to 8 small meals per day. This amount can be gradually reduced (as portion sizes increase) as your kitten slowly matures. This can be challenging if you have a busy schedule, but it sets a standard for your cat to get used to a regular feeding schedule.

If keeping up with a feeding schedule is challenging, consider an automatic food bowl that feeds your cat at specific times, or arrange for someone to come over and feed your cats when you are unable to be there.cat paw divider

Conclusion

Free feeding may be convenient, but it has several disadvantages that can impact your cat’s health. If your cat is overweight and tends to overindulge, switching to scheduled feedings with portion control is the best way to manage their weight and promote better health.


Featured Image Credit: Princess_Anmitsu, Shutterstock

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