Feeding your feline optimal nutrition not only requires an understanding of your cat’s unique nutritional needs, but also of their feeding behavior. In fact, understanding the nuances of feline feeding behavior can help combat one of the most common feeding disorders in cats: obesity.
Domestic cats share many of the same feeding behaviors with their wild cousins. Cats are first and foremost predators, and their predatory behavior is so well-developed that a cat will actually stop eating to make a hunt. This strategy has evolved in the wild to maximize food availability (if you see a mouse, catch it!). Domesticated cats also have this hunting reflex, and sometimes pet parents confuse feline hunting behavior with hunger, when actually, it is their predatory instinct.
Did you know that in the wild, cats eat 10-20 small meals throughout the day and night? It’s true! 40% or more of the diet of feral domestic cats consists of small rodents, but the typical mouse, however, provides a tiny amount of the daily energy requirement of an adult cat. In order to get enough calories, a cat must keep hunting throughout the day and night. Generally speaking, domesticated cats also have the same behavior, ‘snacking’ throughout the day on their kibble and canned food. The difference, however, is that cat food packs a lot of calories and many indoor kitties are couch potatoes, which is why a large percentage of the indoor cat population in Canada suffers from obesity.
Obesity in cats, a major concern that affects overall health, is a direct reflection of the lifestyle of modern cats. In less than 5 generations, cats have gone from predators that spend most of their time outdoors hunting small prey to feeding on freely available food and lounging around indoors. Free of the dangers of trauma and infectious disease, indoor kitties live longer and enjoy closer bonds with their owners, but at the same time there is a disturbing upward trend of obesity in household felines, as well as disorders associated with obesity, including arthritis and diabetes.
Adding some changes to how you feed your indoor cat is important to combat obesity and boredom in the inside-only feline. Unless your cat is extremely skilled at regulating his calories, the amount of food for the day should be measured out to prevent overeating. Do not ‘feed the empty bowl’. A suggested daily amount is ~200kcals which is a ½ cup of dry kibble or less.
It’s important to note that neutered and sedentary cats have a lower energy requirement that outdoor hunters or extremely active kitties, and food intake needs to be adjusted according to a cat’s activity level to maintain an optimal body condition. Remember - a cat is at a good weight when you can feel ribs, but not see them. Talk with your veterinarian about how best to approach weight management.
Feeding your cat in a manner that mimics hunting brings many benefits. It will increase exercise in your cat, decrease boredom and help trim fat and build muscle. Try these suggestions from the American Association of Feline Practitioners:
Feed your cat his measured amount of kibble for the day via a puzzle feeder or food ball that dispenses food as the cat rolls it around.
Hide food around the house in creative spots for your feline to ‘hunt’.
Toss kibble for your cat to chase after, just like would chase after prey.
If you feed treats, make sure the calories for those treats are counted in the total daily ration for your cat.
Involve all the members of your family in helping to prevent obesity in your cats - so that duplicated feeding or treats does not occur.
If your kitty stares at you with longing eyes during meal time, then feed the largest meal during that time to prevent begging.
If you kitty pounces on you at night demanding to be fed, then feed the largest meal right before bed time.