In addition to my two dogs, I also have three cats. They range in age from 12 to 2. Calvie is the oldest and the matriarch. Next is Mike Moo, age 9, and the youngest is Farnsworth who is 2. All live indoors and eat out of the same constantly filled bowl. Yet, it seems, I've been feeding my cats wrong for years.
That's according to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AFFP). The organization released a consensus statement in late October 2018, that was published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery that addresses feline needs and health care when it comes to feeding.
According to the report, most indoor cats depend on their human to feed them and they're fed "ad libitum" — meaning they eat what they want, when they want. More specifically, most cats have a bowl of food left out for them that's constantly filled. As a result, the cats eat small meals many times a day, without consideration of each cat's individual energy requirements.
This practice, it seems, goes against cat evolution and could have negative health consequences. You see, cats are hunters and foragers, and feeding them in this way gives no "environmental stimulation." The AFFP warns that it also allows cats to become sedentary and fat, since eating itself becomes an activity. When that happens, all sorts of problems can bubble to the surface, including anxiety, stress and other health problems.
On the other hand, in a multi-cat household, some cats may not get enough food because their brothers and sisters are monopolizing the dinner dish. "In these homes, cats may be restricted or self-restrict to certain areas or rooms because of their social relationships, personalities and genetics," the statement says. "Some cats go into all rooms and others have rather small spaces in which they feel comfortable and safe."
So how should you feed your cats if you're not supposed to just fill the bowl and leave it for them? The AFFP suggests feeding them in a more natural way. Try using a puzzle feeder, or leaving bowls of food in new and different locations around the house to sate their desires to forage. It's also a good way to encourage them to exercise.
The AAFP recommends giving cats small amounts of food several times a day rather than leaving large amounts of food for them to graze. Cats in multi-cat households should also be fed alone, which will help reduce anxiety and associated health problems. And keep those feeding stations away from the litter box. You wouldn't want to eat where you relieve yourself would you?
So, here's what you should do, according to the AAFP. Set a clear goal, such as "Mike Moo needs to lose weight," or "I want to make sure my cats are getting the proper nutrition." Then talk to your vet to figure out the best way of accomplishing these tasks.