Choosing the Best Feeding Method for Your Cat: Meal Feeding vs. Free Feeding Cats, What’s Best?
Age Makes a Difference
Kittens require more food per pound of body weight to support their growth than do adult cats, and therefore should be fed more often throughout the day. Growing kittens up to six months of age may require three meals a day. From age six months to maturity, most cats will do well when fed two times a day.
Once the cat becomes an adult, at about one year, feeding once or twice a day is appropriate in most cases. Senior cats, age seven and above, should maintain the same feeding regimen.
Free feeding is when you fill a food bowl and leave it out for your cat, allowing him to eat as much as he chooses when he chooses to. This method works best with dry foods, since they do not spoil as quickly as wet foods.
One of the obvious advantages of free choice feeding is that you do not have to worry about making it home in time for meal-time, an especial challenge for people with very busy schedules or who are confined to the vagaries of commuter traffic.
Leaving food in a bowl throughout the day could also serve multiple pets’ needs, since they would be able to eat from the same bowl whenever they choose to or when it is their turn.
- In multiple cat homes, one cat might be excessively dominant and hoard and bully over the bowl, not allowing the others to have a turn.
- Free feeding cats can lead to overeating and obesity, especially if the amount of food is not limited. Some breeds of cats are particularly known for eating well beyond the feeling of fullness.
- It can also be difficult to tell if your cat’s appetite has changed, for the better or worse.
Scheduled, Portion Controlled Feeding
If you have a predictable enough schedule that you can depend on being home at meal time, the scheduled feeding method works well and is the healthier method, since it limits the amount of food your cat is taking in at each meal.
There are variations on this method:
- You might fill the bowl with food and take it away after a reasonable time has passed, allowing the cat to eat her fill. Ten to twenty minutes is generally enough time.
- Or, you may choose to measure out a portion of food at each meal time and then leave it for the cat to eat at her own pace.
- It almost goes without saying that pets that have been placed on a prescription or weight control diet need to be fed controlled portions. This method also works well for cats that need to be given medications mixed with their foods.
- For other considerations, such as illness, medical conditions that might make feeding time a struggle, or weight loss that needs to be regained, measured and scheduled feeding times can allow you the opportunity to monitor your pet, making sure that she is eating all of her food.
- With scheduled meal times, you can also use this time of day to bond with your pet.
You will need to feed your cat multiple times during the day. This can be especially challenging when caring for kittens, which even under normal circumstances need to eat smaller and more frequent meals than adult cats.
Weigh Your Options
If you cannot decide which method will work best for you and your cat, talk to your veterinarian for suggestions. There may be age, health and breed considerations that you need to consider.