I often talk to owners about the benefits of feeding cats multiple small meals throughout the day, an arrangement that most closely mirrors what nature intended and can help prevent diseases like obesity and diabetes mellitus. This is easier said than done, however. Most of us are busy enough that playing waiter to our cats every few hours is not practical. Here are a few tips for making frequent, small feline meals convenient for everyone involved.
Consider purchasing a timed feeder. Get one that allows you to schedule multiple meals throughout the day. Divvy up your cat’s total daily ration between each of the sections and let her rip. This option works really well for single cat households or when multiple cats have defined spaces where they go to eat. Feeders like these are also a godsend for the owners of cats who tend to want to eat in the wee hours of the morning.
Another option is to free feed, but place food bowls in an out of the way part of the home, ideally in an area that forces cats to climb stairs or otherwise exercise when travelling to and from their meals. When you think about it, this type of set up imitates a cat having to hunt for her food. She gets hungry, chases down a mouse (or climbs the stairs to her bowl), eats, and then finds a safe place to rest and digest until her next meal. This option works best for cats that are not gluttons and want to spend their free time someplace other than where their food bowl is located.
This is how I’ve fed most of my cats and it has worked well in all but one case. My cat Keelor was food motivated and not very active. He was perfectly happy to eat and then saunter just a few steps away and rest, even if it meant hanging out in the basement by himself. As a result he was a few pounds overweight his whole life. All of my other cats preferred to climb the stairs after meals to be with the rest of the family or sleep in a sunny spot on the couch. They maintained their weights within appropriate ranges despite being free fed.
If your home doesn’t allow you to place food in an out of the way location and a timed feeder isn’t an option, figure out another way to feed small amounts frequently and promote exercise in your cats. Offer at least three meals per day (before work, after work, and before bed). Four to six meals are even better. Make use of a cat’s natural hunting instincts by encouraging her to play with a kitty fishing pole, laser pointer, or other chase and pounce type toy.
The time you spend feeding small, frequent meals and promoting exercise for your cats will be rewarded with better feline health and fewer trips to the veterinary clinic.
Dr. Jennifer Coates