Reposted from http://www.petsadviser.com/food/free-feeding-cats/.
I brought Cheshire and Dervie in for their checkups the other day. The brothers are big boys. For the past year, I’ve been trying to get their weight down by putting less food out.
Alas, both boys had gained weight. Apparently, portion control doesn’t work for cats. Cheshire, our former runt, had morphed into a striped barrel with short legs, and we couldn’t figure out how it had happened.
My veterinarian could. Cheshire was a grazer, he said.
The Lowdown on Grazing
For cats, grazing is basically nibbling at their food off and on all day. It’s not exactly normal to them.
“The types of animals that graze are herbivores: goats, cows, horses, sheep and so on,” remarks writer JaneA Kelley. “They graze because their bodies are built to chew, digest, regurgitate, chew again and digest again…. Cats, on the other hand, are carnivores. Their stomachs are not designed for grazing.”
At first, free feeding — another term for grazing — seems like the best answer. If you work all day or have to be away for any length of time, there’s an ever-ready bowl of dry food available, and your feline will be fine until you get home.
It also makes life a little easier in a household with more than one cat. Most of my pet-sitting clients have more than one cat. Some of the cats get canned food, some of them don’t, but all of them have some kibble nearby. At one home, each of the five cats has her own bowl of dry food.
The problem with free feeding, explains Dr. Thomas Morganti, DVM, of the Avon Veterinary Clinic in Connecticut, is that every time your cat goes for that kibble, there’s an insulin spike. The pancreas can’t handle the long-term overload, and eventually you’re looking at a cat with diabetes.
Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, has explained here at Pets Adviser that offering all-day dry food is especially problematic: “Cats conditioned to the never-ending dry buffet are at risk for developing obesity, urinary problems and kidney failure, to name just a few of the top feline health risks of a dry food diet. It would be like a human moving his recliner to a Las Vegas buffet.”
That said, it really doesn’t matter what you feed your buddy: It’s the frequent feeding, not the type of food, that appears to be the problem.
This video from Jackson Galaxy helps explain the differences in feeding for cats:
Meal feeding is the solution, says the Cat Hospital of Chicago. “Start by picking up the food when you leave for the day,” the hospital advises, “and putting it down when you return. The cat(s) start to realize that the food will not always be available.”
With meal feeding, each cat receives “a measured portion of food, usually two or more times a day. He or she eats the food immediately in a meal fashion, as opposed to grazing on food all day. Each cat has his or her own dish, and sometimes his or her own eating area.”
A Counter Story
In February 2014, UPI published an article that seemed to contradict all this. “Fat cats can slim by ‘grazing’ their kibble all day,” claimed the headline.
At the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Science (ACES), researcher Kelly Swanson and his assistants found that upping “the frequency of meals fed per day, as well as offering meals that contained added dietary water, promoted more physical activity among cats.”
The felines in the four study groups all received the same amount of food; the only variable was thenumber of meals. Activity apparently increased two hours before each meal. “If they know they are going to get fed, that’s when they are really active, if they can anticipate it,” Swanson commented.
The point is, the cats were getting meals. Grazing had nothing to do with it. So, the headline turned out to be totally misleading.
- Put your cat’s dry food in “a rolling puzzle ball so he has to work for his meals,” says Kelley. “But just don’t load up a huge bowl of kibble and go about your merry way.”
- Play with your cat. He’ll get a light workout, and you’ll have some quality bonding time.
- No “extreme” diets. News flash: They don’t work for anybody. In fact, they can “produce serious abnormalities that may jeopardize the cat’s life,” according to The Cornell Book of Cats.
I’m taking a moderate approach. The food bowls go down early in the morning and stay down for a few hours; they reappear in the late afternoon, then disappear at bedtime.
Cheshire’s still looking anxious, but I assure him it’s worth it. Stay tuned for the before and after pictures.
Do you let your cat graze all day? In the comments below, tell us if you plan to change your cat’s feeding ritual. Why or why not? Also, if you enjoyed this article, you’ll love Pets Adviser’s email newsletter. It’s free to sign up, and you’ll be among the first to get alerts about major pet food recalls. New subscribers get instant access to our 40-page ebook — which has “secrets every cat and dog lover should know.” Learn more here.
So... what do you think? Should kitties be allowed to graze (free-feeders)? or should they have scheduled feeding times? Mom works full-time and volunteers quite a bit on top of work so she thinks she will probably stick with free-feeding since it would be hard to be consistent with a feeding schedule. We kitties are happy about that! What do you kitties think? Will your humans allow you to free-feed or do they feed you on a schedule?
we get fed 3 times per day - though mom doesn't pick up the dishes when she leaves in the morning. mostly we eat what is out but mom wants to leave the dishes for a couple of us that don't eat right away in the am....ReplyDelete
This is a hot topic and probably 5 veterinarians would give 5 different answers. I'm overweight, so I get only so much kibble a day. I'm fed about 5 times a day in small meals and get two treats that are part of the diet. I have lost 1 pound and have almost another pound to go.ReplyDelete
Good luck with the weight loss! Mia kitty needs to lose some weight but she's not buying it....Delete
We don't free-feed. We get fed twice a day and a snack at bedtime.ReplyDelete
We're like the Island Cats - we get fed twice a day, and my human's boyfriend gives us bedtime treats. Sometimes I get training treats. Binga eats more slowly, so occasionally her food dish gets picked up before she's done and given back to her a few hours later to finish. We only eat canned food, too - my human feels it is better for us because just from the way dry food is made (raw freeze dried being the exception), dry food has way more carbs than a quality can of wet food.ReplyDelete
TBT can't just leave food out. Iza will simply eat until she throws up. ~ AylaReplyDelete
I think it depends on the kitty. I typically offer canned for breakfast & dinner with dry food available all day. Some of my kitties were little porkers who needed the dry food restricted, but others stayed slim & trim their entire life.ReplyDelete