Free-feeding is something that many pet owners rely on these days, especially if they know that they are going to be out of the house for several hours every day. But the truth is that free-feeding can make cats develop obesity and even lose some of their hunting instincts, which they might need at some point throughout their lives.
In today’s article, we’re looking at the best ways of feeding your cat depending on several factors such as age and health status.
How often should cats be fed?
Age is the first and perhaps most important aspect when it comes to how many times a cat should be fed every day. For example, kittens have to be fed very often, sometimes once every several hours. So, if you are caring for kittens who’ve lost their mother, you will be advised by your vet to feed the little ones once every two to four hours.
This means that newborn kittens should have at least four to five meals every day in order to thrive — the more, the merrier, as they need to gain weight and become independent and be able to feed themselves as fast as possible.
For slightly older kittens that can eat by themselves, the golden rule is 3 to 4 small meals every day.
Frequent, but small meals are always better than larger ones for the simple reason that most cats feel comfortable with this. Granted, in the wild, they used to have one large meal every two days or so, depending on what was available to them. But since that is no longer the case, giving your cat small meals throughout the day is better than feeding her just once.
Adult cats thrive with 2 or 3 meals per day. If you work from home and you’ve decided to give your cat three meals, you have to calculate the amount of food you can safely give to your feline friend and split it into 3 instead of 2.
Many cats do well with two meals per day, which means that you should give them one for breakfast and another for dinner — especially since cats are crepuscular, which means that they are more likely to be active in the late hours of every evening and very early in the morning. Since you are going to be sleeping, you are not going to be able to feed your cat at these times, so it wouldn’t hurt for her to have something available.
How your cat’s health dictates how you feed her
The way you feed your feline buddy also depends on how healthy your cat is. The two most significant health conditions that can considerably influence your feeding schedule are diabetes and hyperthyroidism.
Cats that suffer from the second will want to eat everything in sight, and all the time, so you have to make sure you first take your cat to the vet clinic, have her diagnosed and treated properly, and then stick to your veterinarian’s recommendations.
On the other hand, if your cat has diabetes and she needs to be administered insulin, you will have to adjust the feeding schedule depending on the time you give her the shot. The standard way of feeding a diabetic cat is to feed your pet in the morning and in the evening, but give her a shot after each of those meals — but this can vary from one cat to the next, so do consult your veterinarian beforehand.
Another health issue that some cats have and that might make them ravenous but also make it a challenge for them to ingest food, is any problem relating to their teeth or gum health. As they age, some cats might lose their teeth on account of periodontal disease or might suffer from oral infections or even oral cancer.
Some cats can get Calicivirus and have bad oral health throughout their life. For these, it is quite important to switch to a wet-only diet. You might be able to make your own cat food in the blender, but the truth is that some of these cats might have to be fed three or four times a day just because the food is not as nutritious and won’t keep your pet satiated for as long as kibble would.
Why free-feeding might not be the best
Millions of cat parents across the globe now choose to free-feed their cats simply because they do not have the time to adjust them to different feeding schedules or they might otherwise forget to give them fixed meals in the morning or the evening.
But some cat categories are predisposed to obesity, such as spayed and neutered pets. Also, some cats, especially those with a history of UTI, have to be fed only canned cat food diets, and we all know how those can go bad in your cat’s bowl, if she doesn’t finish her meal.
Cats are genetically engineered with an instinct that basically tells them when they begin to feel full. But this instinct is not as powerful in cats that know that they have food at their disposal all the time. And since all cats are likely to get bored at least once per day, they’re going to go for the food if they have nothing else to do.
Healthy adult cats should eat two to three times a day. Kittens up to the age of six months have to eat at least three times a day whereas newborns have to eat once every two to three hours.
Cats with certain health conditions have to eat on a different feeding schedule, so make sure you consult your veterinarian for this information.