Scheduled vs Free Feeding a Cat

cat by food bowl

The majority of cat parents these days rely on free feeding when it comes to providing their pets with the proper nutrition. And while free-feeding is definitely convenient and comes with a share of advantages, it can also be detrimental to an animal’s health.

In today’s article, we’re looking at several reasons why free-feeding might not be the best option for your cat, but also see whether there’s anything you can do about it in case you’ve gotten your pet used to having food available all the time.

Is free-feeding good for cats?

No. It might not be as bad as you might think, but it all depends on your own cat’s health. What we mean by this is that healthy adults usually do well with having meals at their disposal when you’re away from home, and if they are not spayed or neutered, they don’t even have a risk of becoming obese or overweight.

The main issue with feeding indoor cats is that in the wild, they are not supposed to eat all throughout the day. Feral cats survive on a diet mainly composed of small prey.

If they catch something and eat it, that will sustain them for a whole day or more, all depending on the size of the rodent they might have hunted.

Another reason to use scheduled feeding is that free feeding multiple cats can be very challenging. As you probably know, the nutritional requirements of cats differ largely from one pet to the next.

Senior cats have to benefit from a different diet compared to adults, but so do kittens. If the animal also has some sort of chronic condition, they might have to receive a specific diet, one that was probably prescribed by your veterinarian.

If you have two or three cats, getting them to eat something different, especially when you are not in the house, can be very difficult. Cats are social animals, so they will enjoy their meals together and also imitate their companions’ behavior, which means that even if one is not accustomed to eating several times in a day, they might end up doing so because they see the other cats doing the same.

Free feeding vs. scheduled feeding cats

Now that we’ve pointed out several reasons why free-feeding might not be the best choice let’s look at several pros and cons of both of these methods.

While free-feeding is undoubtedly advantageous because you will have peace of mind when you’re away from home that your cat is not going to go hungry, they might eat more than they need.

Another aspect we have to note here is that free feeding usually involves the use of kibble instead of canned food varieties. If you have been a cat owner for a while now, you probably know that this species isn’t crazy about drinking a lot of water, which means that you should do your best to supply your pet with fluids using other methods.

With scheduled feeding, you can feed your cat one meal in the morning and another in the evening and rely on a pouch or a can instead. This is even more important for cats that have health problems with their kidneys, which is something that seniors commonly experience.

Kibble has a lot less moisture compared to wet cat food, and the reason for that is that water makes it possible for germs to reproduce. So, if it were to be moist, it would basically be contaminated with bacteria by the time several hours go by.

You also know just what amount your cats eat because you have complete control over how much you give your pet. If you are trying to get your furry friend to lose a bit of weight, this is essential.

How much should you feed your cat?

A universal answer to this question does not exist, and the reason for that is that pet diets differ in terms of protein, fat, or carb content, and even the extra nutrients that manufacturers add to the recipes, such as antioxidants, minerals, or omega fatty acids.

The brand that you give your cat will usually include a chart depending on your cat’s size or age on the label. You can use that for reference or just ask your vet about what the ideal diet for your pet actually looks like.

You do not have to worry about whether scheduled feeding will provide your cat with enough nutritious food. As we have previously mentioned, cats sometimes go for one or two days without food, and then they have a large meal that allows them to survive and even thrive for a period of time.

If you feel that your cat eats too much kibble when you’re out of the house, you might want to consider installing a pet camera to see any behavioral patterns that might be problematic in this sense.

You can also figure out how much food your cat had when you were away by weighing the remaining kibble and seeing the difference from what used to be in their bowl in the morning.

cat getting its food

Final thoughts

Is free-feeding cats bad? It can be only for some types of animals. If your cat is completely healthy and their weight is normal, you probably do not have to worry about anything in this sense.

When switching from a free feeding to a scheduled plan, you should try to do things gradually. Cats are quite sensitive compared to other animals, so they are not likely to do well with sudden changes.

Lower the amount of kibble that you leave in your pet’s bowl for the hours you are going to be out of the house and feed your cat a small amount of canned food in the morning and in the evening. Several days after, take some of the kibble out and gradually increase the wet food amount instead.

Although cats don’t like to have their routine modified at all, they will adjust if you take the time to get them accustomed to the new plan.

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