This is a summary of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) advice on how to feed domestic cats. The intention is to improve the life of domestic cats, reduce the chances of obesity and to try and meet the domestic cat’s natural way of eating in what is an artificial environment, the human home.
Domestic cat’s normal feeding behaviour
Putting aside for a moment the nutrient requirements domestic cats, they prefer to eat often and alone. Another important aspect of the feeding process of domestic cats is that they would naturally spend half of every 24 hours looking for and obtaining food. These are three key aspects, as I see it, of the AAFP’s advice. I’ll restate them: eat alone, eat small amounts often and look for food.
AAFP remind us that in multi-cat households domestic cats have social relationships with the other cats. They can form friendships and there can be stresses. This topic is well discussed. In relation to the provision of food, it’s important in multi-cat households to ensure that domestic cats feed alone to reduce or eliminate competition for food.
Single feeding station
They say that providing one or two large meals at a single feeding station daily can lead to inactivity and overconsumption. They recommend, as mentioned, multiple, small meals daily and feeding alone. Another factor contributing to overweight is the high palatability of dry cat food and the ease with which it can be eaten. In my opinion some kibble pellets can be too small; it can be swallowed rather than eaten which adds to the problem.
Eating as an activity
As they become bored perhaps because they are full-time indoor cats, eating can become an activity in itself which can lead to eating too much and obesity.
This topic has been addressed often. AAFP recommend puzzle feeders and artificial foraging. We know the concept: to try and replicate what cats do in the wild which is to spend a lot of time struggling to find food. My colleague, Zach, has written a review of one example of a puzzle feeder. You can make them yourself if you want to save money. Puzzle feeders rely on dry cat food. This is a drawback. I don’t know of a puzzle feeder for wet food except…Jane in a comment refers to a puzzle feeder used in conjunction with raw cat food nuggets which sounds neat.
In addition to puzzle feeders the domestic cat should be fed multiple, small meals. They recommend monitoring weight and body condition. I don’t think that this is too technical. It just requires the cat owner to observe their cat’s weight. Caretakers can also seek advice from a veterinarian about (a) daily calorie intake and (b) how to measure food portions.
Observing cats in multi-cat households
Cat caretakers in multi-cat households should observe their cats to assess their relationships with each other. They can then decide where feeding and water stations should be located. The objective is to avoid stresses between cats during feeding times. As mentioned there should be multiple feeding stations which are “visually separated”. They also recommend that feeding areas are separated by “baby gates” or “size limiting entrances to access the food”. Feeding stations should not be close to litter boxes. Cats should feel safe when feeding.
My impression is that some cat owners might benefit from spending a little more time thinking about how they feed their cat or cats. The underlying point being made is that feeding domestic cats is more than simply plonking down cat food once or twice a day and letting your cat get on with it. The idea here is to ensure that the feeding process meets the behaviour and innate desires of the domestic cat. It’s a reminder that we are living with a domesticated wildcat and not a fluffy anthropomorphised companion.
In my view, a weakness in the AAFP advice is that it appears to be focused on dry cat food. They appear to have accepted that cat owners tend to purchase dry cat food out of convenience. There are strong arguments for using wet cat food. However, most of the advice is still applicable except for puzzle feeders which are based upon dry cat food.
If you have the time and inclination, you can click on the link below to read the entire brochure which is summarised in my words on this page. Of course, you may come to a different conclusion.