by Suzanne Morris, DVM
As veterinarians, we often are asked about what foods cats should be offered but we rarely are asked how cats should be fed, which may just as important. The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) published a Consensus Statement for feeding our feline family members late in 2018. The goal of these guidelines was to better meet the behavioral needs of cats—particularly those who have limited to no outdoor access (who are more likely to have behavioral problems than their outdoor-dwelling counterparts).
The feeding recommendations take into consideration the normal hunting and eating behaviors of cats in the wild. Cats who rely on hunting eat multiple small meals (prey) throughout the day and most cats are eating these small meals alone (unless they are a member of a bonded feral community). Conversely, indoor cats are usually offered large volumes of food once to twice daily in one location shared with housemate cats, which can encourage binge- and boredom-eating and can potentially exacerbate tensions between cats who otherwise avoid one another.
The AAFP guidelines recommend utilizing food puzzles and food dispensing toys from which to provide smaller amounts of food and encourage hunting/foraging behavior (see http://foodpuzzlesforcats.com/ for ideas and examples). Ideally, smaller meals could be provided via food puzzles. Providing food in this manner also provides mental stimulation and increases activity for sedentary-prone indoor cats. The guidelines also encourage use of different spaces and elevations (if the cat is physically able to jump) from which to offer foods for additional stimulation. Changing the feeding location also engages the cat’s sensory detection of food for a more realistic predatory experience.
In the multiple kitty household, multiple food and water source locations may help to decrease tension between housemates who may not be the best of friends. Providing multiple feeding areas would also more closely mimic the solitary dining proclivity of cats in the wild. When there are tensions between household cats, the feeding guidelines recommend locating feeding areas with visual barriers so that the cats do not see each other while eating.
If you decide to implement some of these feeding methods into your household, introduce them gradually—you may need to show your cat(s) where and how their food is to be obtained over several days to weeks. Speak with your veterinarian for recommendations about how to implement some of these feeding strategies. And to your cats: Happy Hunting!!
Hamper B, Sadek T, et al. Feline Feeding Programs: Addressing behavioral needs to improve feline health and wellbeing. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery 2018; 20: 1049-1055.