As a hunter, cats prefer food that is close to their own body temperature (about 101° F/ 38° C). If you are taking canned food from the refrigerator, it should be warmed in the microwave (and stirred well) or warmed by the addition of some hot water.
Simple guidelines for feeding
- Feeding (food and water), sleeping/resting, and litter box areas should be separate from each other
- Ideally each cat should have its own food and water ‘station’, preferably in a quiet, low traffic place where the cat likes to spend time
- Water bowls should be wide and shallow; water should be fresh daily; some cats prefer to drink from a dripping faucet or a water fountain
- Many cats eat more readily from shallow bowls or plates so their whiskers don’t touch the sides
- Ideally, place food and water bowls separate from each other
- Food and water dishes should be kept clean
- Measure the food allotment for each cat according to the amount recommended by your veterinarian; monitor daily food intake and appetite
Feeding multiple cats
Cats are solitary feeders, so when there are multiple cats in the home, it can be difficult to know how and when to feed each cat.
Setting up a feeding station
Each cat can be fed in a separate room in the home with the door closed. Typically, a regular feeding schedule is used, and each cat is given a certain amount of time to eat (e.g., 20 to 30 minutes). Water is freely available in several places at all times.
There are ways that overweight cats can be fed separately from their slimmer housemates. For example, a hook and eye closure can be put on the door to one room to allow the door to remain open enough so that the slim cat can fit through, but not the overweight cat. Or the slim cat can be fed on a high surface, such as a shelf or counter, where the overweight cat is unable to jump up. It may also be possible to use a baby gate to feed cats in separate rooms if the overweight cat cannot jump over the barrier.
Feeding stations can be homemade using a plastic storage box and a cat flap operated by your cat’s own microchip (e.g., SureFlap®). Commercial feeding stations are also available (e.g., MeowSpace®). Food can be freely available in the feeding station if recommended by your veterinarian, or a meal-feeding plan can be used. Another option is to use a timed feeder inside the feeding station.
Regardless of the feeding plan that is chosen, it is important to consult your veterinarian about the amount of calories your cat should consume each day. If a free choice or combination feeding plan is used in a multi-cat home, it is important that the volume of food offered should not exceed the total calorie requirements for all the cats each day.
Feed most of the daily food allotment when family members are at home. This will reduce the chance your cat will learn to beg for food. Full bowls of food should not be available when no one is at home.
Changing to a new food
Dietary changes are made for many reasons, such as the need to control weight or to manage a health risk or condition. If your cat has been ill and now requires a new food, it is important to wait until she is feeling well, eating her usual food, and is home from the hospital before attempting the change.
If your cat has previously been fed by the free choice method, this can be a good time to change to meal feeding as she is more likely to be hungry at feeding time and try the new food.
- Leave each meal of the new food out for no more than 1 hour at a time.
- Offer the new food in a familiar food bowl side by side with her usual food. Many cats will readily eat the new food within a few days, but others may take a week or longer (sometimes up to 6 weeks), so it pays to be patient.
- Once she is eating the new food every day, you can start to decrease the amount of the old food that is available by 25% each day until the change is complete.
- Make sure you know the minimum amount of food your cat should eat each day, and contact your veterinarian for advice if she is eating less than the recommended amount.
– Contributions by Susan Little, DVM, DABVP (Feline)