Just like humans, cats have their own personal tastes and habits when it comes to dinner time. Your cat may be a big fan of fish or turn his nose up at tuna, be a fussy eater or scoff down everything that’s put in front of him, but as domestic cats (particularly indoor cats) rely on us to feed them, it’s important that we get it right.
Apart from making sure you feed your cat high-quality food that gives him all of the nutritional requirements he needs, the way you feed your cat is also important.
Free Choice Feeding vs. Scheduled Feeding for Cats
Free choice feeding is letting your cat choose exactly when he wants to eat, by leaving food out and available to him all of the time. Some pet owners opt for this method of feeding if they’re away from the house for long hours.
If your cat is ill and suffering from a lack of appetite, this may be a good method to encourage him to eat. It’s also appropriate for nursing cats because they need an extra boost of nutrients to keep their kittens and themselves healthy.
It only really works with dry food, as wet food will spoil if it’s left out for a period of time, which makes it very unappetising! The problem with free choice feeding for cats that aren’t ill or nursing is that it’s very easy to over-indulge, and you’re likely to end up with an overweight cat as a result.
Scheduled feeding involves set mealtimes, usually twice a day, and is probably the most common method of feeding cats. Whether you only leave the food out for a specific amount of time, or put it out at mealtimes for your cat to eat at his own pace, it’s a much healthier way of feeding your cat. It’s especially important for cats who have weight issues to be fed in this way, and it’s also a great way of monitoring what your cat’s eating; quite often a loss of appetite is a signal that something’s wrong.
What about Scraps from Your Plate?
It can be tempting to hand-feed scraps from your own plate to your cat when you’re at the dinner table, but it’s a bad idea in so many ways.
Feeding scraps from the dinner table in between your cat’s meals can upset his nutritional balance, plus certain foods can be harmful, even toxic, to cats. For more information check out our article on human foods your cat shouldn’t eat.
It also encourages inappropriate behaviour such as begging for food, jumping on kitchen counters and going into rubbish bins in search of a snack. Watching your cat begging for food might be cute initially, but the novelty will soon wear off and it can be particularly embarrassing when guests come over for dinner.
If you’ve got young children, they may find it hard to understand why they can’t feed their food to the cat, but it’s important to teach them not to as part of their overall pet ownership education. You can let them give your cat the occasional treat if they really have to, just make sure it’s a treat made for cats and it’s done away from the dinner table so he doesn’t associate your meal times with treats for him.
How do you feed your cat? Are you a fan of free-choice feeding or do you follow a more scheduled feeding approach?