Friday, February 11, 2011

The Best Argument Yet Against Free-Choice Feeding Your Cat

I've been wrestling with a decision about whether or not to free-choice feed our Maximum Leader. I had been giving her measured amounts of food in the morning and at night with a snack or two in between. Our relationship had become completely defined by food to the point where she was crabby with me if I didn't come up with more food and hovered near her dish all day, constantly anticipating being fed.

On Tuesday of this week, I decided to pull the plug on this and just leave dry food out for her all the time. That seemed to work well. She relaxed quite a bit and I knew that the times she came up to me for loving had nothing to do with trying to coax some more food out of me. She also seemed to be spending more time outside of the Catican, away from the food dish. The downside was the amount of food she ate. She wiped out at least twice as much food as she'd been eating previously. I became concerned for the health of her digestive system - could she really process that much dry food?

It turns out my concern may have been well-founded. I did some clicking around the Interweb Tubes today and came up with two sites that recommend against free-choice feeding. The first suggests that food-anxiety is a good thing.
The best comparison we can make is that free-feeding would be like a person having a full buffet in your house, stocked with food 24 hours-a-day. When you think of it this way, it’s not hard to understand why pets that are free-fed tend to be sluggish, lethargic, and passionless about their pet food...In a dog or cat’s life food is the #1 motivation they have...A pet should have a unbridled passion for food. They need to look forward to their next meal with anticipation and excitement. This lays the foundation for a well-tempered, happy pet.
The best argument of all is based on the natural life of a predator.
Physiologically, the cat sitting on your lap is not much different from a lion. A lion has to hunt for its food...Cats are designed to gorge on a meal, then not eat again for many hours or even days. This allows for proper digestion and elimination of the toxins associated with a meat-based diet...A cat's digestive system needs a good long break on a daily basis. A 24-hour fast once a week is a good thing for a healthy adult cat. In the wild, this would most likely happen more than once a week. As efficient a hunter as the cat is, more hunts are unsuccessful than successful.
That's a convincing argument for me. I'm going back to measured meals, but I'm going to do some things to make them more interesting for her. My goals here are to:
  1. Make sure she has a healthy diet.
  2. Keep her as active as I possibly can.
  3. Maintain a loving relationship with her.
#1 is easy to do with the right food and some willpower on my part. I've got some new ideas for feeding that will help achieve the others. More about that in a later post.

Letting her gorge several times a day and then retire to her yurt is not an option.


Anonymous said...

One of our cats was on the free-eating program and got fat. The vet said NO, and she only gets a metered dose of food, plus whatever dog food she can steal.

The dry food machines are nice; the cat sits and yowls at it around 0500 when it dispenses her ration..

K T Cat said...

Anon, I tried one of those machines, but it didn't have a setting small enough and ended up just filling a bowl with more food than she could eat. She promptly packed on the pounds.

Anonymous said...

Can't make a small enough portion? Not a problem for our cat...

Jedi Knight Ivyan said...

I saw something that might help on Cats 101 on Animal Planet this week.

A gal had cut holes in plastic bottles just large enough to permit a single kibble to pass through. Then she'd put in some cat food, close the top, and let the cats work for their food by batting the container around. It promotes healthy activity for a food reward. That might work well for the Leader's snacks.

I think I've seen commercial versions, but the homemade ones seemed to work quite well and you could use just about anything: pill bottles, 20 oz soda bottles, etc.

Happy hunting Maximum Leader

K T Cat said...

Ivyan, thanks for the suggestion! I looked into that. I bought one, but she didn't seem to get the idea, so I demonstrated it to her and then she understood. It was a cat food shaker. I was supposed to stand there and shake it until food came out for her to eat.


tim eisele said...

I suppose another option for the hunting and feeding would be a cheap remote-controlled car with a food dish glued onto the top. When she "kills" it, she gets to eat it.

Then even if she doesn't chase it, at least your family will have a toy car to zoom around the room.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

We trained Sano to believe that he only gets food when the first person comes down stairs and when the last person goes up, so he doesn't expect food unless it's dark and nobody is left in the livingroom.

Random treats-- like every few weeks-- trained them to come when called, too. ^.^

K T Cat said...

A remote-controlled car, eh?


Jedi Knight Ivyan said...

"I bought one"

That might be the problem. It seems the more I spend on something for my cat, the less likely he is to use it. A five dollar toy from Petsmart will go untouched. But a piece of junk mail I crumple up and let fall to the floor will provide hours of fun.

Good luck keeping her figure trim.

Mostly Nothing said...

Fuji, when I was growing up had a full bowl of dry at all times, and a half can of wet stuff twice a day. She never weighed more than 9lbs.

Amelia, we feed as much as she could handle. Remember Thanksgiving, KT? But to her, being inside was torture, she loved the Canyons. And even when I moved to Kansas, in January, she wanted to be outside. She was very active, and probably 10lbs.

Fangio, also had all the dry he wanted. Plus kitty treats. He'd jump up on the furniture and knock the kitty treats down. He was a big cat, but not fat, 12lbs, That is until ...

Socks. Socks was a pig. If there was food in the dish, it had to be eaten. IMMEDIATELY. He was active though. Still, Fangio and Socks now had to compete for food. They both ballooned upto 14lbs. But they were still active. They got set to 1/4 cup twice a day. Their last days were very sad.

Gypsy has food in her bowl at all times. But there are times when she must eat. This involves people. Gypsy will not eat, if there is someone around, without being petted first. Then she only eats 2-3 mouthfuls. Breakfast is at least 3 "courses".

So much so, that we found a food dish for her: "Pet Me! Love Me! Feed Me!" is printed on the side. Nothing describes her better.

She went to the vet (to be adored) yesterday. 9.5lbs. And ringworms. We got her from the shelter a year ago. She had been outside in Minnesota January! She hasn't been outside but once for 2 hours (hiding terrified) in all the time we've had her.

Booneooan said...

One of our cats was on the free-eating program and got fat. The vet said NO, and she only gets a metered dose of food, plus whatever dog food she can steal. The dry food machines are nice; the cat sits and yowls at it around 0500 when it dispenses her ration..