You probably have never thought too much about the way you feed your cat: You fill the bowl, you set it down.
Maybe you set it somewhere up high, so the dog can’t get to it. Or you feed a cat with a special diet in a separate room so the other pets in the house can’t get it.
But there are ways to feed your cat that are more natural, that meet its need to seek, stalk and rush its prey — even if that prey is from a bag or can.
Researchers are discovering that how we feed cats can make a difference in their physical and behavioral health.
“Hunting is cognitive for cats,” said Mikel Delgado of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis. “Cats are all about sneaking up, a slow approach, anticipating the movement of their prey, and choosing the perfect time to pounce and kill.”
Even that cute butt wiggle they give when they’re about to pounce is an essential part of the stalking process.
Understanding how cats hunt and eat in a natural environment allows you to feed your indoor cat in a way that mimics normal behavior and adds interest to their day.
Here are some things to try:
Offer multiple meals
Cats naturally eat about 12 small meals a day to maintain their weight. That doesn’t mean you have to feed your cat a dozen mini-meals, but you can move closer to a natural way of feeding.
One suggestion is to take the amount of food you feed your cat in a day, divide it into a dozen portions and wrap each portion in tissue paper. Set the tissue-wrapped food around the house for your cat to find throughout the day.
“Cats really like rustling sounds,” Delgado says. “They stimulate hunting behavior, and tissue paper is cheap and safe for them to chew and shred. It’s a little messy, but it can be fun.”
Try a food puzzle
Another way to satisfy the feline foraging instinct is to put food inside a ball or other toy that your cat must manipulate to get the food.
“Keep it easy at first so it’s very rewarding,” Delgado says. “It should release food with very little manipulation from the cat.”
As your cat learns to use a food puzzle, you can introduce a more difficult one. That way your cat won’t lose interest.
To get your cat to try a food puzzle, offer it before mealtimes when your cat is already a little hungry. Or mix some favorite cat treats in with the food. You also can try tossing some food next to the puzzle so your cat becomes used to eating near it.
Food puzzles can be used with wet or dry food, and they can be purchased or homemade. To learn more about different types of food puzzles, visit foodpuzzlesforcats.com.
Keep it fresh
Cats eat more when food is fresh. If you feed your cat a few times a day, the food will be fresh more often. This should appeal to even the most finicky of felines.
Cleanliness is catliness
Wash your cat’s food dish after every use. Dirty bowls and stale food are unappealing to cats.
Delgado purchased a dozen tiny plates at a thrift store so she never has to wash a bowl before feeding her cat. She just tosses the dirty dish in the dishwasher and puts out fresh food on a clean plate.
“With any approach, you don’t have to do it all one way or the other,” Delgado says. “You can free-feed your cat part of the day and meal-feed another part of the day or use food puzzles during the day, but out of the bowl at night.
“Be flexible, and do what works for you.”
And your cat. But that goes without saying, doesn’t it?