My recent entry on how to talk about fat cats brought up a couple of other questions from readers that I thought I would address.
Is it more common for a cat to be free feeding? I thought this was discouraged in dogs, but is it more acceptable in cats?
This is an area of a lot of discussion among veterinarians. In the wild, cats are considered to be "grazers", meaning that they tend to eat small prey throughout the day rather than one large prey once or twice per day. Therefore, pet cats should have the opportunity to eat throughout the day as well. The problem is that many people equate "free feeding" with keeping a bowl constantly full, which promotes obesity. The main issue to look at is not really how often they feed, but how much they eat.
Cats should get a certain amount of calories per day based on their size and activity level. Just like humans, less active cats should eat less because they are burning fewer calories. More active cats can get away with eating larger amounts. To me, how often they feed is irrelevant if you control the calories. If you have a single cat, you can put a measured amount of food in a bowl and leave it out for the entire day. However, DO NOT refill the bowl if the cat eats it before the next feeding time. Doing so will give them more calories than they need.
If you have multiple cats it gets more difficult. Invariably you will have one cat that eats more than another, finishing the food more quickly. If you then refill the bowl, at least one cat will become overweight. In cases like this, I recommend feeding only 1-2 times per day, and possibly separating the cats to feed. Now before anyone says "I just can't separate them", let me bluntly say in response "bull-hockey". At one point I had three cats on three different foods (weight loss, adult, and kitten). I put each in a separate room, put the food down, and after 20 minutes took any leftover food up and let them back out. If someone says that they "can't" separate their cats to feed it really means that they don't want to take the extra five minutes it takes to do it. And I don't understand that mindset. It's something very achievable.
Just wondering, what do you feed your cats? I have 2 cats- 1 is overweight and we have gone from free-feeding to measuring "indoor" dry food twice a day for the last 9 months with only a 1lb weight loss-the other cat has maintained her healthy weight. My friend swears that feeding canned food would help with weight loss. Thanks for your help.
Personally, I feed my cats either Nutro or Royal Canin indoor formulas, and the two adult cats get 1/2-2/3 cups once daily (they're not very active). Tristan (the kitten) currently gets 1/3 cup daily of Royal Canin Babycat.
You may not realize it, but the indoor formulas and low-calorie formulas of foods are not intended for weight loss. They are designed to help manage a lower weight on less active cats. To achieve significant weight loss on these foods you'll have to feed such small amounts that you may also give too few vitamins and other nutrients. Instead, you should talk to your vet about using a food designed for weight loss (Science Diet R/D, Royal Canin Calorie control, and several others).
Canned food actually can help weight loss, but again you need to feed the proper amount and the right kind. The principle is that canned foods have more protein and less carbohydrates than dry food. A cat's natural diet is strictly carnivorous, with a high-pro, low-carb balance. There is evidence in human medicine that this kind of diet can help promote weight loss. Taking the name of this human diet, veterinarians sometimes jokingly refer to this in felines as the "Catkins" diet. There is good evidence that this kind of food can help promote healthy weight, as well as improve blood glucose management in cats. So your friend is actually right. However, that doesn't mean that you can feed as much canned food as you like. You should still follow the recommended amounts.
Good questions, everyone. Keep them coming.