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The Natural Feeding Behavior of Cats

Cats are solitary hunters and eaters.
Among all cat species, only lions hunt and eat together. In a natural setting, cats will hunt and eat 10 or more small meals per day. One way to mimic this natural hunting behavior is to use a ‘foraging feeder’ or ‘food puzzle’ where your cat has to interact with the feeder to get small pieces of food You can also hide small amounts of dry Science Diet® or Ideal Balance™ cat food around the house for your cat to seek out and eat, perhaps in shallow plastic containers or egg cartons.

For people, eating is a social event, but because cats are solitary hunters, most would prefer to eat alone. This means when one cat in a home must be fed separately from the others, she is probably happier. Although they prefer to eat alone, healthy cats may not mind the presence of others at feeding time. However, in times of illness or stress, this tolerance may decrease. It is also important to know that the behaviors shown by your cat when you come home (e.g., meowing, rubbing on your legs, seeking attention) is a greeting behavior and is not a request for cat food. You should reward this behavior with attention such as petting or play, but feed your cat later.

Temperature matters
As a hunter, cats prefer food that is close to their own body temperature (about 101° F/ 38° C). If you are taking canned cat food from the refrigerator, it should be warmed in the microwave (and stirred well) or warmed by the addition of some hot water.

Feeding behavior differences:

  Cats vs. Dogs

Cat Dog
Strict carnivore (must have animal source protein in their diet, but also able to use many nutrients from plants) Omnivore
(diet of plant and animal sources)
10 or more small meals/day 1-3 larger meals/day
Will hunt and eat at any time of day or night Hunt and eat during daylight
No social value to eating Eating has social value

Mealtime is a special time for cats.
Feeding not only satisfies a cat’s abundant energy needs, but also provides her with the right nutrients she needs to stay healthy and strong. Although some cats have the ability to regulate their food intake, others will overindulge or have difficulty eating around other cats.

Simple guidelines for feeding your cat

  • 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 your 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 cat food allotment for each cat according to the amount recommended by your veterinarian; monitor daily cat food intake and appetite

Do you have multiple cats in your household? Learn about feeding multiple cats.

 


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