Do you struggle with figuring out the right way to feed your cat? Are you asking yourself, "Should I free feed my cat?"

How are you feeding your cat now? Do you currently have free-feeding cats? Do you set strict meal times, or do you do a combination of both? Read on to find out about the three different ways pet parents feed their feline friends, along with the advantages and disadvantages to each method.

Meal Feeding Cats

Meal feeding means you're providing food to your cat only at specific meal times during the day. Both canned and dry foods can be fed in this manner.

Advantages: Food intake can be closely monitored, which means it will be easy to tell if your cat has had a change in appetite. In addition, if you have the joy of a multiple cat household, all cats will have access to food without one being dominant over the others — one cat could be eating all the food and gaining too much weight, and the other cat(s) could be missing out on the nutrients they need to stay healthy.

Disadvantages. Cats might beg for food between meals. Your cat cannot control how much she eats at a certain time. However, if you are following your veterinarian's advice with proper amounts and regular feeding, you can rest easy that she is indeed getting the right amount of food and nutrients.

The bottom line. While kittens should be fed up to three times a day, once a cat becomes an adult (at about one year of age) feeding once or twice a day is just fine, says the Cornell Feline Health Center. In fact, feeding just once-a-day should be acceptable for the majority of cats. "Once cats reach adulthood, once a day feeding is fine as long as they are healthy and have no disease problems suggesting a reason to feed differently," Cornell reports. Again, always check with your vet before deciding on a feeding regimen.

If you have multiple cats, ideally each cat should have their own food and water station in a quiet, low-traffic place where the cat likes to spend time, The Cat Doctors advises. That's because cats are solitary eaters — they prefer to be alone when they eat.

Free Feeding Cats

If you're not considering other options, you might be wondering if free feeding is an acceptable method. When you free feed your cat, their food is available at all times. Keep in mind that only dry foods can be fed in this way because wet food should not be left out throughout the day. If you're noticing that your cat is leaving dry food in their bowl for more than a day, you should still throw it out to maintain its freshness.

Advantages: Your cat can eat multiple small meals per day on their own schedule. A key to success for free feeding is place the right amount of dry food for a cat for only one day at a time in the bowl.

Disadvantages: Free feeding cats can lead to overeating and obesity, especially if the amount of food is not limited. It can also be difficult to tell if your cat's appetite has changed. It's also difficult to tell, if you have multiple cats, how much each one is eating.

The bottom line: While free feeding can lead to extra weight if not correctly managed, there are ways to allow free feeding that keep your cat's weight and food intake into account. Make sure to properly measure the amount of food necessary for them for the day. When the food is gone, don't fill it back up until the next day. This will teach your cat to feed throughout the day, rather than gobble it all down at once.

Combination Feeding

Combination or mixed feeding can be defined as serving canned food as a twice-daily meal and dry food is freely available.

Advantages: Combination feeding allows your cat to eat multiple, small meals of dry food per day on their own schedule. You can monitor appetite at least partially when you feed them wet food at a specific meal at a time each day. It also gives cats the nutritional benefits of both wet and dry food.

Disadvantages: Combination feeding, like free feeding, can often lead to overeating and obesity, so it is important to measure the food out and not refill the bowl until the next day. If you have multiple cats it can be difficult to monitor each one's total food intake, so any form of free feeding may not be the best option.

The bottom line: Both wet and dry food have advantages and disadvantages, when it comes to your cat. For instance, cats diagnosed with certain medical conditions — such as urinary and kidney issues — might benefit from the higher moisture content in wet food. Dry food, meanwhile, is better for a cat's teeth and is easier to store.

If you do try combination feeding, consider using a food puzzle so your cat feels challenged by playing with their snacks.

Kara Murphy Kara Murphy

Kara Murphy is a freelance writer and pet parent who lives in Erie, Pa. She has a goldendoodle named Maddie.