Tips for Feeding Your Cat and Avoiding Trouble

Feeding your cat should be an enjoyable experience for both you and them. But cats have developed a reputation for being finicky eaters - fussy about the food they eat. And cat obesity is becoming a problem of epidemic proportions. But it's not the cat's fault - it's ours! We create finicky and fat cats by teaching them bad eating habits.

The good news is - we can correct these problems or better yet, nip them in the bud. A few simple tips for feeding your cat will help to keep them happy and healthy.

Buddy

Cats, like children, tend to want food that tastes good. They are not concerned with good nutrition. If it tastes yummy - they want it! Feeding your cat whatever he wants can cause him to become addicted to a specific food - refusing to eat anything else. And, cats can be very stubborn. They will not eat food that doesn't taste good to them.

In the wild, cats have to rely on the food they catch. Nature made cats able to survive long periods between meals for times when food is scarce.

Withholding food in the hope that the cat will get hungry enough to finally eat what you want him to does not work. Cats can go for a long time without food. Boarded cats have been known to go 5 days or more without eating. Overweight cats that go longer than 48 hours without food can develop Hepatic Lipidosis (Fatty Liver Disease) which is very serious and often fatal.

So don't withhold food! Starving your cat is cruel and unnecessary. There is a better way of feeding your cat.

There are no finicky cats in the wild. A cat born in the wild has learned to eat almost anything. Finicky cats are caused by us. We love our cats and want them to be happy. Giving them food they obviously enjoy makes us feel good. But, you can't let your cats tell you what to feed them. Feeding your cat properly means providing nutritionally balanced meals.

Click here to learn more about what good cat nutrition is.

If you have a cat that won't eat his food, you need to know if he is just being finicky or if he is sick. A good way to test this is to use baby food. We use Gerber's Chicken or Ham (2nd foods) baby food. Cats just love this stuff! If he won't eat the baby food, he might be sick so a trip to the vet is needed.

If he eats the baby food but is turning up his nose at the cat food, he is likely being finicky. They can't just eat baby food however. It doesn't provide balanced nutrition for a cat and too much baby food can cause diarrhea. There are a few things you can do to break this finicky habit.

First, try warming the food a little. Cats prefer their food at room temperature or slightly warmed. Warming releases the aroma. A cat's appetite is stimulated much more by smell than taste.

Barney

If warming doesn't help, try mixing some of the baby food with a little of the cat food. If he eats this, continue slowly increasing the cat food and decreasing the baby food until he eats the cat food without problems.

Instead of baby food, Homemade Cat Food may encourage a finicky cat to eat.

Sometimes, in a large multiple cat household, a cat that seems finicky is not finicky at all, but is intimidated by the other cats in the house. Try feeding the cat who won't eat in a separate room by herself. If she eats fine when alone, just keep feeding her separately. Some cats simply prefer to dine alone.

If she won't eat alone, try giving her a friend to eat with. Or, keep her near you so you can protect her from the other cats during mealtimes. As her confidence builds, she will eventually learn to enjoy her food without you running interference.

In all our years of keeping cats, we've never had a finicky one that stayed finicky. They all do have preferences however. But, as long as it is nutritionally balanced and not the only thing the cat will eat, we have no problem with making sure they get their favorites.

If you are not sure the cat food you're feeding your cat is nutritionally balanced,

Best Cat Food tells you all about different cat foods and what to look for on the cat food labels.

If you need to change your cat's diet to something more nutritious,

click here to learn how to do it safely and easily.

A far bigger problem than finicky cats is "food-stealing-gobbler" cats. These cats are so happy to have food that they try to eat anything and everything within reach. This comes from a fear, learned as kittens, that there won't be enough food. They gobble up their own food, then steal food from the slower eating cats. This can disrupt mealtime for the entire group.

Mealtime

Gobbling food can be a hard habit to break. However, if left unchecked, vomiting, bloating, diarrhea and eventually obesity will result. Fortunately,there are a couple of things you can do when feeding your cat to slow down a gobbler.

Make sure he has his own food dish - no sharing.

Try putting a couple of clean, small rocks in his dish. (Make sure the rocks aren't small enough for him to swallow!) This causes him to have to eat around the rocks which will slow him down some.

Sometimes, feeding the gobbler less food more often can help. He learns that food will be available often which helps decrease his anxiety and fear.

Don't give him more food less frequently. This will make him eat too much, maybe even to the point of vomiting. It will also increase his fear and anxiety over the possibility that every meal is his last.

As a last resort, you may have to isolate him at feeding time. Isolating a gobbler can sometimes increase his anxiety about food. If you have to isolate him, visit him frequently and offer lots of reassurance and petting. When everyone else is done eating, allow him to rejoin the group.

Above all else, be patient. With regular feedings and lots of love, these food-stealing-gobblers eventually realize that every meal isn't their last meal and learn to slow down. But keep an eye on them!

The most common cause of cat obesity is feeding your cat too much. As with finicky cats, there are no obese or overweight cats in the wild. Because we love to see them enjoying their food, we tend to give them way too much of it. Add to this the treats and table scraps they get and before you know it, your cat is obese!

Barney

Feeding your cat too much, causing him to overeat and gain weight, can cause all kinds of health problems including diabetes, heart disease and joint problems. But knowing if you're feeding your cat too much can be difficult.

Cats that eat only dry cat food are often prone to obesity. This is because most dry foods contain an excessive amount of carbohydrates. They are also quite tasty which can encourage some cats to overeat when it comes to the dry food.

A lot depends on their size and activity level as well as their natural metabolism. A smaller or less active cat will need less food than a larger or very active cat. A small active cat with a fast metabolism may need to eat more than any of your other cats.

The average cat needs about 6-8 ounces of food each day. This is only a guideline of course. When it comes to feeding your cat, this amount is a good place to start.

We feed our cats canned or homemade food twice a day and keep an eye out to see who's eating what at mealtimes. Observing them alerts us to any potential problems. Click here to learn about feeding stations and how we insure all of the cats get a proper meal.

Probably the most important thing to do when feeding your cat is to routinely weigh each cat. All of our cats are weighed every 3 months - more often if we suspect a problem.

We use a digital scale made for small animals that measures in 1/2 ounce increments as well as kilograms. That way we can catch even the smallest change in weight. This can be important. A one pound weight change in a cat can be equal to as much as an 18 pound change in a person!

Most of our cats will stand on the scale for weighing. We do have a couple that absolutely will not stand on the scale for weighing so we have to put them in a carrier.

To get an accurate weight with a cat in a carrier, weigh the carrier first. Put the cat in the carrier and weigh cat and carrier together. Subtract the weight of the carrier and you have your cat's weight.

Because we know what each cat weighs and their activity levels, we can more easily determine the ounces of cat food to feed each cat per meal. With a new cat, we start with 6 ounces per day and adjust the amount as needed.

Cat Weight Diagram

Another way to monitor whether you are feeding your cat too much or too little is less accurate but more fun! Look at them and pet them! During petting, feel along the rib cage. You should be able to feel the ribs under a layer of fat. If you feel ribs with no fat he is too thin. If you feel fat but no ribs he's too fat.

Also, when looking from above, they should look slightly rounded with a bit of a waist. Minimal roundness with a pronounced waist she's too thin. Very round with almost no waist, you are feeding your cat too much. Any marked change in weight, especially if accompanied by a change in eating or if they seem like they don't feel good, get to the vet!

We usually only see cats that are too thin when they first arrive to us. They see the vet right away and if there is no disease present causing the weight loss they are usually just put on a nutritionally balanced diet with more frequent feedings to increase calories. Sometimes, with illness or disease, a special cat diet is needed.

If we have a cat that is overweight, we begin by monitoring their food intake more closely to make sure they aren't stealing food, reduce the daily amount of food they get a little every few days, and make sure they start getting more exercise. If this doesn't seem to help, the vet may put them on a special reducing diet. Cats often hate this food so in severely obese cats, tube feedings are used to force feed the cat the proper food and prevent Fatty Liver Disease. We haven't had to resort to this...yet!

When feeding your cat, you will probably want to give them treats. Cat treats can aid in training and help to stimulate appetites. They can also be useful if you have to give a cat medication - especially the baby food.

Tabby

All of our cats absolutely love the freeze dried treats we get from Pet Extras (will open a new window) ! Most cats go nuts for them. Our cats favorite is the calamari but they also love the tuna and shrimp. These are the only cat treats we have found that all of our cats like.

They also seem to like whatever it is that we are eating. We have to be constantly on the alert during our meals or several little furry thieves will steal our food right off the plate! They especially love deli roast beef, any kind of chicken, tuna, potato chips, whipped cream and ice cream. It is almost impossible for us to eat these things in peace.

While most of these foods are not healthy for feeding your cat, any type of treat can upset the balance of a cat's diet.

We give our cats treats around mid-day 2 or 3 times a week. They each get up to 6 pieces each if they want.

When giving our cats inappropriate "people food" treats, we strictly limit the amounts, sometimes to just a taste, and they are only allowed to have them if they are healthy and eating their nutritionally balanced cat food regularly without any problems.

A good thing do before feeding your cat it to provide play time. Cat play helps both finicky cats, by stimulating their appetite - and overweight cats, by giving them some extra exercise.

In the wild, cats hunt - then eat. Cat play mimics hunting. With our cats, we group play for 10 or 15 minutes before eating. At mealtime, they all seem to be happy and enjoy their food. There is also less conflict between the cats at mealtime if we play first. After meals it's rest time - for all of us!

Whether you have finicky, obese, healthy, or any combination of cat appetites, water is also an important part of feeding your cat. Cats can get dehydrated and develop severe, even life threatening, urinary and kidney problems.

To check for dehydration, lightly pinch the skin over the neck - if it snaps back, she's well hydrated - if it stays pinched or tented, she's dehydrated and needs to get to the vet!

Generally speaking, cats prefer fresh, clean, cold water. Your cats should have access to fresh, clean water at all times. Cats fed canned food may not seem to drink but they do. They just drink less often because they get much of their water from the food.

Cats fed only dry food need more water. If you are only feeding your cats dry cat food, be sure to monitor them for dehydration. Dry food only cats are prone to chronic dehydration which can lead to kidney and urinary problems. Avoid these problems by switching your cats to a canned food diet!

Click here to learn how to do it safely.

Herbie

Some cats prefer flowing water. You turn on a faucet - they're right there for a drink! It comes from instinct. In nature, moving water is less likely to be contaminated. On the other hand, some cats are perfectly happy with a puddle. We try to accommodate both preferences.

We have 2 large ceramic bowls placed at opposite ends of the house for the cats that prefer standing water to drink. These are cleaned every day and kept filled with cold water. We don't use soap to clean the bowls because some cats can taste even small amounts of soap residue and refuse to drink. Since there is no way to make sure you get all the soap out, just scrub them good under hot running water with a clean cloth. Run cold water to rinse some more and cool the bowl, then fill it up with cold water.

If the bowl gets chipped or feels rough on the bottom or sides, toss it out. Chipped or etched ceramic can leach chemicals into the water and possibly injure the cats. Stainless water bowls are a good alternative to ceramic.

Don't use plastic bowls for your cats water. Many cats are allergic to plastic food and water dishes and can develop mouth sores. Also, plastic tends to absorb odors you can't scrub out. You may not be able to smell them but your cat will!

We also use 2, large reservoir, Drinkwell Fountains for the cats who prefer running water. They supply a continuous flow of fresh, filtered water. The motor is quiet and the trickling waterfall attracts the cats to the water. We clean these daily and change the filter every 2 months. Most of our cats just love these.

We add a couple of ice cubes to 2 of the 4 water bowls - especially in the summer months. Some cats like the ice cold water and some don't. This way everybody gets what they like, drinks the water - and the cats stay well hydrated!

Feeding your cat a variety of healthy, nutritionally balanced foods in the right amounts, limiting treats, insuring they get plenty of play time exercise, and making sure they have access to fresh, clean water, will help to keep them from getting finicky, ill or obese. Add lots of love and attention and your cats can live long, healthy and happy lives.


Go to Cat Feeding - To learn how to set up Cat Feeding stations.
Go to Cat Nutrition - To learn the basics of good Cat Nutrition.
Go to Best Cat Food - To learn how to read cat food labels and how to choose the Best Cat Food for your cats.
Go to Homemade Cat Food - To learn how to make your own Homemade Cat Food.
Go to Feeding Your Cat - To learn how to avoid common problems when Feeding Your Cats.
Go to Cat Diet - To learn about special cat foods and how to change a Cat Diet easily and safely.
Go to Dry Cat Food Update - To learn wy we recently started allowing our cats to have dry cat food again.



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