Should You "Free Feed" Your Cat?

For cats, grazing is basically nibbling at their food off and on all day. It’s not exactly normal to them. The types of animals that graze are herbivores: goats, cows, horses, sheep and so on. They graze because their bodies are built to chew, digest, regurgitate, chew again and digest again.

Cats, on the other hand, are carnivores. Their stomachs are not designed for grazing.” Cats are not cows. That is an obvious observation but why do so many cat owners feed their cat as if it was a cow or other grazing animal?

I'm talking about free-feeding, leaving a bowl of dry food in front of the cat all day. Physiologically, the cat sitting on your lap is not much different from a lion. A lion has to hunt for its food. Luckily for most of our cats, they don't have to hunt to survive. Otherwise, many of them would probably starve to death.

A cat that has to hunt for its food does not know when or where its next meal is coming from. Candy-coated mice do not sit around in bowls waiting for the cat to come in for a nibble.

Cats are designed to gorge on a meal, then not eat again for many hours or even days. This allows for proper digestion and elimination of the toxins associated with a meat-based diet. "Cats, being true carnivores, actually prefer a 28-hour eating cycle." Richard H. Pitcairn, D.V.M.

A cat is not finicky by nature. A finicky cat is created, not born. If you had a particular type of smelly food left in front of you most of the day, would you remain interested in that food? 

How many times have you had to change the brand of food you feed your cat because she or he would no longer eat it? Smelling food all day can actually decrease a cat's appetite. I don't think I could keep the solid muscle weight on my cats if I left food available all day.

Smelling food triggers a cat's digestive system to begin working. Constantly smelling food, even if it is only an empty bowl that the food was once in or a bag of dry food left on the counter will keep the digestive system primed and ready to go all day. 

Munching on dry food throughout the day does keep the digestive system working and the stomach never gets the chance to completely empty as it should. The digestive system requires quite a bit of energy to operate. 

Keeping it going throughout the day by allowing constant access or exposure to food is pulling valuable resources from other systems and possibly prematurely aging the cat. This can also result in improper hair coat and the tendency towards cystitis.

A cat's digestive system needs a good long break on a daily basis. A 24-hour fast once a week is a good thing for a healthy adult cat. In the wild, this would most likely happen more than once a week. As efficient a hunter as the cat is, more hunts are unsuccessful than successful.
If you've got five or six cats eating from a community food bowl, chances are you are not going to know if one cat is off its food until you see a noticeable loss of weight. This could take days or weeks.

As I'm sure you are aware, free feeding can lead to obesity. The pet food manufacturers have an answer to that problem by offering "less active" or "reduced calorie" food.

Free Feeding vs Canned Cat Food

Obesity and diabetes are two major health problems that have been linked with free-feeding. All too many cats graze throughout the day when food is left out, and eat more than their daily caloric requirement.

With dry food only diets already being a major contributor to feline weight gain, this grazing habit only serves to push cats further towards health-compromising levels of obesity.

Because of the known correlation between obesity and diabetes, overweight cats become at risk for developing this condition which is also brought on or aggravated by an abundance of dry foods.

 These carbohydrates turn to sugar in the body and cause spikes in the blood sugar levels which can increase the need for sugar-regulating insulin. 

The good news is that both of these serious and life-threatening conditions can quite often be easily prevented or regulated through diet change. Canned food is vital to your pet’s overall health and well-being — and not just for chubby kitties. 

Cats eating only dry food take in just half the moisture of a cat eating only canned food. This chronic dehydration may be a factor in kidney disease, and is a major contributor to bladder disease (crystals, stones, FUS, FLUTD, cystitis).

Canned foods high water content increases the cat’s overall fluid intake, which keeps the kidneys and bladder healthy. Because the ingredients are more easily digested and utilized by the cat’s body, canned foods produce less solid waste in the litterbox.

Caution: Adding water or milk to dry food does not solve the problem; and the fact that there are always bacteria on the surface of dry food means that adding moisture can result in massive bacterial growth–and a very upset tummy.

If you have more than one cat free feed your cats at one time. It's convenient. You fill the bowl and run. Keeping your cat in optimum health and condition isn't always about convenience. There's a little bit of extra work you have to commit to doing.
If you want to let your cats graze, then grow them a pot of wheatgrass to munch on at will. Most cats love fresh grass and it's very healthy for them. When it comes to their main diet, however, feed on a schedule.

Put the food down and allow free access for 30 minutes or so. After that 30 minutes is up, clean up the food, remove the bowls and wash the floor if necessary.

Don't worry if you get home late from work a few nights out of the week. Your cat won't starve. Again, a cat in the wild doesn't eat on a schedule. He eats when his hunt has been successful. Your cat will be hungry when you get home, but that's a good thing. It is good for a cat to be hungry.

Think about when your best meal was. How hungry were you? If you had been nibbling all day, then were offered a wonderful steak dinner, would you enjoy it as much as you would if you hadn't eaten all day?


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