There are several schools of thought when it comes to how often you should feed your cat. Some people prefer to allow cats to “free-feed” while others feel strongly about picking up a cat’s food in between meals. And still others like a hybrid approach. Here are some considerations to keep in mind when you make the decision as to how often to feed a cat.
Consider Your Cat’s Age
Kittens need to eat more frequently than adult cats. This means that if you are home during the day, you can feed your kitten three or four times per day, gradually moving to once or twice per day by the time she is a year old. If you are working during the day, however, the free-feeding approach, where you leave food out all day for your kitten to help herself as she desires, will allow her to take several small meals per day. Older cats don’t require frequent, small meals, so while free-feeding is still an option, a mealtime approach can work well if you feed an adult cat once or twice per day.
Consider Your Cat’s Activity Level
For a house cat who tends to sleep on the furniture most of the day, free-feeding can cause your kitty to eat out of boredom rather than hunger. When coupled with a sedentary lifestyle, this can easily lead to overweight or even obesity. If your cat is active, however, this is less of an issue. Puzzle toys that encourage your cat to work for her food can allow you to allow constant access to food while also requiring that your kitty do a little work to get the food.
Some cats who are overweight need to be put on a diet; in that case, your vet might suggest that you limit the amount of food that you feed your kitty. Ask the veterinarian whether you should divide the daily feed into two or more feedings, whether you should feed it all at once, or whether you should allow your cat to eat whenever she wants.
Consider the Type of Food
While you can leave dry cat food out for the day (changing it out every 24 hours to prevent staleness), you cannot do that with wet food. Canned food will attract insects and will go rancid if left out for an entire day. Any canned or fresh food that you feed your cat should be picked up after the mealtime is over. You can refrigerate it or throw it away and get fresh food later. (Don’t refrigerate food that your cat has eaten from for more time than it takes to get to the next mealtime; if she doesn’t eat it the next time, toss it.)
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Consider How Many Cats You Have
If you set out, say, a cup of food in the morning for your single cat, you will know by the end of the day whether she has eaten it. If you have more than one cat, however, you won’t have a good way of monitoring who is eating the food. This can cause a delay if one cat develops an upset stomach or is otherwise not eating. Since cats can often hide signs of illness, knowing whether your cat is eating her food each day gives you a daily clue into whether she is feeling well. If you have several cats, consider feeding them their meals (in separate locations) so you can determine who is eating and who is not.
The question of “how often should I feed my cat” is best answered by you after consulting with your veterinarian. If your cat is overweight, your vet might suggest feeding only at mealtimes. On the other hand, cats with health issues or finicky appetites might do better having food available all day. Talk to your vet to find out what is best for your particular feline friend.