After bringing your cat home, one of the first decisions to make is what to feed, how much to feed and how often. Once you have decided on the best food to feed your cat, deciding between canned food and dry food can be difficult.
Canned or Dry
Dry cat foods have greater "caloric density" which means simply, there is less water in a 1/2 cup of dry food as compared to a canned food diet. Overall, the choice of "dry" vs. "canned" vs. "semi-moist" is an individual one. When dry or canned food is fed in the proper amounts based on age and size of the pet, either should meet the nutritional requirements of your cat. Some medical conditions, such as dental disease, may benefit from dry food. Other medical conditions, such as urinary disorders in which increased water consumption is desirable, encourage the use of canned foods. Discuss these alternatives with your veterinarian. Most cats enjoy eating a combination of a dry food along with supplemental canned food. This allows you to observe your pet's behavior during the canned mealtime.
There are various methods of feeding cats. Sometimes, the age and size of the pet plays a role and sometimes the habits of the cat. There are two common methods of feeding; free choice and limited time feeding.
Free choice feeding is recommended for kittens under 6 months of age. At this young age, kittens should be allowed to eat as much as they want and their food bowls should be kept full with dry kibble. Many people continue to keep the food bowl full throughout the cat's life. For some finicky cats, this method may work.
However, many cats do not fare well on this method. Keeping the food bowl full allows the cat to eat whenever he wants and as much as he wants. By keeping the bowl full, you cannot monitor the amount of food your pet is eating, leading to obesity. Alternatively, if you have multiple cats and one becomes ill, often you cannot tell if he is eating or not. For cats that enjoy nibbling through the day, fill the bowl each morning with the day's ration. Regardless of when the bowl is emptied, no more food is to be added to the bowl until the following day. This will allow you to monitor your cat's intake as well as help to prevent growing a chubby kitty.
Limited Timed Feeding
Another method of feeding is to feed small meals, several times through the day. This can be beneficial for regulating the intake of obese pets or cats in a multi-cat household where one is overweight. In this method, the daily total ration is divided over several feedings. The amount of food is based on the pet's age and size. For each feeding, the specified amount of food is offered to the cat. If not eaten right away, the food should be removed in 20 minutes and not offered again until the next scheduled feeding. It may take your cat several tries to understand that he needs to eat the food when it is offered, or a meal will be missed.
In multi-cat households, you may want to consider feeding each cat in a separate room, especially if one has health concerns or is obese. Put each cat in a separate closed room and offer the appropriate amount of food. Keep the cats in the room for 20 minutes. After the allotted time, let the cats out and remove all the remaining food. By keeping the cats separate, you can make sure each has eaten his food and there has been no stealing of food by the cat on a diet.
Limited timed feeding should not be used in kittens less than 6 months of age. After 6 months, the feedings can be limited to twice a day. For example, if your cat's size and age dictates that he should be fed 1/2 cup of food per day, offer 1/4 cup food two times a day. If the cat does not eat at one of the feedings, don't add more food later. Each feeding, regardless if it is eaten or not, should contain 1/4 cup of food.
As the kitten becomes an adult, feedings can be reduced to once a day. Remember to check the manufacturer's recommendations on how much to feed. As your cat ages, his size increases, and he will need more food each day.
Once your cat is over 6 months of age, his adult feeding pattern can be established. Some cats do well on one feeding a day but at least two feedings a day is usually recommended.
Cats thrive on routine so decide on a feeding pattern early in your pet's life and stick to it. You may want to consider feeding your cat while the family dines. This can occupy your pet while the family eats and keeps him from begging or creating problems during the family meal. Evening meals can also minimize those "early morning wake up calls" that result when you want to lounge in bed but your cat is ready for his regular morning feedings.
The Best Alternative?
Many people leave the day's ration of dry food out and offer some canned food once or twice a day. For cats that maintain their weight (are neither over or underweight), this is the favorite method of many veterinarians. This allows the cat to nibble all day and also permits you to observe the pet's behavior during the times when you feed canned food. If your cat does not come running for his normal canned food meal, it may be an early warning sign that something is wrong. Inappetence is often one of the first signs of illness in cats.