Does your cat enjoy mealtimes? Instead of just putting your cat's food in a bowl or plate there are ways that you can make your cat's meals more enriching and exciting for your cat. Regardless of if your cat eats wet food, dry food, or a combination of the two, there are ways to turn mealtime into a more intentional and rewarding experience for your cat.
Always having food out for cats is not recommended
Unless your veterinarian advises that your cat should always have a bowl of food out it's best to avoid "free feeding." Instead, feed your cat smaller meals multiple times per day. When cats are free fed, which means always having food out for them, they are likely to just eat when they are bored or don't have anything else to do. This can lead to cats developing an unhealthy relationship with their food and lead to overeating.
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Spread out a cat's meal times
Talk with your veterinarian about what is the best serving size and number of meals for your cat. In general, cats should eat at least two meals each day. Spreading your cat's meals out into multiple (at least two) meals throughout the day is a great way to increase your cat's activity during the day. This is especially effective if you are using enrichment toys and activities at mealtime.
Cats like meals at regular times
Cats thrive on routines so it can be beneficial to create a mealtime routine for your cat. Routines can include when you feed, though you'll want to add some small variations into this so your cat doesn't always expect meals at the exact same time which depending on work and life schedules may not always be possible.
Other mealtime routines that are good to establish are where you feed your cat, specifically what area of the home where your cat eats. Having meals at regular times and in the same place can support cats adjusting to other stressors that may occur in their lives such as moving, guests visiting etc.
You don't have to feed your cat from a bowl
Your cat doesn't need to eat their meals in a bowl. In fact, for many cats' mealtime can be more satisfying and enriching if we ditch the bowls and find more interactive ways to feed cats their meals. When cats are fed in bowls they tend to eat mindlessly. This can lead to overeating out of boredom. By removing the bowl and instead feeding cats their meals in food dispensing toys, slow feeders, and other enrichment puzzles you can turn mealtime into a game.
Cats like to be fed at the same place
It's a good idea to create a routine for the location where you feed your cats at mealtime. If you have multiple cats, it's best for each cat to have their own feeding area and routines. Cats should be able to eat their meals undisturbed by children, or other pets. Cats can feel territorial and even cats who are closely bonded can develop conflict around food if fed together. Feeding your cat in their own location can help cats feel safe and comfortable at mealtime.
Feeding your cats separately also gives you the opportunity to assess how each cat is eating, and more quickly become aware of any changes in behavior or eating which could signify a medical condition. Feed your cat in a private area where other pets can't bother them and don't hesitate to close doors or use baby gates to protect your cat's eating area.
You can feed your cat on a cat tree or table
If you are short on space, you can also use height to your advantage. Instead of feeding your cat in another room you can feed your cat on a stable platform of a cat tree or a cat shelf. Height can be useful for preventing other pets like dogs from having access to your cat's food. Feeding your cat in a raised location can also help your cat to feel safer at mealtime.
Slow feeders can reduce cat boredom
Unlike traditional bowls that are boring to eat out of, slow feeders are an easy way to increase enrichment for your cat at mealtime. Slow feeder plates and bowls have a variety of raised ridges and areas. These ridges slow your cat down while they are eating. This can help prevent cats from eating too quickly which can upset their stomachs. Slow feeders encourage cats to be thoughtful as they eat, and to make mealtime more exciting. Slow feeding plates can be used with wet food, or dry food.
Try interactive food dispensing toys
Another feeding option is to turn mealtime into a game for your cat. Treat balls and other interactive food dispensing toys are an easy way to make mealtime fun for your cat. Most of these food dispensing toys are best used with dry food. Put some or all your cat's food into the toy or puzzle and as your cat plays with the toy or puzzle their food is released.
This is a great way to make mealtime longer and more enjoyable for your cat. Food toys can also encourage your cat to engage in solo play. Food release toys and puzzles can be purchased, or you can make your own with empty cardboard boxes and paper bags.
Supervise your cat at mealtimes
If you're exchanging up your cat's feeding routine, especially if you are adding slow feeders and enrichment toys at mealtime be sure to supervise your cat during this transition. Closely watch your cat's body language and interactions. If at any time during the meal your cat seems stressed, anxious, frustrated, or distressed by the new feeding arrangements, step in and feed your cat in the same way they were used to previously. The goal of adding enrichment to your cat's mealtime is to make the meal more enjoyable for your cat.
Mealtime doesn't have to be boring for your cat! Avoid free feeding or leaving food out all the time unless instructed to do so by your pet's veterinarian. Instead feed your cat multiple meals each day. Try to create routines for where your cat eats as this can reduce conflict between pets in the home and provide consistency for your cat. Consider making mealtime more enriching for your cat by ditching their normal cat bowl. Instead, try feeding your cat their meals in slow feeding bowls, puzzles, and food releasing toys.