Lion at heart

Updated: Jul 31, 2020

Mimicking natural feline feeding behaviours

Gawler Veterinary Services housecat Hugo writes a new article for the Tail Wag Newspawper
Hugo doesn't like to be disturbed while writing

As most of you would realise, we cats see ourselves less as domesticated companions and more as apex predators who tolerate people.

And OK, fair enough, we’re not really lions anymore, having evolved over the last few thousand years while we’ve lived with humans and made good use of their thumbs, but we haven’t evolved that much, and in our hearts – and in our stomachs – we’re still wild creatures.

And it’s this wild/tame clash that can cause so many health and anxiety issues for your pet moggy. The way we feed our house cats does not always mimic the natural behaviours of your furry friends.

A recent paper published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery has looked at the way the clash between cats natural and domestic feeding behaviours may be impacting feline health, and their arguments and conclusions make for some interesting reading.

You see, there’s a few things you need to know about cats’ natural feeding behaviour. First, we’re strict carnivores; second, we’re solitary predators; and third, we hunt and eat small prey several times a day.

Compare this to our modern domestic situation, where we have a more varied diet, we don’t need to hunt for our food, and we often live and eat with other cats and animals, and you can begin to see where the way humans are feeding us that might be causing anxiety and health issues.

The paper outlines how our habit of feeding cats one or two large meals a day rather than several small meals can lead to obesity problems. The combination of highly palatable and easy to eat modern processed food and bored pets can lead to overconsumption, while the lack of exercise from not hunting their food then exacerbates the issue.

The paper also found that our habit of feeding cats together in multi-cat households can cause stress related problems in naturally solitary feeding cats, with coping behaviours including avoidance of the eating area or gorging and then vomiting in an effort to quickly return to a safe place.

But what can we do about it? How can we help my feline brothers and sisters enjoy more ‘natural’ feeding behaviours? Well there are a few steps the paper recommends.

Firstly, you can look at controlling the frequency and size of the meals you give to my feline brothers and sisters.

Just like for people, the less active we cats are, the fewer calories we require. Consider feeding us small meals, multiple times a day, which mimics the way we eat in the wild when we survive by hunting.

A calico housecat sneaks along short grass hunting for it's prey
Ready to Pounce: Cats by nature are solitary hunters and eaters, consuming many small meals a day as they catch them

Second, you can make us work for our dinner. One of the most common ways to do this is with puzzle feeders, where we have to solve a problem in order to get our food, which engages our hunting instincts and enables us to forage for food like we do in the wild.

These two changes can make an enormous difference to the health of your cat, who with a controlled diet, regular exercise and the ability to feed in a more ‘natural’ way is well on the way to avoiding obesity and lethargy issues.

But what about multi-cat households and the stress that eating together can cause?

The solution is to provide seperate eating and toileting areas for each cat that lives with you.

While this might sound a bit inconvenient at first, remember that just because we are both cats doesn’t mean we’re friends.

If cats who live in the same household want to be together, they will find each other, but forcing them to share spaces when they don’t want to is a sure way to increase household tension.

Think of the last share house you lived in. That’s what a multi-cat household is to us.

But by providing seperate spaces each cat can have a safe space to eat and toilet, without the tension of being forced to do it with another cat nearby.

So, should you start changing the way you feed your pet cats? Well the suggestions the paper makes are very sensible, and you could do worse for your feline than follow their advice.

Especially that multiple meals a day thing, I’m going to talk to my humans about that right now ...

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