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Transitioning to Meal Feeding




Reasons to meal feed
Techniques to transition from free feeding to meal feeding
Other tips

There are many situations in which households with more than one cat need to meal feed. Meal feeding means each cat receives a measured portion of food, usually two or more times per day. The cat eats the food immediately in a meal fashion, as opposed to grazing on food all day. Each cat has his or her own dish, and sometimes his or her own eating area.

Reasons to meal feed
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  • Weight management/obesity. Unlimited access to dry food often leads to obesity. Cats that are already overweight rarely lose weight on unlimited dry food, even when a lower calorie food is substituted.
  • Multiple cat households in which cats must be fed different diets or amounts. There are many households where one cat has a weight problem and the other cat is normal. Additionally some disease processes require prescription diets as all or part of the treatment plan. These diets are not necessarily appropriate for the other cats in the household.
  • More precise dietary knowledge/control. When a cat stops eating, you know immediately. This allows for more timely intervention when the cat is ill and possibly a better prognosis.

Techniques to transition from free feeding to meal feeding
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  • Start by picking up the food when you leave for the day and putting it down when you return. The cat(s) start to realize that the food will not always be available.
  • Get each cat his or her own food dish. For households in which there are cats that are food aggressive or territorial, you may want to consider feeding cats in separate rooms or on separate levels. This often works very well in cases in which there is an overweight cat and a normal cat, the normal cat can be fed on an elevated surface like a countertop or dresser and the overweight cat can be fed on the floor.
  • Start measuring the amounts of food put down. If you are not sure about how much you should be feeding, please consult your veterinarian. Make sure you are using a measuring cup and not estimating amounts.
  • Leave the food down for shorter and shorter amounts of time. This slowly acclimates the cats to a meal feeding schedule.
  • The goal is to feed small measured portions that are eaten within 5 to 10 minutes.

Other tips
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  • If you have a cat that is more food aggressive than the other(s), you may need to keep that cat in a closed room while the others are acclimating to the new feeding schedule.
  • If you have a small and a large cat, you could try a Kitty Cafe, which is basically a large cardboard box with a hole that can be made just big enough for the small cat to fit through. Contact us for more information if you think this might work for your household.
  • Unless otherwise directed by your veterinarian, consider adding wet food as one of the meals. Wet food tends to be eaten more rapidly than dry and is easier to feed in meal fashion. Contact your veterinarian for diet recommendations if you are not sure about how much to feed.
  • If you find that once you transition to a meal feeding system one or more of your cats is waking you up earlier than you would like for a meal, try feeding the last meal right before you go to bed. This will usually keep the cat(s) satisfied through the night. Do not "give in" and feed them if they wake you up, this will only reinforce unwanted behavior. If the unwanted behavior persists, try squirting with water or confining the cat to a bathroom until breakfast time.
  • If your cat tends to wake you up early in the morning for food, you can try changing his or her feeding schedule so that you are not feeding your cat right when you get up. This way your cat doesn't expect to be fed right when you get up. Try feeding your cat after you have showered, made coffee, etc. to break the pattern.


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