Any pet parent wants the best for their fur babies. If you've got cats at home, you probably spend a significant amount of time trying to decipher pet food labels or wondering if their feeding schedule is what's best for them. If you're in search of a little guidance to make sure your favorite felines are their healthiest and happiest, here are some tips:
Feed your cat twice daily.
Dr. Kathryn Duris, DVM, of Cotswold Animal Hospital is a proponent of twice-daily feedings. Timing doesn't matter, so you can work around your schedule, though she suggests feeding at your own mealtimes to ensure you don't accidentally forget. Dr. Duris notes that cats with specific medical conditions, like diabetes, need to adhere to a stricter feeding schedule.
Approach all-day grazing with caution
If your cat isn't interested in eating at set meal times, Dr. Duris says an all-day grazing feeding schedule is okay. The caveat, she adds, is that pet parents need to measure the food they're dishing out first to ensure that cats aren't accidentally overeating.
"The problem we see is that people will think, 'Let's always leave the bowl full.' A lot of cats don't know when they're full and will overfeed themselves," Duris explains, noting that you should measure food with an actual measuring cup for accuracy.
Rely on your vet for guidance.
While cat food bags usually have a calorie count featured on the back, Dr. Duris recommends getting in contact with your cat's vet directly if you need guidance on how much to feed your pet. Your vet can easily do calorie calculations to help you learn exactly how much food your cat needs to eat to remain healthy.
Plan for trips accordingly.
If you're going out of town for longer than just a day or two, Dr. Duris recommends having a pet sitter, neighbor, or friend check in on your cat while you're gone. This prevents you from having to leave extra food out and hoping they can ration it accordingly.
If that's not possible, Dr. Duris recommends purchasing a feeder that can be pre-loaded with a particular amount of food. The machine then releases the food at specific intervals, allowing your cat to get fed without the risk of overeating or eating the entire food supply before you're even out of the driveway.
If you've got two cats with different dietary needs, you can even purchase a microchip feeder. You'll place a microchip in each cat's collar, then the dispenser only activates when the correct cat approaches the bowl.
Consider giving each cat her own bowl.
Dr. Duris says there's nothing inherently wrong with having your cats share a food bowl. However, this becomes complicated if one cat needs to take a particular medication and you want to be able to sneak it into their meals. For this reason, she's suggests giving cats separate bowls at mealtime when possible.
Choose your food brand carefully.
Selecting food for your cat can feel overwhelming, as there are a plethora of styles, flavors, and price points available. If you're looking for a few tips to get you started, Dr. Duris has you covered.
"If you look at a cat food bag, you'll notice that it'll say either 'growth' or 'maintenance.' Growth is for kittens and maintenance works for older cats. The next thing you'll see is if the food has been tested in feeding trials. Food tested in feeding trials is always going to be better than food tested in a lab, because this means the company has spent time and money feeding the product to actual cats to make sure it's safe and that they enjoy it."
Dr. Duris cautions against "boutique brand" pet foods, explaining that they typically don't do a lot of research before putting products on the market. Don't let flashy packaging or celebrity names sway you. Instead, focus on the food's nutritional value.
Skip the grain-free products.
"There are many pet food products these days that are grain-free, which is a spillover from the human world," Dr. Duris says. "But we've actually found that grain-free diets are linked to heart disease in dogs. Because of this, unless your dog or cat has a specific allergy to grain, we're recommending grains in foods."
Purchase refrigerated pet food with caution.
Next time you hit the grocery store or pet supply store, you might notice refrigerated cat food options. Your natural inclination may be to assume that refrigerated food is fresher and therefore healthier for your cat. In reality, this isn't always the case, Dr. Duris explains.
"The issue is that sometimes people will keep them longer than they should and the food can develop bacteria. I get hesitant with those because of the risk of bacterial infection," Dr. Duris explains.
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed as you try to make a selection, don't hesitate to reach out and ask your vet for guidance.