Cats are often hailed as low-maintenance pets. Just give them a bowl of dry food, add some wet as needed, and cats take care of themselves.
Unfortunately, free-feeding or overfeeding cats can be a problem with gluttonous cats. Will a cat overeat if they get excess food? Yes, some cats will, and it’s more difficult to moderate your cat’s intake with free feeding or overfeeding.
The Downsides of Free Feeding and Overfeeding
Many cat owners approach feeding with a bowl that’s filled and left out for the cat, allowing it to eat as much as it wants, whenever it wants. This is typically done with dry food since that’s less likely to spoil than wet food.
Similarly, owners may overfill a bowl and let their cat eat it all before picking it up, giving the cat a larger portion than it should have. This isn’t exactly “free-choice” feeding, but it can have the same result.
These feeding styles are largely about convenience. Owners don’t need to worry about being home at a certain time to feed their cats, and it’s more convenient to feed a multi-cat household this way.
Unfortunately, not all cats regulate their intake. Gluttonous cats will overindulge if they’re given the option. In multi-cat households, feeding free choice, even with multiple bowls, may allow one cat to hoard food. One cat can become obese while the others are denied nutrition, not to mention that conflict can occur over food.
Free choice feeding or overfeeding makes it more difficult to monitor your cat’s intake as well. This not only makes it difficult to cut back on your overweight cat’s food, but your cat’s intake is important information if your cat is sick. You can’t tell if your cat is eating more or less if you’re not monitoring its food in the first place, and this information can be valuable if your cat develops a health issue.1
In a multi-cat household, these issues are amplified. You can’t properly control portions to address over- or underweight cats if everyone is eating from different free-choice bowls. It’s also challenging to determine if one or more cats have a change in eating habits in response to a health problem.
What’s the Best Way to Feed Cats?
Free feeding is fine if you have one cat that’s good at self-regulating its intake or multiple cats that can be separated for equal access to food.
If not, scheduled, portion-controlled feeding is the ideal way to feed your cats. If your schedule allows, feeding cats two or three times a day limits the amount your cat eats at each meal and helps you carefully control the portions to manage its weight.
With scheduled, portion-controlled feedings, it’s best to measure the portions out following the guidelines for your cat’s weight. Then, you have a baseline to adjust if your cat needs to eat more or less. Be mindful of the additional calories your cat gets from wet food and treats.
Cats that are on a prescription or weight management diet should always get controlled portions without exception. This is also important for cats that receive medication with their food, such as insulin.
Kittens are still growing and may need smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. This can be challenging if you have a busy schedule, but it sets a standard for your cat to get used to a regular feeding schedule.
If keeping up with a feeding schedule is challenging, consider an automatic food bowl that feeds your cat at specific times, or arrange for someone to come over and feed your cats when you’re unable to be there.
Free feeding may be convenient, but it has several disadvantages that can impact your cat’s health. If your cat is overweight and tends to overindulge, switching to scheduled feedings with portion control is the best way to manage its weight and promote better health.
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