Will cats on feeding cycles chunk up if offered a bottomless bowl?
May 8, 2007 7:53 PM   Subscribe

How likely is it to switch the eating patterns of a sister pair of 1 year old cats without them becoming overweight?

A friend of ours needs to find a new home for her one year old cats. They are from the same litter and since she's had them, she's always fed them on a twice per day routine. During their meals they scarf like it's their last meal. If my girlfriend and I adopt them, we will need to have them off that cycle and will instead have food available to them all the time. What can we expect from this change? I imagine they'll probably gain a bit of weight in the beginning, but will they just keeping gaining and gaining? Will the novelty of having food available to them all the time eventually wear off?
posted by sublivious to Pets & Animals (9 answers total)
My friend's cat had the opposite; she free-fed but my friend switched to twice a day to limit her food (she was a little pig). It took about a month for her to stop crying for more food, so I would guess that's about the time it would take a cat to get used to the opposite.

Would it be possible for you to get them used to free feeding by acclimating them? Instead of feeding them twice a day, feed them four times a day (same total amount but smaller meals). Even if you were only able to do it for a weekend, it might help.
posted by gatorae at 8:42 PM on May 8, 2007

Is she feeding wet or dry food? It's kind of odd to see cats really chowing down on the dry food (for obvious reasons). My mother puts out small portions of wet food once a day, with dry food out all of the time, and they go nuts when it's time for the wet stuff... the dry stuff they're much more moderate with, and will eat small amounts every now and then.

I'm guessing (hoping) that you're planning on feeding dry stuff. If they've previously been getting wet stuff and you plan on feeding dry stuff, they will probably slow down eating a) because dry stuff is harder to chew, b) because it doesn't taste as good to them, and c) because it's got more fiber-roughage-stuff which seems to make it more filling. (They may also decide not to eat at all because they don't recognize the dry stuff as food......)

(I am a bit curious about why you need to go off of twice-daily feedings... a bowl in the morning and a bowl in the evening, even if not at the same exact hour every day, would go a long way toward alleviating your fat kitty fears--especially if you put some of it in a foraging ball so that they have to move about to get their full meal, and also prolongs the "feeding" period.)
posted by anaelith at 8:56 PM on May 8, 2007

Datapoint: we have a small kitty from the local RSPCA. After feeding her up a bit (tiny wee skinny cat --> healthy cat!) we have moved to feeding her a small amount of wet food once a day (which she craves) and just making sure she's got a dry food in her bowl.

This works for her just fine.. she drops by for a chew from time to time, and goes batshitinsane at 'satchet'-time. She is not at all tubby.

Dim, whingey, and complainy? Yes. But not fat ;)
posted by coriolisdave at 9:27 PM on May 8, 2007

Can't you just feed them the same amount each day, but on a different schedule? If they're currently getting, say, 1 cup of food twice a day, you can feed them on any schedule you want so long as you make sure that the total amount of food placed into their bowls in any given 24 hour period does not exceed 2 cups. Once they've eaten their alloted amount, they don't get any more.
posted by decathecting at 10:19 PM on May 8, 2007

Both of our cats have free-fed their entire lives, but the younger one has self-control issues. After she doubled in size (eep!) the vet recommended we put them on high-fiber food. It appears to be working - chubby cat is losing weight slowly, and skinny cat has not lost weight.

They seem to like Authority Lite, the brand we've been feeding them. But the extra fiber does up the need for frequent litter scoopage.
posted by ilyanassa at 10:21 PM on May 8, 2007

My cats were freefed Hill's Science Food (regular, adult cat type) until recently, when I considered re-naming them Chubby and Tubby. They appeared to graze constantly, every time they passed their bowl, they'd stop for a bite. If she could see the bottom of the dish through the food one cat in particular would meow pathetically and appear to be anxious about her food running out.

But they were too fat, so I've changed them to Hill's Low-Calorie, one measure in the morning, one in the evening. After a few days when they'd scarf it all down quickly and then two hours later be giving me The Look, they got used to it. They didn't leave home, I didn't find the beaks and legs of consumed birds lying around and they've lost weight and appear to have a bit more energy. Usually there is some food left in their dish.

I know this is the opposite of the situation you're describing, but I am sure my cats are probably healthier for not being free-fed. And it's easier to start off with good habits than to try to break them of bad ones further down the line.
posted by essexjan at 1:35 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

With my two, I filled their bowls to overflowing and kept them that way when they were still growing and were super active. Now that they are getting older and aren't that active anymore (and had started getting chubby), I measure out exactly what they should have for the whole day in the morning (dry food). When they run out, they run out and don't get more until the next morning. There was a little bit of whining about it at first, but now their bowls aren't being emptied first thing in the morning and they take their time eating it throughout the day and the chubbiness is diminishing.

For a special treat or if I notice they have been really active and playing a lot (and thus hungrier than usual), I'll give them some canned food (about once a week), but they seem pretty content now with getting the whole day's food every morning and have learned how to ration it themselves.

And because I know how people love cat photos, here's Ronin the Destroyer and Princess Myu, my nine month old monsters. :)
posted by Orb at 8:08 AM on May 9, 2007

As an automatic feeder, something like this works really well and is a lot cheaper. I used this model when my dog was a puppy, and we never had any problems with it.
posted by Jaie at 2:05 PM on May 9, 2007

I got my two year old cat as a two month old kitten. She started off being fed two to three times a day, as she tended to eat most of everything put in front of her. When she reached five or six months, I switched to a once a day scheme, where she gets her food for the day in the morning. She seemed to make the transition well, but my sister's adopted stray cat (adopted around age two) simply can't make the jump from twice daily feedings to once daily.

I don't know how my cat would handle a giant amount of food put in front of her: I imagine she may figure out after a couple days that, instead of pacing herself until the following morning, that food is continually available, and start pigging out.
posted by CipherSwarm at 7:29 PM on May 9, 2007

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