Hi everybody! Molly from Cat Behavior Solutions, here with your Bonding Tip of the Week. This week’s bonding tip is: feed meals to your cat.
Many people leave a big bowl of food out so their cats can go and pick on it whenever they get a little hungry. This is called “free-feeding,” and cat owners do this for lots of different reasons. Maybe they work long hours and can’t get home in the middle of the day for lunchtime, or maybe they just have a more hands-off approach with their cats.
Either way, I don’t recommend this for a couple of reasons. First, cats eat at least ten meals a day in the wild. The meals are little, as you can imagine, but they’re interspersed; ultimately they’re the serotonin-boosting result of a cat’s successful hunting session. Even though free-feeding means that cats can eat whenever they want, it doesn’t give that all-important mood-boosting effect like they’d get if they were feeding naturally. Your cat doesn’t have to want, wait, or work for their food.
On top of that, free-feeding is mostly only feasible with dry food, unless you have a specific feeder that takes the tops off of canned food. My clients over at Cat Behavior Solutions are always asking me, “What kind of food should I be feeding my cat?” My answer goes like this: the lowest-quality wet food is still better than the highest-quality dry food. Dry food provides so little hydration that it ends up dehydrating your kitty over the course of its life, unlike natural prey would. Plus, cats like when their food stays fresh—remember my bonding tip about correctly storing and warming your cat’s food? Dry kibble doesn’t have the same fresh feel.
But when it comes to bonding, the most significant thing you’re missing out on when you free-feed your cat is the opportunity to link yourself, powerfully, to that yummy meal. When you’re the one who gives your cat their food, and mealtime becomes an event, your cat will associate you with mealtime. That’s a good thing; you want them to associate you with all things wonderful.
No matter what you’re feeding your cat—even if dry kibble is all you can do—feed scheduled meals rather than just free-feeding your cat, and take advantage of those multiple opportunities to bond with your cat. Until next time, keep calm and purr on—and have fun feeding meals!
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