Cats evolved to work for food. Just because we feed them for free doesn’t mean they don’t still enjoy or need natural hunting behavior
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
You probably have never thought too much about the way you feed your cats. You fill the bowl and set it down. Maybe you set it somewhere up high, so the dog can’t get to it, or feed a cat with a special diet in a separate room so she can’t eat the food your other cats get.
But could you be feeding your cat in ways that are more natural for her? Ways that meet her need to seek, stalk and rush her “prey” -- even if it’s from a bag or can? Researchers are finding that the ways we feed cats can make a difference in their physical and behavioral health.
At the San Francisco SPCA’s Feline Science Symposium in October, Mikel Delgado, Ph.D., explained how cats eat naturally.
“Hunting is cognitive for cats,” Dr. Delgado says. “Cats are all about sneaking up, a slow approach, anticipating the movement of their prey, and choosing the perfect time to pounce and kill.” That cute butt wiggle when they’re about to pounce on a toy is an essential part of the stalking process.
Understanding how cats hunt and eat in a natural environment allows you to feed your indoor cat in a way that mimics normal behavior and adds interest to their day. Here are some things to try.
-- Multiple meals. Cats naturally eat about 12 small meals a day to maintain their weight. That doesn’t mean you have to feed them 12 times a day, but you can measure their daily amount of food into a dozen portions and wrap each one in tissue paper. Set them around the house for your cat to find throughout the day.
“Cats really like rustling sounds,” Delgado says. “They stimulate hunting behavior, and tissue paper is cheap and safe for them to chew and shred. It’s a little messy, but it can be fun.”
-- Food puzzles. Putting food inside a ball or other toy that your cat must manipulate to get food to fall out also helps to satisfy the feline foraging instinct.
“Keep it easy at first so it’s very rewarding,” Delgado says. “It should release food with very little manipulation from the cat.” As your cat learns to use food puzzles -- have two or three types so she doesn’t lose interest -- gradually increase the difficulty.
To get your cat to try out a food puzzle, offer it before mealtimes when he is already a little hungry, or mix some favorite cat treats in with the food. Toss some food next to the puzzle so your cat becomes used to eating near it. He may inadvertently hit the ball, causing it to roll and dispense more food.
Food puzzles can be used with wet or dry food, and they can be purchased or homemade. To learn more about different types of food puzzles, visit foodpuzzlesforcats.com.
-- Fresh is best. Cats eat more when food is fresh. If you feed your cat a few times a day, the food will be fresh more often. This may appeal to finicky felines.
-- Cleanliness is catliness. Wash food dishes after every use. Dirty plates and stale food are unappealing to cats. Delgado purchased a dozen tiny plates at a thrift store. That means she never has to wash a bowl before feeding her cat. She tosses the dirty dish in the dishwasher and puts out fresh food on a clean one.
“With any approach, you don't have to do it all one way or the other,” Delgado says. “You can free-feed your cat part of the day and meal-feed another part of the day or use food puzzles during the day, but out of the bowl at night. Be flexible, and do what works for you.”
Puppy tips for
Q: I’m getting a puppy for Christmas! What do you think are the most important things that new dog owners should know?
A: Congratulations on the beginning of a beautiful friendship. The love of and from a dog is one of the greatest things in the world. Here are my best tips on how to get a great start together.
Most people want to take advantage of the incredible advances in veterinary medicine, but some simply can't afford it. The solution for many is pet health insurance. Several reputable companies offer pet insurance, and it can allow you to give your new dog top-notch care with much less worry about the cost.
There is no one-size-fits-all recommendation when it comes to frequency of vaccines. After puppy inoculations during the first two to four months of life and a booster dose at one year, core vaccinations (distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus, parainfluenza and rabies) -- those recommended for every dog -- are expected to provide immunity for a minimum of three years. Talk to your veterinarian about non-“core” vaccinations, such as influenza, that may be recommended in your particular area or needed more frequently.
Preventing accidents saves your dog and saves money. To protect your curious puppy from the No. 1 poisoning hazard, keep human and pet prescriptions, as well as over-the-counter products, safely locked away.
Your dog doesn't have to hate going to the veterinarian. If you work with your veterinarian to keep early experiences pleasant -- such as having the staff give your pup pats and treats on every visit -- your dog will look forward to visiting the clinic.
You can save money on care without short-changing your dog. Price-shop for prescription medications, buy in bulk and keep your dog thin to help prevent development of joint diseases such as hip dysplasia or osteoarthritis. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
vets see problems
-- Next time you think your dog or cat is acting a little odd, use your phone to videotape him. It’s next to impossible to get pets -- especially cats -- to re-enact their behaviors, so a video can help your veterinarian see what’s going on. That includes recording things like your pet’s behavior while eating; getting in or out of the litter box or on or off furniture; going up or down stairs; or even urinating and defecating. Posture and movement can tell your veterinarian a lot about whether your pet is in pain or what might be causing the pain.
-- If it’s cold where you live, you might think that you can stop giving parasite preventives to your pet until it warms up again, but veterinary parasitologists say that’s a mistake. There are enough warm days in normally cold months for ticks, mosquitoes and fleas to remain viable and pass on Lyme disease, heartworms and other parasite-related conditions. And vector-borne diseases have spread to areas where they used to be uncommon or nonexistent. That makes them a threat to pets in places where those diseases and parasites were previously of little concern.
-- A cat named Rubble turned 31 in May, a birthday that makes him the oldest known living cat. The domestic shorthair lives in the city of Exeter in the United Kingdom. Michelle Foster acquired Rubble as a kitten and says he is a lovely cat, despite becoming a little grumpy with age. He takes medication for high blood pressure, a common condition in cats. Last year, Rubble’s milestone 30th birthday was celebrated at the veterinary clinic where he’s treated, and included his favorite foods and treats as well as a free exam. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.