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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Van de Kieft

How to Feed Your Cat is Just as Important as What You Feed

Updated: Sep 23, 2023

We often do not put enough thought into how we feed our cats. Naturally, cats would hunt and forage for food, eat alone and they'd do this frequently throughout the day. Feeding them in a more natural way can help to reduce stress around food.

A cat eating on vertical space
Luke eating on a counter, his preferred spot.

There's always a lot of discussion over WHAT to feed cats, but how you feed your cat is just as important.

What to Feed

Although this post is primary about how to feed, I feel obligated to note that cats are obligate carnivores. That means they need a diet high in animal protein. If you're only feeding kibble, or you're feeding a lot of kibble, you're likely feeding your cat too many carbohydrates and not enough animal protein. If you're wondering what I feed my crew, I feed them a variety of food high in animal protein which is great for optimal nutrition, enrichment and preventing finickiness. If you're feeding a lot of kibble, consider working toward a goal of transitioning away from primarily kibble to a healthier diet.


1. Clean Dishes after Each Meal

Why aren't we cleaning our cat's dishes? I'm always surprised to see this on client intake forms. Just like you would not eat off one dish all week without cleaning it, your cat doesn't want to either but they often don't have a choice. Please clean your cat's dish after each meal.

The water dish should be cleaned daily too. And try moving the water away from the food. Studies show cats like to drink water from multiple sources away from their food dish. You don't need a fancy fountain, but a few water bowls that are not made of plastic and cleaned daily are great for most cats. My cats prefer filtered water.

2. Small Frequent Meals

A cat's body is designed to consume mice throughout the day. The size of a cat's stomach is small, approximately the size of a ping pong ball. When we feed cats only twice per day, they are so hungry at those meals that they can overeat which then causes vomiting because their stomach cannot handle all that food. A cat would hunt something like 10 to 20 mice in one day. That's multiple small meals at 30 calories each meal. Instead of feeding your cat 10 times per day, try something like 3 to 5 times each day. The more, the better. Give your cat enough time to digest food from the previous meal, at least 3 hours. This can help a lot with maintaining a healthy weight since cats feel satiated instead of excessively hungry, which can lead to overeating and weight gain.

Here's a sample schedule:

Wet or raw food for breakfast, late afternoon (or your dinner time), and before bedtime.

Kibble or freeze dried raw in between wet food for snacks.

3. Location

Test out different spots to find your cat's preferences, including vertical spaces. The kitchen is a place we often think of, but in busy homes, your cat may not be comfortable eating with people walking behind them or the dishwasher on. Find a quiet, out of the way spot for your cat's feeding station.

Multiple Cats? Each cat needs their own feeding station. Ideally, it would be out of sight from the other cat(s). Vertical space, around a corner, different rooms are all things to try. Separating cats for mealtimes helps to reduce stress and can drastically reduce tension in the home. It can even help weight loss since cats don't feel like they need to gobble up all the food when another cat is standing right next to them eating.

I have 5 cats in a 2 bedroom apartment. We use almost the whole apartment. There's several feeding stations in our living room area, far apart. There's one right outside our bedroom on our scale, and there's another in our bedroom on the base of our cat tree. None of my cats have to look over their shoulder wondering if another cat is coming to take their food.

4. Working For Food

Trying to replicate hunting 10 mice per day is challenging in homes, even if you're playing with your cat frequently throughout the day. Providing kibble or freeze dried raw food in food puzzles or hiding food is an easy way to give your cat a fun and productive activity. It's easy enrichment. We've been using food puzzles for years and this year I started to alternate with hiding food around our apartment, like a scavenger hunt. I hide food in easy places such as windowsills but I also hide food behind doors, under my dresser and in the closet. I only use a small amount of food that I know they will find and eat the same day. My cats love using their nose to find food. It's been a really fun game and I always find new spots to hide the food.

5. Shallow dishes are best

Is whisker fatigue a real thing? I'm not sure, but putting your face into a narrow dish and having your sensitive whiskers squished against the sides does not seem pleasant. There are plenty of shallow dishes available where that can be avoided.

Need help with a behavior or feeding issue? Hire me for a consultation.

About the author: Jennifer Van de Kieft, CAFTP, FFCP, PNCC is located in Brooklyn, NY. She is certified in feline behavior and pet nutrition. She owns Cat Advocate, a feline behavior consulting company. She provides cat guardians with the strategies, tools and knowledge needed to address their cat's behavior issues. Jennifer provides virtual consultations throughout the United States.

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