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Free Feed Or Not?

Discussion in 'Cat Nutrition' started by lucicat, Sep 11, 2019.

  1. lucicat

    lucicat Thread Starter TCS Member Kitten

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    Sep 9, 2019
    We adopted a shelter kitten a month ago and I've been reading a bunch of cat books. So far we've let her free-feed kibble and I give her about a TBSP of wet food morning and evening, plus some treats for training. She's healthy (after a round of medicine for coccidia) and eats anything I give her and is high energy.

    But the books I'm reading don't agree on whether free-feeding is good for cats or not.

    Wondering what others do and why. And if I were to stop free-feeding should I wait till after a certain age? I know she needs more calories now as a kitten.
     

  2. Azazel

    Azazel Time spent with cats is never wasted. Top Cat

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    Cats in the wild usually eat ~10 small meals a day. They aren't grazers or scavengers, they are obligate carnivores (i.e., raw meat hunters/predators) - although, they will sometimes leave part of a kill and go back to finish it off later.

    I personally don't do free-feeding because I don't feed any dry food. My cats eat 4 times a day and know their schedule and when to anticipate a meal. Leaving dry food out all day is fine for a kitten but for an adult cat it can quickly lead to obesity since some cats will overeat and dry food is full of carbs (which obligate carnivores don't need).

    A good resource to learn more about feline nutrition is: Feeding Your Cat: Know the Basics of Feline Nutrition – Common Sense. Healthy Cats..
     
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  3. DreamerRose

    DreamerRose TCS Member Top Cat

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    It's a good idea to let a kitten free feed. But when he/she gets to be about six months old, wean him or her to 2-3 meals a day. Free feeding an adult cat leads to obesity.
     

  4. MistyRino

    MistyRino Mist Is My Cat. :dizzycat: Young Cat

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    I would not recommend free feeding. (It depends.) I wouldn't really ever do free feeding for my cat, though,
    Free Feeding Cats
    Keep in mind that only dry foods can be fed in this way because wet food should not be left out throughout the day. ... Advantages: Your cat can eat multiple small meals per day on her own schedule. Disadvantages: Free feeding cats can lead to overeating and obesity.

    BUT some cats won't stop, so that means, your cat may walk up and meow all day for more, and if you accept, that mean's your kitty may become obese. So no, but you can leave out the right amount of cat food for your cat/kitten and let them come-and-go. (They'll probably eat it all at once, though.)

    Meal Feeding vs. Free Feeding Cats: What's Best? - Hill's Pet
    That may help.
     

  5. MistyRino

    MistyRino Mist Is My Cat. :dizzycat: Young Cat

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    I wanted to add--
    Free feeding you can do, but keep in mind you've gotta be careful.
     

  6. Azazel

    Azazel Time spent with cats is never wasted. Top Cat

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    Yikes, this website suggests that you should only feed your cat once a day. This is very very bad advice. In general, I would suggest not seeking feline nutrition advice from pet food companies, especially Hill's or RC.
     
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  7. MistyRino

    MistyRino Mist Is My Cat. :dizzycat: Young Cat

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    THAT I would say is pretty healthy, not to bad and not to good, I would say you could change if you'd like, but make sure at about 6 months old, slowly move him/her to 2-3 meals a day, adult cats are more prone to obesity.
     

  8. Azazel

    Azazel Time spent with cats is never wasted. Top Cat

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    Cats at 6 months are still growing and should still have access to lots of food. You can start to slowly put them on a schedule at 6 months, but they'll still be eating a lot more than an adult cat. Cats don't hit adult age until at least a year.

    Also, most people do 2-3 meals a day because it works best for their schedules, but the more meals you can do a day the better.
     
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  9. MistyRino

    MistyRino Mist Is My Cat. :dizzycat: Young Cat

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  10. Kieka

    Kieka Snowshoe Servant Staff Member Forum Helper

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    Free feeding is definitely one of those debatable areas.

    • Kittens should be free fed because they are growing rapidly. They need access to as many calories as their body needs to maintain their growth.
    • Adult cats who eat a wet only diet don't generally have the ability to free feed because wet food will spoil if left out. Cats with urinary problems or who don't drink a noticable amount of water should be on a wet only diet.
    • Adult indoor only cats generally don't do well with free feeding dry, in my opinion. My personal belief is they end up bored eating leading to overeating and overweight. It could also be their natural inclination is to eat a small amount everytime they are near a food source and indoor cats in a small space end up close enough to the food source to trigger a small bite too frequently; also leading to them being overweight. Or dry food in and of itself leads to weight problems because of the high carbs. Either way, indoor only with unlimited access to dry food often leads to weight problems. Unless you free feed a set amount of dry per day.
    • Indoor/outdoor cats (I know this is a whole other debate) tend to be fine with free feeding. My theory being they are around the food source less often during the day and generally more active so they need more calories during the day and eat less.
    • Outdoor only cats tend to be okay with free feeding, same logic as above for indoor/outdoor. Again, I know this one is controversial but just mentioning it in the free feeding discussion, I wouldn't personally do outdoor only unless we were talking a true feral cat.
    There is a line of dry food that is low carb and says to free feed because the cat will feel full and not overeat. Which could lend itself towards the carbs in dry food being the issue with free feeding dry.
     
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  11. Azazel

    Azazel Time spent with cats is never wasted. Top Cat

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    I disagree, all cats need high moisture in their diet and dry kibble doesn't have any advantage over wet food health-wise. Its only advantage is the convenience and affordability it gives to people.

    Cats who drink a noticeable amount of water are likely dehydrated. (This isn’t to say that your cat is healthy if it’s eating mostly kibble and not drinking water.. that’s probably worse because your cat is probably dehydrated and also not drinking).

    Carbs in dry food is not the only issue I see with free-feeding. It's also the low moisture amount.
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2019
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  12. Kieka

    Kieka Snowshoe Servant Staff Member Forum Helper

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    My cats drink water like crazy and none are dehydrated or ill. I pinch test their skin for moisture from time to time to check but also their blood work has shown they aren't dehydrated. I have a dish with a cup of water I have to refill twice a day and fill the water fountain up every three days or so. The water cup they have literally lined up to drink from when I refill it and will give me dirty looks if it is dry when I get home from work. They also drink from our outdoor fountains frequently. I seriously catch them drinking more then I catch them eating their dry food (obviously I see them eat their wet food twice a day just because it's a meal feeding). I might catch Rocket eating maybe once a week but I see her drinking at least twice within just an hour between when I get home and when we go to bed. Nightfury insists that he gets his own little 1oz cup of water and drinks it while my Mom brushes her teeth every morning and night. She even has to hold it for him so it won't knock over while he is drinking.

    IMG_20190826_181713.jpg

    I don't disagree that dry food is more a convenience and affordability food choice. My crew have dry out all day and wet twice a day. Between the three cats they usually eat about a cup of dry food a day, so roughly half their diet is dry. I am gone twelve hours a day so dry food is a way to ensure the cats have food while I am gone or if I am gone longer than normal. Even if I was home more, wet is more expensive and double their wet food to compensate would just kill my budget.

    But this is a post about free feeding and that some cats will get overweight on a free fed diet which does imply cats are more likely to get overweight on a dry heavy diet as well. Dehydration is likely more of a concern on a free fed diet by extension.
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2019

  13. Azazel

    Azazel Time spent with cats is never wasted. Top Cat

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    I’m glad your kitties are doing well, but I still disagree that cats should be going to a water hole to drink. They are meant to get moisture from their food. The dry food probably dehydrates them just enough that they are driven to the water bowl, but cats are not naturally meant to drink their water from a hole. Rather, it’s supposed to be absorbed from their food. This is a biological fact common to many cats in the cat family, especially those that are descended from desert animals. So I just disagree with your statements that only cats prone to urinary issues should eat all wet food and that cats should be drinking a noticeable amount of water. Properly hydrated cats drink very little to no water.

    Convenience and affordability is a different issue - and it’s a very real issue for humans. I understand that part. There are ways to make an all wet diet convenient and affordable though. I feed mostly homemade raw and it costs me less than it would to feed a dry/wet mixed diet or even a high quality dry only diet. When I work long hours I leave out frozen wet food in a timed feeder. There are other options for convenience and affordability besides dry food if the human is willing to explore them.

    I do agree with your comments about free feeding and weight gain and, yes, this thread is about free feeding, but the type of food being fed is directly related to the topic of discussion.
     
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  14. Kieka

    Kieka Snowshoe Servant Staff Member Forum Helper

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    Wild cats do drink water and are meant to drink water. They do have a lower thirst drive and being obligated carnivores do get a good amount of moisture from diet (which causes the lower thirst drive). Plus the modern domestic cat evolved from a desert cat so they are evolved from a cat who depended more on food for moisture. Even with that, they should be getting roughly 25% of their water intake from actual drinking and 75% from diet (since most prey is 75% moisture). But it isn't just a lower thirst drive, cats are inclined away from drinking standing water because standing water is more likely to be stagnant or contain contaminates. Which is why cats are more inclined to drink moving water and don't like the taste of water that's been out for a while. Standing water is also more likely to have predators staking it out so standing water triggers an instinctive caution. You also have the instinct that drinking is a vunerable position to be in so a cat in a more chaotic environment may be less inclined to drink as well. And that the shape of the dish could make a cat less inclined to drink. Which is why what the water dish is, where it is and how often it is refilled all come into play. But none of that negates that cats should drink water and are meant to drink water.

    My cats likely drink more water because where I put their water dish is elevated and next to my spot on the couch. It's comfortable for them, daily fresh and they know it is safe. Same with the water cup my Mom's cat drinks from when she brushes her teeth. Which isn't to say someone else's cat feel less safe and that's why they drink less. Just that mine might drink more because of the set up instead of them being dehydrated.

    I was not intending to say that a dry diet was better then a wet diet. Free feeding is a personal choice as much as what food to feed. But my original point was that a cat who has urinary problems or whose owner doesn't see them drinking water regularly will probably benefit from being on a wet only diet. Which does tie in with they might be dehydrated as indicated by having problems or not drinking enough that someone notices. I have a feeling we are on the same page but for different reasons.
     

  15. ArchyCat

    ArchyCat TCS Member Super Cat

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    I have been fortunate to have been staff to more than 20 cats over the past 30 years or more years. I free feed kibble. Plus tinned food several times a week. Never had a "fat" cat. Healthy, large cats, yes.

    Back in the day, pet food products were pretty poor by modern standards.
    At present you can buy dry food whose first ingredient is actual meat or fowl. At the moment, my present two cats are working their way through a bag of Purina 1 chicken. Not cheap. Right at $2.00 per pound(plus tax) at the local supermarket. But Meow mix, in a small bag, is $1.45 (plus tax) per pound. I have noticed that when my cats are fed a meat/chicken first ingredient kibble, they eat less.
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2019
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  16. Azazel

    Azazel Time spent with cats is never wasted. Top Cat

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    Which wild cats are you referring to? Some big cats do drink water, many don’t drink much. They for sure don’t eat a diet that’s similar to kibble. ;)


    Where are you getting the info about cats needing 25% of their water intake from drinking? The 75% typical moisture rate of wild rodents just tells us that 75% of a rodent’s meat is made up of water, it doesn’t mean that cats get 75% of their water intake from food.

    Where are you getting your information that cats should drink water rather than obtain it from their food? I’d be interested in a source. I’m not denying that some cats enjoy drinking water, especially from a fountain, but for nutrition purposes they need moisture from their food.

    I think we agree on some things, but I just disagree that only cats who have urinary issues or who don’t drink water should eat all wet food. I personally believe that all cats should eat food high in moisture.
     

  17. Kieka

    Kieka Snowshoe Servant Staff Member Forum Helper

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    I never said wild cats eat anything similar to kibble.I am well aware kibble is a human invention. I am also well aware it isn't ideal. I never said it was. I also didn't say cats should mostly get their water from drinking instead of food. They should get most of their water from eating but they should be drinking too. This discussion is about free feeding. I said free feeding is something you can only do with dry food. And that a cat with urinary problems or who isn't observed drinking water (which would mean they probably are more impacted by the biological lower thirst drive and might not be getting enough water) would probably be better off on a wet only diet. That doesn't mean or even imply that all cats wouldn't benefit from a wet only diet. But this discussion is about free feeding so I shared my personal opinion on the different feeding options and how free feeding relates to those.

    We have a lot of people on this forum and many people don't have the option to raw or only wet feed. I don't have that option personally but that doesn't make me a bad owner. It's me doing the best I can within my abilities. Would my cats benefit from wet only, probably. But it isn't an option. Which doesn't mean I don't think cats benefit from high moisture, but this isn't that discussion. This is about free feeding. If you want to go into cats water needs more it really should be another discussion.
     

  18. lucicat

    lucicat Thread Starter TCS Member Kitten

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    Sep 9, 2019
    didn't mean to start any arguments! just genuinely curious about what others do (no judgement) as even the books don't seem to agree. I guess I have time to figure it out since she's a kitten and needs the access to food right now.

    I am doing grain free, good quality food (both wet and dry). I'd even consider doing raw food diet, but I'm I already feed two picky kids so the thought of more food prep is a bit depressing! :)

    She's growing so fast! I was starting to wonder if I was overfeeding her, but sounds like it's just her natural kitten growth/appetite! It's hard to keep this one entertained enough! Shes fearless and energetic. Luckily, snuggly once tired out though! <3
     
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  19. lucicat

    lucicat Thread Starter TCS Member Kitten

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    Sep 9, 2019
    I do think it's likely more natural for them to get most of their liquid in food. When we brought her home she was drinking a ton, but it turns out that was a symptom of the coccidia (diarrhea and dehydration and all that) and once we got that under control her drinking seemed to slow down to a normal amount.
     
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  20. Kieka

    Kieka Snowshoe Servant Staff Member Forum Helper

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    You didn't start an argument. A side discussion yes, but not an argument. Don't worry. We tend to be very passionate about our cats here and there are widely varying opinions and options out there.

    The truth of the matter is there is very little actual research into cats and what is best. It's only been in the last 200 years that cats were bred as a hobby and only the last 40 or so years that they were considered more then just small versions of dogs. We are all stumbling through cat care trying to figure out and do our best.
     
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