My childhood cats were always free fed from a communal bowl kept full of Purina Cat Chow. That’s how everyone I knew fed cats back then. I don’t remember a single fat cat from my youth. They all self-regulated their caloric intake appropriately and maintained healthy weights.
And so, of course, I carried that cat feeding strategy into my adulthood. It had, after all, always worked fine for my family cats in the past (note here that I completely disregarded the chronic urinary blockages that one of my family cats suffered for most of his abbreviated life, which I now understand was almost certainly caused by the species-inappropriate, high carb, dry diet).
I continued to free feed kibble to my felines for the first few decades of my adulthood, but there was a problem. These generations of cats were not successful self-regulators. These cats were gluttons! There were a few in the pride who managed to maintain proper weights on their own, but most turned into feline fatties, ranging from a little pudgy to morbidly obese. I had cats waddling around my house who were an embarrassment to their species and a testament to my lazy caretaking. Still, I did nothing to address the issue other than to upgrade the quality of the dry food slightly. That communal kibble bowl provided an ease I was loathe to give up.
Then one day I noticed that the cat who slept next to me every time I sat down at the computer, Bitsy, had become extremely thin. Bitsy had always been my second heaviest cat, weighing in at around 16 lbs. Because he was not physically affectionate, preferring proximity to direct physical contact, I only rarely laid hands on him. I had noticed in passing that his coat had become very dense and clumpy, but it effectively hid his weight loss until it became extreme. By the time I realized the problem, Bitsy was in stage 3 renal failure. Within four months and in spite of veterinary care and my intensive nursing, he was gone. Had I noticed that he had completely quit eating, I would have caught his disease much earlier, and there’s a good chance that I would have been able to successfully manage his illness for an extended period of time. But with so many mouths coming and going out of the communal food bowls all day, I simply didn’t notice that Bitsy’s wasn’t among them.
Not long after losing Bitsy, my heaviest cat, Noddy (26.45 lbs at the time), had a diabetes scare. That was the last straw that finally convinced me to do something about all of the fat cats in this house. The first and most important of the weight loss strategies I implemented (which I will discuss at length in an upcoming post) was to remove the all-day kitty buffet in lieu of portioned meals. This switch from free-feeding to portioned meals provided several critical benefits:
- I was able to adjust food portions as necessary to maintain safe, gradual weight loss in each of the overweight cats.
- I was able to provide specialized diets for cats with specific health concerns and dietary requirements.
- I was able to immediately identify any cat who went off food so that I could seek prompt veterinary assistance.
I won’t kid you; there was an adjustment period and plenty of logistical maneuvering involved in switching 14 free-fed cats to 2-3 scheduled, portioned meals a day, but it was such a worthwhile effort. Honestly, it didn’t take long for me and my 4-leggeds to get the new system working smoothly. As for the benefits, I now live with a houseful of lean cats whose health I can much more successfully monitor now that I know what they’re eating, how much, and when. No more fat free-feeders in this family!