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According to the American Pet Products Association, more than half (52%) of cat owners have more than one cat. Some of the problems that plague multi-cat households, such as turf battles and litter box issues, are well known; but owners often overlook the challenges associated with providing balanced nutrition to each individual feline. Here are four common challenges you may be facing…
Not every cat food is right for every cat. What constitutes balanced nutrition varies with a cat’s age, lifestyle, and health. For example, kittens need to eat kitten food, while a moderately active 3-year-old would probably thrive on an adult food, and an otherwise healthy but sedentary 15-year-old might do best on a senior diet.
Many feline medical conditions can be treated with therapeutic diets. In most cases, if a healthy cat takes a bite or two of a therapeutic diet no harm will be done, but the opposite is not always true. For example, the benefits of a diet for hyperthyroidism or a food allergy will be negated if the patient regularly gets into even small amounts of their housemate’s food.
Obesity is the biggest health concern facing pet cats in the U.S. today. In fact, a survey by the APOP estimated that 54% of cats are either overweight or obese. Overfeeding and a lack of exercise are the primary reasons for this epidemic. Filling up several food bowls and topping them off is certainly the easiest way to feed a multiple cat household, but it puts cats at high risk for over-eating and obesity. Conversely, if one or more individuals are especially dominant around feeding stations, less assertive cats may not have adequate access to food and may become malnourished.
A change in appetite is an early symptom of many feline illnesses. Cats with hyperthyroidism or diabetes mellitus may eat more than normal; while other common conditions, like kidney disease and dental disorders, typically cause a reduction in food intake. When multiple cats in a household have 24/7 access to food, owners lose their ability to closely monitor each individual’s appetite, which can lead to delayed treatment and poor outcomes.
All of these issues can be addressed by feeding cats discrete meals rather than leaving food out for long periods of time. Measure out the correct amount of each cats’ food and place the individual meals into separate bowls. Feed the cats as far apart as possible. Ideally, feeding stations should be separated by doors that can be closed at meal times. If this is impossible, watch the cats closely to make sure that each only eats from his or her own bowl. Once a cat has finished its meal, or had enough time to do so, pick up the bowls and repeat the process roughly 12 hours later or on the schedule recommended by your veterinarian.
Meal feeding does take a little more effort in comparison to free-choice feeding, but the benefits far outweigh the inconveniences.