How can I best transition my cats from free feeding to a feeding schedule?

Question

I currently free feed my 4 cats. They have been getting sick a lot recently. I am wondering if the best way is to no longer free feed to limit the food intake. I feed them a grain free diet with a “treat” of canned grain free food once a week. I am wondering if this is a good way to hopefully reduce their vomiting. How do I stop the free feeding while reducing the stress on them of no longer free feeding?  Thank you kindly for your help, my four-legged children thank you as well!

Answer

Although cats do get sick on occasion for many different reasons you want to avoid having them get sick on a regular occasion especially if you are not sure why they are vomiting. I would want to ask several specific questions about the situation to try to get to the reason for the vomiting as it could be because they are eating too fast, a possible food allergy/intolerance, stress, or something more medically related. My suggestions would vary depending on certain circumstances that only you would be able to know as you spend the most time with your cats.

I would typically ask customers that come into my store if the cat or cats are getting sick soon after they are finished eating and if the kibble is still in its original state as can often happen when a pet eats their food too quickly allowing air to get trapped in their stomach leading to the vomiting. The first suggestion I have in this situation is to separate the food into separate segmented food dishes or putting a large rock or some other heavy object in with their food so they are not able to ‘inhale’ their food. If the vomiting is happening due to speedy eating forcing them to slow their eating down with these easily instituted methods may be all that is needed.

Occasionally pets can develop intolerances to ingredients they have been eating consistently over a long period of time. The next thing I would look at, depending on what we assume may be causing the vomiting, would be to try to introduce a different protein at the very least or possibly a different brand altogether to see if they have developed an issue with a certain ingredient in their normal food. I would expect this is not the cause if all four of your cats are getting sick.

Although some animals are able to free feed and self-regulate their intake doing timed, measured feeding is typically a better strategy to better know what each cat is eating each day. Free fed cats are more likely to eat at varied times of the day, especially when no one is watching them. As four cats are free feeding it is almost impossible to know if all cats are eating enough or if any of the cats are eating almost all of the food. Although cats overeating is a concern as weight issues can lead to joint issues or diabetes I would be more concerned by the possibility that one of your cats may stop eating for one reason or another without your knowledge which can lead to life threatening conditions like fatty liver disease. It is much easier to prevent these sorts of issues if you are able to directly monitor what your cats are eating when there are more than one sharing the same food.

Changing cats from free feeding to scheduled feeding could present challenges but it can be done – I make that statement because I have experienced it in my own house in the past. I would suggest waiting to start the transition to scheduled feeding until the start of a weekend if you think your cats will have a hard time with the change – some cats are definitely more set in their ways than others. My suggestion would be to remove their food late in the evening on Friday night so they are more likely to be looking for their food when you are ready to feed them on Saturday morning. Only give them access to the food you have measured for their weight range and age for a few minutes. They may not eat the full serving right away if they are used to grazing. Pull the food when they stop eating and do not give them access to it again right away if they didn’t finish their meal. You can continue this throughout the weekend only giving them access to their food at limited times.

It might take some will power on your behalf if they are of the demanding sort. Although your goal is to get them used to eating only at set times you don’t want to deprive them of food if they don’t willingly eat when you want them to. It can take a little time to determine a schedule that works for you and them. With continued effort on your part your cats can achieve the change to timed eating which I highly recommend.
As always, any team member in your local Chuck & Don’s would be happy to help you determine a strategy to make the transition if it provides to be a challenge due to the various personalities of your individual cats. They would also be more than happy to talk to you about different foods if you think that could be a possible factor in regularity that your cats are getting sick.

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