Sunday, June 7, 2009

General raw feeding guide lines for felines

Today’s comment is not about the usual discussion of raw, like which ingredients to look for or to avoid, nor whether it is advantageous. About the ladder one, to me there is no question anyway. Today is more about the little details, which we all too often don’t pay enough attention to, but, which make a difference to our beloved animals.

Please consider my recommendations as only being my guess. Your starting point when trying to figure out what works the best for your cat with regards to feeding amount and feeding times. It is a discussion about feeding adult felines only, I will address kittens, expecting and lactating queens in a separate comment at a later point.

So let’s get right into it:
Determining your cat’s ideal daily portion size is unfortunately not as easy as a chart telling you if your cat weighs X, feed her Y. Cats are individuals. Some are big and skinny, others small but fat. And yes, you guessed it right, cats can be young and old, male and female, active or sedate, and more. Some have fast metabolism and others don’t.

Any chance of providing you with a simple chart is made more difficult by the fact, that a homemade diet will turn out differently with the meat you use and with how precisely you follow instructions. I know of cat owners who use lean poultry, others use fatty beef. A fatty beef diet will be more filling and calorie dense than the same volume of a lean turkey diet. Some people add more water, giving the food more volume but not more calories, while another group omits water and wonders why their cats gain weight on so little food.

Like this one customer of mine who complained the other day: “My cat is “inhaling” her food like a dog” (now, who told that women that every dog eats like that?), cat owners are often distressed about their cat’s behavior of finishing their plate in less than a minute, asking for more food, pestering them at the fridge, or taking food stuff off counters or out of the trash, prompting them to think that their cat is starving or lacking something! Some cats don’t do this, but most will not miss an opportunity to eat. It is natural for an animal to be opportunistic. This is just part of their instinctive drive to survive. However, and I always stress this, much of this is conditioning. It really has a lot to do with how your cat was raised and how your cat has trained you! Most “monsters” are created by their owners.

Remember, food requirement should be based entirely on body condition, and not on behavior. If your cat suddenly looses weight without changes in the diet, keep a real close eye on her and possibly consult your veterinarian about possible illness or internal parasites.
It is especially difficult to monitor food intake and its effects on a cat allowed outdoors. Outdoors, you cat can regurgitate food without you knowing, and all you notice is that he or she is loosing weight. The eating of mice and other prey will add calories, but also predispose your cat to intestinal parasites. Outdoor, cats will often travel long distances, which takes extra calories. Outdoor, cats may scavenge food from neighbors, which puts them at a great risk not only from weight gain.

Most cats prefer to eat off a flat dish with the food spread out onto it. For regular raw food, my suggestions are to feed a daily portion of 1/2 cup or appr. 5 oz to appr. 6 oz or 2/3 cup divided into two meals every day. If you have a dainty female cat, start by feeding ¼ cup in the morning and the same in the evening. If you have a robust male cat, feed 1/3 cup in the morning and the same in the evening. Unless you have a very large cat, like a young, active, outdoor, male Main Coon cat, or a crazy Siamese, 99% of cats will fall into this portion range. Some older, more sedate cats will actually gain weight on only 5 oz of food a day. Always follow the manufacturer’s feeding instructions and your vet’s recommendations. Remember that manufacturer’s instructions stating how much to feed your cat at which weight is based on the “ideal” body weight, not the actual weight. This means for example, if your cat is overweight and you feed her based on her “actual;” weight you continue to over feed her, which is obviously not helping in getting rid of the obesity problem.

Here are some other facts you may want to keep in mind:
Some cat owners and vets say that cats will digest food better and get more out of it, when given small portions 3 to 4 times a day. Cats will also pester you less for food, if you divide their daily portion into more frequent meals. Contrary to this advice, we feed our cats once a day. I wanted to make sure, they pester me only once a day. Just kidding, but my point is, this is what they are used to and they don’t seem to have a problem with that. Though I have to add that: They are 50/50 indoor/outdoor cats, i.e., I take it during their 50% outdoor time they may scavenge and hunt and possibly get food this way, plus they always are around me with our pet food store and Daddy always has a treat or sample to try and spare.

Most cats will not digest a portions size of ½ cup well, and will likely suffer from a degree of indigestion. Many cats will actually regurgitate food if you feed a portion larger than ¼ cup. A cat’s ability to eat a large meal in one sitting decreases with age. Occurrence of regurgitation is more frequently observed in middle aged to older cats. I noticed this with our oldest cat
Young cats often behave especially frantic to get their paws on food. They may climb up on you while you are preparing or serving their food, climb right into the fridge when it is being opened, and come running at any sound of activity in the kitchen. Young cats, but not exclusively so, may steal food left out on counter tops, sometimes even take off with a loaf of bread. I don’t remember now where exactly I found this part, but have to say, observing our cats, this does not just apply to the young ones. Young and old, in our family they are all the same.

Cats are individuals. Some will maintain a level of excitement about food throughout their live. Others are largely uninterested in eating, and need coaxing to eat even as kittens. Most cats do well eating three meals every day, but some are not interested in eating more often than twice every day; sometimes they only show enthusiasm for one meal per day. Other cats will eat anything, any time, for no reason. Cats’ personality and emotional state is very much expressed by how they eat!

Cats’ appetite and attitude towards food does not only hinge on a certain personality type, but also on early kitten hood conditioning. Competition from other kittens, type of food fed, and frequency of food fed will all affect what kind of relationship cats will have with food later in life.
Cats’ behavior towards food and eating is also influenced by how well they have trained you. Do you respond to their begging by feeding them something when you have a meal yourself, work in the kitchen, or open the fridge? A rewarded behavior will be repeated. Although your intention may not have been to reward your cats for that behavior, you did nonetheless yield to their pressure.

If you find a begging cat intolerable, start conditioning your cat early and consistently by feeding him or her at a quite, designated place, preferably not in your kitchen or dining room, so your cat does not form a strong food association with these areas. If you feed your adult cat three times daily as much as he or she needs to maintain body weight, and refrain from giving food out of the fridge or from the table, your cat should settle into a routine that is comfortable and predictable for both of you. Feed treats away from areas where you prepare and eat your own food, and keep groceries and the trash out of your cat’s reach. If your cat is allowed into the kitchen and on counter tops keep food stored away and inaccessible. If your cat is successful in snatching food off the counters once, it will continue to check out these areas for food. After all, they are not stupid and will not resist instinct simply to be a good kitty just to please you.

Cats of the genus Felis, including the domestic cat, are adapted to prey on rodents, small birds, and the occasional reptile and amphibian as the main staple of their natural diet. A single mouse weighing no more then 30 gram provides approximately 60 kcal. So, in order to meet daily caloric requirement a cat must eat an average of five prey animals daily. This amount of food is not consumed all as one meal, but as separate meals throughout the day as the cats succeed in catching that prey. Researchers during field observations have concluded that most small cat species are adapted to and prefer to be active during dusk and dawn, the time when they will hunt most of their prey, resulting in an intake of several smaller meals during these hours. Naturally, cats will rest, groom, doze or sleep during daytime hours.

Transferring that insight from Mother Nature’s model onto our domesticated animals, feeding five meals of 1 oz each during the morning and evening hours is sort of an impossible solution for most of us. Reporting on feedback from my customers I would say that cats do very well by eating meals of 2.5 to 3 oz each given twice daily. By the way, weighing of the servings is a good idea since we pet owners have a natural tendency to over feed.

If regurgitation of food is a problem, try feeding smaller meal sizes not exceeding 3 oz ea. and feed the daily portion spread out over 3 to 4 meals. Young, large, active cats requiring more than 5 oz of food daily should be given an extra meal rather then increasing the size of their meal. Remember that a cat’s stomach size is about the size of a walnut when empty. I can stretch, but trying to fit a ½ cup of food into it as one meal, is over stretching it a bit. Saliva and digestive juices will add additional volume. If the cat does not bring the food back up, proper digestion will be difficult. Additionally, your cat will not always select instinctively what he or she needs and how much of it. There are many cats that if offered as much food as they want, they will eat until overcome with an urge to purge. Only some, those raised without siblings and competition for food will eat until full and leave the rest behind.

And finally: Always remember that cats are individuals. While I can give you ideas, none of them may work for your cat. Cats are a joy and a challenge at the same time. The ladder especially holds true when it comes to feeding. Since cats are so specialized in what they would eat naturally, cat owners have a very narrow margin of error of what cats thrive on or die from.

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