AAFP releases consensus statement on how to feed a cat

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Orange tabby cat at a feed bowlFeeding a cat may seem like a straightforward activity, but according to feline veterinarians, it is an often-overlooked aspect of cat health.

On Oct. 30, the American Association of Feline Practitioners released the consensus statement "Feline Feeding Programs: Addressing Behavioral Needs to Improve Feline Health and Wellbeing" and an accompanying client brochure.

The consensus statement, published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (J Feline Med Surg 2018;20:1049-1055), explores the medical, social, and emotional problems that can result from the manner in which most cats are currently fed. The statement identifies normal feeding behaviors in cats. It provides strategies to allow these normal feline feeding behaviors, ranging from hunting and foraging to eating frequent small meals in a solitary fashion, to occur in the home environment—even in a multiple-pet home. Allowing cats to exhibit these normal feeding behaviors regularly can help alleviate or prevent stress-related issues such as cystitis and obesity-related problems such as inactivity and overeating. Reducing stress with appropriate feeding programs can also help anxious cats that, in an attempt to avoid other pets in the household, may not access food frequently enough and lose weight.

"Currently, most pet cats are fed in one location ad libitum, or receive one or two large and usually quite palatable meals daily. In addition, many indoor cats have little environmental stimulation, and eating can become an activity in and of itself," said Dr. Tammy Sadek, chair of the panel that developed the consensus statement, in an AAFP announcement. "This current type of feeding process does not address the behavioral needs of cats. Appropriate feeding programs need to be customized for each household, and should incorporate the needs of all cats for play, predation, and a location to eat and drink where they feel safe."

The consensus statement and client brochure offer strategies for cat caregivers to understand feeding preferences and provide the proper environment for feeding that makes cats happier and helps avoid overfeeding or underfeeding. The statement also highlights the importance of feeding programs, which should be designed to consider whether cats are indoor-only or have outdoor access, live in multiple-pet households, or are aged or debilitated.

Feeding programs can include offering frequent small meals using appropriate puzzle feeders, forage feeding by putting food in different locations, and multiple food and water stations—and may include automatic feeders in some instances. According to the AAFP, veterinary professionals and clients need to work together to develop and implement a safe, effective feeding program that optimizes each cat's physical and emotional health and well-being.

The AAFP encourages cat caregivers who are concerned with their cat's weight and health, who have multiple cats in the home, or who are concerned with overfeeding or underfeeding to seek guidance from their veterinarian. Additionally, appropriate nutrition and feeding programs should be discussed during the cat's routine check-up, according to the AAFP.

See the consensus statement and client brochure.

Related JAVMA content:

Taking on obesity as a disease (Oct. 1, 2018)

Frequent feeding, addition of water to kibble increase cats' activity (April 15, 2014)