How to Feed a Cat - Cat Info Detective

How to Feed a Cat

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Greetings cat lovers! Skye Blake here with a question you might not have thought of… “Do you know how to feed a cat?”

Why would I ask that?

Is there some special technique to putting down bowls of food and water?

paw prints coming in from a distance

Well, there are a few interesting things I’ve uncovered that your cat would like you to know about our feeding rituals, not just what you give us to eat.

The Indoor Lifestyle

siamese kitty lounging

Since many humans have decided that it’s safer for us felines to live indoors, our natural feline cycle of hunt, kill, eat, and groom sometimes suffer.

We get stressed, bored, fat from overeating, and do things people don’t like because we have so much pent-up energy.

Our nature is to hunt, and we like to work for our food, getting both mental and physical exercise from it.

Natural Feeding Habits

tabby-cat-holding-dead-mouse-in-mouth

Cats have some instinctive eating habits that you should understand because your indoor cat has the same instincts as her wild cousins.

Feeding in the Wild

Dark tabby cat eating mouse
  • Since we’re hunters we do best when hunting, catching and killing our prey.
  • We felines instinctively eat several small meals every day, not 1 or 2 big meals.
  • In the wild we’re both prey and predator, so we eat and drink where we can keep an eye on our surroundings.

Feeding in Your Home

tabby cat eating from metal bowl

There are things you can do to make your cat’s eating experience mimic her natural instincts.

A more secure, happy cat eats and digests better!

Here are a few ideas…

cat & kittens eating from bowls
  • Where you put her plate or bowl makes a big difference in her stress levels when eating or drinking.

Put it far away from litter boxes!

Be sure her food is away from walls or corners far enough that she can sit with her back to the wall if she wants to watch for intruders and feel safe.

Always leave them in peace when eating.

eating from dish outdoors
  • We felines prefer to eat alone, not forced to eat near dogs or other cats.

A quiet place at least a few feet away (or completely out of sight) from another cat is best.

  • Individual plates and bowls are much appreciated when you have multiple cats.
  • Food and water bowls shouldn’t be in heavy traffic areas (such as the kitchen).
  • Many cats prefer to eat up high (countertop, top of frig, cat tree, shelf) to feel safe.

Solitary Eating

cat eating from food bowl

We felines will tolerate eating together but it isn’t our first choice.

Cats who don’t like each other are especially threatened by having another cat eating nearby.

It creates anxiety, which can lead to health problems long-term.

white, patch cat looking up warily from bowl of food

If you have a bully cat, it can get to the point where a cat won’t eat in order to avoid the bully.

Ideally, you can feed each cat out of sight from each other, so they can eat peacefully in a quiet place.

But cats being cats, it may be quite a challenge!

Warm vs. Cold Food

thermometer heat, warm, cold

Guess what? We felines prefer eating our food warm instead of cold or room temperature.

Makes sense when you realize we catch and eat fresh prey. Mice taste best while they’re still warm!

Humans even did a scientific study about comparing wet canned cat food fed in three different temperatures to cats older than 7 years of age.1Aging cats prefer warm food” by Ryan Eyre, Melanie Trehiou, Emily Marshall, Laura Carvell-Miller, Annabelle Goyon, Scott McGrane, Journal of Veterinary Behavior, Volume 47, January 2022, Pages 86-92

Brown & White Tabby Cat Looking Up

It was conducted by scientists who work for Waltham Petcare/Mars Petcare (Royal Canin) pet food manufacturers.

The majority of the cats in the test chose the warmest food first at about 98°F (37°C), then the room temperature food, and lastly, the refrigerated food.

The researchers believe the warmer temperatures release volatile compounds that bring out the smell and taste of the food.

wood burning fire

One in particular, hexanoic acid (it helps make things taste good), increased as the food was heated above room temperature.

Other compounds related to meat flavors were released in the warmer food.

This is especially helpful with older or sick cats who have lost their appetite.

Warming their food (any type) stimulates their interest.

frog waiter by blue refrigerator

(Note that vets don’t recommend raw food for sick cats or those with compromised immune systems because of the danger of bacterial infections.)

Getting the food to at least room temperature is preferable to cold out of the frig.

Just be sure you warm it carefully, preferably in her food dish over a pot of hot water.

2 cooks by a stove

Check the temperature before setting it out for your feline friend.

Using a microwave isn’t recommended because of the danger of having hot spots that can burn your cat’s mouth.

Whisker Fatigue

Dark tabby cat closeup of side of face - white nose, mouth

Ever considered your cat’s whiskers and what they do?

Besides being adorable, they’re important antenna (vibrissae) with sensitive organs at the base of each one that reads and reacts to changes in air and touch.

Signals instantly go from whiskers to the brain and are almost completely involuntary.

Black cat face closeup (Black & white photo)

They move forward, backward, twitch, and constantly send signals about what’s going on around them, even when your cat sleeps.

Without whiskers we can’t balance very well, determine the amount of space between us and our prey, or move around furniture very well in the dark.

In other words, we need our whiskers to be cats… so don’t let your kids cut them!

What Is “Whisker Fatigue”?

dark tabby kitten, white whiskers

“Whisker fatigue” or “whisker stress” is when whiskers send so much information to the brain at one time that it becomes too much to handle… sensory overload.

It can interfere with eating… and we can’t have that!

There’s no clinical evidence of whisker fatigue and many vets don’t believe it exists.

It may just be an annoyance for your finicky feline… there’s certainly no evidence that there are any health problems with this issue.

Tonkinese cat sniffing treat held by woman

However, there are people who believe it’s an issue because they’ve seen cats refuse to put their faces and whiskers in a bowl.

When the food was on a plate or in a wide shallow bowl the cats ate normally.

Signs “Whisker Fatigue” Is Affecting Your Cat’s Eating

calico cat face

If you see the following signs, take your cat to the vet to rule out any physical illnesses.

It could be that she doesn’t like her whiskers touching the bowl but could also be a medical issue like dental disease or tumors.

Over-guarding food is another possible reason for these behaviors.

tabby, white cat putting paw in coffee mug
  • Pacing in front of food and/or water bowl
  • Acting hungry but unable to eat
  • Pawing food out of the bowl or knocking food onto the floor to eat.
  • Aggressive behavior toward other cats (or dogs) around the food.
2 cats preparing to fight

If you’ve ruled out medical causes and believe the problem is whisker fatigue, try using a flat plate or wide shallow saucer (5″ diameter or larger).

If your cat won’t use a bowl for water, a fountain will let her whiskers fly free.

Food Bowls

cat eating from food bowl

Any bowl or dish is useful for feeding your cat, but vets recommend avoiding plastic ones for a few reasons…

  • They can cause chin acne in cats
  • Plastic gets scratched and can harbor bacteria
  • Lightweight bowls move around too easily when your cat’s trying to eat

It’s best to use non-skid stainless steel, glass, or food-grade ceramic dishes.

Elevated Food Bowls

cat eating from bowl attached to wall

Some cats prefer having food and water bowls raised up off the floor.

Elevating the bowls is helpful for cats who vomit food right after eating.

It’s also good for older cats who may have trouble swallowing when eating from floor level.

Automatic Feeders

PETLIBRO Automatic Cat Feeder

Automatic cat food feeders, like the PetLibro one above, can be helpful when trying to control how much your cat eats and when.

Discover more about them at “Cat Food & Water Bowls“.

Cat Food Puzzles

Catit® Senses 2.0 Food Tree

Cat food puzzles like this one from Catit® are a fun way to give cats the satisfaction of working for their food.

These are great for slowing down a cat who eats too fast or too much.

Discover more about both commercial and do-it-yourself puzzles at “Cat Food Puzzles“.

Where to Go From Here

Now that you’ve learned something about how to feed your cat, check out these related pages about nutrition and cat food…


Cat Food!How Is Cat Food Made?
Cat Food Companies – Which Are Best?Cat Food Recalls – What Do They Mean?
Meat By Products In Cat FoodPet Food Regulations & Oversight
Reading Cat Food LabelsBig Cat Food Paying Off Vets & Other Myths
Cat Food & Water BowlsCat Food Puzzles
What Nutrients Do Cats Need?Are Carbs Bad for Cat?
Can Cats Drink Milk?Food for Kittens – Giving Them Good Nutrition
What Vitamins Do Cats Need?What’s the Best Cat Food?
Dry Cat Food (Kibble)Homemade Cat Food
Raw Cat Food – Good or Bad?Raw Meat Diet for Cats – Benefits vs. Risks
The Best Cat Food BrandsThe Best Kitten Food
Wet Cat FoodCat Food Allergies & Sensitivities
Dental Care for CatsFat Cats – Unhealthy or Cute?
What’s a Veterinary Nutritionist?

Sources

Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.

Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.

Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.

Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own. Sometimes they refer to primary sources.

When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.

List of Sources

Aging cats prefer warm food” by Ryan Eyre, Melanie Trehiou, Emily Marshall, Laura Carvell-Miller, Annabelle Goyon, Scott McGrane, Journal of Veterinary Behavior, Volume 47, January 2022, Pages 86-92

Automatic feeders” by Bozena Duda, Facebook Group – Feline Nutrition-Feed Cats Like Cats, June 15, 2021

Automatic Pet Feeder: 7 Best Options for Stress-Free Mealtimes” by Kaitlyn McInnis, Great Pet Care, September 8, 2021

Feline Nutrition – Feed Cats Like Cats | This is a repost of a semi-important topic by Jennifer Diane, Facebook, (Edited by Xela Darkwater), August 4, 2022

Food Puzzles for Cats

Food puzzles for cats: feeding for physical and emotional wellbeing“, by Dantas, L.M.S., Behavioral Medicine Service, University of Georgia Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Athens, GA; Delgado, M.M., Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, CA, Feline Minds, Richmond, CA, Johnson, I. Fundamentally Feline, Atlanta, GA, and Buffington, C.A.T, Veterinary Clinical Sciences, The Ohio State University; JFMS-Accepted-Version.pdf (foodpuzzlesforcats.com), 2016

100% of Older Cats in Study Preferred This Type of Food“, Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker, Healthy Pets, May 31, 2022

Cat Puzzle Feeder | Why Your Cat Needs A Puzzle Feeder | DIY – Part 1” by Pam Johnson-Bennett (catbehaviorassociates.com)

Cat Puzzle Feeder | Why Your Cat Needs A Puzzle Feeder | DIY – Part 2” by Pam Johnson-Bennett (catbehaviorassociates.com)

Feline Fundamentals” by Ingrid Johnson, Fundamentally Feline

Updated January 9, 2023

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