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?
Actually, there are a few surprising things you might not have thought of about our eating rituals, not just what you give us to eat.
The information here is for general knowledge… always see your vet with questions about your cat’s individual needs.
- Who Is Skye Blake?
- The Indoor Lifestyle
- Natural Feeding Habits
- Solitary Eating
- Warm vs. Cold Food
- Whisker Fatigue
- Food Bowls
- Automatic Feeders
- Cat Food Puzzles
- Where to Go From Here
- List of Sources
Who Is Skye Blake?
Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a veterinarian) who sniffs out expert, reliable sources about cats, studies their information, then passes it on to you!
Sometimes there’s not enough evidence for easy answers, so Skye gives you all sides, explains the situation as thoroughly and clearly as possible, and links you to experts on each page.
All sources are at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping.
The Indoor Lifestyle
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
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
- 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
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…
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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
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.1 “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
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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”?
“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.
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
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.
- 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.
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.
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
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 cat food feeders 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
Cat food puzzles 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 how to feed your cat, check out what types of food there are at “Cat Food!“
And if you’d like to learn other ways to make your cat comfortable in your world, check out “Environmental Enrichment for Cats“.
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: 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 September 19, 2023