Scattered Feeding for Cats – Making Mealtimes More Interesting and Long Lasting

You may already know that I share my home with a few cats. Five to be exact. Each with their own personality, eccentricities and quirks. They also have varying levels of greed, but, with the exception of the Cyril squid, they all maintain pretty good body condition for indoor cats, and there are never any fights over food.

One of the concerns of keeping indoor cats is ensuring that they are entertained, enriched, and fed appropriately. It’s not always easy to get a cat to exercise, so one of the ways I try to make mealtime a little more interesting, while reducing the chances of Cyril eating the portion of everyone, is to feed it in a scattered manner.

What is scattered feeding?

Well, that’s exactly what it sounds like. When it comes to feeding my cats their kibble, I don’t use bowls. Instead, I measure out the required amount of food for all five cats and scatter it on the floor, chairs, or their scratching platforms. Not only does this encourage them to explore and forage for their food, but it also transforms mealtime from a five-minute frenzy into a leisurely half-hour feast.

Scattered feeding gives everyone the opportunity to eat their fill, it also greatly reduces the amount of spit-up I saw when they ate their food quickly. And if there are any leftovers, Ned the Chihuahua is always happy to help.

Ned the Chihuahua Cleaning Team for Scattered Feeding
Ned is always happy to help with cleaning…

What about wet food?

So obviously scatter feeding wet food is a little trickier, especially when it comes to carpet! This reminds me of a carpet ad from many eons ago in Australia. But that doesn’t mean we can’t adapt the same principle.

My cats mainly eat dry food – I use Royal Canin Gastrointestinal Hairballs – perfect for Clutch’s sensitive belly and Zelda’s long coat. This also keeps small deposits in their litter box with minimal odor, which is ideal when their bathroom doubles as an office! To please themselves, they receive some from time to time Gastrointestinal wet foodand my alternative to scattering is to spread these foods out on a large baking sheet.

No, I’m not just trying to stop washing the cats’ dishes – that’s just a nice little bonus!

Why a dispersed flow?

This method is particularly useful when you have several cats, even more so if you have greedy cats. Regurgitation is a very common complaint among cats, and most of the time it is the result of eating too quickly. When cats feel like they’re competing for food, they’re more likely to eat quickly, which makes them more likely to bring that food right back.

Although domestication has softened their instincts, our cats are still descendants of some of the world’s most skilled hunters, so having their meals served twice a day in a bowl can get a little tedious. By spreading their food over a wider area, we stimulate their hunting instinct and physically prevent them from eating too quickly.

Alex and Clutch's cats scatter while feeding on the couch
Alex and Clutch show off their hunting skills

It may also help prevent obesity

One of the most common problems I see in my patients is that cats who go without food all day become overweight. I call this the “refrigerator cheesecake” phenomenon**.

Let’s say I have a slice of cheesecake. Okay, that might be a big slice of cheesecake, but that’s my portion; no more cheesecake for me. But I know there’s still cheesecake in the fridge. So I have another small slice a few hours later. And another before dinner. Then there’s dessert…you see where I’m going with this. If there was no cheesecake in the fridge I wouldn’t eat it, which is fine, I definitely don’t need it!

The same goes for cats whose bowls are filled with food. We must measure the appropriate amount for each meal, and anything left after 20 minutes must be collected. Don’t worry, your cat will soon learn to eat its fill at mealtimes! But if we fill their bowl and leave it out, they will graze all day and eat way more than they should.

When scattering food, I stick to a measured amount, but it takes cats much longer to find and eat all the food, which means they feel full longer. And for the most part, they don’t come asking for more food until it’s time for their next meal.

**Do other Catsters think of this when they hear the word phenomenon?

Alex the cat looks up after eating scattered food

Are there other ways to make mealtimes interesting?

Absolutely. There is a a whole series of cat food puzzles (and dogs) that provide a more challenging way to deliver their kibble, engaging their brains and extending feeding time. Back when it was just me and Clutch, I used several different types of puzzles to keep him busy while I was at work.

The challenge of using them in a multi-cat household is that I found that some cats were more motivated than others to work for their food, while others were not very interested or unable to make it out !

So if you’re looking for ways to keep your cats busy while you’re away, prevent greedy cats from hogging the food bowls, and slow down those who like to inhale their food, you can always try scatter feeding them – just be careful not to scatter it under low furniture, and I don’t recommend throwing wet cat food around the house!

Signature of Dr. Karyn


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