Cats love to hunt! Their instinct to display predatory behaviors is incredibly strong. In the wild, cats are mentally occupied by the constant activity of obtaining their next meal. Only 25-50% of a wild cat’s hunting attempts are successful and they eat 10-20 small prey per day (averaging 20-30 calories each). That can mean up to 80 hunts every day!
House cats, on the other hand, are usually offered canned food once or twice a day and have a bowl of dry food nearby that is kept full (at the cat’s insistence). So that’s three, really easy, “hunts” - it doesn’t require much mental gymnastics to sneak up on a bowl of kibble. No wonder your kitty is asking for more food as soon as she finishes her meal - it’s just too easy! Letting cats outside would give them opportunities to hunt, but puts them at risk for picking up infectious diseases and car accidents, and can have deleterious effects on wildlife populations.
Without adequate opportunities to hunt, cats tend to have more anxiety, struggle with obesity, frustration, and are prone to stress-related diseases. Luckily, we can use food and play indoors to provide cats opportunities to engage in pseudo-predatory play and feeding behaviors.
Uses of dry food (kibble):
Hide small amounts of food in multiple locations throughout the house. This works best in single cat homes, but can work for multi-cat homes as well. If you have one cat who is much more assertive about getting food and another who is more laid back about food, you may need to do a combination of separate bowl feeding and food scattered around the house. Use the bowl feeding to balance out hunting differences.
Your average cat kibble has 2-3 calories in each piece - that means to mimic hunting behavior, each “kill” should be about 10 pieces of kibble.
Food toys or puzzle feeders greatly increase the mental and physical effort that goes into mealtimes. There are many products you can buy online or in stores, but homemade puzzle feeders are also great and very low cost.
Uses of wet food:
Feed a very small amount of wet food at regular intervals (2-5 times per day depending on your schedule)
Instead of putting the wet food in a bowl, fill a shallow cardboard box with empty yogurt cups (open side up) and put a teaspoon of wet food in just a couple of the cups
Uses of non-food toys:
“Kill the bear” This is a game to play with your cat to allow them to go through all the motions of hunting and killing prey in a safe way. Designate a plush toy that is only for this game. Get on the ground, get your cat’s attention by shaking the toy rapidly at ground level, then throw it across the floor in front of your cat. The goal is for your cat to pounce on the bear, sink her teeth in, and grab it with both front feet -- this is a full hunting sequence. Play this game once every other day with your cat for a great emotional outlet.
With changes in feeding strategies, it’s important to watch out of weight loss or gain. Many indoor cats can stand to lose a couple pounds, and feeding in a way that encourages movement around the house can help with this weight loss. We don’t want more than 1% weight loss a week (about 0.1 pound a week for the average cat). If you think over/under eating will be a problem in our household, bring everyone by for a weight check before changing feeding strategies and then reweigh them a month later.
For best results, include both dry and wet food in your cat’s daily routine and use as many of the above strategies as you and your kitty have energy for. Happy Hunting!