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How to Transition A Cat from Free Feeding to Timed Meals

Feb 27, 2023

Author:Lisa Martinez

In order to give your cat a full, healthy and happy life, there’s a bit more to consider than not letting your cat go hungry. How and when do you feed your cat? Don’t think it’s important?

If you’re on the fence about whether free feeding or scheduled feeding is the right option for your feline friend, we'll help you weigh the pros and cons. Also learn how to transition your cat to timed meals. 

Scheduled Meals or Free Feeding - Which is Better?

It turns out that there is a lot to think about when it comes to feeding your cat. Among the many decisions feline owners have to make is how and when to feed their cats. The scheduled meals vs free feeding debate is a hot one.

Before jumping into conclusion, let's take a look at the pros and cons of each method to figure out what works best for your cat. Check them out and decide which feeding style is right for you and your kitty.

cat's food

Pros and Cons of Scheduled Meals:

Scheduled feeding means feeding your pet’s recommended amount of food at predetermined times of the day. This means that you're feeding your cat a set amount of food, once or twice daily. Let's take a look at the pros and cons of scheduled meals.

Pros of Scheduled Meals

You can control the portions easily. Portion control can help you keep on top of your cat’s nutritional intake.

Cats are creatures of habit and appreciate routine in life. With scheduled meals, they know when to expect a meal. It gives your cat structure to her day.

It helps keep things clean in your home. You don’t have food sitting out all day.

You can keep your cat’s weight in check by having a scheduled meal plan.

It helps you to notice when your cat’s appetite makes a sudden shift. You know right away if your cat has stopped eating due to some illness. Scheduled meals you to a possible sickness early.

If you have a multi-pet household, you'll also encounter the issue of monitoring each individual dog’s daily intake. More assertive dogs may terrorize their submissive siblings and steal their parts, causing some dogs to overeat while others are undernourished.

cat's scheduled meals

Cons of Scheduled Meals

You have to be home to feed your cat at scheduled time.

It encourages your cat to gulp her food since she anticipates it so greatly.

It may lead to food-guarding as your cat knows she only gets access to food for a little twice daily.

Pros and Cons of Free Feeding:

Free feeding your cat is the practice of leaving an unlimited amount of food for your kitty to graze on throughout the day. Let's take a look at the pros and cons of free feeding.

Pros of Free Feeding

Cats can eat as much as they need and are never left feeling hungry between meals.

You don’t have to worry if you can’t get home in time at feeding time.

Good for active cats that have varied levels of activity and may need more calories on a certain day.

Cats don't have to worry about when their next meal is coming. Free feeding takes away anxiety about food, so there are less food-guarding issues.

cat free feeding

Cons of Free Feeding

You can't control the portions easily. Your cat may overeat, causing weight problems and other associated health risks. It puts many cats at risk of obesity.

Free access to food can cause aggressive behaviors in cats. 

Tough to manage in multi-pet households. You can’t control which of your pets is eating how much food. It increases the chances that one cat will eat the other cat’s food, and that leads to obesity. It also creates problems if the two pets need to be on different diets due to medical reasons.

feed your cat

Free feeding makes it harder to see if your cat lost her appetite.

Free feeding can mean that your cat's food might be left in the bowl for many hours. Food that is left out can often promote an unhygienic situation. Also, some foods that can spoil shouldn't be left out all day. You can’t free feed foods that will spoil.

As you can see, both feeding methods have their good and bad points. We're not pushing you one way or another, but you might find that, after reading this, you’d like to switch your style. Free feeding has earned a bad reputation because it's contributed to cat obesity. Plus, not all cats can be free fed.

Our Recommendation

In most cases, vets recommend scheduled feeding for cats using automatic pet feeders. The key here is to offer a fixed portion in accordance with your cat's specific dietary needs. Timed feeding lets you really track what your cat eats, as well as how much. It lets you and your cat bond–with your kitty knowing she can count on you. Using this feeding method, you’ll become very familiar with your cat’s eating habits and quickly notice even a small variation away from what is normal.

How to Transition A Cat from Free Feeding to Timed Meals

Your busy schedule doesn’t always include time for your own meals. Are you confident your kitty is getting her meals on time? If you can’t be home to feed your pet, WOpet automatic cat feeder can help. 

wopet barn automatic cat feeder

If you want to switch from free feeding to scheduled meals, there are a couple ways you could do it.

Establish a routine for the timing of your cat's meals. Determine when and how often you can feed meals based on your schedule. During the transition, feed small meals at the same time every day.

Designate a specific area where you feed meals to your cat and this is part of the routine. This place should be different from where you free-fed them earlier. Don't chase after your kitty to get them to eat.

Designate a specific signal to your cat that this is her meal time. You can pick a word, phrase, sound, or whistle. Get your kitty associating that word, phrase, sound, or whistle with coming to eat.

wopet automatic pet feeder

Determine the amount of food your feline friend is currently eating in a 24-hour period. Now determine the amount of food your cat will eat at one meal. If your kitty is hungry after their meal, increase the amount of food that you have offered.

The next step is to figure out how many timed meals per day you can provide. Generally, the more you can offer, the better! The most popular approach would be feeding three meals per day. Once you choose the best feeding schedule, you must stick to it.

Pulling the free-fed method can be done in stages. You can start by pulling your cat's free-fed food when you get up. Feed scheduled meals during the day and evening, and put down a measured amount of food before you go to bed.

wopet cat & dog automatic feeder

Once your cat is eating only meals, start increasing the quantity of food fed at the scheduled meal times and slowly drop those extra meals one by one.

Some cats will transition to scheduled meals within a few days or weeks. Some cats may take up to a few months. The time required is usually related to your cat's breed and age.

Automatic cat feeders are always good to plan ahead! They'll help you provide meals to your pet when you're not home or are asleep.

Go at your cat’s pace. The last thing you need is a confused, nervous, and stressed kitty.

Final thoughts

Consider the pros and cons of both scheduled meals and free feeding plan before deciding which is best for your cat. While free-feeding has its own share of perks, there are plenty of benefits to scheduled feeding that make it worth considering. Your cat will adjust to timed meals, even if she first objects!