It’s possible to train your cats to eat three small wet meals daily

Q: A couple of weeks ago you wrote about how to get cats to lose weight. You mentioned that they need to eat wet food several times a day. I find this very unrealistic.

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Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami.

A: You’ve identified one key problem: Most cat owners keep more than one. That means they share bowls. But that’s not ideal for several reasons, not just because it makes portion control untenable and weight gain almost inevitable. The ability to monitor appetite and eating style (early evidence of illness), offer medications, and feed therapeutic diets are also factors.

Like dogs, cats should be fed a set amount at specific mealtimes, not whenever they feel like stopping by the communal bowl of never-ending crunchies. But it’s not just for physical health; mental health is an issue too. Here’s what the Association of Feline Practitioners has to say in its new Consensus statement on the subject:

“[This statement] provides strategies to allow normal feline feeding behaviors, such as hunting and foraging, and eating frequent small meals in a solitary fashion — even in a multi-pet home. Allowing cats to exhibit these normal feeding behaviors regularly can help alleviate or prevent stress-related issues such as cystitis, and/or obesity-related problems such as inactivity and overeating.”

If it sounds too difficult to feed this way, consider that dog owners manage this just fine. Despite the conventional wisdom, cats are also capable of being trained to eat this way. But I’ll admit: It takes more work than most cat people are used to.

As to how you might switch a bevy of cats from a dry, kibbled, all-day diet to a moister one served in installments, here are some practical considerations:

  • Start by feeding in separate bowls. Enclose them in different rooms if you have to.

  • Offer a set amount of time for eating. Fifteen minutes is customary. Remove bowls afterward. Don’t worry if they skip a meal or two at the beginning.

  • Feed at least three times a day. Morning, noon (or after work), and at bedtime.

  • Offer them a third of what you think they would normally eat at each mealtime.

  • Transition to wet food by adding water to kibble. Slowly add in the moist diet. Some will never accept anything but a watered down kibble. That’s OK.

Finally, note that the best time to start feeding cats the modern way begins at kittenhood. But it’s never too late to teach old cats new tricks!