We know there is a ton of information out there about feeding your pets and everyone has a different philosophy. At Velvet Acres Animal Rescue, we strive to provide the highest quality food possible to our animals. Our foster parents are tasked with feeding their own foster pets so the details vary a bit depending on each foster. We, as a rescue, provide food as often as possible to our foster homes. In general, we prefer high meat content diets for dogs and for cats. We encourage rotational feeding, which means the protein (“flavor”) of the food is changed every so often, maybe every two weeks, maybe each month. We also liked to vary the type of food that the animals receive and aim for them to experience dry food, canned food, and freeze dried and/or raw food during their time with us. Humans don’t eat the same thing day in and day out so why should our furry family members? Rotation and variety help keep our pets interested in meal time and provide different nutrient profiles ensuring a well-rounded diet.
There are a few ingredients that we actively avoid when choosing food (and treats) for our dogs and cats. Corn, wheat, and soy are cheap filler ingredients with little to no nutritional value so those are not in anything we feed. We also look for menadione sodium bisulfite complex, or synthetic vitamin K3. This is a known carcinogen and is not allowed to be used in products for human consumption but is allowed in pet food. We are not comfortable with feeding our animals something that is known to be so dangerous for us. Anything with that ingredient is not given to our animals.
Raw Food Diets
At Velvet Acres Animal Rescue, we believe that a raw food diet provides the best nutrition our pets can get. There are many arguments for and against raw feeding but we have seen first hand the benefits and the power of raw food to improve the lives of cats and dogs. We provide a variety of commercially prepared frozen raw and freeze dried diets to all our animals in some capacity during their stay with us. There are many considerations to raw feeding and while we would love to have all our animals be entirely raw fed, it is not always economical and takes a bit more time than feeding traditional dry kibble. For these reasons, the majority of our animals receive raw food intermittently or as a treat.
There are many benefits of a raw diet for both dogs and cats. Raw food doesn’t have the starch content that dry food does. Starchy binders are necessary for dry food to hold its shape during the cooking process, called extrusion. Starch breaks down into sugar which is what leads to tartar build up on the teeth. It is a myth that dry food is necessary for dental health! That is like saying that a human eating a pretzel is good for their teeth. Dry food is not hard enough to scrape tartar off teeth and even if it was, many animals do not chew the pieces of dry food, they swallow them whole. Raw fed pets tend to have very few dental issues that result from diet (some dogs will still have issues that result from genetics, which raw feeding can help mitigate but is not going to completely solve).
Pets that are raw fed, even partially, experience many health benefits. One is a healthier coat, sleek, shiny, and with less shedding. In cats, that translates to fewer problems with hairballs! Raw fed pets have fewer problems with allergies, IBD, and other inflammation-centered diseases. They also tend to have an easier time maintaining a healthy body weight because of the lack of fillers in raw diets. Additionally, it’s not uncommon for humans with pet allergies to have an easier time around raw fed animals, sometimes even having no reaction at all.
Cats are obligate carnivores. This means that they MUST eat meat; plant-based diets with no animal proteins cause nutrient deficiencies that will slowly kill a cat over time. For this reason high meat content foods are especially important for cats. Generally, the more meat in their diet, the healthier the cat.
Cats are chronically dehydrated and don’t have a high thirst-drive which is something else we consider when feeding the cats in our care. Cats who live outdoors and hunt for their meals, get most of their water through their prey. All our cats get at least a small amount of canned or raw food every day. These foods are higher in moisture and more closely mimic the moisture content of an animal that a cat would catch and eat. One of our foster homes also adds water to the canned and raw food and makes it soupy to increase the cats’ water intake even more! Some of our favorite brands of canned and raw cat food are the following:
|Raw Food||Canned Food|
|Stella & Chewy’s||Stella & Chewy’s|
|Steve’s Real Food||Instinct|
Dry food is not ideal for cats but is more convenient and all of our foster homes feed some amount of dry food (unless there is a medical reason to only feed canned/raw). Taste of the Wild Lowland Creek is the dry food that many of our foster homes use. It has a good meat content but is also affordable, especially when feeding multiple cats. Stella and Chewy’s is another brand whose dry food seems to be extremely palatable for a lot of cats and many of ours enjoy that brand as well.
Beyond what you feed your new family member, you should also give some thought to HOW you feed your new family member. Both cats’ and dogs’ minds are wired to “work” for their food by hunting. When we take them into our homes, their opportunities to work for their meals often completely vanish. This can be incredibly detrimental to their mental state, especially for cats, and allowing them the chance to work for meals often resolves or reduces behavioral problems. Additionally, “scarf and barf” is a common complaint for cat parents and occasionally for dog parents as well. Working for food effectively slows how quickly a pet eats and often completely eliminates this issue.
No matter which species you are working with, it is always advised to introduce changes in the feeding routine slowly and start with a low difficulty level. If the challenge is too great right away, many pets will get frustrated and simply give up. This is not a positive experience for them and may make them unwilling to try again in the future even with a different puzzle. A good first step, whether working with cats or dogs, is to simply scatter food on the ground or toss a piece at a time for them to find. This can help bridge the gap between the “I only eat what’s in my bowl” lazy mentality and the “I have to work for my food” mentality.
The same way we recommend rotating what you feed, we also recommend rotating how you feed. It’s a good idea to have a stockpile of different meal time enrichment options and change it up every few days or even every meal if your pet is especially motivated and enjoys working for their food. This also gives you a chance to wash the items regularly. Food surfaces with your pets slobber all over them can quickly become scummy and the bacteria that grows there can be detrimental to your pet’s health so don’t forget to wash enrichment items often! Be sure to check the instructions on each one, many are top rack dishwasher safe.
Cats are still extremely close, behaviorally, to their wild counterparts. The adorable little fur balls we share our homes with have an intense urge to hunt, catch, and kill the things they eat. This instinct is just as present in that cute little kitty sleeping next to you as it is the feral cats you see outside who hiss and run every time they see you and have to hunt to survive. Without the ability to go through a hunting ritual, many cats become frustrated and pent up resulting in a multitude of possible behavioral problems.
The first thing to keep in mind when feeding your cat is DO NOT free feed. Free feeding is when a bowl of food is left out and is constantly full so that the cat can graze and nibble all day, whenever they want. There are so many problems with this manner of feeding. First is that it is just about as far as you can get from a cat’s natural feeding method. They don’t have to figure out where the bowl is going to appear today (hunt). They don’t have to sit and calculate how it might escape and how they will react accordingly (catch). Additionally, free fed cats are prone to obesity because they can eat whatever, whenever. There is no way to measure exactly how much they are eating so weight loss, if necessary, is nearly impossible with free feeding. Dry food is just like any other kind of food and will go stale sitting out. This can lead to stomach upset and vomiting or the cat not being interested in the food, not to mention the amount wasted when it has to be tossed.
Rather than free feeding, cats should be offered their daily food allowance in small meals several times a day. If they don’t finish within a designated time, the food should be picked up and either refrigerated to offer again later or thrown out and fresh food given at the next meal time. All food has a recommended feeding amount on the packaging. Take the amount recommended for what your cat SHOULD weigh, and divide that equally into the amount of feedings you are able to do. Many people do a morning and evening feeding but if you are able to divide that further into three or four feedings, that is getting closer to what is natural for a cat. Keep in mind that their usual meal would be a small animal and they would have to hunt often to meet their needs for the day. Small meals may take some getting used to for your cat but it will be better for them in the long run!
When it comes time to feed your cat, anything you can do to make them work and forage for their food is going to be beneficial. This is a little challenging when talking about raw and canned food (referred to collectively as wet food from here on out) but it can be done. Items like licki mats and slow bowls can often be used for wet food. Stationary puzzles sold for dogs may also be good options for wet food for cats, depending on the size of the food area. (Many puzzles designed for cats have very small areas to put the food. This can be frustrating for the cat and for you when trying to use wet food with the puzzle which is why dog puzzles often work better for wet food.)
With dry food enrichment for cats, there are options galore. Stationary puzzles for cats, specifically, exist and are made by several different companies. Cats can also enjoy stationary puzzles designed for dogs. There are also mobile feeder options that the cat has to physically move around in order to get the food. The Slim Cat treat ball is a favorite with many of our cats!
In addition to store-bought options, there are many ways to DIY your own feeding puzzles and toys. One of our favorites is 1” PVC pipe that has been cut to 6-8” lengths, kibble-sized holes drilled, and had PVC end caps put on each end. These are easy to clean, virtually indestructible, and make great mobile feeders. The only downside is that creating them does require some tools and general handiness to cut and drill the PVC. Another great option that anyone can probably do at home right now is to use cardboard paper towel or toilet paper tubes with the ends scrunched closed. This is a cheap, quick, and easy option that is a really good way to test the waters on food puzzles and toys with your cat. Other popular options are thin plastic food containers with holes cut in the lid and sides. The cat has to use their paws to fish the food out and you can put toys or other things in to slow them down a bit once they get the hang of it. You just have to make sure the edges of the cut plastic aren’t so sharp that they could cut your kitty while they are using the feeder.
If your cat isn’t interested in the food puzzles or toys you got, try using high-value treats first, before you use them for mealtimes. Sometimes, cats need higher reward items like treats to get them interested in trying something new. They are creatures of routine just like we are and it has to be worth the effort for them to want to work.
Make sure you are starting easy! You wouldn’t want to jump straight into something new with the difficulty set all the way up so why would your cat? If the toy has adjustable openings, open them all the way. If the puzzle has sliders to cover the food, leave the food uncovered. Get them used to the item before upping the challenge so that they are comfortable with it first and can build confidence interacting with it before it’s as challenging as possible.
Give it multiple tries, over a couple weeks! Cats are creatures of habit and are often suspicious of new things, not to mention quite lazy at times. Using the puzzle or toy for one meal and giving up doesn’t count as actually trying, and if your cat is older, it’s almost guaranteed that they won’t be interested the first few times you try, especially if they have never had to work for food in their life. You have to keep at it, knowing that this is ultimately something really good for your cat and that the effort in the beginning will pay off down the line in a happier, more stimulated cat.
If your cat is free fed, STOP! Meals should be given at specific times during the day and having food available constantly means there is no reason (or motivation) for them to work for more food or for treats. Start by offering measured amounts a few times per day and picking it up after 30 minutes to an hour. Eventually your cat will realize that if they want food they need to eat it while it’s out. Gradually reduce the time the food is available until your cat will eat everything once you give it to them. Make sure to refer to the feeding guidelines on the package to make sure you are offering an appropriate amount. Once they are eating everything when you give it to them, you can start integrating toys and puzzles with the most likelihood of success.
You’re worried about the dog eating the cat’s food before the cat can? Feed the cat in a separate room or in a carrier/crate. There are many pet gates that have a small door to allow cats through but keep dogs out. These are a great option for keeping everyone separate during feeding time. Another option is a product called Door Buddy that allows you to easily keep a door open just enough to allow cats through but stop dogs and babies from entering.
Please note that nothing on this page should be considered medical advice. Not all diets are appropriate for all cats and it is wise to consult with a holistic veterinary professional before changing your pets diet, especially if you want your pet to lose weight. Likewise, if your pet has a serious behavioral concern, please consult with a cat behaviorist. In that situation, the strategies mentioned here would work best as part of a further, overall behavior plan.