Cats and
those early
food requests
Working with early morning food requests (c) 2014- 2017 Frania Shelley-
Grielen, all rights reserved

With daylight savings time making our fall days start even later this is the time of
year when I hear from cat owners that kitty complaining has reached new heights, for
food that is. People tell me those plaintive meows are making them crazy, well how do
you think kitty feels about all of this? Daylight savings time affects more than just our
personal routines it affects the routines of the pets in our lives as well.

There are a number of things to pay attention to here, with the number one being the
issue of choice and control. As much as we love our companion animals we most
definitely deprive them of much of the choice and control over the resources in their
lives; when to eat, what to eat, where to eliminate, in what, when it’s cleaned, when to
go out, when not to, what to do, what not to do and with what, what to play with and
who, where to sleep and on what and who, the list goes on and on. Being deprived of
choice and control is inherently stressful for all animals and is more apparent in a
species more recently domesticated such as a cat.

With a resource so integral to survival such as food the stress is greatly amplified. The
cat cannot fulfill the desire to eat, the need to eat or a method to procure nourishment
on his own and is entirely dependent on the when, what, where and how of the owner.
Foraging and/or hunting account for a significant portion of how wild animals spend
their time leaving our pets with a whole lot of free time with little to fill it save for
what we provide. To offset boredom and provide for the opportunity for your cat to
indulge those natural foraging behaviors, feeding either the morning or evening meal
with a puzzle feeder can be intrinsically satisfying and add to your cat's overall well
being.  Along with puzzle feeders, keeping routine times to feed pets especially when
those times are complimentary with what the animals might choose for themselves
along with offering the best possible food will lessen the stresses surrounding feeding
times. For cats this means looking at their crepuscular nature, being most active before
dusk and dawn (probably when the best hunting is). Cats are “obligate carnivores” so
feed the best possible meat based diet, no vegetarian formulas and do feed early in the
morning and early in the evening to translate to the best feeding times for feline

All animals have internal or biological clocks and are subject to circadian rhythms
which relate to light and dark cycles in their environment and impact behavioral,
cognitive and physical changes in the animal. Our pets do adapt to our waking and
sleeping patterns if we maintain them in our environments. A 2013 study which
compared nighttime behaviors of cats housed indoors with cats let out for the evening
(9 pm - 8 am) found that the indoor cats had established activity patterns of rest and
sleep which were in concert with their humans, the outdoor cats were, you guessed it—
mainly active at night. Another note on circadian rhythms worth mentioning is that
they are not a strict 24 hour time span; this rhythm ranges with species and
individuals from 23.5 hours to 24.5 hours more or less. Mechanical time clocks which
measure out an exact span of hours may not be keeping time with an actual day set by
circadian and biological time keeping. Along with the anticipation of looking forward to
the event, (which is also a documented factor influencing the cat’s behavior) this time
discrepancy may help us in understanding why some of our pets may always be on the
“earlier” side when it comes to reminding us of mealtimes. It certainly goes to
explaining why daylight savings time (which just passed and may have occasioned my
friends’ notice of disrupted mealtime complaining) is a huge interruption in schedules.

Reset incompatible feeding expectations by keeping mealtimes the same time each and
every single day and for each feeding, this is paramount to stress reduction. Begin now
to alter changed or erratic schedules through a span of 15 minute adjustment periods
over the course of a week. For example, with this month’s autumn daylight savings
change all activities were set back one hour including cat feeding times which meant
that a cat fed at 7AM was now being fed a full hour later. Allow for adapting to the
change by feeding 45 minutes earlier for the first two days, then 30 minutes earlier for
the third and fourth day and 15 minutes earlier for the fifth and sixth day to
recalibrate timing. (You can change the increments to shorter time spans than 15
minutes just know that doing so will call for a longer span of days to fit the adjustment
period into.)

Offset the stresses of schedule changes by providing for more interactive play time in
the evenings. A minimum of five minutes of play with a fishing wand toy (experiment
to determine preference and remember to draw objects away from and across your cat’
s line of vision) will really do wonders.

Domestic cats are descended from the African wild cat. This species is more territorial
compared to the Scottish or European wild cats which made the African wild cat the
more likely candidate for domestication. Francis Galton, writing about domestication
in 1865, noted that the domestic cat was not necessarily gregarious or easy to take care
of but “retained by its extraordinary adhesion of the house in which it is reared.” This
extreme attachment to place comes with attachment to what occurs in that place. The
cat’s welfare is directly and forcefully impacted by routine and environmental events.
A ground breaking study done in 2011 found that disruption to routine resulted in
sickness behaviors in healthy cats and that providing an enriched environment to sick
cats resulted in a significant decrease in the number of sickness behaviors and/or
symptoms exhibited. The study found that keeping the time the same every single day
for each feeding was paramount to stress reduction. Other factors were providing for
the same caregiver, playing classical music (no rap or heavy metal please) offering
playtime including the interactive kind, keeping clean litter boxes in the same
locations and avoiding manual restraint.

Putting together a recipe for cat contentedness includes providing an enriched
environment for your feline companion with consistency and routine. To get there
make sure your home offers cat perches like window seats or cat towers, enough cat
scratchers, classical music, puzzle feeders, toys to play with and human interaction—
make time for cat play and petting time and pay attention to what time kitty gets to
eat to make everyone in the family happy.

Stella, J.L., Lord, L.K., Buffington, C.A.T. (2011).  Sickness behaviors in response to unusual external
events in healthy cats and cats with feline interstitial cystitis.  
Journal of the American Veterinary
Medical Association
, 238, 1, 67-73

Piccione, G., Marafioti, S., Giannetto, Panzera, M., Fazio, F. (2013) Daily rythm of total activity patterns
in domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus) maintained in two different housing conditions.
Journal of
Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research
.  Published online January 7, 2013.
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
"Along with puzzle feeders, keeping
routine times to feed pets
complimentary with what the animals
might choose for themselves along
with offering the best possible food
will lessen the stresses surrounding
feeding times. For cats this means
looking at their crepuscular nature,
being most active before dusk and
dawn (probably when the best
hunting is)."
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Copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
212-722-2509 / 646-228-7813

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