Working with early morning food requests (c) 2014- 2018 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 their
own nourishment 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 hunting 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, offering the best possible food will help to
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 natures.
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
Copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
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