Cats and
those early
morning
food requests
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.

References:
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.
Cats sleep for up to 18 hours a day to conserve calories for hunting
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)."
Providing you cat with puzzle feeders can address a cat's need to hunt
Request an individual consultation
Copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
info@animalbehaviorist.us
212-722-2509 / 646-228-7813

Entire website copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
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