Understanding and Working with Cats' early morning food requests

By 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, ditch the dry food bowls and feed all dry food using one or two puzzle feeders. Replenish each day's dry supply daily in the puzzle feeder and leave where it is most available to encourage your cat's "at will" engagement, so use can be be intrinsically satisfying and add to your cat's overall well being. Along with puzzle feeders, keeping routine times to feed wet food to pets, especially when those times are complimentary with what the animals might choose for themselves, and 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. (Continue reading below.)