Our last column was about our new kitten, Frida Kahlo, and we promised to tell you how we met the challenge of feeding different foods to our two pets. Max, at 3 years of age, eats Hill's Prescription Diet t/d for good dental health, and Frida eats Hill's Healthy Advantage kitten formula.
For many years we have used an automatic feeder for our cats. However, it's been nearly 30 years since we had more than one cat at a time. Because Max is something of a glutton, feeding large meals results in him gorging himself, followed by throwing up most of his food. For that reason, his feeder had been set to deliver four small meals throughout the day. That solves most of the vomiting problem and satisfies his natural cat desire to "graze" through the day.
Enter Frida, who came to us at eight weeks of age, needing a special food for growing kitties.
Clearly, they would have to be fed separately to avoid the "What did Mom pack for your lunch today?" syndrome of each cat going to the other's bowl.
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The solution we arrived at was to leave Max's early-morning feeding at 5:40 a.m., with Frida and her food in my closet while I was on the treadmill.
When I return from exercise I pick up her food and she gets to roam again.
At night, I usually get home about 7:30, so we picked 8 p.m. as a consistent feeding time, repeating the morning routine of closet sequestration.
Although Brenda works from home, she didn't want to be tied to multiple feedings, so we chose noon to repeat the process.
Of course, if you don't have an automatic feeder, that's no problem -- just manually dispense the appropriate food into each of two containers.
We recently suggested a similar program for our patients Allie and Monkey. Allie eats Hill's Prescription Diet i/d for an intestinal problem and Monkey is on a different special diet for skin inflammation. Separating the two at mealtime works well since "Mom" works days and "Dad" is at home during the day before his nighttime work shift.
All pets, regardless of species, need to eat meals. They should have set times to eat and eat an appropriate measured amount. Most pets should be limited to 15-minute meals, but slow eaters can have up to 30 minutes of food access. Then, the food should be picked up until the next meal time. Whatever the quantity of food allowed on a given meal, leftovers from the previous meal are not added to the next feeding. In other words, if each meal's allowance is a quarter-cup of food, and the pet eats only half of his breakfast, he gets only a quarter-cup at supper, not 3/8 of a cup.
Most pets are happiest eating at least two meals each day. Although we recognize that some pets are exceptions, 24 hours is a long time to go between meals.
American pets, like American people, are suffering from an obesity epidemic. We have become so accustomed to seeing overweight pets that owners frequently ask "Is my pet too thin?" when, in fact, the pet is just right. The "24-7 buffet" is a common cause of overeating, which is why food must be taken up after a prescribed time.
In a few more months, Frida will be old enough to eat the same adult food Max does, and we may be able to let them share from the same feeder. The challenge will be to see whether they eat proportionately. If one cat eats everything and becomes too heavy, while the other is shortchanged and loses weight, separation for meals may again be required.
Dr. Jim Randolph, a veterinarian at Animal General Hospital in Long Beach, can be reached at South Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association, 20005 Pineville Road, Long Beach, MS 39560. Include a self-addressed stamped envelope.