Cat Feeding Methods 101: Which is Best?

A cat’s health is dependent on how it eats and what they eat. In nature, cats are independent hunters who prefer to graze and hunt anytime. It’s assumed that domesticated cats also want the same. 

However the same or different wild and domesticated cats are, their nutritional intake remains the same. Modern cats have varying feeding methods for their interests and specific dietary restrictions. 

To know more about these feeding methods, scroll down below to see which is the best for you and your cat and how to enhance these feeding experiences.

Understanding What Your Cat Needs vs. Wants

Cats tend to be picky about what they want to eat, and pet owners usually need help with which feeding method to apply to their cats. Cats feed on demand and tend to pester their owners for more food or treats until we give in. As owners, we need to be authoritative regarding feeding time.

The best way to deal with this is to find out what diet your cat needs. You can start by experimenting with which food to give, which pet food brand, their dietary needs according to their veterinarian, and what time of day they like to eat. The usual diet of a cat includes the following:

  • Protein-rich meat
  • Lifestage-appropriate food
  • Canned tuna or dry kibble

These factors can help in the adequate feeding of cats. To further a better diet for your cats, you can employ a tailored feeding method from your local veterinarian to achieve maximum results.

Cat Feeding Method

There are many ways to feed your cats, depending on their diet, their household, and multiple pet households. The two most common are Free Feeding and Meal Feeding. However, another method that mixes both is Combination Feeding. Here are the three cat feeding methods, their advantages, disadvantages, and when to apply them.

Free Feeding

One common way that people feed their cats is free-feeding. Free feeding is a method where food is readily available for a cat’s consumption. This is done by leaving food in a bowl that your cat can consume anytime or within the day, or owners fill the cat’s food bowl every time it empties. This works well for cats who prefer dry food, feed 1 or 2 times a day, and for owners who are periodically away at work. 


  • Cats can eat at any time
  • Best for healthy cats that eat specific portions of food in a day
  • Trains cats to eat what’s available


  • Possibility of overfeeding and lack of appropriate nutrients
  • Incomplete diet as only dry food can be fed for this method
  • Harder to monitor feeds in multiple cat households
  • May cause starvation and malnutrition in multiple cat households

Free feeding is best to apply on cats who are healthy, well adjusted, and to owners with easy and flexible schedules.

Meal Feeding

Meal feeding is a method commonly called scheduled feeding or portioned feeding. This method involves carefully monitored and portion-controlled feeding at specific times or hours in a day – involving a routine for the cat and cat owners. In other words, you feed your cat according to schedule with a fixed amount of food. 

This method limits the amount of food your cat eats daily, and dry or wet food can be given. Meal feeding is appropriate for cats with health deficiencies, special diets, or households who prefer giving their cats a hands-on feeding experience while monitoring their dietary changes. The ideal time between cat feeds is 12 hours, which can be perfect timing for scheduling feeds. 


  • A complete and balanced diet of both foods
  • Promotes healthy diet and eating habits by setting controlled portions of food
  • Helps sick cats in healing faster as medications can be hidden in wet food
  • Avoids overfeeding and helps aid weight loss for overweight cats


  • Cats may not want to eat at set times and may ask for more food between meals
  • Feeding multiple times can pose problems with multiple cat households
  • Cats may waste their food and won’t get the chance to eat again until the next feed

Overall, this method is best for adult and elder cats who are already used to feeding schedules and owners who have time to prepare and schedule a feed daily.

Combination Feeding

Combination feeding is a method that combines the joys of free feeding and the aches of meal feeding. It requires cat owners to feed their cats canned, wet food twice daily while leaving a bowl of dry food for cats to graze on when needed. This allows them to eat multiple meals daily with different textures for their palates while partially monitoring their food intake and acting as a complete and balanced meal.


  • Owners can feed both wet and dry food.
  • Help cats get a complete and balanced meal within the day
  • No worries about feeding schedules or forgetting to feed


  • Leads to obesity
  • Causes over-eating
  • Expensive to maintain 
  • Result in nutritional deficiencies and poor diets if cats prefer one food over another

Combination feeding can help picky cats when it comes to feeding times. It opens options for them to feed freely and receive hydration and nutrition with wet food while monitoring their intake. 

Other Tips To Enhance Your Cats Feeding Experience

Feeding your cats not only involves food and choosing the time of day. It also involves tips to enhance their experience and make them gain proper nutrition and healthy brain function. Here are some tips to improve feedings.

  • Introduce food in puzzle feeders or puzzle trays to slow down feedings and helps in mental development.
  • Let them “hunt” their food by placing different food or treats around the house to imitate how they would hunt in the wild.
  • Follow the guidelines from your veterinarian and on food labels before introducing a new diet or method to your cat.
  • Consult experts and veterinary clinics for the best approach to feeding cats and the appropriate diet measures.

Finding The Best Method

The best feeding method will depend on what works well for you and your cat. Worrying about what’s best and what’s not will stress you and your cat. There is no wrong or correct feeding method – only the application and what you feed your cat matters. The best way to know which works for you is to try and try until you find one your cat likes. 

Always remember to observe your cat for the kind of diet and feeding method they need and relate this to your veterinarian to help you know which one is for you.


  • Choosing the Best Feeding Method for Your Cat. (2010, December 23). PetMD. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from
  • Cosgrove, N. (2023, January 19). 5 Benefits of Feeding Your Cat on a Schedule. Pet Keen. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from
  • Llera, R., & Downing, R. (n.d.). Feeding Times and Frequency for Your Cat. VCA Animal Hospitals. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from
  • Meal Feeding vs. Free Feeding Cats: What’s Best? (n.d.). Hills Pets. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from
  • Walden, L. A. (2021, December 6). Feeding Methods for Cats. Mallard Creek Animal Hospital. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from
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