by Barbara George
Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
While food is important to cats, the means of finding their food is just as important and necessary to their well-being.
The digestive system of cats is designed for small meals often; meals high in protein and moisture, low in fat with minimal plant matter and virtually zero carbohydrates. Today we feed our cats either a dry food, often composed mainly of carbohydrates and fillers, or a wet food containing artificial flavours and preservatives. The meals we supply are easy to obtain – walk up to a food bowl and eat! No chasing or killing required.
The process of eating starts with identifying the potential prey, planning the hunt, hunting, killing, eating, cleaning up, and snoozing. This process can be repeated between 13 and 20 times a day; not all hunts are successful. This can take up to 80% of the time a cat is awake each day, leaving little time over for bad behaviour.
Each of the steps required in order to eat use energy, both physical and mental, experience, and learning while taking up most of the time during the period from sunrise to sunset. These activities keep cats in shape both physically and mentally and prevent over-eating as a fat cat wouldn’t be in a position to catch too much to eat.
The actions of identifying, hunting and killing releases happy endorphins in the brain, as does eating. They also help to building strengthen muscles, keeping cats supple and flexible. Even eating the caught prey is not always simple. Feathers, fur, scales, or shells need to be stripped before there is anything to eat.
Hunting is a natural instinct for all cats, a fixed-action pattern hard-wired into their systems. This can be seen in any kitten or cat that chases a piece of string. The process of killing prey – the killing bite – is usually learnt from the mother, who raises her kittens in the same way as big and small wild cats. There are different techniques for catching and killing different types of prey, Some cats, often from feral parents, instinctively know the correct method of killing a variety of prey animals.
A proper eating protocol has been shown in various studies to improve behaviour and reduce health issues such as obesity, boredom, relationship issues, inappropriate elimination and even reduces the onset of arthritis and generally creating a happier and healthier cat.
Over the next few weeks we will look at ways to simulate the hunt-to-eat process for cats that live with us.