Ban food bowls for cats! That’s the mantra of Dr. Elizabeth Bales “Instead of feeding cats like cats, we’re feeding cats more like we feed ourselves, and it’s not working out so well for the cats,” she says.
Bales created a new system to feed cats, called NoBowl.
Outdoors, cats don’t sit at a dinner table and share meals with other cats. While cats are social, they are solitary hunters, and don’t typically share a mouse with a friend.I’ve spoken for years about how we’re not addressing cats’ hard-wired needs by feeding as we do, and their physical and psychological health are paying a price.
We tend to leave out meals for cats to feed as much as they like whenever they like. Cats are great people trainers. They train people to become automatic food dispensers, constantly refilling the food. Also, by free-feeding in multi-cat homes, people have no idea who’s eaten what.
The other most common method of feeding cats is to offer meals in bowls at prescribed times, and usually in the kitchen.
Bales says how we feed cats is related to obesity. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 58 per cent of cats are overweight or obese. The 2012 Banfield State of Pet Health report indicated a 90 percent increase of prevalence of diagnosis of overweight cats compared to 2007.
It’s no coincidence that the occurrences of diabetes mellitus in cats is on the rise, up 18 percent in 2016, compared to 2011, according to the Banfield Pet Hospital State of Pet Health 2016 Report.
Various studies have suggested that other medical conditions are more likely to occur in overweight/obese cats, ranging from osteoarthritis to non-allergic skin conditions. But it’s not only cats’ medical health that suffers, it’s also mental health.
Bales explains that Cats are hard-wired to hunt (predatory behavior), pounce on their prey, and ultimately killing it. That doesn’t happen eating “dead kibble” from a bowl. And not being able to activate their natural need to seek, And not being able to do what cats are born to do may be stressful .
“Nutritionally, we are over-feeding our cats,” says Bales. “Psychologically they are being starved.”
What’s more, cats are not built to eat one or two meals daily, but rather several meals, varying daily – depending on what they can catch.
The late R. K. Anderson, DVM, grandfather of veterinary behavior, who passed away in 2012 told me. “We’re feeding our cats wrong. Cats need to seek out their food; they need to hunt for it and then they need to kill it multiple times daily One day someone will put on a thinking cap and come up with a better way.”
Perhaps Bales has come up with that better way. After attending a conference in New Jersey, Bales says that on her way home to Philadelphia she conceived the NoBowl Feeding System.
Food is hidden inside five individual NoBowl devices, which a cat must maneuver to get out. The NoBowl Feeding System is designed with a soft skin to simulate a cat’s prey, and each has a “tail,” just like a mouse. The shape of these NoBowl devices is designed to roll and move in the way a mouse or bird might. Cats typically pick it up and use their claws to enhance the experience, and they pounce on it. Once trained, clients portion out the day’s food between the five NoBowls and then hide them.
Bales says there’s a training device to help cats acclimate to this new way of being fed. “I get it,” she says. “Some cats don’t appreciate change, and this is certainly a change.” Of course, clients can further encourage cats to use the system by placing treats (instead of daily kibble) inside the devices to start. (There’s an entire transition protocol on the NoBowl website)
In multi-cat homes, cats are often feeding from the same bowl – which Bales says is likely stressful to most cats. Bales suggests one system per cat in the home, which adds up to five devices per cat. “In most homes it works out, and somehow there’s no over-feeding of one cat. In fact, I get reports of less intercat aggression,” she says.
Using NoBowl, cats can no inhale the food like a vacuum. But Bales says clients report their cats who have those daily hairballs now gag them up less frequently. And busy searching for food clients report behaviors resulting from boredom and attention seeking occur less often.
Dr. Tony Buffington, a veterinary nutritionist and the veterinary father of supporting enriched environments has not seen the NoBowl system, though he agrees with Bales about the way which we feed cats. “Food that lies in the bowl is unnatural; I like feeding methods that support foraging. I also think that for every complex problem there’s a simple answer that’s wrong. I am not saying NoBowl is wrong. I am saying it’s not likely the best answer for every cat, as all cats are different.”
Feline specialtist Dr.Margie Scherk, co-editor Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery adds, “NoBowl offers cats the opportunity to exercise their instinctive nature: hunt, play and eat. Another benefit is that they (cats) can eat in the manner that that fits with their evolution, namely, small frequent meals.”
Buffington notes that the trick is selling the idea to busy clients who like to leave food out all the time because it’s easy, and it’s the way ‘I’ve always done it.’
So, are cat owners prime for a feline feeding revolution? “We’ll find out,” says Bales. “I think so because I believe most cat owners want to fulfill their cats’ needs. Now, it’s all about communicating what those needs are.”