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pet parent feeding the cat

Which Feeding Style is Right for Your Pet?

Most pet parents feed their cats and dogs at set times from dishes on the floor. Depending on your pet's needs, however, this might not be what’s best for them. Several feeding tools have been developed in recent years to provide a more individualized experience and better serve specific feeding issues. A number of factors contribute to an appropriate meal strategy, including age, health status, daily routines and eating habits.

Slow feeders

blue slow feeder petco

Many dogs and cats vacuum up their food the moment it is placed in front of them, which can lead to vomiting. If your pet is a food inhaler who finishes meals before you can step away from their dish, a slow feeder might be your solution.

Slow feeder dog bowls and cat dishes have varying styles of walls, crevices and corners built into the vessel to act as obstacles. Kibble spreads out along these extra edges so that only a few are accessible per bite. Some slow feeders have a grass-like design where kibble gets somewhat buried, adding a stimulating search element to eating.

Raised dishes

raised pet bowl

For some large breed dogs, raised dishes can place food at a more comfortable height that doesn’t require them to constantly bend low. Raised dishes can be particularly helpful for senior pets or those with arthritis or back and neck issues. Even smaller senior dogs and cats may be more comfortable eating from dishes raised to chest height.

Automatic feeders

automatic pet feeder

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For pet parents who do not have a consistent schedule and are not always home at their pet’s preferred mealtime, an automatic feeder is an excellent option. These are a much better choice than simply leaving extra food out for the pet to eat later. Many dogs and cats will eat extra food long before mealtime, so timing its availability can be very helpful.

There are several styles of automatic feeders available. Some are designed with bowls that rotate into place at prescribed times. Others store a large amount of food and open at programmed intervals to allow measured portions to fall into the bowl. Some even connect to your phone so you can direct the feeding at any time.

Puzzle feeders

kong puzzle feeder for dog

Puzzle feeders hide or trap food behind doors, gadgets or gaps in a toy, requiring dogs and cats to physically and mentally work for their food.

Puzzle feeders and treat-dispensing toys can be very helpful for many pets. Overweight pets can benefit because these devices extend mealtimes and encourage play and exercise. Food puzzle toys offer stimulation and enrichment opportunities that are mentally satisfying to many domestic pets, particularly curious kitties who enjoy the hunt. Treat-dispensing toys are recommended for dogs and cats who spend a lot of time alone, as many bored pets will get into mischief in the absence of better options.

To prevent overfeeding when using puzzle feeders, use your pet's actual meal to fill the toy.

Hand feeding

Feeding is an excellent opportunity to bond with a pet and work on training and positive reinforcement of behaviors. Rather than adding all of your pet's food to a bowl, save a handful or two (or more!) and offer pieces of kibble directly from your hand during training sessions or simply as a bonding opportunity.

This can be an extremely effective way to engage with a puppy or kitten or while bonding and developing trust with a newly adopted pet. Rewarding with pieces of kibble for behaviors such as paying attention to you, sitting or waiting in place reinforces that action. Doing so with kibble from meals offers dozens of daily opportunities for reinforcement and connection without adding excess calories.

A common misconception is that pets should eat from dog bowls in consistent quantities at routine mealtimes. But this is not optimal for every pet. Considering your pet's specific health issues, habits and challenges can help you determine the best way to feed. There are many creative products and methods available to facilitate the best feeding style for your furry friend's needs.