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My cat is currently fed on a twice daily schedule. I'm planning on moving him in with another cat who is currently free-fed. My cat will pretty much eat anything in sight, while the free-fed cat will cry if food isn't available.

I feel like I should switch the free-fed cat to a schedule, but I'm not sure: Should I switch the free-fed cat to a schedule, or should I switch the scheduled cat to free feeding?

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The problem with free feeding is that it requires you to use dry food (wet food will spoil if left out too long). Dry food does not contain the moisture that cats need and are accustomed to in their diets. Wet food is best, and so meal feeding is required.

Other reasons that meal feeding is preferred:

  • Portion/Diet control. Many cats will eat all day and not exercise enough, becoming obese. This can also become important if one cat needs a special medical diet (allergies/intolerance is a common reason), or if the cats are at different weights and need different amounts of food.
  • Monitoring ability. In a free fed multicat household, if one cat stops eating (or starts eating less) due to an illness/injury, it is much harder to detect.
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    Both of the cats seem to drink plenty of water on their own, so I don't think this is an issue for me, but thanks for the info. – Jonah H. Mar 27 '14 at 17:29
  • @Crazydog cats have a low thirst drive and do NOT drink enough from their water bowl to make up the difference. They are designed to intake water from their prey, not by drinking water. – Zaralynda Mar 27 '14 at 17:41
  • I guess my biggest issue with wet food is the cost. I have a 15lb cat, and according to the cheapest cat food I can find, I'd have to feed him 15oz of wet food/day, which would cost me at LEAST $3/day for the bottom of the barrel cat food, which I probably wouldn't want. I just couldn't see spending $90/mo on cat food (for one cat), when he's been just fine eating dry food that costs me $22 for a bag that lasts a month or two. – Jonah H. Mar 27 '14 at 17:46
  • @Crazydog That seems like a lot to me, since we feed 3 cats 11 oz of wet food a day. I'm looking for a calorie reference, but this should probably be a different question. – Zaralynda Mar 27 '14 at 17:58
  • @Crazydog yeah, most non-food company sources say that you should feed about 7-10 oz (depending on food). Also, the cheapest wet food is better for your cat than the best dry food. – Zaralynda Mar 27 '14 at 18:34
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Cats naturally tend to eat tiny portions regularly throughout the day. So free access to food should be preferred.

I have two cats and switched from 2 meals a day to free feeding about a year ago. It took a few days to reach a steady state but both cats seem quite happy with it. I can't really correlate the weight loss of the female cat with this change, but certainly my fear that she would gain weight was unjustified.

So I would recommend to switch the scheduled cat to free feeding. Do it gradually, reduce the amount of food you give at fixed times and encourage him to access the food.

I keep two bowls to be sure that both cats are able to eat at the same time if needed.

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