Going Bowl-less: Porter's Journey from Portly to Purrfect

Guest Blogger: Dr. Andra Edwards, DVM

Meet Porter.  Or as we sometimes call him, “Portly Porter.”  Well, we used to call him that, but Porter has been working hard to get in shape this year and we can no longer refer to him as portly now that he is a lean, mean indoor hunting machine. 


Like most cats, Porter was fed out of a bowl, at least until he started his magical new nutrition and fitness routine.   He and his kitty housemate, BK, were “meal fed,” which means that they were fed a certain amount in their bowl twice daily rather than having access to the endless food bowl that “free fed” cats are allowed.  There were a lot of problems with this system, the biggest being that BK eats like a tiny bird, while Porter eats like a hippopotamus with a glandular issue. 


Also, in a busy household, there was always the question “hey, has anyone fed the cats yet?”  Porter is a truly spectacular liar and a persistent pest.  I suspect that he frequently used his big Puss in Boots eyes, obnoxious behavior, and persistent meowing to convince different family members multiple times a day that he was, in fact, starving to death because he could see the bottom of his food bowl.  Sometimes “multiple times a day” included three o’clock in the morning.  This meant that despite our attempt to meal feed a set amount only, we might as well have been running a 24 hour a day, 7 days a week all you can eat kibble buffet. 


Then there was the puking.  Anyone who has the pleasure of owning a cat knows that occasionally you have to deal with the unpleasantness of cat barf.  Unfortunately for us, Porter and BK are “scarf and barf” kind of guys and if they felt inclined to hoover all the kibble in the food bowl it was certain to make a reappearance from one or both of them a few minutes later on the rug.  


The food bowl was at the center of behavioral, gastrointestinal, and weight issues for both of our cats, but even as a veterinarian I accepted this as our fate, the irritating and suboptimal price one pays for owning cats.  We resigned ourselves to our status quo…one too chubby kitty, one too thin kitty, and a lot of meowing, obnoxious nighttime behavior, tipped over water glasses, and cat barf. 


Then I read about the Indoor Hunting Feeder system, in which cute little mice filled with kibble and hidden around the house replace the food bowl.  It seemed like a logistical nightmare in a household like ours, with two kids going two different directions, two medical professionals trying to run our businesses, two very different cats, and six roving dogs always looking for the next item to chow down or chew up.  It took a little convincing, but in the end, the potential health benefits for our Portly Porter outweighed the inconvenience of no longer being able to throw food in a bowl and walk away. 

Fellow cat wranglers, I can’t say enough good things about the new feeding system. Yes it was an adjustment, and yes there were several days of incredulous death glares from the cats as they pined away for their missing bowl and the associated endless kibble-fest, but once everyone figured it out it became a routine piece of cake! It is recommended that each cat get five mice per day.


Because we have two cats, and because we knew that there was a distinct possibility of mice going temporarily AWOL in our large and busy home, we purchased a ten pack of mice so we would always have enough. The package came with a pre-measured kibble scoop and instructions for teaching the cats how to go bowl free.


Every morning and evening five little mice are filled, each with one scoop of the cats’ regular kibble. The mice are then hidden around the house in dog-free zones for the cats to find. It is that easy.  

It is so easy that everyone in the family can do it, and the kids enjoy hiding the mice from the cats every day. Even my “big kid” has fun trying to challenge the cats and is always finding new ways to keep Porter from following him around and “cheating” while he hides the mice.


The first thing we noticed after starting the new feeding system was a complete change in Porter’s attitude. He demoted himself from his full-time salaried position of “Master Troublemaker” to the less career driven “Troublemaking as a Side Hustle” almost overnight. The difference in his attitude was so amazing that one of our family friends thought I might have gotten fed up with his obnoxious behavior and put him on “kitty downer meds.” Porter was bored before the new feeding system was introduced, and with the mice he is busy. He has to work hard to find them every day and it keeps him entertained and out of trouble. Instead of being a pest all day and attacking our feet and meowing in our faces at night, he now hunts down his meals over several hours and then curls up into a (mostly) peaceful purring blob on the nearest lap or bed.


There were benefits for Porter’s housemate as well. BK is being treated for anxiety and had been frequently peeing outside the litter box, an extremely irritating problem that we were having difficulty dealing with despite medication and environmental changes. Once the mice were introduced, his accidents all but stopped. The frequency of my husband or I stepping in cat barf has also dramatically decreased since the disappearance of the food bowl. With the mice, they have a hard time scarfing, resulting in less barfing, and that is something worth celebrating! 


The best news? Our kitty weight issues are a thing of the past. Portly Porter has lost almost two pounds since we eliminated the food bowl, and he is now at a healthy weight for a cat of his size. He no longer has the opportunity to leisurely stuff his face all day, and he is actively burning calories as he prowls around the house hunting for his meals. Eliminating those two extra pounds will help keep his heart, liver, kidneys, joints, and every other part of him healthy and happy for life! BK’s weight is better too! He has always been a thin cat, partly thanks to Porter’s ability to shove him out of the food bowl, and he now gets enough kibble and is also at a healthy weight.


I highly recommend that everyone who owns a cat check out the Indoor Hunting Feeder system. Even if your cat isn’t portly, the fact is that cats really benefit from going bowl free.  You can check out the Indoor Hunting Feeder system website for the science, and for tips on how to incorporate it into multi-cat households or households with dogs.  It might seem daunting to make the leap away from a cat food bowl, but Porter promises that bowl free is the bomb diggity! 

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