Reprogramming the Cat

At Ivy-the-Wonder-Cat’s last vet appointment, I was told the news that I suspected was coming: It was time to start watching her weight.

I always thought that when it came to her diet, she was pretty much self-guiding. I was reading product labels for calorie counts and I kept an eye on the amount of wet and dry food she ate. Between the days she ate more and the days she ate less, it seemed to average out to the target calorie range… or so I thought.

But it also averaged out to one extra pound every year that she had been with me. If I wanted Ivy to have a healthy, long life, we needed to curb that increase.

After going over our daily routine, the vet and I came up with some solutions. I was apprehensive that Ivy would put up a fuss, but the vet reassured me that cats like structure, and these measures were just going to reinforce what they crave anyway.

When I think about it, there have been times that I could set a clock to Ivy’s behaviour, like when she is heading upstairs between 9:58 p.m. and 10:02 p.m. because to her, it’s bedtime. I don’t even have to suggest it.

Even as I wrote the first draft of this blog at 9:00 am on a Saturday morning, she walked by, yawned and crawled into her cat bed. She’s pretty punctual. Maybe these changes will work.

The first step was to have just one feeding station.

To this point, I served dry food in the kitchen and wet food in the basement. From the very first can of wet food I served, she would run downstairs, sit down and meow as if to say, “I’d like to eat here, please”. Maybe that’s the way it was in her last home. Either way, that became the habit.

Reprogramming this expectation proved to be easier than I thought.

The first week, when I served up the bowl of wet food she would automatically run downstairs. I would gently pick her up and carry her to the place mat in the kitchen where her wet food would be served from now on. In the second week, she started catching on and was looking for her food in the kitchen maybe half of the time. When she’d go to the basement and sit where the food used to be, I’d gently carry her back to the kitchen to reinforce the point. By week 3, she had fully grasped that all meals were served in the kitchen.

I was impressed!

The second step was to have only one bowl out at a time.

From the beginning, I kept the bowl of dry food out all the time, and put out a portion of wet food at breakfast time and a portion of wet food at dinner time. In thinking back, this may have contributed to the wasted wet food, as she would alternate between wet and dry food at meal time until she was full.

This is probably what made it difficult to know exactly how many calories she was consuming.

For the new strategy, when the wet food is served, the dry food is taken out of sight. Only when the wet food is finished (I’ll accept 90-95% finished) will I take it away and put out the bowl of dry food.

I was surprised that she picked up on it right away, and has been eating most of her wet food, with very little left over.

As a result, this makes it much easier to monitor her dry food intake. What is even more interesting is that on most days, she seems satisfied with less that the measured daily allowance.

The third step has been to serve only at specific times. This has been the tricky one.

On days when I am working at the office, she gets fed as soon as I come home. But surprisingly, it’s the weekends and days I work from home that are a challenge to navigate. She is usually up from her nap between 3:00 and 4:00 and she’s looking for food.

On some occasions she was quite vocal about her wish for an early dinner as some colleagues will attest, from one conference call where Miss Ivy’s voice was heard from coast to coast.

It is hard to ignore a hungry cat that is meowing like an ambulance, stomping on the dining room table, plucking at the curtains and using my wing chair as a scratching post (all very uncharacteristic moves on her part, by the way). She was hangry.

If I wanted to get work done, giving in and putting dinner out a little early was the only way out. But to my surprise, these have been isolated incidents. Most weekends, a few small bites of dry food are all that she has needed to tide her over until her scheduled dinner time. I think she is adjusting!

Once we have those measures firmly in place and she has fully adjusted, the next step will be to have the bowls of wet and dry food out at scheduled times and to taper off grazing and free-feeding.

I knew that these measures were the right thing to do, and I was definitely in a better place to have the time, energy and headspace to work with Ivy in adapting to these new measures.

I was surprised that certain old habits were forgotten in a matter of weeks, but I was also patient and supportive for those times when she wasn’t happy about the changes.

As much as I was apprehensive about imposing more structure on a free-spirited cat, I know that it was necessary to keep her health and vitality at its peak and keep her around as long as possible.

To this point, she hasn’t lost any weight yet, but she hasn’t gained any either, so I think we’re on the right track.

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,

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