We were recently contacted by a client with some questions regarding behavior issues - jumping on the counter, stealing food, avoiding positive human interaction, and vocalizing obnoxiously. After having conversations with the family, we discovered that the cause of these behaviors was rooted in food. How much you feed your Bengal, when your feed your Bengal, and what you feed your Bengal impact its behavior.
How Much Food Does Your Bengal Cat Need?
Bengal cats have a higher energy level than the average cat - which means they have a higher metabolism. Regardless of what you feed, if you are determining the amount of food based on the generalized weight-based recommendations, it is not likely to be enough. Cats with a higher metabolic rate burn more calories which means they need to eat more to fuel this metabolism. The feeling of hunger can cause unwanted behaviors. In addition, hunger leads to stress and anxiety - which we know leads to unwanted behaviors.
For the first eighteen months to two years, a Bengal cat is still maturing. Feed a food with less than ten percent carbohydrates and allow it to eat as much as it wants during this time. The lower carbohydrate content allows the cat to eat its fill without as much risk of unhealthy weight gain. No single recommendation works for every single cat. Some cats will eat too much, but those cats are the exception, not the norm, in the Bengal breed. It is important to compare your cat's appearance to a Body Condition Score Chart.
Once a Bengal cat is fully grown, he will eat less than he eats in the growth phase. The amount, however, will vary based on both the size of the cat and his metabolism. One cannot expect every cat to eat the same amount. In addition, how much a cat eats will often vary with temperature - eating more in the winter and less in the summer. To figure out how much a cat needs, spend time observing his eating habits and behavior. Do not limit his food if he is not overweight.
When Should You Feed your Bengal Cat?
A cat in its natural setting would eat ten or more small meals a day. Due to this, some people resort to free-feeding dry food which disrupts a cat's natural body rhythm. In a natural setting, cats hunt, then eat. Cats need to expel energy before they eat. People must find a balance between a cat's ideal ten meals a day and a maintainable human scheduled. Many cats do fine with two meals a day - especially if one is left out longer. However, larger cats or cats with a higher metabolic rate may need to eat more frequently.
In more than one instance, we have seen the addition of a third meal within the day completely resolve undesirable behaviors. If you are experiencing any behavioral problems, one of the first solutions is to add a third meal within the day - even if this means keeping the same quantity but spreading it out across more meals. When trying to problem solve, increasing the quantity should be tried as long as the cat is not overweight.
When working on resolving behavior issues, it is equally important to feed after your cat has expressed some energy. Some cats adjust to eating without expelling energy, but the natural body rhythm should be established for cats exhibiting behavioral problems. Take your cat through a rigorous play session before each meal. If you are not home throughout the day, offer a third and fourth play and feeding session through a toy that can be operated remotely along with a time-released feeder with an ice pack. Another option is to hide a puzzle toy with a treat inside, but this method's downfall is that the food must be dry. Dry food should not be the primary diet, but it will suffice as a snack or smaller meal.
What Should You Feed Your Bengal Cat?
Centuries of domestication have resulted in lengthening the intestinal tract in carnivores. Dogs have been domesticated longer than cats. Living alongside humans during the domestication process and eating plant-based food scraps caused dogs to adapt in order to make the most of this resource. The dogs that thrived best on this diet produced more offspring and the adaptations passed on. This has allowed dogs' digestive systems to handle more carbohydrates than cats. Some cats do okay on higher carbohydrate diets because their ancestors' bodies made these adaptations to the change in diet. Some cats have not adapted as efficiently.
Bengal cats originate from the Leopard cat, which has not been domesticated. Bengals vary in how much the Leopard cat influences their digestive system. The variation is not necessarily associated with the number of generations removed from the Leopard cat; it varies based on inherited genes. If a Bengal cat has inherited a shorter intestinal tract, it will have a harder time tolerating processed foods high in carbohydrates. If your Bengal cat feels hungry all the time, even when being fed large quantities of food, it indicates his body cannot extract the nutrients it needs from that food. If the food is one or more of the following - carb-filled, cooked, processed, dry - and the cat exhibits behavioral problems, a diet change is necessary.
The first change to make is with ingredients. Good cat food should have less than 10% carbohydrates. The second change is the processing and preservation of the food. Look for foods with minimal processing and minimal preservatives. And the all-important third change is - except for treats or small meals - to avoid feeding dry food. Cats are designed to get their water through their food. When they are given dry food, they frequently live in a state of low-grade dehydration because they do not have a high thirst drive. Please read more about this in Are you Killing your Cat with Kibble.
At the bottom of our page on raw feeding, we have a limited list of decent canned and dry foods. Keep in mind that these are not actual recommendations. This is our best of the worst list. We believe balanced raw is best, and it is our feeding recommendation. That being said, unless you are meticulous, we strongly encourage buying pre-made raw over making your own. Our list of recommended pre-made raw foods is at the top right of our raw feeding page.
Feeding balanced raw food is best for all cats. It is not natural for a cat to eat processed, dry, high carbohydrate foods. Some cats have adapted; others have not. If your cat seems to be hungry all the time even though he eats a lot of food, it may be that his body cannot utilize the food he is being fed.
Changing how much you feed, when you feed, and what you feed is the answer to many Bengal cat behavioral problems. On more than one occasion, we have seen issues resolved by adding a third meal into the day. People do not often associate food with behavior, so they do not think of it as a resolution to a behavioral problem. But food has a huge impact on behavior - especially if a cat is constantly feeling hungry because it is not eating enough, often enough, or enough food that has bio-available nutrients.