The primary ancestor of the cat is actually the small, African wild cat, Felis libyca. This cat's primary prey are small rodents about the size of field mice. Therefore, the immediate ancestor of the cat is not an intermittent feeder like the larger wild cats; rather, it is an animal that feeds frequently throughout the day by catching and consuming a large number of small rodents. Like the majority of wild felids, the African wild cat is a solitary animal, living and hunting alone for much of its life and interacting with others of its species only during mating season. This solitary nature has resulted in an animal that eats slowly and is uninhibited by the presence of other animals.
Most domestic cats consume their food slowly and do not exhibit social facilitation. If fed free-choice, cats nibble at the food throughout the day, as opposed to consuming a large amount of food at one time. Several studies of eating behavior in domestic have shown that if food is available free-choice, cats eat frequently and randomly throughout a 24-hour period. It is not unusual for a cat to eat between 9 and 16 meals per day, with each meal having a caloric content of only about 23 kilocalories (kcal).
Interestingly, the caloric value of a small field mouse is approximately 30 kcal. It has been suggested that the eating behaviors observed in domestic cats are similar to those of feral domestic cats eating rodents or other small animals. Like the dog, the cat is capable of adapting to several types of feeding schedules. Meal feeding may even be preferred by many owners and cats because it represents a time of pleasurable interaction, characterized by daily and familiar feeding routines of communication, petting and handling.