How Much Should I Feed My Cat?

Knowing the correct amount of food that your cat should receive daily is an important part of being a responsible and caring cat owner. 

If you’ve only started on your journey towards becoming a full-time cat caretaker, one of the biggest concerns you might have is feeding your cat a nutritious, high protein, feline-appropriate diet and how often your cat should be fed. 

After all, cats are not little dogs! Both species have very different nutritional needs. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they require a diet that mainly consists of meat protein in order to survive and they will not be able to thrive by eating mainly plant-based foods.

cat feasting

Although cats have gained a reputation for being picky eaters, actually they are not born that way. Much like humans, cats fed the identical food day-in-and day-out can become extremely boring. By feeding kittens a variety of flavors and textures can help to prevent “finicky” eating behavior. 

Feeding adult cats on a regular schedule, several times a day, and slowly introducing new flavors and textures can also help prevent your cat from turning up its nose to the foods you are offering.

pet owner holding bowl and feeding hungry cat

The Factors

So, how much should you be feeding your cat daily? This is an excellent question, especially given that 60 percent of cats in the United States are overweight or obese according to a study done by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention in 2017.

The simple answer is: there is no simple answer. The amount of food that should be consumed by your cat on a daily basis always depends on a variety of factors, including your cat’s age, weight, and if she is pregnant or nursing.

In this article, our aim is to provide information about these variables in order to give you a better idea of how much to feed your cat.

  • Weight

The ideal weight for most domestic cats is about 10 pounds. However this healthy weight can diverge based upon the cat’s frame and breed. For example, a healthy Siamese may weigh between 8 and 10 pounds, whereas at maturity a Maine Coon can weigh up to 25 pounds. Since obesity has become a huge problem for millions of cats nationwide. To determine if your cat is overweight, you’ll need to remain very conscious of your cat’s size. Weighing your cat weekly is an excellent way to monitor her weight.  In order to do this, buy an, electronic, digital baby scale  such as this one that has a hold button so if the cat moves around, her weight will automatically be saved.

If your cat is overweight, she may be being overfed, and it is essential to cut down on her daily treats.  Your veterinarian will be able to accurately decide if your cat is obese; but there are also a few ways that you can do this yourself.

Look at your cat’s ribs and stomach. She shouldn’t have a saggy belly that is hanging down. Put gentle pressure on her tummy area with your fingers and if you cannot easily feel her ribs, your cat might be overweight. Examine her tail as well. You should be able to feel the bones at the base.

Look at your cat from the side and from above. Cats that are at a healthy weight have an area directly behind their ribs called an “abdominal tuck”. This area has a smaller diameter than the chest and if your cat doesn’t have it, this might be an indication of possible obesity. Without pressing too hard, feel your cat’s torso. You should be able to clearly feel her spine and ribs.

If you decide that your cat is overweight, you may begin to slowly reduce the portions of food you are feeding her. However, if you find your cat to be underweight, start to increase the daily amount of her food. However, all changes to your cat’s diet must be done slowly. This said; before reducing or increasing your cat’s weight, to ensure that you are doing this safely and correctly, always check with your veterinarian before starting to manage your cat’s weight. 

  • Age

Since kittens are growing rapidly, they need more food than adults. A kitten around 8 weeks of age has most likely been weaned and should be fed 4 times a day and a kitten at 6 months old should be fed three times a day in order to gain enough nutrients to thrive.  Since kittenhood ends at about 8 months of age, they can be fed twice a day. However, since cats are instinctively “grazers” they do well being fed small portions several times a day, if this is at all possible.

With exemplary care, nutrition and regular veterinary wellness exams, many cats can live well into their teens and even into their early 20s. Although some experts consider that cats have reached seniority between 7 and 10 years old,  today many experts consider that the age of seniority begins when cats reach 12 years-of-age. A 12- year- old cat receiving regular wellness veterinary attention still has a lot of living left to do.

A  senior cat should be fed at least twice a day.  Additionally as  cats reach seniority, medical issues may require a specific diet as prescribed by your veterinarian. Always confer with your veterinarian about the most appropriate specific diet your cat should be fed.

  • Pregnant or Nursing

Similar to the hormonal changes that occur in women during pregnancy, female cats that are expecting kittens (“Queens”) will require a change in her diet. Prior to breeding, it is strongly recommended to slowly switch the queen’s diet to a high-quality, easily digestible kitten/growth/development cat food. This will help prevent any unnecessary stress that can often be associated with a diet change. If she tolerates it well, it should be continued throughout pregnancy. It is strongly recommended that queens be fed a high quality, easily digestible kitten/growth/development formula. Pregnant queens should be fed multiple small meals throughout the day to help her maintain sufficient nutrition and caloric intake.

  • Wet/Dry Cat Food

Some folks feed only dry food because it is convenient. However, dry food is loaded with carbohydrates, therefore a solely dry –food diet is not a species-appropriate.  One of the leading causes of obesity  and diabetes in cats is feeding diets that are too high in carbohydrates.  Although cats do need a small amount of carbohydrates in their diet, as obligate carnivores, cats mainly require meat protein and fatty acids.

Another problem is that cats that have only been fed dry food from kittenhood may not recognize wet food as “food”. Thus is born the kibble addict. However, with patience and consistency, cats can slowly be transitioned to a far more feline-appropriate diet.

According to Feline Nutrition expert, Dr. Lisa Pierson, “Cats inherently have a low thirst drive and need to consume water *with* their food. A cat’s normal prey is ~70 – 75% water; dry food is only 5-10% water. Contrary to the wishful thinking of cat owners, cats do not make up this deficit at the water bowl. Several studies have shown that cats on canned food consume double the amount of water when compared to cats on dry food when all sources (food and water bowl) are compared to cats on dry food when all sources (food and water bowl) are considered.”  Additionally, grain-free doesn’t necessarily mean the cat food is low carbohydrate, since potatoes and peas are often used in cat formulation in place of grain.  The idea diet for cats is often referred to as the “Catkin” diet since it is extremely low in carbohydrates. But if your kitty is a kibble “addict” adding a few pieces on top of her wet food might make it even more tempting while you are transitioning her to a total wet food diet.

  • Brand

By now, you may be getting the idea that there is no “one size fits all” to gauge the precise amount of food that cats should be fed. There are too many variables to consider in cats to state a definitive amount.  However, there is a rule of thumb that can make it easier to gauge how many calories your cat will need to maintain healthy weight. The average-sized adult domestic cat (10 pounds) should get about 20-30 calories per pound of cat a day.  Inactive cats should get about 20 calories per pound, and for very active cats, 30 calories per pound a day. Growing kittens and pregnant cats can get up to 40 calories per pound daily. Therefore, an average 8 to 10 pound cat should receive around 300 calories per day, and provide your cat access to clean, fresh water, daily.

Know what is in the cat food you are feeding. Learn to read cat food labels since they must contain the ingredients, the amount of protein and fat, and other nutritional information. Ideally, the cat food should contain no more than 10% of calories from carbohydrates.

Some brands may be less expensive than others but you get what you pay for. In the long run, feeding a higher quality cat food can save vet bills down the road.  Some brands may not be dense enough, or may not contain enough nutrients; therefore, extra servings might be needed to fulfill your cat’s daily nutritional needs. Some brands use fillers or extenders. A healthy cat needs high animal protein; not plant protein. Limited ingredient wet cat food is an excellent choice since these products contain a single meat protein and a minimal amount of vegetables and fruit. Before deciding what brand to feed your cat, research thoroughly. To make it easier for owners, most online pet food vendors list the nutritional ingredients of the pet food they are selling.  Your veterinarian can be a good resource for nutritional advice that’s most appropriate for your cat.

  • Health Conditions

Cats with health issues present another feeding variable. For diabetic cats, it is recommended feeding them high protein and low carbohydrate food since high carbohydrates leads to high spikes in blood sugar levels, increasing a cat’s demand for insulin. This is the exact opposite of what diabetic cats need. Low carbohydrates diminish this response. Foods that have about 50 percent of their calories from protein and 40 percent from fat are appropriate diets for diabetic cats. 10 percent carbohydrates can work well for these cats, but others may need less than 5 percent.  To be sure, check with your veterinarian.

Hyperthyroidism in cats can cause weight loss and increased appetites. Fortunately there are special prescription diets available for these cats. If your cat has been diagnosed with this condition, your veterinarian will counsel you in your cat’s special nutritional requirements.

Senior and geriatric cats are prone to dental disease.  Although cats don’t develop cavities (decay) in the same way that humans, these holes in their teeth are caused by tooth resorption. These holes are technically called feline odontoclastic resorption lesions or (FORL.) FORL is a painful condition that makes it difficult for cats to eat.  Dental X-rays are used to diagnose FORL, and generally a referral to a veterinary dentist specialist whose treatment may consist of surgery, antibiotics and pain control drugs.

  • General Amounts

Earlier we discussed the feline’s caloric needs.  Now let’s take a look at some general serving sizes that you can use as a guide. However, these are only estimates based on a healthy, average weight and size adult cat, along with a proper meal schedule already in place. Although a dry-food -only diet for cats is not species- appropriate as already mentioned, dry food generally contains 300 calories per cup. A six-ounce can of wet food contains approximately 250 calories.

Based on information provided by the Animal Medical Center in New York City, a healthy, active adult cat of normal weight requires about 30 calories per pound of cat per day.  Therefore an average 10-pound cat would require about 240 calories per day.

Next, since we already know how many calories your cat needs to consume per day, we need to figure out how much to feed it.

Since we already know how many calories per day your cat requires, next we need to figure out how much to feed it.  Dry-only fed cats would require daily about 4/5 of a cup. Cats fed only wet food can be fed in several ways. If you are feeding twice a day, divide servings into half a six- ounce can. However, today, most wet cat foods are only 5.5 ounces. So for your cat to get her full calorie needs, it’s much easier to feed two 3 ounce cans a day. If you are feeding more than twice a day, simply divide those 3 ounce cans into slightly smaller portions.

General Amounts

Now that you’ve learned about the variables which can change the amount of food that your cat should eat, let’s take a look at some general serving sizes that you can use as a guide. Again, these are only estimations based on an adult cat of average weight, no health issues, and with a proper meal schedule already in place.

First off, let’s start with some quick numbers. Dry cat food normally contains about 300 calories per cup, and canned food usually has about 250 calories per 6-oz can (a 3-oz can would hold 125 calories).

Based on the information provided by the Animal Medical Center in New York, a healthy and active adult cat of normal weight requires about 30 calories per pound per day. By doing some fast calculations, we can easily deduce that an average 8-pound cat would need to consume 240 calories per day.

Next, since we already know how many calories your cat needs to consume per day, we need to figure out how much to feed it.

If you’re going with pure, dry cat food, you’ll want to feed your cat about 4/5 of a cup. For canned food, you can either feed it two 3-oz cans or just a little less than one full 6-oz can per day. If you have a mixed meal plan that includes both dry and wet foods, feel free to adjust the proportions to balance out.

cute cat eating

Conclusion

In summary, as mentioned, there is no exact answer that can be provided on how much to feed a cat. Besides the variables listed above, there are plenty of others including your cat’s metabolic rate, the amount it exercises, and possibly even the temperature in your area.

Even though a general amount is shown above that can help you best figure out the correct serving size, keep in mind that different foods can have different caloric and nutritional contents and therefore, your cat will always have a unique amount of food to eat.

However, there’s no need to worry just yet. Don’t forget that you still have your number one source of information and help in times of need – your veterinary physician. He or she should be the first person you go to if you suspect your cat of being overweight and need advice on anything from the amounts, types, up to the brands. Good luck on your expedition into the wonderful world of cats!

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