Good To Know

“How much should I feed my cat?” is a question I’m frequently asked, and the answer isn’t as simple as it would seem. Even though every can and bag of cat food provides feeding instructions, they’re pretty much useless.

Think about this for a moment: could you definitively answer the question “how much should a person eat?” Of course not. If you’re a fairly sedentary office worker, you wouldn’t (or shouldn’t!) eat the same amount of food as a professional athlete. Your 80-year-old grandmother won’t eat the same amount as your 10-year-old daughter. The same is true for cats: the amount a cat should eat varies with age, health, activity level, metabolic rate, gender and genetic make up, to name just a few factors.

The most common mistake: feeding too much

The most common mistake cat parents make is feeding too much – and frequently, that’s because they follow the manufacturer’s feeding instructions on the label. Feline obesity is an epidemic, with more than 50% of America’s cats being considered overweight or obese, and it comes with all the same health problems in cats as it does in humans: diabetes, arthritis and other joint problems, heart and respiratory problems, a compromised immune system, and gastro-intestinal problems.

How much food does a cat need?

Calorie content can vary widely from one brand of cat food to another. Not all brands will disclose calorie counts on the label, and you may need to visit the brand’s website to find the information. General recommendations range from 24 to 35 calories per pound of body weight per day to keep an average adult cat at a healthy, normal weight. The body condition chart below can help you determine whether your young to middle-aged adult cat is at a normal weight.

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In older cats, muscle condition is a better indicator. You will be able to feel bones in senior cats who are overweight if they’re starting to lose muscle mass.

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If your cat is overweight or underweight, calculate the amount to feed based on her target weight.

Since nutritional needs can vary considerably depending on the factors mentioned above, it’s a good idea to weigh your cat regularly and adjust the amount you feed accordingly.

How often should cats eat?

Leaving food out for your cat all the time is the single biggest factor in causing obesity in cats. Free choice feeding goes against the cat’s natural habit of being a hunter who may only eat two or three small meals a day. For most people, feeding two meals a day is the most practical solution, but if you work from home, you may want to consider dividing the total amount of food for the day into three or four meals.

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Special considerations for kittens

Kittens need more food per pound of body weight than adult cats, and they will need more frequent meals. Use label recommendations as a starting point, and feed your kitten as much canned or raw food as she will eat until she is about four to six months old, in three or four meals a day. Since a kitten’s nutritional requirements vary even more than an adult cat’s, remember to monitor your kitten’s weight and body condition and adjust accordingly. Once your kitten reaches six months of age, you can start feeding her as an adult cat.

Always provide plenty of fresh water

You hopefully already know that dry food is not a good choice for cats. Not only does dry food not provide enough moisture for cats to stay properly hydrated and prevent urinary tract problems, it is too high in carbohydrates for an obligate carnivore like the cat. Cats do not have a high enough thirst drive to compensate for the lack of moisture in a dry diet by drinking more water. However, even cats who eat raw or canned food should always have plenty of fresh water available.

What should your cat eat?

The optimal diet for a cat is a properly formulated raw, home-cooked or grain-free canned diet. Please read The Best Food for Your Cat for more information.

This article was first published in 2015 and has been updated.

Image Pixabay stock photo

157 Comments on How Much Should I Feed My Cat?

  1. I adopted two female kittens at about 6 weeks and have been feeding them a homemade raw food diet. Each time I put their plate down, the food is “gone in 60 seconds” and the plate is licked clean! They are alert, playful, their fur is incredibly soft and shiny, they don’t shed much at all. They are a slim, appropriate weight. The litter box is easy to clean and what they leave isn’t smelly at all. Cats are obligate carnivores – feed them an all meat diet and they thrive. Feed them a store bought diet with vegetables or grains added and they get bad breath, smelly stools (they lack the enzymes to digest anything but meat), and feel lousy due to the upset of their systems – so they sleep all day, gain weight and shed like crazy.

    • There is nothing wrong with high quality, grain-free store bought canned food, and it doesn’t cause any of the symptoms you describe. Raw diets are wonderful if they’re constructed correctly, buy can be very time-consuming and expensive. Also, many cats don’t like them. Carry on!

      • Commercial raw diets are as easy as feeding canned food. Simply thaw and feed – no more complicated than opening a can. I suspect your comment refers to homemade raw diets.

  2. I mix a very tiny amt of wet and dry together (about a tablespoon) and split it between two cats. I do this 2 – 3 times a day. In addition they each get about a half cup of dry at bedtime (my bedtime) and nibble on that until the next bedtime (again, my bedtime). Dry food helps keep their teeth healthy. They also get a treat for doing the things I trained (they agreed) to do, such as sit up, sit down and lie down. One will sometimes catch the treat in her mouth and the other will sometimes catch it with his paws. They decide when. They get a treat whenever they do each “trick”. Anyway, my vet says my babies are healthy. I also add bee propolis to the can of wet food so they get a little with each feeding.

    • I love that you were able to train your cats, Sandy, and dry food is okay as an occasional treat, but it does absolutely nothing to keep cats’ teeth healthy. This is a myth that just won’t die, and many vets perpetuate it. If this were true, wouldn’t pediatricians and dentists tell parents to feed their kids crackers and pretzels to keep teeth healthy? Most cats don’t chew their kibble long enough for any of the scraping action that is the theory behind this myth to kick in. What little they do chew shatters into small pieces. Additionally, dry food actually leaves a carbohydrate residue in the cat’s mouth that actually encourages growth of tartar and plaque.

      • Wow, I had no idea or even thought about the parts of the dry food sticking to the teeth n causing tartar. I try to feed mine 1/3 of a can food of 5.5 oz with a little dry n morning. Plus, a handful of dry food n afternoon n a few kitty treats. Been trying to cut back for I have noice the girls have a pudge now.

  3. And, re: dry food, cats do not chew. Their teeth are ‘designed’ for killing (those long teeth at the front of the mouth go into the spine of the prey animal) and tearing the meat apart. Their teeth actually cannot chew as we think of it.

  4. Sticking my neck out to say, I believe cats need to eat more often than twice / day. 3 times / day would be minimum for my cats. I put out wet food with water added and leave it. They eat 6 – 9 times / day. A hunting cat would catch small prey, in most places — rodents, lizards. He would need to hunt, kill and eat 6 – 8 times / day to stay strong on small prey. Cats evolved in the desert, where they ate small prey; they have small stomachs. Most cats cannot and/ or will not eat enough in one sitting to eat only twice / day.

    • I completely agree, Cheri – but unfortunately, it can be a dilemma given most peoples’ work schedules and the amount of time they spend away from home each day. Given that dry food is never a good choice, that limits the options. Canned food can be left out for several hours without spoiling, but some cats find that is a turn off after it’s been out for a few hours. Raw food can’t be left out for more than half an hour.

      • I agree with you both, and i’ve been really trying (soooo hard) to go raw, but they don’t like a single thing! Now they are eating Acana. In Chile we don’t have a Lot of choices for premium wet food, and they eat almost nothing of it anyway) so, i try to mix the dry food with water, but they only drink the soup. I made them a pâté the same way, they didn’t eat. I’ve tried with chicken, horse, cow, nothing. Not even cooked, not even fried, not with butter on it, nothing.
        So, any tips you want to share, please?. They are 2 neuterd males, 4 years old, both being treated for hyperthiyroidism and CKD (stage 1 and 2 the other one).
        Thank you so much in advance.

  5. Hi not sure what else i can feed my cat besides dry food as he cant eat most wet food and only a little of the ones he can what else can i cook/get for him

  6. How much should I be feeding my 2 year old 17 pound cat I have him on the science diet light he was eating out of a aromatic feeder but was cheating it and getting more then he should any help on how much to feed him a day to get him to slim down thanks much

  7. Hi! Love your site 🙂 I recently adopted a 1 year old male dsh from a local shelter. At the moment, we’re battling a lingering viral uri with conjunctivitis (he’s on erythromycin eye ointment, just started Famciclovir Saturday and was stopped being given amoxi/clav liquid 1.2ML – all of these 2x day; I’m also giving him 250mg l-lysine in am and pm meals). Gibson had a broken femur which was surgically repaired. Ended up in the shelter where we met and I fell in love with him. Basic, normal black cat, has to be some siamese somewhere in his lineage. The long body, arms, legs, neck. When he eats he “poofs” out on his sides for a couple hours. Luckily he didn’t inherit the siamese talking. Very sweet cat and I’m letting him dictate when he’s hungry – he gets fed. Normally he eats 1 3 ounce can Fancy Feast pate (I know, but so far it’s the only wet food that agrees with his system). That’s split between breakfast and dinner. I do add about 1/4 tsp. of digestive enzymes/probiotics to his dinner wet food. He also gets dry, but he’s getting dr esley’s cleanprotein chicken dry. It is absolutely grain free, rice, pea, potato, etc. free. I put down 2 measuring spoon tablespoons of that, 1 during the day and 1 at bedtime. He does not, will not, eat treats. Water is always available and I give him purified water. He has shown zero interest in any people food so far. He was being fed Meow Mix dry and I believe Friskies pate wet at the shelter. Have no issue with the Friskies pate, to be honest. The Meow Mix? nope, not happening.

    Gibson weighs between 8.5 and 9 pounds. I’d like to keep him at around that weight for overall health and to not put pressure on the hip or that leg that was broken because it’s healed, but it didn’t heal “straight”, he walks flat-footed on that back leg. He’s not super active, especially for his age, but I’m sure at least part of that is because he still doesn’t feel well. He can run on his ‘gimpy’ leg, walking he almost limps. Go figure! His blood work came back pretty clear, but there’s a note that he could be at risk for pancreatitis (the siamese in him?)

    The big question for me is am I feeding him enough. While I don’t want him overweight, I don’t want him under-nourished. Not sure if his appetite will pick up once he doesn’t have runny eyes and nose, sneezing, etc. If it does, would 1.5 3ounce cans of Fancy Feast pate, along with 2 TBL or even 1/4 cup of the dr esley’s dry be a) sufficient; and b) keep him at a good weight. I get flummoxed by grams and all that. Just want a happy, healthy kitty. My vet is great, but he’s not nearly as picky on food as I am, he thinks I’m slightly mental for buying the dr esley’s dry because it is pricey. But Gibson eats so little, there’s usually leftovers in the morning. I’m figuring because it’s so high in protein, it’s more filling. I note that dry has 544 kcal/cup and Fancy Feast classic pate runs in the 89 to 95 cal per can range.

    Sorry for the novel!! Thanks 🙂

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