“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.
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.
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.
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.
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