How much do you feed a cat? Everything you should know

How much should you feed a cat

“How much do you feed a cat?” is a common question when you bring a cat home for the first time.

Even long-time cat owners may have doubts if they are feeding too little or too much.

People spend a lot of time deciding on the type of food to give their cat, but its equally important to focus on how much food to give your cat.

Not giving your cat enough food can lead to health issues, but feeding too much can also lead to problems.

Studies indicate that around 60% of cats in the US are overweight, putting them at risk of diabetes, heart problems, cancer, liver diseases, diabetes, arthritis, urinary tract disease and high blood pressure.

Giving your cat, the correct quantity of food helps her to maintain the correct bodyweight, which is necessary for your cat’s good health and overall wellbeing.

Remember, your veterinarian is always the best source of advice if you are looking for a feeding plan that meets the unique nutritional requirements of your pet due to a medical condition or weight issues.

Our tips below will be helpful whether you are a newbie cat owner or a long-time pet parent looking for advice on how to improve your pet’s health.

Common feeding mistakes

Cats cannot tell us when we feed them the wrong type of food or when it’s too little or too much. We usually get to know when the cat falls sick.

Mistake 1 – Feeding too much

Overfeeding is the most common mistake that pet owners make.

Feeding too much leads to obesity and is one of the causes of diseases in cats.

An overweight cat may look cute, but disease is not something to be admired.

You may not be overfeeding your cat on purpose; cats, unlike their ancestors, are now more sedentary with lower nutritional needs. With low activity levels, any extra intake of food can lead to obesity.

What is the right amount of food to feed a cat?

Your vet will be able to give you the right answer based on the nutritional requirements of your cat.

Aim to provide your cat between 24 to 30 daily calories per pound, to ensure a healthy weight.

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Your vet can help you to evaluate your cat’s body condition score.

Mistake 2 – Sticking to only a dry food diet

Feeding your cat only dry food is an incorrect decision.

Due to their desert ancestry, cats have a low thirst drive, and they don’t drink water willingly like dogs.

A diet low in fluids can cause urinary tract problems in cats.

A cat diagnosed with urinary tract problems is often put on a diet that is rich in water, so sticking to a dry food diet for your cat is asking for trouble.

Cats are supposed to get their supply of water through their food, and a dry food diet does not help in this area.

Mice considered to be the staple food of cats is around 70% water, and canned food is about 78% water while dry food has approximately 5% to 10% water.

As you can see, canned food is more effective in providing your cat with the required quantity of water.

Also, if a kitten is brought up only on dry food, it may not accept canned food or moist cat treats as an adult.

According to Kirkwood Animal Hospital, it is best to feed your cat a mixture comprising 50% dry food and 50% canned food.

Mistake 3 – Giving less water

According to ASPCA, water makes up around 60% to 70% of a cat’s body weight.

Water is vital for cats, and the lack of it can lead to unpleasant consequences, including sickness or even death.

Though wet food can help in meeting the cat’s water requirements, you should also provide fresh water separately.

Place the water in the cat’s favourite hang out in your house.

Some cats prefer running water, and if this is the case with your pet, you should consider getting a water fountain. Some cats may object to the taste of chlorine, and in this case, you should provide bottled water.

Now that we have looked at the common mistakes in feeding let us go deeper into the question, “How much do you feed a cat?”

The answer depends on several factors:

1. Weight

Obesity is a common problem seen in cats.

An overweight cat weighs 10-19% more than its ideal body weight. Anything over 20% is an obese cat.

Body Condition Score (BCS)

The Body Condition Score will help you to work out if your cat is underweight, overweight or at its ideal weight.

BCS grades the body condition of a cat on a scale of 1 to 9:

ScoreBody Condition
1-3Very thin
4-5Ideal body weight
6-7Overweight
9Obese

To work out the body condition score, you will have to assess the following areas of a cat’s body:

  • Inspect and touch the ribs, the spine and the pelvis
  • Inspect the waist
  • Evaluate how much muscle is present
  • Look for presence of fat; a drooping tummy is a sign of too much fat       
  • Inspect the cat from above and from the side

TOO THIN (1-3)

ScoreBody Condition
1You can see ribs, spine and pelvic bones on short-haired cats. The waist will appear narrow, and tummy will appear tucked in (abdominal tuck). Very little muscle and rib cage will not have any fat covering it.
2You can see the ribs on short-haired cats. The cat will have a very narrow waist, no fat on the rib cage, muscle mass loss and noticeable abdominal tuck
3You can see the ribs on the short-haired cat. The waist will be evident, abdominal fat will be significantly less, and there will be an apparent abdominal tuck.

IDEAL (4 to 5)

ScoreBody Condition
4You cannot see the ribs, but you can feel it when touching the cat. The waist is visible, and there is a small abdominal tuck. Very little abdominal fat.
5Well-rounded body. You cannot see the ribs, but they can be when felt when touching the cat. The waist is noticeable, and there is a small abdominal tuck—only little abdominal fat.

OVERWEIGHT (6 to 7)

ScoreBody Condition
6You cannot see the ribs, but can barely feel it. The waist is not apparent when looking at the cat from above. Abdominal tuck is only slightly visible.
7You cannot feel the ribs because of the fat. The waist is hidden, and there is no abdominal tuck. The abdomen is round with a medium amount of fat.

OBESE (8 to 9)

ScoreBody Condition
8You are unable to feel the ribs under the fat. No visible sign of a waist and slightly drooping abdomen.
9You cannot feel the ribs, and there is a thick layer of fat covering it; no visible sign of a waist and a drooping abdomen. Thick fat deposits cover the abdomen.

You must weigh your cat once you feel that she is in the ideal weight zone (BCS of 4 to 5). This is the weight that you should aim to maintain throughout your cat’s life.

Looking at your cat’s body condition will help you to decide on the correct amount of food:

Body condition Amount of food to give
Ideal body weight (4-5)Offer half the amount of food recommended on the cat food packet
Thin (1-3)Offer the amount of food recommended on the cat food packet
Overweight (6-7)Offer below half the recommended on the cat food packet

Once in two weeks, look at your cat’s body condition and adjust the food as required.

2. Age

Kittens

how much to feed a kitten
Photo by Paul Schadler from Flickr

Younger cats require more calories than older ones of a similar size.

A kitten weighing 6 pounds, for example, will consume more food than an adult cat weighing the same because it needs more calories.

If you have a kitten, ensure to provide them with food four times a day. They may not eat all of it, but you must make it available.

You should also feed a kitten food that is specifically made for them with the nutrients for growth and energy.

Don’t feed raw meat until your kitten is at least five months of age as their immune system will not be able to resist pathogens.

Feeding strips of raw beef can help remove plaque from your kitten’s teeth.

Don’t feed cooked bones to your kitten as they can splinter and cause internal damages.

Try also to give your kitten wet or moist food to promote urinary tract health.

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Young Adult Cat

how much to feed a young adult cat
Photo by Tambako The Jaguar from Flickr

Similarly, a young adult cat weighing 10 pounds will eat more than a senior cat weighing the same.

Younger cats, including kitten, need more calories for growing and they tend to be more active than older cats with a higher metabolic rate.

The package of your cat food should have instructions on how much to feed a kitten or adult cat depending on its weight. This is a good starting point in deciding how much to feed your cat.

You can also offer your adult cat fresh or cooked meat or fish. Bones with meat or fresh meat is a source of protein but just make sure that its human-grade and doesn’t have added preservatives.

Senior Cat

Age-related changes start showing in a cat between 7 to 12 years of age.

You can introduce a senior cat diet when your cat is about seven years old.

The senior diet is essential to keep the cat healthy and maintain the right body weight. It also helps to slow down or prevent the onset of diseases as a cat ages.

3. Dry food or wet food

The calorie requirements of cats tend to vary based on different factors.

However, experts agree that adult cats require about 30 calories per pound of body weight per day, and kittens will require more. For example, a 10-pound adult cat will need about 300 calories per day to maintain her weight.

Check the instructions on the package to decide on how much to feed your cat.

If you are using a combination of dry and wet foods, you will have to calculate the values for each type to decide on how much to feed your cat.

Typically, a cup of dry food equals to about 300 calories, so the majority of adult cats will need a little less than a cup of food per day.

You would need about six to eight ounces of wet food to reach the same number of calories, based on the brand.

4. Activity level of the cat

A cat that spends most of its time indoors will require fewer calories compared to a cat that lives an active life outdoors.

Exercise is essential for your pet, and if she is not active, then you need to get her moving using cat toys.

Once you motivate your cat to jump and run around a bit, she will be more hungry than usual and require more calories.

5. Is the cat pregnant or nursing?

Pregnant or nursing cats will require more calories.

Towards the end of the pregnancy, you can expect a cat to eat nearly twice the amount of food she was eating before her pregnancy.

Nursing mother cats also tend to be hungrier.

In both cases, the best practice is to give her food multiple times and let her eat as much as she wants every time.

You can also keep dry food so that she can feed whenever she is hungry.

6. High quality vs low quality food

The better the quality of the food, the less you will need to feed per serving.

High-quality food will have better quality proteins.

Nutrient requirements of your cat

Nutrients are compounds in food that provide energy and support maintenance and growth of the cat.

High-quality commercial cat food should have all the essential nutrients that your pet requires.

However, the nutrient requirements may vary if your cat has any health conditions or if you need to follow a special diet recommended by your vet.

You can follow the feeding instructions on the cat food packaging.

It will give you a rough idea of how much to feed your cat.

How many times to feed?

Kittens experience rapid growth during the first 12 months and require more food per pound of body weight than adult cats; hence you should feed them more often throughout the day.

  • Kittens that are growing and under six months may require to be fed at least four times a day.
  • Feeding can be reduced to two times a day from six months to one year.
  • You can stick to once or twice daily feeding when the cat becomes an adult, which is between one year to eight years of age.

Feeding schedule may change if your cat has a health problem such as diabetes; its best to discuss this with your veterinarian.

If your mornings tend to be busy, you can feed your cat in the evening. If your evenings are busy, you can feed your cat in the morning. The important thing is to find a schedule that works well for yourself and your cat and stick to it.

The right food

Your cat is a carnivore and needs specific nutrients that can be found only in meat.

A vegetarian or vegan diet is not right for cats, and feeding cats a diet that doesn’t contain meat can make your cat unwell.

You will be able to find different brands of cat food in your nearby supermarket or pet store. You can also find many options online.

  • Always remember to buy food that is specifically formulated for cats.
  • Dog food is not right for cats, and human food may not have all the nutrients that your cat requires.
  • Always go for complete cat food from a well-known brand and consult your vet if you need guidance.
  • Cat food made at home may be okay as a treat once in a while, but it will not be sufficient to give your cat the proteins, vitamins and minerals it needs to stay healthy. Again, the exception is if your vet has recommended a specific diet that you need to formulate at home.

Vitamin supplements are not required if you are feeding your cat a complete cat food, but again the exception is if your vet has recommended this. Consult your vet before giving any food supplements to your cat.

The calories in cat food

You can get an idea about the calorie content in your cat’s food by reading the label on the cat food bag or can.

Canned cat food or wet food

Canned cat food or wet food has more water than dry cat food, so your cat has to eat more canned food to meet their energy needs.

Wet food for an adult cat contains around 28 calories per ounce, which works out to 1 calorie per gram.

Dry cat food

Dry cat food has more calories, and hence your cat will require less in terms of weight of food in comparison to wet food.

Dry cat food has around 100 calories per ounce or 3.5 calories per gram.

Dry cat food vs wet food

Dry food is less expensive when compared to wet food, and it may also remain fresh longer.

Feeding dry cat food is okay as long as its complete and balanced.

However, if you are providing only dry food, make sure to have plenty of freshwater available to avoid your pet developing urinary tract problems.

As mentioned earlier, canned food has about 70 to 80 per cent water content and can be fed to your cat along with or in place of dry food.

If you are going with wet food, ensure to use one with average palatability to prevent your cat from overeating. 

The right way to feed your cat: Meal feeding, free feeding or combination feeding

Meal Feeding

In meal feeding, you give your cat food only at specific times in the day – either morning or evening. Both wet and dry food can be given to your cat this way.

AdvantageDisadvantage
You can keep a track on food consumption and know if there is a change in your cat’s appetite.

Your cat may beg for food between the set mealtimes.  Train your cat by ignoring the begging. You should walk away without giving in. Eventually the cat will understand the routine.    
If yours is a multiple cat household, meal feeding ensures that everyone gets their share of food. Otherwise, the dominant cat may end up eating more and experience weight gain, while the other cat(s) may end up remaining undernourished. 

Free Feeding

When you free feed your cat, there is food always available. However, only dry food can be used for free feeding as wet cat food cannot be kept out throughout the day. That said, if your cat is leaving dry food in her bowl for longer than a day, you must throw it. 

AdvantageDisadvantage
Your cat enjoys the luxury of eating multiple times a day, and whenever she feels like it.    Your cat may end up overeating, and this can lead to obesity. You may not be able to notice any changes in your cat’s appetite either for good or bad.

If you have more than one cat in your home, you will not be able to know if everyone is getting enough.  

Combination Feeding

In combination or mixed feeding, your cat is fed canned food twice a day and dry food is available throughout for the cat to feed whenever it feels hungry.

AdvantageDisadvantage
Your cat gets to eat multiple meals throughout the day whenever she feels like itYour cat can end up overeating and become obese
You can keep an eye on her appetite when you feed wet food at the set meal timesHard to see if everyone is getting their share in a home with multiple cats
Your cat benefits from the nutrients in both dry and wet food

Giving treats to your cat

Cats love treats, and if you choose to hand out treats, ensure to limit how much you give your cat so that she doesn’t become overweight.

Go for treats that are specially made for cats as they are a better option than leftovers or raw meat. A bit of cooked chicken or fish should be okay.

You can use food enrichment puzzles and toys to keep your cat entertained while limiting how much treats they get to eat.

Weight loss in cats

Below are some tips on achieving weight loss in your cat; however, it is best to check with your vet for expert advice.

  • You should set a target of the ideal weight and track your progress in reaching it
  • Reduce the number of calories you feed your cat; you can follow a low-calorie diet for cats or follow the diet prescribed by your vet
  • Feed a canned food diet, which has a fewer calorie
  • Get your cat to be more active through more play sessions using fishing rod toys; you can use a puzzle feeder to make your cat work for its food.
  • Go for a walk with your cat