How Many Calories Should a Cat Eat? Understand Your Cat's Daily Calorie Intake

How Many Calories Should a Cat Eat? Understand Your Cat's Daily Calorie Intake

If you leave food out in your cat’s bowl, they might be happy to snack all day long. But this might not be what’s best for them. Just like humans have a recommended daily calorie intake, the same is true for cats — and as a responsible cat owner, it’s your job to make sure your cat isn’t eating too little or too much.

There are multiple factors that impact how many calories your cat should eat per day: Weight, age, activity level, and more are all important considerations. In this article, we’ll break down the factors affecting a cat’s daily recommended caloric intake and help you determine the right amount of calories your cat needs each day.

Why Understanding Calorie Intake Is Important for Your Cat

Calories provide the energy your cat’s body needs to keep its normal bodily functions running smoothly. It’s important to know how many calories your cat should be eating every day so your pet will stay healthy and maintain a good body condition.

Too many calories might lead to obesity. Unfortunately, this is common in cats, and obese cats are more prone to serious health issues like cancer, heart disease, osteoarthritis, and more. Cats who are underweight and malnourished are more at risk for problems like heart conditions and bone density issues. 

Health Risks With Obesity and Malnutrition in Cats

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, feline obesity is a widespread problem: Approximately 30-35% of cats are overweight. Obesity contributes to health problems in cats including:

  • Shorter life expectancy 
  • Many types of cancer
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Heart disease
  • Hypertension
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Urinary bladder stones
  • Anesthetic complications
  • Hepatic lipidosis (a liver disease that can be life-threatening)
  • Skin problems
  • Difficulty fighting infectious disease

But packing on too much weight isn’t the only concern for your feline friend. Malnutrition, which often (but not always) occurs when your cat is underweight, is just as dangerous. If your cat’s ribs and backbone are prominent, it might be underweight. Malnutrition can lead to problems such as:

  • Bone density issues
  • Compromised immune system
  • Muscle weakness
  • Dry, scaly skin
  • Hair loss
  • Failing eyesight

Prolonged malnutrition can lead to serious health concerns like organ failure, particularly the liver.

Factors Affecting a Cat’s Calorie Intake

The ideal number of calories isn’t one-size-fits-all. Take a look at the areas you need to consider.


Your cat’s age is one of the most important components to consider when it comes to daily calorie intake. For example, since a growing kitten’s body develops so quickly, they will need more calories than adult cats. Below, we’ll take a closer look at how a cat’s caloric needs change throughout different life stages.


Kittens (0-12 months of age) have greater calorie needs than adult cats because they are growing so quickly. They need lots of protein and nutritional support. Most kittens gain weight at the rate of about one pound per month. They’ll generally switch to an adult diet at the age of one year.

Adult Cat

Generally, your goal for an adult cat (around 1-7 years old) is simply for them to maintain their weight. You’ll want to consider their activity level and any special instructions from your vet, but for most adult cats, maintenance is sufficient. 

Senior Cat

Senior cats on the younger end of the spectrum (about 7-10 years old) need less calories because they are likely becoming less active. However, older senior cats (11-14 years and beyond) actually tend to need more food than adult cats. As your cat gets older, its body will have trouble digesting fat and protein. Increasing calorie intake is the best way to help keep their body stable. 


Your cat’s current weight will affect how many calories they should eat per day. If your adult cat weighs 12 pounds, they may require more calories to maintain their weight than a cat that weighs 8 pounds — provided that both cats are at a healthy weight for their breed and age.

However, if your cat is obese, they may need less calories. An underweight cat might need extra food to reach maintenance intake level for their breed and life stage. 

If you aren’t sure of your cat’s ideal weight, your veterinarian can offer the best insight. However, for most breeds of domestic cat, around 10 lbs is a safe average. 


Different cat breeds may have different caloric needs. Larger breeds — such as Maine Coons, Norwegian forest cats, or Persians — need more food to maintain their weight.

Some cat breeds might also be predisposed to certain health issues that could alter their nutritional needs. For example, Persians are prone to polycystic kidney disease and urinary tract infections, which may require

Activity Level

Just like humans, your cat’s activity level should help determine how much food they need. A cat that is more active will burn more calories, meaning they’ll need more to eat to maintain their energy level. Outdoor cats often need more calories per day than indoor cats because they are more active.

If your cat is a couch potato who spends their time snuggling with you, they won’t expend as much energy and should therefore eat fewer calories to avoid becoming overweight. 

Reproductive Status

One final factor to consider is your cat’s reproductive status. Spayed or neutered cats need fewer calories because they tend to be less active; Male cats are not looking for a partner and female cats are not pregnant or nursing. On the other hand, pregnant or nursing female cats need more calories so their kittens will be healthy. Mother cats who don’t eat enough may experience embryo loss, abnormal fetal development, spontaneous abortion or stillbirth, a small litter size, or kittens who fail to thrive.

However, it’s still important to not overfeed. This might cause obesity, which can make the labor process longer and more difficult. Obesity can also decrease milk production, meaning the kittens won’t get the nutrition they need.   

How Many Calories Does a Cat Need Per Day?

How many calories your cat needs per day will vary based on the factors covered above. In general, however, a cat doesn’t need more than 200 kcal per day. A good rule of thumb is 20-33 calories per pound depending on the cat’s activity level. 

While there is no single “right” answer, there are several ways to determine ballpark feeding estimates. One method is to use Resting Energy Requirements (RER). RER represents the energy requirement for a normal animal at rest, and is based on body weight. The calculation for cats uses a formula (70 x (cat’s body weight in kg)^0.67), multiplied by a numerical factor (based on age, current weight, or reproductive status) to determine the cat’s Maintenance Energy Requirements (MER). 

Another method comes from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association’s (WSAVA) nutrition toolkit. The WSAVA Global Nutrition Committee lists the following guidelines for cats according to weight:

  • 2.2 lbs: 100-130 kcal per day
  • 3.3 lbs: 130-150 kcal per day
  • 4.4 lbs: 160-170 kcal per day
  • 5.5 lbs: 180-190 kcal per day
  • 6.6 lbs: 200-210 kcal per day
  • 7.7 lbs: 215-230 kcal per day
  • 8.8 lbs: 225-250 kcal per day
  • 9.9 lbs: 240-270 kcal per day
  • 11 lbs: 250-290 kcal per day
  • 12.1 lbs: 260-310 kcal per day
  • 13.2 lbs: 265-330 kcal per day
  • 14.3 lbs: 275-350 kcal per day
  • 15.4 lbs: 280-370 kcal per day

While WSAVA’s guidelines provide a good general feeding framework, these calculation estimates really just offer a starting place to gauge where an individual cat's caloric needs may fall. However, actual needs may differ from calculations by + or - 50% due to the factors discussed above: age, current weight, breed, activity, and reproductive status (intact versus spayed/neutered). 

It’s important to note that it’s much easier to increase calorie intake for an underweight cat to achieve a healthy body weight, than it is to decrease calories for an overweight cat to lose weight. This is why our veterinary experts lean toward leaner feeding guidelines, and suggest adjusting intake to achieve a healthy body weight. 

How To Calculate How Many Calories Your Cat Needs

Those guidelines are a great place to start, but each cat’s nutritional needs are highly individualized. While we always recommend consulting with your veterinarian before altering your cat’s diet or caloric intake, there are ways to better understand your cat’s calorie needs. Here’s how you can roughly calculate your cat’s daily calories.

1) Weigh Your Cat

Since your cat’s current weight is a major factor in determining how much they should eat, it’s helpful to have a general idea of your cat’s weight at all times. Your vet will weigh your cat anytime you’re there for a checkup, but you can also weigh your cat at home using a household bathroom scale. 

To weigh your cat at home, start by weighing yourself and write down your weight. Then, hold your cat and step back onto the scale and note the new weight. Subtract your weight alone from your weight while holding your cat — the resulting number will be your cat’s weight.

Cat’s weight (lbs) = (Your weight + Cat’s weight (lbs)) - Your weight (lbs)

2) Determine Your Cat’s Resting Energy Requirements (RER)

Resting Energy Requirement (RER) represents the energy requirement for a normal animal at rest, and is based on body weight. The following RER chart for cats can serve as a guide to help you determine how many calories your cat needs: 

Weight (lbs)

RER (kcal/day)































3) Factor in Your Cat’s Unique Specifications 

RER is a helpful starting point to determine your cat’s ideal calorie intake. You can also use the following formulas to account for your cat’s unique needs:

  • Intact adult cat: 1.4 x RER
  • Spayed/neutered: 1.2 x RER
  • Obesity prone cat:  1 x RER
  • Weight loss: 0.8 x RER for ideal weight
  • Weight gain: 1.8 x RER for ideal weight
  • Kitten 0 to 4 months: 2.5 x RER
  • Kitten 4 months to 1 year: 2 X RER

For example, let’s say you have an intact adult cat that weighs 9 pounds; their RER would be 201 kcal per day. Multiply their RER (201, per the RER chart above) by 1.4 and you’ll get 281.4 kcal. This is the right number of calories for your cat to eat each day.

How Often Should My Cat Be Fed in A Day?

In general, it’s best to feed your adult cat either once or twice per day. The exception is for kittens, who may need three meals a day. If you’re considering leaving your cat’s food available and accessible at all times (also known as “free feeding”), you may want to reconsider: Many veterinarians advise against free feeding because it can contribute to overeating and obesity. 

You should also pay attention to the serving size you give your cat at each feeding. If you choose to feed your cat twice a day, make sure to divide their total daily calorie intake between those two feedings. For example, if their daily recommended calorie intake is 200 kcal, each meal should measure out to roughly 100 kcal.

Remember, treats count as calories, too — but even when treating, it’s best to not feed your cat table food. In addition to adding even more calories, not all human foods are safe for cats to eat. However, there are some safe human foods that pet owners can give their cats in moderation, which you’ll find detailed in this helpful resource.

Manage Your Cat’s Caloric Health With The Honest Kitchen

The final piece to the puzzle is feeding your cat high-quality pet food that will keep their bodies happy and healthy. Make up their daily calorie intake with cat food from The Honest Kitchen that’s human grade, all natural, and has a taste that pets love. Each of our recipes are formulated with a veterinary nutritionist and prepared to the highest standards so your feline friend can get the delicious daily nutrition they need.

Shop our complete collection of human grade cat foods here.

*Health Disclaimer: This post is educational in nature and doesn’t constitute health advice. Please consult your pet's veterinarian or other healthcare professional for specific guidance on this topic.

Dr. Leilani Alvarez

Leilani Alvarez, DVM, CVA, CCRT, CVCHM is an integrative veterinarian, utilizing both conventional and holistic modalities and is employed at the renowned Animal Medical Center in New York City. Dr. Alvarez is the director of The Tina Santi Flaherty Rehabilitation & Fitness Service at NYC’s Animal Medical Center. She practices Integrative Medicine, which includes therapies such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, homeopathy and physical rehabilitation, which help to increase the overall health of a patient and can often increase the success of conventional treatments.
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