Feeding your cat should be a simple part of your day, but many cat owners aren’t aware that they should carefully measure their cat’s food to ensure they feed the right amount. How much your cat eats is just as important as their feeding schedule: Too much food can lead to problems like obesity (which can come with a host of other health issues like diabetes and joint problems), and too little food can leave your cat hungry and begging.
So, how much is the right amount, and when should you feed your cat? The answer depends on a wide range of factors, which we’ll address in this guide to help you make the best choices for your cat.
Factors To Consider When Feeding Your Cat
If you’re serious about helping your pet be as healthy as possible, then you’ll need to put some thought into what you feed your cat. As you choose the best feeding schedule and amount of food for your cat, consider the following details:
An adult cat needs a different feeding schedule and calorie content than a kitten, and a senior cat will need fewer calories than a young adult cat. Consider your cat’s age when calculating how much food they need.
Your cat’s breed will dictate many factors about it, including its activity level and size. These factors will impact how much food the cat needs. For example, a Maine Coon will need far more calories than a slender Siamese cat.
Larger cats may need to eat more than smaller cats. You will need to consider your cat’s ideal weight when choosing the amount you feed them.
Some cats are more active than others, and their activity level will impact how much food they need. A cat that sleeps most of the day needs fewer calories than one who hunts and plays regularly.
Unfortunately, cat food labels tend to be designed for active cats, and most pet cats spend a lot of the day sleeping. Thus, following the label recommendations can lead to obesity.
If your cat is pregnant or nursing, they will need more nutrition than a cat that is not. If you have your cat spayed or neutered, then they will need fewer calories. The hormone change will slow their metabolism, resulting in fewer calories needed to maintain the cat’s weight.
How healthy is your cat? Does your cat have any health conditions that may impact their nutritional needs? Some feline diseases can impact the type and amount of protein they need. Since protein is such a large portion of your cat’s diet, this is an important consideration.
Similarly, a sick cat may need an increased number of calories for a short period of time while recovering. A cat with intestinal parasites, for instance, may be eating enough but losing weight because of the parasite.
How can you tell your cat’s health status? The best plan of action is to check with your vet. However, there are some assessments you can do at home: Feel over their ribs with your hand. If it’s soft and squishy like the palm of your hand, then your cat’s overweight. If you can feel distinct ribs protruding from the skin, then your cat is too skinny. In a healthy cat, you’ll be able to feel the ribs slightly, but there will be a thin layer of muscle and fat over them.
Indoor vs. Outdoor Lifestyle
If your cat is an outdoor cat, they’ll spend more time exercising, hunting, and playing. This leads to an increased need for calories. These cats are very rarely overweight because of the calories they burn. Conversely, if your cat is an indoor cat, they probably burn fewer calories due to lower activity levels, so they won’t need as many calories.
If your indoor cat wakes you up at night, you may assume they’re hungry. However, it’s quite rare for an indoor cat with minimal activity levels to be hungry at night — it's much more likely that your cat wants to play, as they’re nocturnal and most active at night.
How Much Should I Feed My Cat To Keep them Healthy?
If you want to help your cat stay healthy and at a good weight, then carefully choose the amount of food you feed them. Most veterinary nutritionists agree that free feeding (leaving dry food in your cat’s dish) can set the stage for obesity. Instead, have set feeding times and amounts to help them thrive, but keep your cat’s age and current weight in mind.
When considering the ideal caloric intake for your cat, it’s important to note that an estimated 60% of indoor cats are overweight. That said, most recommendations are designed for cats at a healthy weight with ideal body condition. So, if an owner of an obese cat follows the recommendations for a cat at a healthy weight, it may just further contribute to their obesity.
Exact caloric intake recommendations will vary between sources, but because it’s much easier to increase intake than it is to take weight off once it is put on, we 'lean' towards leaner feeding guidelines, and suggest adjusting intake to achieve a healthy body weight.
Feeding an Adult Cat
The average adult cat weighs around eight pounds, and an adult cat of this size needs roughly 200 calories per day to maintain their weight. To determine how much to feed your cat, you’d need to refer to the calorie density per cup of your chosen cat food. Wet and dry cat foods have different calorie densities, so be sure to consider your specific cat food. For example, our dry clusters are about 450 calories per cup. If your cat is of an average size and weight, you’d need to serve a little less than half a cup per mealtime (for cats that eat twice a day).
On the topic of mealtimes, cats often prefer multiple small meals over one large meal. As a result, most prefer one morning meal and one evening meal; about 12 hours apart. If your cat wakes you up in the middle of the night begging, and you have fed them this recommended amount, then ignore the begging.
Feeding an Adolescent Cat
Cats grow until they are about 18 months of age, and during the period between six months and 18 months, they’re considered adolescents. They need 250 to 280 calories a day during this time unless they are a large breed. The additional calories help fuel their growth. As they near their adult size, you will gradually lessen the amount you feed them until you are at the recommended amount for an adult cat.
Feeding a Kitten
Growing kittens need frequent small meals and a high-calorie content to fuel their growth. When feeding kittens, you need to ensure that you meet their calorie needs. The amount you feed them will depend on their size. Aim for 60 to 65 calories per pound of body weight each day.
Converting Calories into Portion Sizes
Calorie amounts are great, but most cat owners can’t measure the calorie content of the food they feed their cats easily. Instead, you’ll need to decide how many cups or cans of food to provide, so you’ll need to know how to convert calories into portion sizes.
To do this, you’ll need to read the cat food label. See how many cups or cans are considered one serving and how many calories a serving contains. Then, determine how many cups or cans your cat needs.
For example, if a bag of dry cat food says that one-quarter cup contains 125 calories, and your cat needs 250 calories, then you’ll need to measure one-half cup of food — that’s all that your cat needs for the day.
How Much Should I Feed My Cat if I Want Them To Lose Weight?
If your cat’s getting a little chunky, you may want to cut back on their food intake. Assess your cat’s body condition, but if you feel they are overweight or your vet has warned that they are, then you need to make changes.
Talk to your vet about how to cut back on your cat’s food without adversely affecting their nutrition. First, make sure the food is a lower carbohydrate food, as this will give them more protein to help them burn fat. Then, cut your cat’s caloric intake to 80% of the recommended daily intake amount.
Unfortunately, cats don’t like having their calories cut, and many will continue to beg if they see less food in their dish. One way you can offset this is to add water or broth to the food, which can help them feel fuller.
Another option is to increase their activity level instead of decreasing food intake. To induce weight loss, you must create a calorie deficit, and more exercise will do just that.
What Is a Good Size for a Cat Dish?
Your cat’s food bowl needs to be large enough to hold one meal of their cat food. This usually means about one to two cups in size. Too big, and your cat might have trouble eating out of it. Too small, and you’ll be frustrated by spills.
Wet Cat Food vs. Dry Cat Food: What Kind of Food Is Best for Cats?
The type of food you feed your cat will determine how much they need to consume. Both wet cat food and dry cat food have benefits to consider.
Wet cat food tends to have a higher protein content than dry food options and more moisture. Since cats often struggle with dehydration, this is an important benefit. However, if your cat doesn’t eat all the food when you put it in the bowl, you’ll have to throw it out, which can lead to wasted food. For most cats, one can of cat food is the right amount of food for the day, so you’ll split it into two meals (Note: Maine Coons and other large breeds will need more).
While free feeding isn't recommended, dry cat food is safer to leave out for longer periods of time — which can be a perk if you have a reluctant eater who may not want to eat all of their food in one sitting. However, overfeeding is easier with dry cat food because kibble is easy to toss in a bowl without careful measuring.
Fulfill Your Cat’s Nutritional Needs With The Honest Kitchen
While the portions you feed your cat are important, the quality of the food is also key to helping your cat maintain a healthy weight and development.
One way to ensure your cat gets the nutrients they need is by opting for high-quality cat food. If you’re looking for human grade food for your cat that tastes great and is packed with nutrients, consider The Honest Kitchen.
With proper portions designed with your cat in mind and whole-food ingredients that are safe for people to eat, you can feed your cat our cat food with confidence. Browse our adult cat formulas to see what tasty recipes are available for your feline friend.
*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.