Cats can be incredibly fussy eaters, so it may take time to understand their food preferences.
How much and how often to feed your cat will vary greatly depending on their age, activity level, breed, and previous medical history.
Depending on how your cat likes to eat, you may want to “free feed” or consider timed meals or an automatic feeder.
If you are concerned that your cat is overweight, use our body condition score (BCS) chart to determine where they should be on the scale and work with your veterinarian to determine an appropriate diet and exercise plan.
Of all the animals you may have around the house, cats are often the most mysterious and difficult to predict. Some of the most perplexing cat behaviors are their feeding habits. As a pet parent, understanding how much to feed your cat and how often to feed your cat will help prevent them from becoming overweight and ensure they receive the proper nutrition.
How much to feed your cat depends on several factors that make up your cat’s metabolic needs. Some cats require many calories to support their body makeup, while others go through a small amount of food per month.
To figure out how much food your cat needs, you’ll want to consider the following:
Their activity level
What you feed them (wet food, dry food, etc.)
Whether they are pregnant or nursing
In general, indoor cats require fewer calories than outdoor cats because they are less active, but of course, that still leaves the question: how much food does my cat need?
To start, you’ll want to understand if your cat is currently overweight or underweight by finding out what their body condition score (BCS) is. You can do this by assessing the chart below or by having your veterinarian perform a physical examination on your cat.
Most scoring charts have a range between 1 and 5 or 1 and 9, with the lower numbers on the chart indicating a cat is too thin and the larger numbers on the chart showing a cat is overweight. The goal is to have a cat with a body condition score in the middle of the scale.
If your cat is at a healthy weight, they are receiving the right amount of food, and you can continue feeding them as you have been. If your cat is too thin, make sure there is no medical cause for their weight loss.
Some health conditions that cause weight loss in cats include:
If your veterinarian gives your pet a clean bill of health but says they are too thin, you may need to feed them more or switch to a different diet that provides more nutrients. Your veterinarian is an excellent resource if this applies to your cat. Also, keep in mind that cats that are not spayed or neutered tend to have leaner body types.
If you have a new cat and are unsure how much to feed them, an excellent place to start is reading the label on their food. These recommendations are helpful but often need a small adjustment. For a typical cat, the amount of food recommended on the label should be reduced by 20%. The amount of food suggested to feed on the back of the bag is often based on very active pets, which is typically too ambitious for most of our house cats. By making a 20% reduction, pet parents can generally feed their pets the proper amount.
Food type is also essential. It can be overwhelming when deciding what brand to feed. Again, your veterinarian is the best resource when making this decision. They can make a recommendation based on your pet's individual health needs.
How Often Should I Feed My Cat?
How often you should feed your cat will also be based on their individual needs.
Cats, like humans, tend to fall into two categories of eaters:
Those with self-control who can have food available at all times,
And cats with no self-control who will eat an entire bowl of food repeatedly with no sense of stopping.
If you have the first type of cat, free-feeding is a natural and healthy way to feed your cat. Cats tend to like to graze, so being able to feed when hungry is the best scenario. Make sure not to put too much food out at one time, however, because it can go stale and cause food aversion.
If you have a cat with no self-control, things can be a little trickier. Fortunately, we have many options for these gluttons. These cats should be fed their recommended amount of food over two to three small meals per day. If your cat tends to eat too quickly, consider using a slow-feeder, like a puzzle toy, to make sure the food is eaten at a pace that won't cause gastrointestinal upset. These cats can also benefit from an automatic feeder, which allows pet parents to pre-measure their pet's food and set a time when the food rotates in the bowl to let the cat eat. This system can be beneficial if you are not home for scheduled feedings.
How to Feed Multiple Cats
One challenge is when multiple cats are in a household, especially if they have different eating habits. If you have any cats in the home who will eat uncontrollably, then all your cats should be on the “gluttonous eater” schedule, which ensures that all cats receive enough food without being overfed. It also ensures that the food bowl will not be emptied by the food-loving cat, leaving the grazers with an empty dish when they decide to eat.
Above all else, a regular, predictable feeding schedule is crucial for your cat to know when they'll be fed. This keeps their metabolism in tip-top shape.
How To Help a Cat Lose Weight
If you have a chubby cat, weight loss is possible, but it does take work and commitment. As with a thin cat, your veterinarian must thoroughly evaluate your overweight cat to make sure they are not suffering from a medical issue causing them to be overweight.
If your cat just needs to trim up, a change in diet is the first step. Your veterinarian may suggest a weight loss diet that limits calorie intake or a diet with lower calories than the one you are feeding.
Pro tip: To ensure your cat doesn’t get an upset stomach, make sure you slowly introduce the new food over 7 to 10 days. The amount of food that needs to be fed should be based on what your veterinarian recommends.
If you are using a weight-control food, you will want to feed the daily amount recommended for your cat's target weight, not the weight they are now. Weight loss should be slow and steady, and your goal should be to have your cat's weight at the ideal number over two to four months.
Exercise can also be hugely beneficial for cats. Adding any kind of physical activity, including interactive toys, cat towers and trees, leashed walks outdoors, or homemade toys, can help your cat slim down and improve your bond.