As pet parents, we spend a lot of time determining what to feed our cats. But, figuring out how much to feed a cat is just as important.
Underfeeding can lead to nutrient deficiencies and weight loss, but overfeeding is a much more common problem. Surveys show that approximately 60 percent of cats in the United States are overweight or obese. Extra body fat puts cats at increased risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, musculoskeletal problems, skin disease, heart problems, some types of cancer and a potentially fatal liver disease called hepatic lipidosis.
On the other hand, when you feed your cat the appropriate amount of food, they are able to maintain a healthy body weight—which is essential for a cat’s overall health and happiness.
So, whether you are a new cat parent or want to improve your cat’s health, there are general guidelines that will give you an idea of how much to feed your cat. Keep in mind, however, that your veterinarian will always be your best resource for determining your cat’s unique nutritional needs.
Factors That Affect How Much to Feed a Cat
How much food to feed a cat is based on a variety of factors, including:
Kittens undergo rapid growth and development, which require a lot of energy and nutrients. How much to feed a kitten is its own topic (Learn how much to feed a kitten here). For this discussion, we’ll address cats over 10 months of age, which is when most kittens can be switched to adult food. The nutritional needs of senior cats are similar to those of adults in their prime.
Larger breeds, like Maine Coons, need to eat more than their smaller counterparts. That said, even within the same breed, some individuals naturally have a smaller frame than others and require less food.
Activity Level and Metabolic Rate
Cats who routinely get a lot of exercise burn more calories than feline couch potatoes. A cat’s resting metabolic rate might also be higher or lower than what’s typical due to individual differences in physiology.
Spaying and neutering reduce the number of calories a cat needs. On the other hand, most pregnant and nursing cats should have unlimited access to a food that is appropriate for kittens or all life stages to meet the intense nutritional demands that reproduction puts on their bodies.
Body Condition and Health
To lose weight, a cat must take in fewer calories than they burn, while weight gain requires a calorie surplus. Some health problems can also cause cats to gain or lose weight. Talk to your veterinarian if your cat needs to gain or lose large amounts of weight or appears sick in any way.
All of these factors (and more!) combine to determine how many calories a cat should take in every day.
How Much to Feed a Cat Chart
The chart below presents average serving sizes based on a cat’s weight and other factors. Keep in mind that an individual cat’s needs can vary by as much as 50 percent in either direction from the average, so talk to your veterinarian to determine the proper food portions for your cat.
How Much Wet Food or Dry Food to Feed a Cat
Once you’ve determined how many calories your cat needs every day, you need to figure out how much food to feed a cat to provide those calories. Thankfully, manufacturers now have to list a food’s caloric content on the label. It will be written as kcal/kg and kcal/can (wet food) or kcal/cup (dry food). In nutrition circles, a kcal (kilocalorie) is the same as a calorie.
Divide your cat’s caloric needs (kcal/day) by the food’s caloric content (kcal/can or cup). The answer will let you know how much wet food to feed a cat or how much dry food to feed a cat. To figure out how much food to feed a cat at each meal, simply divide the daily amount of food by the number of meals you plan to offer each day.
For example, let’s say your cat is 10 pounds and very active, and they are on a diet of Tiny Tiger Pate Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Wet Cat Food. According to the chart, your cat should consume 346 kcal/day.
Since the calorie content of the wet cat food is 95 kcal/can, you would determine how much wet food to feed your cat by dividing 346 kcal/day by 95 kcal/can.
346 kcal/day ÷ 95 kcal/can = 3.64 cans of Tiny Tiger Pate Chicken Recipe Wet Cat Food per day.
Feeding Wet Cat Food vs. Dry Cat Food
Most veterinarians recommend that cats eat primarily wet food. The higher water content in wet foods can help treat or prevent kidney and lower urinary tract disease as well as obesity and all its associated health problems. High quality wet foods like Fancy Feast Gourmet Naturals tend to contain more meat and protein and be lower in carbohydrates than dry foods and this better matches a cat’s nutritional needs in comparison to dry.
The chief benefits of dry foods are their lower cost and the fact that they are the best option when food needs to be left out for extended periods of time. If you choose to feed dry, opt for a quality, high protein cat food, like Solid Gold Indigo Moon with Chicken & Eggs Grain-Free High Protein Dry Cat Food, and try to maximize your cat’s water intake. If your cat likes to drink from running sources of water, consider purchasing a kitty water fountain like the Catit Flower Pet Fountain.
How Often Should I Feed My Cat?
Cats have evolved to eat numerous small meals throughout the day but leaving food out all the time is a major risk factor for obesity. At a minimum, a cat’s total daily food intake should be divided into two meals, but more (up to six!) is better. An automatic timed feeder, like the Cat Mate C500 Digital 5 Meal Dog & Cat Feeder, that can be preloaded with multiple, measured meals is a great way to provide your cat with just the right amount of food, divided into small meals.
You now have a general idea of how much food to feed a cat, but keep in mind that an individual’s needs can vary by as much as 50 percent in either direction from the average. Monitor your cat’s weight and body condition to narrow in on how much they should eat and, as always, talk to your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns.