✔ This article was written by a licensed veterinarian.
Feline experts field many questions about diet and health. But when asked about how much to feed a cat, a quick answer can be tough to provide as there are many factors that contribute to the response. The short answer is that the average, domesticated cat can eat anywhere from 1-to-10 meals a day and consume anywhere from 150-400 kcals a day. These numbers vary depending on your cat’s age, health, and habits. All of which we detail below.
In my vet school years, I attended a seminar where a very respected cat veterinarian said that cats eat around 10 small meals per day. One case study on feral cats showed that they eat about 9 mice a day! Not every hunt was successful, but the average amount is still quite surprising.
If you look online, you can find a ton of slightly different answers from respected specialists in the field. We took some recommendations from the best on the web, in addition to my knowledge in all things cats, and put together this article to help you find the answer to your question.
We cover the following items in this post:
- What Are The Factors That Affect How Much to Feed a Cat?
- How Much to Feed a Cat Chart
- Overweight and Obese Cats
- Cat Feeding Guide – Wet and Dry
- Should I Measure My Cat’s Food?
- How Often Should You Feed Your Cat?
- What Are Some Common Cat Feeding Mistakes?
But first, I’ll start by telling you a story about my cat and how she ended up gaining weight. Knowing that kittens should have food at their disposal throughout the day – I did just that. I always left food out for my kitten after adopting her.
However, this “diet plan” went on for multiple years, into the young adult stage of my cat’s life. After some time had passed, I realized my cat was getting bigger! Less exercise, more food, and more sleep.
So what did I do?
I changed her diet in terms of the number of meals per day (three) and the types of food I fed her. I added in some food with less animal protein, which makes the pet feel full faster, and reduced the amount of animal protein to balance the diet.
I also have a five-month-old kitten, which, because he is in the growth phase, I feed him at will and let him eat as much as he wants all day.
How do I deal with my consistently hungry adult cat around my kitten, who is constantly fed? I make sure to feed them separately, otherwise, all my “guilt” for not feeding her the food she wants will be in vain!
The moral of the story is that you can adjust your cat’s diet to ensure it maintains a healthy lifestyle. You just need to pay attention to your cat, its weight, and its habits to do so effectively.
Now let’s dive deep into things!
What Are The Factors That Affect How Much to Feed a Cat?
No matter how much food your cat would like, it should always be at its ideal weight. The ideal weight is the healthy weight for the size, reproductive status, energy level, age, and additional health factors relating to your cat.
You can try this healthy weight calculator if you’re unsure what the ideal weight is for your cat.
Age is an important factor to consider when feeding your cat.
- Kittens, in comparison to adult cats, need to eat food more often each day because they are in growth mode and expend a ton of energy. Your cat is technically a kitten until it turns roughly one year old.
- Adult and senior cats expend less energy and are no longer in the growth phase. Therefore, they must be fed according to the weight you want your cat to maintain. Respectable cat food brands have written on the back of the food package the amount of food you should give your cat for a certain weight.
#2. Breed and Size
The breed and the size of your cat are additional factors that should be taken into consideration when deciding how much to feed a cat.
- Large breeds, like Main Coon, Ragdoll, or Siberian cats, will need to eat more food because they have larger bodies, which consume more energy.
- Small breeds, like Singapura, Cornish Rex, or Sphynx cats, will likely require less food as they are generally smaller and expend less energy.
However, each cat is unique and shouldn’t be boxed into the above categories! These are simply general guidelines.
#3. Health Status
Similar to humans trying to lose weight, obese cats will need to consume fewer calories than they burn to lose weight. Caloric deficits are one of the few guarantees in the world when it comes to weight loss.
Unfortunately, because we see them growing before our eyes every day, it’s hard to tell if our cat has gained or lost weight. A 10-year study (up to 2019) conducted in 8,000 households showed that pet owners (dogs and cats) believe the following about their pet in terms of its weight:
- 68% of pet owners were convinced that their pet is at the ideal weight.
- 67% of them were not worried about obesity.
- 8% admitted that their pet is a little chubby.
- 57% of pet owners had not discussed obesity with their vet.
- 50% judged the weight of the animal just by looking at it.
- Only 12% looked at the body condition chart.
- Only 2% of the owners weighed their pets.
Also, certain diseases can cause a cat to lose or gain weight, so it is a good idea to talk to your veterinarian to establish a proper and healthy diet for your cat.
#4. To Spay or Not to Spay?
The reproductive status is another factor that can influence our cat’s weight gain. It is known that spayed or neutered cats tend to gain more weight after the procedure.
On the other hand, nursing or pregnant cats need to consume more quality food because their nutritional requirements are higher in these situations. They need to consume enough for themselves and their offspring.
The Cat Insider team is a huge proponent for spaying and neutering your cats! There are a ton of reasons that support this posture, but one worth highlighting here is the following by The Humane Society: “The average lifespan of spayed and neutered cats and dogs is demonstrably longer than the lifespan of those not.”
#5. Couch Potato vs. A Cat With Constant Zoomies
An active cat will have a higher calorie requirement because it will burn more calories. A less active cat will need less as it’s not burning as many calories. It is likely that an overweight cat isn’t a super active cat.
There should be a clear correlation between your cat’s activity level and its weight. If you feel there isn’t, please work with your vet to understand their thoughts and recommendations on the situation.
Consider the above factors when deciding how much you should feed your cat!
How Much to Feed a Cat Chart
The below table walks you through how much you should feed your cat in kcals a day based on its weight, age, and whether it’s spayed or neutered.
As can be seen from the table above, as the cat grows in size (small to large breeds, kitten to adult), the caloric requirement also increases.
These numbers are informed by the Resting Energy Requirement (RER). RER represents the energy requirement for a normal animal at rest in a thermoneutral environment (i.e., an environment in which the body can regulate its core temperature), and is based on body weight.
The formula is as follows:
- RER (kcal/day) = 70 x wtkg0.75
- Another key factor to know is how pounds convert to kilograms. It is as follows:
- Pound (lbs) / 2.2046 = Result in Kilograms (kg)
- Example: A 10 pound cat. 10 / 2.2046 = 4.54kg
An example of the entire formula.
- Let’s say you have a 10-pound cat and want to know it’s RER.
- As we showed above, you’ll find your cat’s weight in kilograms by dividing their weight by 2.2046. Your cat has a weight of 4.54kg.
- You now input that weight into the RER formula. RER (kcal/day) = 70 x 4.54kg0.75
- RER = 70 x 3.343701525
- RER = 234 kcal/day
- Note. If you’re unsure how to calculate exponents by hand, you can use Excel or Google Sheets and use the following formula: Power (number, exponent). So, in Excel or Google Sheets, the formula in this example is =Power(5, 0.75). This gives you 3.343701525.
Further, the daily energy requirement (calories) is calculated based on RER as follows:
|Growing Kittens||2.5 x RER|
|Neutered Adult Cats||1.2 x RER|
|Unneutered Adult Cats||1.4 x RER|
|Obese Cats||1.0 x RER|
|Planning for Weight Loss||0.8 x RER|
By using these formulas, you can accurately calculate the calories necessary for your cat to sustain, gain, or lose weight.
Please ensure you are in communication with your vet when making dietary changes for your cat. They should be apprised and have their insight weighed, as they know your cat medically better than anyone.
Overweight and Obese Cats
Regarding cats’ obesity, think of it as carrying bags of weights on their backs. 2 pounds (1 kg) over your cat’s ideal weight may not seem like a big deal at first.
But what if you put that amount on your cat’s back and let it walk around all day? They will likely be less active and continue down the path of being overweight. Additionally, I’m sure you will feel guilty. It’s best to pay attention to your cats when they start to gain weight and adapt their diet accordingly.
Cats that are overweight can have numerous health problems. Obese cats are expected to live shorter lives (6-12 years).
Carolyn McDaniel is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. She notes “probably 50 percent of cats seen at veterinary clinics these days are overweight, if not obese.” Overweight cats can develop different tendencies, like sleeping more often.
Keep your cat’s weight and food consumption in order so you can enjoy a long, healthy life together!
Cat Feeding Guide – Wet and Dry
Whether we are talking about dry or wet food, most cat food brands have written on the label the number of calories (or grams) that the cat should consume per day according to its weight.
Let’s say your cat weighs 12 pounds (about 5.5 kg), and you want it to reach 10 pounds (4.5 kg). For this, you need to give your cat the calories (or grams) that are written on the label for a 10-lb. cat. You can do the same if you want your cat to gain weight.
It’s best to be methodical in this approach, though. There are no shortcuts to a healthy cat. If your cat is overweight, you may want to slowly but surely reduce their calories until they are at a healthy weight. It’s better to tackle this issue strategically so it doesn’t cause undue stress to your cat. Your vet can assist you in developing a plan that makes sense for your cat if you’re prepared to put them on a diet.
How Much Dry Food Should I Feed My Cat?
I know it’s easier to give your cat a bowl full of dry food and some fresh water for the whole day, but having dry food at their disposal is almost a guaranteed recipe for gaining weight.
Cats are also known for not drinking enough water. Studies have shown that cats that consume a diet based only on dry food are prone to Feline Lower Urinary Tract Diseases (FLUTD).
In other words, a cat that is given only dry food should have plenty of fresh water available because it is known that cats that eat an exclusively dry diet can dehydrate easier. This leads to kidney and urinary tract problems, such as crystals or stones in the urinary tract.
A sufficient volume of urine is needed to dissolve these crystals, which can otherwise turn into stones. Stones can cause urinary tract blockages, which can sometimes be fatal. Neutered male cats are most prone to urinary blockages. Unfortunately, this exact issue happened to a Cat Insider family member’s cat, and it was an unnecessary difficulty. The cat peed all over the owner’s apartment, which was the cherry on top!
Dry food is a good choice when you must leave your cat alone at home for several days because it won’t spoil. But be sure to have a constant flow of water. We recommend a cat water fountain to ensure there is water available for the duration of time you will be gone.
In terms of how much dry food you should give your cat per day, respecting the calories written on the label for your cat’s weight is the best way to start. Divide that quantity by at least 3 meals per day so your cat can eat often, similar to how it would eat in the wild.
How Much Wet Food Should I Feed My Cat?
Although it can be expensive at times, wet food is the best choice when it comes to feeding your cat. Cats are obligate carnivores that require protein to power their cells and energize them.
The higher water content in wet food can help prevent kidney and heart diseases in cats. Also, top wet food brands contain more meat and fewer carbohydrates, helping your cat to lead a healthy diet.
To see how much wet food your cat needs per day, look at the label for calories (they are expressed per can/pouch). Calculate how many cans or pouches your cat needs per day to satisfy its daily nutritional needs for its weight. The below picture is an example.
Should I Measure My Cat’s Food?
Yes. If you don’t want your cat to gain weight or be underweight – it is best to measure its food as best as you can. You will likely get better about eyeballing the food as time goes on, requiring less time and energy from you, while also ensuring your cat eats the proper amount.
Some measuring methods include graduated cups, kitchen scales, or smart devices.
There are some brands that offer buyers graduated cups to help them measure their pets’ food. Otherwise, you can use a kitchen scale to measure your pet’s food and divide it into portions. Digital scales are the most accurate!
There are also different kinds of smart devices, such as SureFeed Microchip Pet Feeder Connect. It has integrated scales, which allow you to weigh your cat’s food when you put it in its bowl. This device connects to the Sure Petcare app, where you can set the cat’s portion size. An LED will light up when you have reached the correct weight in the bowl.
How Often Should You Feed Your Cat?
Wild cats hunt up to 12 times per day. Domestic cats should eat at least twice a day if they do not suffer from medical conditions, such as obesity, or are not prone to fattening. It is best to divide your cat’s calorie intake per day into multiple small meals.
There is no “perfect amount of times” when it comes to feeding your cat. Once you know how much to feed a cat, the number of times you feed them can vary. Some experts state that 2-to-3 times a day is plenty, while others state that 6+ times a day is the ideal number.
Chase, the founder of The Cat Insider, feeds his cats 5 times a day. 3 times are automatic distributions of dry food, and he feeds his cats wet food 2 times a day.
Once you know the amount of food to feed your cat, you can trial the number of meals that work best for him/her. And if your first test is a bit off, their constant meowing will let you know that it’s time to pivot!
What Are Some Common Cat Feeding Mistakes?
In determining how much to feed a cat, most people are prone to some mistakes. It’s completely normal to not do everything perfectly. However, the below common mistakes can and should be avoided:
- Failing to measure the amount of food you feed your cat. If you let your cat feed as often as they want, they will likely gain unnecessary weight.
- Letting your cat nibble all day. Don’t leave food around after they are past the kitten phase. Put food out during feeding times. You can use an automatic feeder if it makes life easier.
- Feeding your cat low-quality food. This item is up to interpretation, but your vet can let you know what foods they feel are best for your cat. Some online research helps as well!
- Forgetting about your cat’s nutritional needs. Again, your vet can let you know how you should adjust your cat’s diet in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
- Failing to provide fresh water at their disposal daily. Automated water fountains are low maintenance and great for cats. We LOVE this water fountain.
- Feeding your cat food scraps from the dinner table. Many, if not most, are guilty of this. If you share with your cat, be mindful of what types of food you share and how much. Use our guide on foods poisonous to cats to ensure you are sharing foods they can digest. We provide a cheat sheet that shows common human foods your cat can enjoy, and what you should avoid feeding them.
- Feeding them too many treats. It’s easy to have a heavy hand when it comes to treats or bring out the treats too often. A few treats can go a long way. There is no need to overdo it!
- Not weighing your cat. You should weigh and document your cat’s weight multiple times a year (at least twice a year). This way you can ensure their weight isn’t fluctuating in between vet appointments.
- Not making a diet plan for your cat with your vet. Your vet is your best friend when it comes to cat health. Ask for their help in ensuring your plan is a good one.
The Bottom Line
Your cat’s weight and food consumption should be something you have a pulse on. It can seem cumbersome or time-consuming, but once you start tracking it, you’ll have a much better feel for your cat’s current physical condition.
And if you have any questions you need help with – work with your vet! Whether you’re trying to determine how much to feed a cat, if your cat’s weight is at a healthy level, or any other health question, your vet can and should assist.
If you have a quick question you’d appreciate The Cat Insider to respond to, please use our Ask a Vet function!