There is no simple answer to this question–at least 2 meals per day, but you need to consider other factors too. Like how you, your baby cousin, and your grandma all need different nutrients, cats are the same!
The biggest question that comes with being a cat parent is the food. There are many conflicting “ultimate” and “best” feeding methods, but are they? I spend 2 days searching for the perfect explanation to help current and future cat parents along the way.
Cats are built differently from us humans, so their feeding schedule is different too. We see too many overfed chonky kitties!
Keep reading to find out:
How much should I feed my cat?
Like how we don’t have a “one meal fits all” for humans, each cat has a different need for food. How much you feed your cat depends on a few factors:
- Age: Kittens, adolescent cats, adult cats, and senior cats need different amounts of calories and nutrition for proper growth and maintenance. Growing cats need more calories and as they grow older, they need less.
- Weight & Size: A bigger cat needs more calories and nutrients to maintain their bodies functionality. The ideal weight for each breed of cat differs as well, so you can’t feed your cat based on one measuring standard. You should find out the ideal weight for your cat’s breed, then adjust your cat’s food accordingly–do they need to diet? Gain weight? Or maintain?
- Activity level: Genetically, some cats have better metabolic rates than others. It can also be changed based on your cat’s activity level too. If your cat is burning more calories, they will need to eat those calories back in to fuel their body. Note: Outdoor cats usually burn more calories than indoor cats.
- Reproductive state: If your cat is pregnant or nursing, these queens need more calories than ones that are spayed or neutered. Because of the lack of hormones in spayed or neutered cats, their metabolism is slower. So, they won’t need as many calories.
- Health status: Your cat’s health can affect any of the points mentioned above. It can alter your cat’s metabolic rate or needs. So, make sure to consult a vet and check your cat’s health regularly.
On top of the factors above, the food you choose contributes to how much you should feed your feline friend as well. Each high-quality commercial cat food has a different set of nutrients and calories. As you probably guessed, you’ll need to feed less if the cat food is calorie and nutrient dense.
A good place to start is to study the food label on your cat food. They will usually have a very rough guide on how much to feed your cat. Keep in mind, the food label didn’t take into account all the personal factors of your cat. This is a good guide if you are using it to budget your finances, but not for tailoring to your cat’s needs.
I would suggest finding a vet to assess your cat and plan a meal specific to your cat’s condition. But if you must, you can use this online tool to help you estimate your cat’s calorie intake.
Importance of measuring cat food
Take note that many food labels list “daily” or “per day” intake amounts, not “per meal”.
The best way to do it is to have the daily intake amount measured in the morning. You can keep it in a sealed container, then feed it to your cat in increments you like. This prevents overfeeding or underfeeding your cat. It also saves you from doing the math and the labor.
How often should I feed my cat?
Like humans, cats have habits and personalities. They prefer to have predictability in their food schedule–whether it is always available or available at a certain time. So, choosing a feeding method that fits your lifestyle and their liking is ideal.
Some cats are good at controlling how much they eat at once, but some don’t have that. Sounding a little too much like their cat parent? For the high self-control cats, free feeding is possible. But for the other bunch, it is important to feed in increments. Over-eating in one meal or binge eating can upset your cat’s stomach or cause bloating.
Free feeding/Ad libitum
Good thing about free feeding is you don’t have to worry about feeding your cat at given times. Your cat can snack on the bowl of food anytime during the day. One thing to keep in mind is you are still giving a set amount of calories per day. You are not mindlessly refilling the bowl when it’s empty (even when your kitty makes that cute face).
This method of feeding is not recommended for cats that are going to go at the food in one go. Kittens are common victims of this. This might result in juvenile obesity, orthopedic problems, or diabetes. It also encourages the act of binge eating.
This method is more work for our fellow cat parents. But, the benefits are worth it and there are automatic feeds on the market that can help you. If you feed your cat in meals, it is easier to switch up the food if needed. A hungry kitty is usually less picky!
Make sure to feed at least 2 meals per day and no more than 12 hours apart. If the time gap between meals is too long, there can be too much acid buildup in your cat’s stomach, causing nausea and vomiting.
Keep in mind, the calories they are eating per day are the same as other feeding methods. It is just separated into different meals.
There is a method where you separate your cat’s daily cat food intake into “meals” and “snacking” categories.
For example, in the morning, you would take out your cat’s daily food intake amount. Then, you separate the majority of the calorie intake in these 2 meals, leaving a little behind. You would put the small remaining amount in their free-feeding bowl, which your cat can snack on during the day. During “meal times” you would give your cat 1 of the 2 meals that you prepared for your cat.
Cat owners use this method to mix dry and wet food. Because dry food would not go bad during the day, they would use that as the free-feed “snack” and use wet food as the “meal”. Make sure all the calories added together don’t exceed the amount your cat is supposed to eat daily.
Best Practice for cat feeding
It is always best to consult your vet for your cat’s meal plan. They are professionals and they are there to help you!
If you must plan it yourself, you can use this free online tool to calculate how many calories your cat needs and if they are at their ideal weight. Reassess your cat’s condition every couple of weeks and adjust your cat’s food accordingly.
It is not all about the calories, but the nutrients as well. Cats are obligate carnivores, so make sure they are getting the proper nutrients they need. If you are debating whether to make your cat wholesome homemade meals, you can use this guide to help you make the decision.
Cat Dieting Tips
Cats can have feisty personalities, especially when it comes to their food. When you cut back on their food, they can give you a hard time by acting like they are starving. A good rule of thumb is to cut back slowly–around once every 2 to 3 weeks and only ½ to 1 tablespoon per meal.
Get your cat to exercise too. I know this one is hard. You can try using catnip and interactive toys to get your kitty moving. This way they are burning off more calories.
Always monitor how your cat is doing during a diet. Your furry friend shouldn’t lose more than half a pound per month. Don’t rush the process even if your cat has many pounds to lose. Dieting is tough! If you make the process too unappealing, you might end up with a hangry cat.
The Bottom Line
Cat feeding is not a simple or straightforward process. You have to take into account your cat’s specific needs and also the quality of the food. You want to be able to find a feeding schedule that works with your lifestyle and your cat’s personality.
It is important to consult a vet or a professional to make decisions and changes to your cat’s diet. Always monitor your cat to see if there are any unusual eating habits or weight fluctuations. If you notice these, notify your vet right away!
What to do next
If you want to know how your cat’s body is different from yours, check out this article on how and why they are obligate carnivores. You will learn what nutrients their furry bodies need compared to our human bodies.