One of the first questions new cat owners typically ask is “how much should I feed my cat?” And while it might seem like a simple question, the answer is fairly nuanced (sort of like your cat herself.) In fact, there are almost as many answers to this question as there are cats.
If you have a well visit coming up, your veterinarian is the best source to answer this question. He or she knows your cat and can provide more customized information, plus answer any questions or concerns you may have. In the meantime, the experts at Purina offered up some helpful guidelines for feeding cats.
There are many factors to consider when determining the amount of food to feed your cat, including:
- Her age
- Her weight
- Her energy level
- Whether she is pregnant or nursing
- Whether you feed wet food, dry food or both
- The nutrient content of your cat’s food
- Whether she’s an indoor cat, outdoor cat or both
DO AN ASSESSMENT
Before you look at cat food labels, an essential first step is to take a close look at your cat’s body condition. Is your cat slim and trim with a well-defined waist, or does her tummy brush the floor as she waddles along? Does she spend most or all of her time outdoors? Outdoor cats may need more food during the cold winter months and less in the summer.
Age is an important factor as well. Kittens experience periods of rapid growth during those first 12 months, which means they’ll eat more compared to adult cats.
Finally, think about your cat’s energy level. Is she your beloved “Lady Lounge-a-lot,” often mistaken for a sofa pillow? Or a high-energy daredevil who only uses the sofa as a springboard to other adventures? As you can imagine, each of these cats would need a different amount of daily calories.
Here’s a general guideline that nutrition experts agree on: A healthy, active, 10-lb adult cat requires 270-320 calories per day. As a point of reference, Purina® Cat Chow® Complete contains 388 calories per 1 cup and 291 calories per 3/4 cup. Having an idea of how many calories are in each serving gives you an idea of how much food to put down, but remember the amount you feed will differ for kittens, nursing mothers, inactive senior cats, obese cats and so on.
If you could use some help in this process, ask your veterinarian at your cat’s next appointment. Your veterinarian knows your cat’s current state of health and can give you a daily feeding recommendation customized to your cat’s specific health needs.
CHECK THE BAG
Now that you’ve taken a look at your cat and maybe even asked your veterinarian for advice, look at the feeding guide on your cat food label. This will give you a general idea of how much to put in her food bowl. You’ll often find a range of feeding amounts to cover different types of cats. Where does yours fit in? That’s your call. And don’t worry – you can always adjust to make sure your cat is getting what she needs.
Once you’ve determined how much to feed, the inevitable question is, “How often?” Many cat owners feed meals in the morning and evening, while others leave dry food out during the day. In reality, cats love to graze, eating multiple small meals throughout the day and night. But when it comes to how much, all that matters is the total calorie count. Decide how often you’ll set food out each day and divide the calories accordingly. Yes, it might seem like a lot of math, but your cat’s health is worth the effort!
HOW’S IT GOING?
Once you determine your feeding amounts, use them as your guide for a couple of weeks. Then assess how your cat’s diet is working. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Does she usually have some food left in her bowl? Or is she waking you up at night for more?
- Is she cleaning her bowl, but becoming a bit heftier? Or too thin?
- Is she eating happily, and maintaining healthy weight and body condition?
A couple of final thoughts: If your cat needs to gain or lose weight, try giving her the daily amount in multiple, smaller meals throughout the day. This will help you determine an amount of food that’s better to help her get to that healthy weight. If you see changes related to diet that concern you, contact your veterinarian.
With the right food, fed in the proper amounts, you can help your cat enjoy a healthier, happier life. And while she may not always appreciate your role as her personal chef, you’ll know that the effort you put into her seemingly simple bowl of food means she’ll get much more from it than enjoyment.
Coates, Jennifer, DVM. “How Much Should I Feed My Cat?”
Shojai A. The Purina Encyclopedia of Cat Care. 1998: 334.
Vigil L. Nestlé Purina PetCare Senior Nutritionist (Cat Portfolio). Interviewed Dec 2014.