How Much Should I Feed My Cat?

cat feasting

It seems like a simple question, but knowing how much to feed your cat doesn’t have an easy answer. Most cats will need to eat 1½ to 3 large cans of cat food or ½ cup to 1½ cups of dry food per day. Where your cat falls within these wide ranges depends on several factors.

Every cat is an individual and every need must be considered. A large active outdoor cat will need to eat more than a small lazy house cat.

Every cat food is different too. One may be high in calories while the other, low. With 60% of cats in the US being overweight, how much to feed them can be an extremely daunting task.

Although cats have gained a reputation for being picky eaters, actually they are not born that way. Much like humans, cats fed the identical food day-in-and day-out can become extremely boring. By feeding kittens a variety of flavors and textures can help to prevent “finicky” eating behavior.

Feeding adult cats on a regular schedule, several times a day, and slowly introducing new flavors and textures can also help prevent your cat from turning up its nose to the foods you are offering.

pet owner holding bowl and feeding hungry cat

Feline’s Age As a Factor

  • Young Kittens

0-4 weeks old kittens are exclusively relying on their mother’s milk. At four weeks you can begin introducing wet food to them. Those that weigh under one pound are likely under 4 weeks old and need to be fed kitten milk replacement formula.

By 6 weeks, kittens should be fully weaned from the milk and should be fed as much wet food as they would like in at least three meals daily. You can also offer dry food in addition to wet at 6 weeks old.

Keep offering wet food at least three times daily until 8 weeks old. Wet food is generally considered healthier for cats, but if you choose, you can rely on dry food beginning at 8 weeks old.

  • Kittens

It is nearly impossible to overfeed cats who are under six months old. Kittens are rapidly growing and they need about as much food as they can possibly eat. Not all cat foods are appropriate for kittens, so be sure that you are feeding either kitten foods or those suitable for “all life stages.”

If feeding exclusively wet food, you can expect kittens to eat 1-2 cans per day. This amount depends on their age, size of the can, and brand of the food.

This should be split into at least two meals; ideally three per day. Feed as much as your kitten will eat for each of these meals. Refrigerate any unused portion.

If feeding dry food, you can leave out a bowl and fill it as needed. It is recommended to supplement this dry food with feedings of canned food for optimal hydration and health.

  • Adult Cats

Unlike kittens, cats can be prone to obesity. This makes determining how much to feed your cat more challenging.

The first piece of information you will need is an accurate weight of your cat. One trick to weighing felines at home is to stand on the bathroom scale while holding them and then subtract your own weight.

Since kittenhood ends at about 8 months of age, they can be fed twice a day. However, since cats are instinctive “grazers”, they do well being fed small portions several times a day, if this is at all possible.

With exemplary care, nutrition, and regular veterinary wellness exams, many cats can live well into their teens and even into their early 20s.

  • Senior Cats

Although some experts consider that cats have reached seniority between 7 and 10 years old,  today many experts consider that the age of seniority begins when cats reach 12 years-of-age. A 12-year-old cat receiving regular wellness veterinary attention still has a lot of living left to do.

A  senior cat should be fed twice a day.  Additionally, as cats reach seniority, medical issues may require a specific diet as prescribed by your veterinarian. Always confer with your veterinarian about the most appropriate specific diet your cat should be fed.

It’s All About The Calories

The only way to truly know how much to feed your cat is to find the ideal number of calories your cat should be eating. There are many calculators online that can help determine these numbers per day.

The trickiest part may be determining if your cat is overweight and by how much. You should be able to feel your cat’s ribs without having to press very hard.

When viewing cats from above, they should have an obvious waist. Your veterinarian can assist you with this by giving your cat a “body condition score” at your next appointment.

Once you have the number of calories your cat needs per day, check the food label. The can or bag should say how many calories are in a cup of food or in a can. From here, some simple math will determine how much your cat needs to eat in a day.

cute cat eating

Manually Finding Your Cat’s Caloric Needs

Determining your cat’s caloric needs manually can help you understand the specifics of your cat’s nutritional needs.

Step 1: Ideal Body Weight

Cats’ daily caloric requirements are based on their ideal body weight. For most cats, the ideal weight is somewhere in the 8 to 12-pound range.

However, this healthy weight can diverge based upon the cat’s frame and breed. For example, a healthy Siamese may weigh between 8 and 10 pounds, whereas, at maturity, a Maine Coon can weigh up to 25 pounds.

Based on your cat’s weight, the food label should provide a guide of how much to feed. For example, a bag of dry adult cat food may read as follows:

  • 5 to 9 lb cat – ½ to ¾ cups
  • 10 to 14 lb cat – ¾ to 1¼ cups

Remember that the number of cups or cans listed is for the whole day; NOT for each meal. You may also notice that the ranges of how much to feed are very large; even if you know your cat’s weight.

This is because the label doesn’t account for the many other factors that go into the amount of food your cat should eat. Factors such as obesity and activity level also have a significant effect. The label is only providing a rough guideline.

If your cat is overweight, being overfed might be the issue and it is essential to cut down on the daily treats. Your veterinarian will be able to accurately decide if your cat is obese, but there are also a few ways that you can do this yourself.

Look at the cat’s ribs and stomach. Your kitty shouldn’t have a saggy belly that is hanging down.

Put gentle pressure on the tummy area with your fingers and if you cannot easily feel the ribs, your cat might be overweight. Examine the tail as well. You should be able to feel the bones at the base.

If you decide that your cat is overweight, you may begin to slowly reduce the portions of food you are serving. However, all changes to your cat’s diet must be done slowly.

But before reducing or increasing your cat’s weight, ensure that you are doing this safely and correctly. Always check with your veterinarian before starting to manage your cat’s weight.

Locate your cat’s ideal weight in the chart below to find the daily calories required.

Ideal Body Weight Daily Calories Needed for Neutered Adult Cats 
6 lb149-179 kcal
8 lb184-221 kcal
10 lb218-262 kcal
12 lb250-300 kcal
14 lb280-336 kcal
16 lb310-372 kcal
18 lb339-407 kcal

Step 2: Activity Level

The range of calories shown is based on the activity level of your cat. An active outdoor cat would be at the high end of the range. On the other hand, a lazy “couch cat” would be at the mid to low end.

Step 3: Reproductive Status

If your cat isn’t spayed or neutered, a 15% to 20% increase in calories from the table shown above is required.

Similar to the hormonal changes that occur in women during pregnancy, female cats that are expecting kittens (“Queens”) will require a change in diet. Prior to breeding, it is strongly recommended to slowly switch the queen’s diet to a high-quality, easily digestible kitten/growth/development cat food.

This will help prevent any unnecessary stress that can often be associated with a diet change. If your cat tolerates it well, it should be continued throughout pregnancy.

It is strongly recommended that queens be fed a high quality, easily digestible kitten/growth/development formula. Pregnant queens should be fed multiple small meals throughout the day to help them maintain sufficient nutrition and caloric intake.

Cats that are in the late stages of pregnancy or are nursing kittens should typically be given as much food as they like. Make sure the food you choose specifically says it is formulated for “all life stages” or pregnant/nursing cats. Cats in the early stages of pregnancy only have a small increase in caloric requirements.

Step 4: Medical Conditions

Note that this calorie requirement guide does not take into consideration any medical conditions. If your cat has any medical issues such as hyperthyroid or diabetes, ask your veterinarian for advice on how to go about the appropriate diet suitable for each condition.

Step 5: Revisit The Cat Food Label

Once you know how many calories your cat should be eating, check the food label. See how many calories are in a can or cup of food.

Divide the number of daily calories by this number and you will find how many cups or cans to feed your cat daily. In many cases, the number of cups of dry food will be less than one.

You can check your work by comparing the feeding guide to the result of your calculation. In many cases, you will notice that the food label recommends slightly more food than what is actually needed.

Real-World Examples

Below are some common situations for cats paired with various popular food brands. You can get a feel for how much your cat should eat based on these examples.

  • A neutered cat who weighs 15 pounds but should weigh 12 pounds would require 1 cup of kibble per day when eating Iams ProActive Indoor Weight & Hairball Care. Note that this food is specifically formulated for weight control. If eating food such as Friskies Gravy Swirlers, ¾ cup should be fed daily.
  • An active, spayed, healthy weight, 8-pound cat who eats Merrick Purrfect Bistro Grain-Free Chicken would eat 1¼ large (5.5 oz) cans per day. Alternatively, this cat could be fed 1 large 5.5 oz can per day with a ¼ cup of a typical dry food given every other day.
  • A former stray cat who is currently 9 pounds, slightly underweight, and not yet neutered, eating Friskies Gravy Swirlers Adult Dry Food should eat ¾ cup of food per day. Once neutered, he should eat ⅔ cups of kibble per day.
  • A spayed cat who is 11 pounds but starting to become less active with age, eating Rachel Ray’s Nutrish Indoor Complete would need ¾ cup of food per day.
  • A healthy weight, neutered, 13-pound, outdoor cat who loves to adventure and catch mice would need to eat three small cans of Classic Pate Chicken Fancy Feast daily. Each can would be equivalent in calories to ¼ or ⅓ cup of most dry food brands.

Staying Full On the Correct Amount of Food

What food you feed and when you feed it can have a huge effect on how full your cat feels. In many cases, cats given free access to dry food for their entire diet have a tendency to become overweight.

If your cat is always hungry or needs to lose weight, there are several techniques to help your feline pet stay full.

  • At Least Three Meals Daily

Cats naturally eat over eight meals a day when they are hunting for their food. Some of them tend to graze on an excessive amount of food because of this multi-meal instinct.

When switching to measured meals, they are likely to feel very hungry in between. Feeding many small meals can help.

Once you know how much your cat should be eating daily, divide the food into at least three meals per day. One meal in the morning, one in the evening/afternoon, and one meal right before bed. This last meal is critical to prevent excessive begging first thing in the morning.

  • Weight Loss Food

Food marketed as weight-loss food has fewer calories per cup and is typically more filling than normal cat food. The high fiber content in this food can help keep your cat feeling full longer.

  • Switch to Wet Food

All dry foods (even grain-free or weight-loss) are high in carbohydrates which can cause glucose spikes and crashes that trigger hunger. Replacing all or a portion of your cat’s dry diet with wet food can help.

Wet food is lower in calories, has a lower carbohydrate content, and must be eaten in meals. In multi-cat households, wet food can help portion the meals for each cat.

For canned food, you can either feed it two 3-oz cans or just a little less than one full 6-oz can per day. If you have a mixed meal plan that includes both dry and wet foods, feel free to adjust the proportions to balance out.

Medical Conditions

Finally, many medical conditions can change your cat’s metabolism. If your cat is having trouble keeping weight on, speak to your veterinarian.

On the other hand, if your cat is overweight and you have already tried to limit calories, you also need to speak to your vet.

For diabetic cats, it is recommended to feed them high protein and low carbohydrate food since high carbohydrates lead to high spikes in blood sugar levels, increasing a cat’s demand for insulin. This is the exact opposite of what diabetic cats need. Low carbohydrates diminish this response.

Foods that have about 50 percent of their calories from proteins and 40 percent from fats are appropriate diets for diabetic cats. 10 percent of carbohydrates can work well for these cats, but others may need less than 5 percent.  To be sure, check with your veterinarian.

Hyperthyroidism in cats can cause weight loss and increased appetite. Fortunately, there are special prescription diets available for these cats. If your cat has been diagnosed with this condition, your veterinarian will counsel you about your cat’s special nutritional requirements.

Senior and geriatric cats are prone to dental disease.  Although cats don’t develop cavities (decay) in the same way that humans, these holes in their teeth are caused by tooth resorption. These holes are technically called feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions or (FORL.)

FORL is a painful condition that makes it difficult for cats to eat. Dental X-rays are used to diagnose FORL and generally, a referral to a veterinary dental specialist whose treatment may consist of surgery, antibiotics, and pain control drugs are necessary.

Jaimee Alsing, an animal nutritionist, holds a BS in Animal Science from Cornell University, where she focused her coursework heavily on animal nutrition. She founded a small award-winning company, Colorado Care Co., which formulated and produced all-natural hermit crab and reptile food. Having worked in the industry, she understands that a lot can be hidden behind a label and strives to do extensive research beyond the ingredient list. For every article Alsing writes, she devotes a significant amount of time to researching each pet food company.

2 thoughts on “How Much Should I Feed My Cat?”

  1. This was really helpful. Well thought out with real life examples. Easy to follow. I need to change my overweight cat’s diet and your researched guidelines have given me the impetus and courage to do so.
    Wish us luck!
    Kristi and Baby Dame


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