Feeding Cats: How Much, and How Often?

Cats, like the people who love them, are very individual in their tastes and attitudes toward food. Some cats happily eat whatever is set before them … others are notoriously picky eaters. Some cats eat more than they should and get fat as a result, while others (often in the same household, with exactly the same access to exactly the same food) stay slim or even skinny. No wonder cat owners get confused.

How much food do cats need?
Experts vary in their opinions on exactly how much a cat needs to eat each day, but there seems to be a general consensus that a normal, healthy adult cat probably requires about one ounce of food per pound of body weight per day, totaling somewhere in the area of 250-300 calories (depending on the size, age, and activity level of the cat).

All major brand cat foods offer feeding instructions on the can or bag, and it’s important to follow those instructions because they’re written for the specific nutrients that food contains.

However a rough rule of thumb would be to feed a reasonably active adult cat the equivalent of two small or one large can of cat food per day, divided into two or three separate feedings. If dry cat food is part of the cat’s diet, the dry food should be included in the total – for instance, you could meet an eight-ounce requirement with four ounces of canned food and four of dry food.

It’s also important to consider the cat’s stage of life. Kittens actually require more food than adult cats, and pregnant cats need additional food as well.

Is water important?
Yes, absolutely. Your cat should have access to clean water at all times. If the cat’s diet includes dry food this is even more important. If your cats don’t seem to want water from a designated water bowl, try leaving some filled glasses of water in cat-accessible spaces (like on the sink in the bathroom). Just remember not to reach for it yourself on a sleepy morning.

How about milk?
Some cats really like milk, but it’s not a requirement for health in the diet of an adult cat and many don’t digest it well. If your cat develops diahrea after drinking milk, try substituting a small amount of cream. The butterfat in the cream is actually good for cats (in small amounts) and most cats love it.

How often should I feed my cat?
Most experts say feeding twice a day is a good regimen, and for people who are away from home all day it makes a lot of sense – feed before you go off to work, and feed again when you come home. It can be helpful to keep a dish of dry catfood available to the cat at all time. Like us, cats tend to enjoy snacks.

Keep bowls clean and food at room temperature.
Cats can be pretty finicky about cleanliness, and if their food dish smells like yesterday’s meal they may refuse to eat. Ceramic bowls are good for cat food because they don’t absorb odors, as plastic dishes tend to do. Room temperature is best. Food that is very warm or very cold may lead to digestion problems in some cats.