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Cat eating from a bowl

The essentials 

  • Different factors determine how much you should feed your cat —  Your cat’s activity level, age, and size are all considerations.
  • Kittens need more calories than adult cats — Younger cats have a high metabolism that slows down as they transition into adulthood.
  • Wet food and dry food offer different benefits — Wet cat food is hydrating, while dry cat food can sit out longer without spoiling.

We all want to keep our whiskered friends well-nourished. Several factors go into calculating the number of calories your cat needs, including age, weight, and activity level.

Generally speaking, healthy adult cats eat between ⅔ and 1 ¼ cups of dry cat food per day, or around 65 calories per pound of body weight. That said, every cat is unique, and it’s best to consult your veterinarian when figuring out how much to feed your individual kitty.

How much and how often to feed your cat

Cats are carnivores and rely on nutrients that come from a well-balanced diet. Whether you’re using wet food, dry kibble, or a mix of the two, it’s important to understand the number of calories your kitty is getting to avoid deficiencies.

How many calories should cats eat?

Kittens have a higher metabolism than adult cats, so their daily caloric intake is higher. As cats get older, their number of calories should decrease to prevent obesity.

It’s also worth noting that cats that have been spayed or neutered require fewer calories than those intact because sex hormones affect their metabolic rate.

Here’s a chart to help determine the amount of daily calories your feline pal should get relative to their life stage and size.

Kittens Fixed adult cats Intact adult cats
1-5 pounds 97-325 cal 47-156 cal 54-182 cal
6-9 pounds 372-500 cal 178-240 cal 208-280 cal
10-15 pounds 545-737 cal 261-354 cal 305-413 cal
16-20 pounds 775-915 cal 372-439 cal 434-512 cal

How many times a day should cats eat?

It will take a bit of trial and error to figure out your cat’s eating habits. If they’re leaving food in their bowl without eating it, chances are you’re overfeeding and need to break up the meals.

If your kitty is whining throughout the night, then they may need to eat closer to bedtime.

You’ll also want to keep an eye on your cat’s body language and temperament. When hungry, cats engage in destructive behaviors like stealing human food or scratching up furniture. If your cat doesn’t seem satiated by their meals, consult your vet to make sure they don’t have a nutritional deficiency.

Here are different methods for feeding your cat:

  • Free feeding. You can leave out dry kibble for your favorite furball to eat as they wish. This is ideal for owners with busy schedules, but only safe for cats with the self-control to not eat too much. This method doesn’t work with wet food because you run the risk of it going bad if it sits out for more than 30 minutes.
  • Portioned meals. Owners can also schedule meals throughout the day for their whiskered friends. If your cat requires 250 calories, try feeding them 125 calories twice daily. From there, you can decide if you need to break it up into thirds or even fourths based on how hungry they seem.
  • Combination. Some cat parents may choose to feed their kitty wet or canned food at specific times and then have kibble sitting out all day for snacking. When doing this, you must note the differences between the calories of the two types of foods and do the math to ensure your cat is receiving a well-balanced diet.

Factors that impact how much you should feed your cat

While it’s good to have a general sense of how much cats eat, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the factors that can alter the amount of calories your unique cat requires. As with humans, lifestyle can play a major role in how our feline friends process food.

Here are the considerations when determining exactly how much your cat needs to eat daily.

  • Your cat’s size. The diet plan for a 5-pound Munchkin will be much different from that of a 25-pound Maine coon. The bigger the cat, the more calories they’re going to need. Check with your veterinarian if your cat is the ideal weight. If not, your vet will need to tailor a diet to help your cat lose or put on some pounds before they can start eating the “normal” amount for their weight class.
  • Your cat’s age. Kittens need more meals more often to stimulate healthy growth. As they get older, cats require a different amount of nutrients. Older cats, on the other hand, may have a harder time digesting their food, so they tend to need smaller meals than a growing kitten.
  • Whether your cat is pregnant or nursing. Pregnant or lactating cats have their own specific requirements when it comes to nutrients. Since they’re also supplying food for kittens, they’ll need to eat a diet tailored to all life stages, not just their own. They’ll also need to drink an ample amount of water to produce a sufficient quantity of milk.
  • Your cat’s activity level. The more exercise a cat gets, the more food they need for fuel. Whether it be through playtime with toys, the zoomies, or outdoor exercise, cats that are active throughout the day will require more calories (one study found that there is a 15% difference between the number of calories an active cat burns versus a sedentary one).
  • Body condition and overall health. Your cat’s history of health conditions will also play a role in the amount of food they should be eating. For example, a cat with diabetes needs a diet higher in protein and lower in carbs than most other feline diets. If your cat is prone to urinary tract infections, wet foods with moisture are better for them than dry kibble.

Wet food vs. dry food

When it comes to choosing food for your feline friend, what’s most important is that they are getting a high-quality, balanced meal from a trusted brand. While both wet food and dry food should offer kitties the nutrients they require, they offer different advantages and disadvantages.

“Wet food has more moisture content which can help increase hydration in cats also it can be easier to consume due to its texture which may be ideal for cats with dental issues,” says veterinarian Dr. Dwight Alleyne. “But wet food can contribute to dental disease because of its tendency to get stuck between the teeth. Dry food can help with dental hygiene due to its texture but can be challenging for some older cats with dental issues to chew.”

The biggest pro of dry kibble is that it’s cost-effective and can be left out for long periods without spoiling. It’s also better for a feline’s teeth than wet food because it reduces plaque buildup, preventing diseases like gingivitis.

Wet food is beneficial due to its water content. Cats have a low thirst drive and don’t naturally drink as much water as they should. This puts them at risk of kidney disease, UTIs, and urinary crystals. It also has a stronger scent than kibble, which may help entice picky eaters to eat.

Tips for changing your cat’s feeding routine

Cats love a good routine, and good daily feeding practices will only set your kitty up for success. Let’s take a look at ways to ensure your cat is getting the most out of a balanced diet.

  1. Only use high-quality cat food — First and foremost, you want to make sure your cat is meeting their nutritional needs, even if it means paying a bit more. Keep an eye out for the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) emblem on cat food labels to ensure quality ingredients.
  2. Use an automatic feeder — Overeating can lead to feline obesity and other health problems. While it may be suitable to leave food out for a kitten to graze or “free feed” throughout the day, you should make sure you’re aware of exactly how much they’re eating continually. An automatic feeder lets you schedule how much food is dispensed while you’re away, and some have built-in refrigeration for perishable wet food.
  3. Add fiber to your cat’s diet — You can ensure your cat’s food has all the essential ingredients they need, but the food has to be digested properly for them to absorb all the nutrients. Adding fiber to their meals like pumpkin or apples can aid in digestion.
  4. Provide clean water — Always make sure your cat has access to fresh water. If you notice your cat doesn’t tend to consume much water, consider trying something like a cat water fountain with a stream that encourages drinking.
  5. Feed cats separately — If you live in a multi-cat household, the best way to ensure all your cats get their essential nutrients is to establish separate feeding areas so one isn’t hoarding all the cat food and depriving the rest of eating the right amount.
  6. Use interactive food bowls — Level up mealtime with a fun and interactive feeding bowl that makes eating more enticing. For example, you can try feeding “mice” that cats can hunt to help with both exercise and regular feeding.

Cats are mysterious creatures, which can make it hard to decipher if they’re getting all the nutrients essential to their well-being. Just look for ways to ensure your cat is getting the most out of their meals and make sure to not go overboard on the treats — no matter how sweetly they look at you.

Frequently asked questions 

How much food should a cat eat in a day?

How much food your cat eats in a day depends on several factors, including their age, size, activity level, and health history. Generally speaking, adult cats will eat between ⅔ and 1 ¼ cups of formulated cat food per day.

How do I work out how much to feed my cat?

Owners should consult their vets regarding how many calories their cat should receive daily. While food labels will have charts detailing how much food to give your cat relative to their age and size, it doesn’t take into account if a cat is overweight or underweight. Your vet will provide a diet plan to reach the ideal weight for your cat.

Does the amount of food vary according to a cat’s weight or age?

Generally speaking, kittens eat more calories than adult cats because they have higher metabolisms. As for size, the larger the cat, the more calories they will require on a daily basis.

Why is my cat always hungry?

If your cat is begging for a meal, they may be bored from lack of exercise or mental stimulation, or experiencing a diet deficiency. Consult your vet to make sure they are receiving a well-balanced diet.

Do cats stop eating when full?

Cats have a natural instinct to eat small portions throughout the day rather than all their food at once, so most cats will stop eating before they are finished. Wet food shouldn’t sit out for 30 minutes and dry food should only sit out all day if your cat exhibits self-control.