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As cat owners, keeping our cats happy and healthy is top of mind. And feeding our cats the right amount can be tricky, especially if you have an incessantly hungry cat or a picky eater. Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to how much food your cat needs. After all, all cats are different. But there are some guidelines you can follow. Let’s take a look at the first guiding principle right now:
Generally the average adult cat should weigh around 10 pounds and needs about 1/3 to 1/2 a cup of food per day. That’s equivalent to around 250 calories.
Simple enough, but wait–there’s more to consider! Your cat’s ideal meal portion size will differ from the next cat just as much as their unique personality. Factors including your cat’s age, size, how healthy they are–and more–can all influence how much food your cat will need.
We’ve outlined what you need to know about choosing the right portion size for your cat, and expert advice of Dr. Stacy Choczynski Johnson, DVM we’ve put together a guide to help you decide how much food to feed your cat below.
Factors Affecting How Much To Feed Your Cat
If possible, you should always take your cat to the vet once a year for a check-up – even if they appear healthy. At this check-up, your vet will be able to assess your cat’s weight and discuss any necessary dietary changes.
How much food a cat should eat per day depends on a number of factors. We already mentioned the broad guideline of 1/3 to 1/2 cup of kibble or wet food (or a mix of the two). This should usually be the right range for should be right for an indoor cat. However, less than this, say as little as 1/4 cup of food, is probably not enough for the average adult cat unless you have a smaller breed, or a cat who isn’t very active.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the factors to take into account when deciding how much to feed your cat.
Cats of different ages will need different amounts of food to meet their specific nutritional needs. Active kittens who are growing will need to eat extra. Whereas elderly, less mobile cats won’t need as much sustenance as they expend less energy.
Maybe it might seem obvious, but larger framed cats will need to eat a bit more than smaller, petite framed cats.
N.B.: this doesn’t mean you should over-feed your overweight cat, just because they’re bigger in size!
3. Temporary or underlying health conditions
If your cat is diabetic, pregnant or nursing for example, they will have different dietary needs to the average adult cat.
A pregnant cat can need up to twice as much food as normal. While a lactating cat can eat up to four times as much as usual!
Remember, eating is not something cats do just for pleasure. It’s to ensure they get all the right nutrients they need and maintain the right level of electrolytes and fluid they need in their bodies. So while your cat may beg for treats, it’s crucial you give them a healthy balanced diet. Especially if they have a health condition.
Always consult your vet for advice on how to feed your cat for their particular condition as they will be able to assess their individual needs.
4. Spayed or neutered
Research has shown that spayed and neutered cats are likely to choose to eat more than intact cats in a free feeding setting (where food is left out and a cat can eat to hunger). Spayed and neutered cats are also more prone to put on weight than cats who have not had the procedure.
So if your cat has been neutered or spayed, it’s better not to practice ‘free feeding’ as this could cause your spayed or neutered cat to overeat and put on excess weight. If you’re planning to spay or neuter your cat, your vet can advise you on how to adjust your cat’s diet if required.
5. Some cat breeds are prone to gain or lose weight
Whilst breed is not considered a direct risk factor, and there aren’t any known genetic causes for obesity occurring more often in some cat breeds over others, some cat breeds are more likely to become obese than others. These breeds include:
- Domestic Shorthair
- Domestic Longhair
- Maine Coon
- British Shorthair
On the other hand, some breeds are less likely to put on excess weight:
6. Outdoor or indoor cats
Another important factor is whether your cat is an indoor or outdoor cat. Generally speaking, cats with an indoor lifestyle will be less active and cats who primarily live inside a house will also use less energy to keep their bodies warm. On the other hand, cats with free roaming privileges tend to use a lot more energy, as they are more active for longer periods of time. Outdoor cats generally have an easier time keeping their weight down.
Be careful not to over or under feed an outdoor cat more than they need. Outdoor cats will often catch and eat smaller animals, usually birds or rodents and will get extra calories this way. If you have an outdoor cat, it’s especially important to keep an eye on your cat’s body shape, size and condition.
7. Metabolic rate and thyroid issues
A cat’s metabolism, their ability to grow, repair tissue and get energy from their food, will fluctuate with age. Kittens typically have fast metabolic rates; as their bodies grow and develop they use energy from their food to grow new tissues, which means they require more regular meals to keep up with their nutritional needs. A cat’s metabolic rate slows down the most when they are middle aged (between 4 and 9 years old).
Hormonal issues can also affect your cat’s appetite, too. In particular, hyperthyroid issues can result in a higher than normal metabolic rate. Because of this increased burning of energy from their food, a cat with hyperthyroidism may lose weight whilst also possessing a far greater than normal appetite, so you may see a cat with thyroid issues begging for more food.
hyperthyroidism usually affects adult or older cats and symptoms can include:
- Weight loss
- Increased appetite
- Excitability or extreme levels of energy
- Increased thirst and urination
It’s important to speak to your vet if you notice changes in your cat’s weight and appetite; if your cat is diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, special treatment may be needed to lower the volumes of thyroid hormones. What’s more, your vet may want to discuss a total change of diet, and may even prescribe low-iodine food.
Why Is It Important To Feed My Cat Properly?
Feeding your cat correctly is important as it can affect a whole range of health and wellness issues, and ultimately their life expectancy. Example side effects of malnourished cats include teeth damage and thyroid problems, while obese cats can develop diabetes and other ailments.
Overfeeding your cat means giving them too much food for their energy requirements. This food will then be stored as extra fat, which makes it harder for cats to enjoy a fully mobile life and obesity can increase the risk of and exacerbate the following health conditions:
- Hip dysplasia
- Heart disease
Underfeeding your cat is when you don’t give them enough food to sustain their activity and nutritional needs, leading to weight loss and a whole host of other health problems:
- Fragile bones
- Hair loss
- Scaly skin
- Dry, brittle fur
You can usually tell if you cat is overweight or underweight from their general appearance and behavior. Overweight cats will appear rounder, may have no visible waistline, and you may have difficulty feeling their ribs. They may also have difficulty jumping up onto things like the sofa or bed. With an underweight cat, you’ll be able to see their ribs from above, and will feel bony when stroked.
What to do with cats on a diet
If your cat is overweight or obese, you’ll need to help them lose their excess weight. It can take time to change your cat’s diet. But even gradual weight loss will be beneficial to your cat’s health.
If you think your cat might need to go on a diet, your first port of call is always your veterinarian. You never want to put your cat’s health at risk and the vet will be able to advise you on the best diet for your cat.
When your cat is on a diet, you should monitor their eating habits regularly:
- What time do they prefer to eat?
- Do they get hungry late at night?
- Are they happy to eat their food?
- Are they always begging for treats/snacks?
Remember: for cats, it’s not healthy to go long periods with no food at all. If your cat hasn’t eaten in over 48 hours, you should call the vet. This is because they can suffer damage such as liver failure from the lack of nutrition.
What Kind Of Food Should I Feed My Cat?
The most common cat foods are store-bought wet or dry varieties. And we asked veterinarian Dr Stacy for her advice on what’s best:
How much wet v.s dry food should my cat eat?
“The decision to feed dry versus wet food depends on the health of the cat, the preference of the cat and the lifestyle of the owner. Cats prone to dehydration and kidney disease should primarily eat wet food. Some cats have a strong preference for only wet or dry food, making our food choice limited.
It’s okay to have the best of both worlds! Many households provide a dry kibble for grazing whilst fixed meals that feature perishable wet food. It is important to regulate the overall calorie intake when two different food preparations are provided.”
Is wet or dry food better for my cat?
“Providing adequate hydration to domestic cats is important for both healthy pets and those with kidney disease. Wet food will provide a dietary hydration boost. High moisture diets may also aid in weight loss.
On the other hand, dry food in combination with teeth brushing helps to keep calculus off the teeth.”
Can I make homemade food for my cat?
You can also opt to make your own cat food if you’ve got some extra time on your hands! But according to Dr Stacy, homemade cat food is an area you need to be very careful with.
“Cats have specific dietary needs and a home cooked diets could spell ‘TROUBLE’ for our carnivore friends. Cats require specific amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. Well balanced diets will include amino acids like taurine. In the case of amino acid deficiency, cats may develop diet-related heart disease.
I advise that cat owners feed raw diets with extreme caution. Raw meat may carry food-borne illness like Salmonella. Plus, homemade raw diets often require supplementation of additional vitamins and nutrients.
However, if you’re totally set on making homemade cat food, Dr Stacy recommends using the resources on balanceit.com to properly formulate home-cooked diets.
Are there any other types of food that can be good for cats?
Dr. Stacy advises: “Small servings of bonito flakes and dental treats are a great addition to a well-balanced feline diet. Always look for an AAFCO label on your pet’s food to determine if it meets the guidelines for adequate nutrition.”
How Often Should I Feed My Cat?
How many daily meals to feed your cat is another question with a nuanced answer. As a general guideline the most cats will thrive on a twice a day feeding schedule from the age of six months until they’re around a year old, which is when they’re considered mature. Then once they reach adulthood, feeding once a day can be fine.
But feeding schedules and number of meals per day isn’t always as clear cut. Pregnant and lactating cats may need to eat more times a day to sustain their energy for example. And diabetic cats may need feeding whenever they need to take their insulin. You vet will be able to help you decide on a feeding schedule at your yearly check-up too.
While there are some standard nutritional requirements for cats, their ideal diet will also depend on a variety of external factors. Always check with your vet and pet nutritionist to set up the healthiest feeding schedule for your kitty.
And remember, a diet is something that can change over time. It’s something you’ll have to pay attention to, measure and assess throughout your cat’s life.
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