If your cat always acts like she’s hungry, you’re not alone. You may find yourself wondering “How much should I feed my cat?” Many loving pet parents face having to make the choice between keeping their kitty happy and full or healthy and well-fed. Of course how much you are actually feeding cats will depend on a number of factors, but knowing what those factors are — and having an educated conversation with your vet about them — is the best place to start. What cats eat and how often they eat affects your cat’s weight most since cats often don’t exercise as much as dogs.
“For pets, the main factor contributing to obesity in general is an intake [of calories] higher than output,” says Dr. Stephanie Liff, DVM, of Pure Paws Veterinary Clinic in New York.
For example, in New York where her clinic is based, Dr. Liff says many of her feline patients lead largely sedentary lifestyles with little exercise, but they’re still eating two full meals a day.
“So they often come into the office, and they’re obese,” she says.
While your vet should be your first line of defense when it comes to feeding questions for your feline friend, there are some general guidelines to keep in mind. Here are a few factors to take into consideration when it comes to deciding “How much should I feed my cat,” according to Dr. Liff.
How Much Is Your Cat Eating Overall?
Remember that everything your cat ingests counts for calories.
“So if you’re giving your cat a lot of cat treats throughout the entire day, you should be feeding him less at meal time,” Dr. Liff cautions.
Feeding cats treats is great when used as a reward and in moderation, but remember to account for these tasty goodies when it comes to mealtime.
How Much Does Your Pet Exercise?
It bears repeating that cats who lead mostly sedentary lives need fewer calories per day than those who are very active. If you’d like your food-loving cat to be a bit more active, Dr. Liff has a suggestion that your pet might actually enjoy.
“You can try to increase a cat’s activity level by using food toys” she says. “These toys make the cat work or chase the toy in order to get the food out, so they are exercising while eating.”
Dr. Liff adds that this type of exercise isn’t ideal for all cats, so consult with your veterinarian first. If he or she agrees, it could be a good way to increase the number of calories your cat is burning per day. Which leads us to …
How Many Calories Are in Your Cat Food?
In general, Dr. Liff says that most pet food bags tend to overestimate the volume required of the cat.
“The pet food companies print a higher caloric intake recommendation than is actually needed by most cats — sometimes up to 30 percent too much food,” she says. “Your vet can determine the exact caloric requirement of your cat, and once you figure that out you can talk about the best ratio of fat to protein/carbs that your cat would need based on health requirements.”
Cats have a high fat and protein requirement in general, she adds, and your vet will help you figure out what’s best based on your cat’s specific needs.
Remember that not all cat food is created equal. If you’re feeding cats dry cat food versus wet cat food, you’ll need to figure out how many cups of food — in terms of caloric intake based on what’s in the bag — are healthy for your cat versus how many cans.
If you’re in the market for a healthy dry food option, Blue Buffalo Wilderness Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Dry Cat Food is high in lean protein and complex carbohydrates, while Fancy Feast Classic Poultry & Beef Feast Variety Pack Canned Cat Food offers a variety of wet food options for a picky cat.
Does Your Cat Have Any Health Restrictions?
Many common cat diseases require alterations to dietary needs, says Dr. Liff. For example, kidney dysfunction is commonly diagnosed in older cats. Cats who suffer from this type of dysfunction should eat a diet restricted in phosphorous and protein, but with plenty of calories, says Dr. Liff, since they often lose muscle mass due to their kidney disease.
Other common issues that you should keep in mind:
Overweight cats are at risk for diabetes and orthopedic issues, says Dr. Liff. “So I work with my clients to get the weight off safely and keep it off long term. High fiber diets and calorie restriction are helpful for this.”
“Kittens and younger cats require more fat and more calories for growth, so kitten diets are specifically formulated for that life stage,” Dr. Liff says. On the other hand, senior pets are also at risk for weight loss or weight gain due to decreased activity. “So it’s important to also feed [older pets] the right amount to maintain their weight, but not lead to weight loss or gain,” Dr. Liff adds. “Senior diets are often rich in antioxidants and fatty acids to maintain cognitive function and orthopedic mobility.” For example, Wellness CORE Grain-Free Kitten Formula is protein-rich for growing kittens, while Halo Holistic Chicken & Chicken Liver Recipe for Senior Cats is formulated with lower calories and fat along with higher fiber to meet the needs of aging cats. (Remember to always consult with your vet before switching up your pet’s feeding routine.)
Remember that all of these factors can also change over time, which means that the amount of cat food you were feeding cats last year might not be the same amount that’s good for her this one. There’s no exact guideline on how much to feed a cat but when deciding “How much should I feed my cat,” remember that what do cats eat and how often they do is critical, amongst other considerations, while feeding cats. Keep an eye on your cat’s overall health and changing lifestyle, and keep up an ongoing conversation with your vet about those factors, to feed your cat the appropriate amount of cat food based on her current situation.
Cheryl Lock is a writer and editor who lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband, daughter and cat, Penny. Her work has appeared in dozens of newspapers, magazines and websites, and she’s written about everything from pets and politics to parenting, travel and food. Find more of her work at CherylLock.com, or follow her passion for travel on her blog at WearyWanderer.com.