How Much To Feed Your Cat is the subject of many cat health questions I receive both in my practice and online. It's actually a very important question and it doesn't matter which of the cat food brands you feed your cat. The answer is not as simple as you may think.
Even though you find feeding instructions on almost every bag of cat food you can buy, the instructions are useless. One brand may tell you to feed your cat 1/2 cup twice daily, while another recommends 1/4 cup three times daily.
It's not just the manufacturers of cat food that can't tell you how much to feed your cat. It's anyone, including your veterinarian, your best friend or me.
You see, there's a lot of myths, misinformation, and general lack of knowledge regarding feeding a cat. Not just about how MUCH to feed a cat, but also about WHAT to feed a cat. For the moment, however, this article is just about the quantity issue.
Just today I got one of those emails. It simply said "How much should I feed my cat?" The answer is always the same. I don't know.
Hmmmm.., you're probably wondering if this so-called experienced, educated feline vet actually doesn't know anything after all. How could I say "I don't know" to such an easy question as "Can you tell me how much to feed my cat?"
I say "I don't know" because NO ONE KNOWS!
No one knows "how much to feed your cat" or anyone else's cat.
Think of it this way. How much should you eat? Is it the same amount as your neighbor? The same amount as your daughter? The same as your husband? Is it the same amount as the quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles? If I told you I have three friends and asked you to tell me how much each one of them should eat each day, could you tell me?
Of course not. It varies with age, metabolic rate, health, exercise level, gender, genes, and much more. You come from a different gene pool, have different metabolism, and exercise more or less than anyone else. We are all different.
That is true of cats also. If you have more than one cat, you know that any two cats are different from each other. One sleeps more than the other. One is "friskier" than the other. One runs up and down the stairs while the other lies on the landing for long periods of time. And, quite possibly, one came from one mother and the other from a different.
How then can anyone tell you how much to feed your cat? No one can.
Understanding Cat Food Labels & Feeding Portions
When you see the recommended daily amount to feed your cat on the side of a bag or can of Purina cat food or Iams kitten food or even diet cat food that you may have chosen hoping it would be the magical answer, ignore it. Sometimes the cat owner tells me it says 1/2 cup while the obese cat I'm examining only eats 1/4 cup each day and is still obese. Sometimes it says 1/4 cup when the slender kitty that is my next appointment eats one whole cup a day and is still very thin.
The only way you can possibly find out how much to feed your cat is by trial and error. To do this, you need to buy a digital scale, a notebook, and a set of measuring cups.
Start by thinking back or recording your actions for the next few days as to how much you usually put in the cat food bowl. If you don't know, feed a little more than usual for a few days. Be sure and measure it out carefully. Write it down, and write down how much is left exactly 24 hours later. Subtract that from the starting number and you'll know how much your cat ate in 24 hours.
Do that for several days and then figure out the average. That is the amount you're going to feed each day for awhile.
At the same time, you need an initial weight for your cat. Stand on your digital scale alone (yes, you have to) and record your weight. Then hold your cat and record the weight. Obviously, subtract and you'll have your cat's weight. Write it down!!!
Monitoring Your Cat's Weight
If finances allow it, a pediatric scale will be easier and more accurate. But if not, your own scale will do fine as long as it is digital.
Every week, do exactly the same thing. Always re-weigh yourself first, then hold your kitty to get the combined weight, and then subtract. Write it down!!!
If your cat's weight stays the same, then the amount you are feeding is roughly maintenance for your cat at his present size. If he is losing weight and you don't want him to, then you need to feed more. If he is gaining weight, then you need to feed less.
You need to repeat this cycle over and over before you can find out what amount of food it takes for your cat to be a certain weight.
No, I'm not kidding. It takes discipline and organization and restraint, sort of like when we try to lose weight ourselves. But it's the only way.
Oh, and PLEASE follow this rule. Do not let your cat lose more than 1/2 pound per month. If a cat loses weight too quickly, he is in danger of developing hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver syndrome) and trust me, you absolutely don't want that to happen!
Hepatic lipidosis is a dreadful disease and primarily affects overweight cats that lose weight too quickly for whatever reason. It can be treated successfully, but treatment often takes a long time and a lot of money and heartache, so make sure your kitty doesn't lose weight too quickly.
So, again, no more than 1/2 pound of weight loss per month. Even if your cat needs to lose 10 pounds,(look at the picture below if you don't think that's possible!) don't let him lose more than 6 pounds per year.
It's Not Just How Much You Feed ...It's WHAT You Feed!
I would be negligent if I didn't mention just a word about the other problem we have with feeding our cats. WHAT we feed our cats is a huge problem. Cats are obligate carnivores. They were designed to eat meat and the commercial cat food you buy has far more than meat in it. The carbohydrate levels of cat food, especially dry cat food, are ridiculously high, dangerously high. We have created an obese cat population and one with an increasing number of cases of diabetes.
If you don't change anything else in the way you feed your cats, please stop feeding dry food. Not only does dry food not have the water content that cats need to maintain proper hydration, but it is too high in carbs and fat and lacking in good quality meat. Check the label. You'll see by products and maybe even grains and vegetables first on the label. That is not what carnivores should be eating.
The way to feed your cat is to cook the cat food yourself. I know, however, most of you are not going to do that. So at least feed your cats canned food. The chart provided for your free download here will show you the carb, protein and fat content of various canned foods. This chart was originally created for diabetic cats, but is very useful for all cats. You will notice in the chart that many available flavors from a variety of brands have been eliminated. This is because the foods not listed are too high in carbohydrates to be acceptable for any cat. A good diet for cats consists of foods containing 10% or less carbohydrates, and again, this is sadly something you will never learn from the label.
Please print this PDF file and keep it with you every time you go cat food shopping!
Feeding your cats a high protein, moderate fat, and low carbohydrate diet is very easy to do. There are even pure protein cat treats available to reward your kitty after play time or for doing so well on her new diet!
Also, to increase your knowledge and awareness of cat nutrition in general and to make your cats healthier cats, please see CatInfo.org.
By the way, the cat in the above photo is my own and since switching my cats to an all canned, low carbohydrate diet, he has lost 7 pounds (SLOWLY!) and at age 14, acts like a kitten again! Here's a new picture.
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