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.
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.
What Other Readers Have Asked.
Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...
Cat's Need for Water
QUESTION: I have a friend who owns a six year old mixed breed female cat. She got the cat a couple of months ago. She claims the cat does not drink …
Two Different Cases of a Cat Not Eating
QUESTION: My cat won't eat. I have gone to the pet store and spent $50 a week to buy cat food. If I try enough choices, he will eat. But the food …
Cat with smelly rear
QUESTION: My cat's butt has gotten stinky in the last couple months. It has like a smudge of poo around it all the time. She is five years old and …
VERY FAT CAT Nutrition Concerns
The question I have is about my sister-in-laws male cat KC. He was neutered about 2-1/2 yrs ago along with another male cat.He used to come and go …
Science Diet c/d for Cats
I have two cats that are on Science Diet c/d for urinary issues. They have been on it for over two years. How long will they need to remain on this diet …
2 year old cat
QUESTION: Since Sunday, our 2 year old male cat has not eaten. We can put a small amount of baby food and wet cat food in his mouth and he will eat …
CAt has allergy to chicken and needs a S/D food after a urinary tract blockage
My 12 yr old male cat was just released from animal hospital after a urinary blockage. He has a severe allergy to chicken (causes skin lesions and diarrhea) …
My cat smells like urine! help!
My 8-year-old cat's bottom smells of urine and makes any where she has been smell the same. She does clean herself (probably not too well because she's …
Rescue Cat and Desperate Eating
Greetings fellow Cat Lover!My cat, Mittens, of 17 years passed away this summer of 'old age'. We were at the vets daily for a week until she finally …
3-year-old Cat Losing Weight
My three-year-old female has been losing weight (about a pound since December). I brought her to the vet and he ran a blood panel and fecal test. Both …
Cat refuses to eat anything but milk
Hello,Recently I bought a cat from a girl not too far away and she got the cat used to drinking milk. The first couple of days we gave it milk while …
16 year old Cat with Kidney Issues-Is Raw Food okay?
Hi Dr. Neely,I have a sweet male 16 year old kitty. He is the best companion. I had lab work done the end of December of 2010. Here were the numbers: …
Cat is binge eating, very insistant, yet not overweight
Mozie is a 17 year old male tabby cat that weighs about 12 pounds. I am new to the house, and this cat has become quiet insistent about his cat food since …
Kitten Feeding Problems
Other questions were similar but not exactly what I need. I have a litter of three 3 month old kittens. Two of them are eating both wet cat food and dry …
Confused about Cat Nutrition
First of all, I would like to thank you for offering this service to people, it is so kind and generous of you. It is really exceptional that you take …
One fat cat and one thin cat
HiI have 2 rescue cats and the problem is that my male is quite slim (a small cat for a ginger tom) and my other cat, a long haired female, is overweight. …
Cat food help/Urine issues
My husband and I live in a small town in Wyoming. This creates challenges on finding a local food that is good for the seven cats. We have cats ranging …
Princess Chunk, Fat Cat
I don't really have a question but came across a story this morning that I thought you and your readers might be interested in. People complain of their …
Cat Nutrition: Cats Weight
How much is a healthy weight for an 11 month old Persian? She weighs 8 lbs. 6 oz. ??Marie Hi, Marie, That weight sounds just right. Everyone's …
I recently adopted a two-month old kitten. I already have a three year old cat. They get along great and have become great friends.Is it bad to feed …
Cat Nutrition: Expired Cat Food
Is it ok to give kittens moist cat food that says best sell by 3 months ago? ANSWER While it is true many products that are sold commercially …