Have you ever wondered just how much food you should be feeding your cat? Let's say you know which cat food you want to feed, whether dry, canned, homemade cooked, or raw. How much of it should be made available to your cat on a daily basis?
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Overfeeding is a constant worry for many cat owners. Obesity in cats has reached epidemic levels in our pet kitties and excess weight is the most common nutritional disease of domestic cats. Obesity in cats is a known risk factor for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis, and lower urinary tract disease.
Shouldn't I Just Follow the Recommendations on the Container?
There are feeding guidelines on all commercial cat food. However, these are only guidelines: each cat has a different level of activity and a different rate of metabolism. Do not be surprised if a 13-pound adult cat needs less food than an 11-pound cat. For many pet owners, feeding guidelines on the food appear to steer us wrong. For many of us, we were free-feeding kibble and realized too late that our cat was overeating.
So How Much Should I Be Feeding?
The ranges of calories per pound of a cat vary greatly: the guidelines range from 15 calories per pound of bodyweight for inactive indoor-only sterilized cats to 35 calories per pound for active cats. Outdoor cats may need up to 50 calories per pound. The “average” cat needs about 20 calories per pound.
Canned foods typically range from 180-220 calories per 5.5 ounce can; dry foods are often calorie-dense, ranging from 300-500 calories per cup. When eating canned food, the average adult cat usually needs about one 5.5 ounce can of food per day.
But Not All Calories Provide the Same Nutritional Content!
This article focuses on caloric intake only and assumes the cat is fed with good-quality cat food that has the right balance of protein, fats, and carbohydrates ("macronutrient" content). Cats utilize proteins and fats far more efficiently than carbohydrates. Dry cat foods often contain a high level of carbohydrates: these foods may encourage a cat to eat more than the ideal number of calories as the food does not leave them feeling satisfied. On the same token, fat has almost twice as many calories as protein and carbohydrates. Cats utilize fats for energy well, and fat provides cats with needed nutrition: but a cat eating high-fat foods will need less food or they may eat too many calories and thus gain weight.
But Is My Cat "the Average Adult" Cat?
Your vet is the right person to help you determine your adult cat’s ideal body weight. Your vet will take into account the cat's age, physical form, and possible health problems. He or she will also be able to assess any existing obesity issues, which may affect the amounts you need to feed as well as what to feed.
What About Kittens?
As a rule, healthy growing kittens should be fed as much food as they want. Although cats continue to grow (at a much-reduced rate) after one year of age, cats are considered adults at that one-year mark.
How Can I Tell How Much Food My Cat Is Actually Eating?
Feeding timed meals no matter what type of food you feed is the best method to keep track of how much your cat is eating. Stick around to see if there are any leftovers once the cat has moved away from the feeding bowl. If your cat weighs a healthy weight, over time, you will get a better sense of the amount of food consumed in each meal and will be able to put the right amount of food in the bowl each time.
Another way to determine how much to feed is to use the feeding guidelines: divide the recommended amount into the number of meals you plan to feed daily. Weigh your adult cat weekly for a month or two; adjust the amount of food if your ideal weight kitty starts to gain weight. If your cat is overweight and you need a kitty to lose weight, please see Obesity in Cats.
Written by Laurie Goldstein Laurie Goldstein is a CFA Charterholder. In addition to her work as an equity analyst, she applies her research skill to all things cat, focusing on nutrition and advocacy for feral cat management via trap-neuter-return (TNR) and educational research on cat predation. Learn more about feral cats on her website Stray Pet Advocacy.
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