Cat Feeding Schedule: How Often Should I Feed My Cat?
Cats are creatures of routine - so once they're used to you feeding them at certain hours, they're going to stick to it. Insistently. So here's a deep dive into how often you should feed your cat throughout the day, calories & all.
Cat parents around the world know how easily our feline friends pick up on our routine. And one habit they absolutely insist you stick to? Mealtimes. So if you’ve found yourself serving kitty their fifth bowl of the day and are now asking yourself, “How often should I feed my cat?”, we’re here for you.
Figuring out your cat feeding schedule isn’t too complicated – but you do need a bit of consistency. Because as adorable as chonky cats might be, overfeeding yours can lead to a bunch of health problems down the line.
So here’s a deep dive into a bunch of important food-based questions cat parents often ask themselves. Including:
- How often should you feed a cat?
- How many calories should a cat eat?
- How much dry food to feed a cat?
- How much wet food to feed a cat?
Table of contents
- How often should you feed a cat?
- How many calories should a cat eat?
- How much dry food to feed a cat?
- How much wet food to feed a cat? (Or how much canned food to feed a cat?)
- More tips to stay on top of cat calories per day
- Watch out for changes in your cat’s regular habits (eating & more)
- Wrapping up: How to build a happy, healthy cat feeding schedule
How often should you feed a cat?
…or more specifically, how many times a day should you feed your cat? Well…it depends. Factors like your cat’s age, health, preferences, and how accustomed they are to your schedule all play a role. But at the bottom line, here’s what vets recommend:
- Feed your cat at least 2-3 times a day. (About a half day – or 12 hours – apart.)1 Cat respond well to smaller meals throughout the day.2
- Ideally, try and feed your cat around the same times every day. (Or they might scratch down your doors or curtains protesting around mealtimes they’ve gotten used to.)
Because much like dogs (and maybe even more so than dogs), cats are creatures of habit and routine. So a simple change in mealtimes can stress them out. Besides, if your cat grows accustomed to you feeding them at certain times of the day, their bodies adjust naturally. So they’ll usually start feeling hunger around those times and come meowing or crying to you as a “reminder” of sorts.
⚠️ Watch out for free feeding, or leaving a bowl of cat food out for your cat for them to graze on throughout the day. It’s one of the leading causes of feline obesity.
All things considered, a cat feeding schedule needs consistency. So consider your own schedule and lifestyle – and how you can adjust it to treat your cat’s mealtimes as a priority.
How many calories should a cat eat?
In general, vets recommend feeding your cat between 24-35 calories per pound daily.3 So, for example, if your cat weighs 10 lbs (or 4.5 kg), you’re best off feeding them between 240-350 calories per day.
However, your cat’s caloric intake also depends on factors like:
- Their age
- Their breed (which affects their size)
- Whether they’re neutered
- Whether they’re pregnant or nursing
- Whether they’re under/overweight
- Whether they’re an indoor or outdoor cat
So when you’re considering how many calories your cat should eat, remember that this varies across individual cats. It’s always a good idea to double-check with your local vet to get a good idea for your cat specifically.
How much to feed a cat by age
Here’s how much to feed a cat by age, as recommended by the Animal Medical Center of Chicago4:
- Kittens. Growing kittens (weighing between 4-10 lbs, or 9-22 kg) need between 275-545 calories as they grow.
- Neutered adult cats. A neutered adult cat needs slightly fewer calories than intact ones. That’s around 30 calories per pound of body weight. So, for example, your 10 lb neutered cat might need around 305 calories per day.
- Intact adult cats need around 40 calories per pound of body weight. So your 12 lb intact cat might need around 350 calories per day.
💡Use this nifty cat calories calculator to figure out a ballpark of how many calories your cat might need. And remember: in general, overweight cats need fewer calories than normal-weight adult cats in order to reach a more healthy weight range.
Cat calories per day – based on gender & size/breed
Your cat’s weight can affect how many calories they need per day. But how do other factors like their gender, size, and habits play a role?
- Gender. The good news: most male and female cats tend to have a similar healthy weight range across breeds. So they’ll more likely need a similar amount of calories.5 Though watch out for exceptions like Maine Coons. (Where males tend to be heavier – so they might need slightly more calories than females.)
- Size. Cat breeds tend to vary across sizes – from the average domestic cat to larger, heavier ones. For example, Savannah cats, Norwegian Forest Cats, and Maine Coons can weigh up to 22-25 lbs (10-12 kg)! On the other hand, some “big” cats like Bengals might weigh only around 12 lbs (5.5 kg) – while tiny Munchkin cats clock in at around 4-8 lbs (2-4 kg).
💡 This is why it’s always a good idea to monitor your cat’s weight to ensure it’s along the healthy guidelines for their breed and size. Your cat’s body condition score can also help you get an idea.
What about pregnant or nursing cats?
In general, healthy pregnant cats gain weight steadily throughout their pregnancy. (Over 63-65 days.) But they tend to lose much of it while nursing their new kittens. That’s why vets recommend you6:
- Feed your pregnant cat multiple small meals per day.
- Slightly increase your cat’s food intake once the kittens are born.
In the latter case, it’s fine to feed your cat foods that are a bit higher in calories and energy. (So she can be a healthy Mama cat and raise a healthy, happy litter of kittens.)
If you’ve got a pregnant or lactating cat at home, be sure to periodically drop by your local vet to stay on top of their health and wellbeing. They can also best advise you on vet-approved options for cat foods meant for your new Mama cat.
How often should you feed a cat if they’re on the move – a lot?
Your cat’s daily activity also affects how many calories they need. For example, if your cat likes to venture outdoors and explore the neighborhood, they’re likely to need more calories to fuel their activity. (Than, say, indoor cats.) In fact, the same amount of calories an outdoor cat burns off might lead to an indoor cat gaining weight instead.
💡 Outdoor cats also tend to hunt their own food – especially mice and birds. In fact the average outdoor cat might even catch around 15 mice per day!7 So in their cases, you might only need to feed them once a day. (To avoid any unnecessary weight gain.)
Besides, how your cat reacts around mealtimes has a lot to do with what they’ve gotten used to. Which is why it’s a good idea to monitor their regular habits and behaviors. (And weight, to stay on the safe side.) Because if your cat isn’t eating, it might not always be cause for concern. But a sudden change in their habits could indicate something is wrong. (Like sickness.)
Plus, with outdoor cats, there’s always the chance they might wander somewhere potentially dangerous or even infectious to hunt for meals. Or they might get stuck in a neighbor’s garage or a tree in your neighborhood while chasing a woodland animal or bird.
Which makes it a good idea to keep tabs on your cat’s location – along with their everyday level of activity. So you can better catch on to a change and intervene right away. Like if your outdoor cat is wandering outside a “safe zone” or just too far for comfort.
Know everywhere your cat goes
See where they are in real-time, no matter how far they go. Get alerts if they roam too far home. Find out where they’ve been and discover their favorite spots. Let others track with you.
“Tractive is the #1 cat GPS tracker in the industry. And it’s the highest quality cat tracker you can find. I was able to set the safe zone as my house area and once my cat gets outside I get an alert right away.
In fact, it probably saved my cat’s life that time she chased a bird and got lost. She was scared and I was able to find her with the help of the GPS tracker. Tractive’s chip frequently calculates your cat’s location and is updated on the map every 2-3 seconds. Furthermore, the LED will help you guard your furry friend at night.”– Clair Chesterman, Owner of CFA and CCA-registered cattery and fostering company, FluffyMeowPaws
How much dry food to feed a cat?
Dry food is cat food that comes usually in kibble form. They tend to be a bit lower on the water side, being made up of only around 6-10% water – but because of this, they’re higher in nutrients per volume. And according to Dr. Beth Turner from PreventiveVet, the recommended amount of dry food for an indoor cat should be around ⅓ to a ½ cup per day. (Or around 80-125 grams.) Which comes to around 167-250 calories, if you’re going for commercially-produced high-quality dry cat food that’s high in protein.8
Just keep in mind that dry cat food tends to be higher in calories than wet cat food. So depending on how much your cat weighs, they might not need a big serving size. (Else they’re more likely to gain weight.)
- For example, vet-approved dry cat food options like Hill’s Science Diet Adult Chicken Recipe Dry Cat Food clocks in at around 502 calories per cup (or 250 grams.)
- So for the average 10 lb cat, you’ll only need to serve them around a ½ cup (or 125 grams.) for a full day.9
Cats tend to have a low thirst drive in general. So if they’re only eating dry cat food, they might actually end up dehydrated. (Which can lead to worse health problems down the line, like UTIs.) So it’s wise to include wet cat foods in your cat’s diet as well.
How much wet food to feed a cat? (Or how much canned food to feed a cat?)
Wet cat food usually comes in cans or pouches. They may be chunks of meat in a sauce or gravy, which are generally more hydrating and high-protein than dry food. (Containing around 70% water.) According to the Companion Animal Clinic, most cats need around 4-5 ounces (or 113-140 grams) of canned food per day.10
Wet cat food might even have fewer calories compared to the same amount of dry cat food. And much like dry cat food, vets recommend portioning out wet foods in one-thirds per day. The frequency can depend on what your vet might recommend for your cat specifically – as well as the feeding routine they’re used to. So if your cat, say, gets to eat around 300 calories daily, vets recommend portioning out their wet food in ⅓ cans.11
Some wet cat food options (like the Nutro Perfect Portions grain-free multipack) also come in pre-divided, meal-sized portions. So no need to worry you’re feeding your cat too much in one go. You can also spice up your wet food with some meat toppers or chicken broth to get your cat to look forward to mealtimes more.
Most wet cat food brands also include feeding instructions depending on your cat’s age or reproductive condition. For example, the Tiki Cat Queen Emma Luau Variety Pack Grain-Free Canned Cat Food recommends 2-3 cans per 7 lbs of body weight per day for adult cats. (And twice the amount for kittens – or pregnant or nursing cats.)
More tips to stay on top of cat calories per day
Now that you have an idea of how your cat’s calories per day can vary, here are a few more helpful tips to stay on top of your cat’s nutritional needs:
Use a food scale to measure out your cat’s portions
If you’ve been eyeballing your cat’s portion sizes, you might risk serving them more or less than what they need to stay fully healthy. And many cat food brands might not be available in pre-divided serving sizes.
But with a food scale, you can easily measure out the exact quantity you’re serving your cat per meal. (By ounce, pounds, or grams.) So you can be more confident you’re serving them the exact amount of food they need to stay happy and healthy.
Weigh your cat regularly to spot any changes
Your cat might nibble around their feeding bowl for ages – and they might still be undereating. Cats tend to regulate their hunger pretty naturally when it comes to getting specific nutrients in their food.13 And given how picky they can be when it comes to meals, you want to ensure they’re not over- or under-eating.
💡 It’s why vets recommend weighing your cat at least once a week.14 Doing so can help you spot changes in their body weight more quickly. (Which, in some cases, can indicate they’re sick. Or that they’re eating more or less than they should – which, over time, can cause health conditions like diabetes.)
Now just placing your cat on a weighing scale might not give you the most accurate results. So instead, you could place your cat in their carrier or a heavy paper bag (or even a pillowcase!) to weigh them.
- Just make sure to weigh the carrier or bag without your cat after as well, to get the correct figure.
- Be careful what system you’re using – metric or imperial. Make sure your weighing scale is set to this consistently.
- Besides a weighing scale, you could also use a luggage scale to get a precise number.
While some fluctuations are normal, make sure to get in touch with your vet if you notice a big drop or spike in your cat’s weight.
Be mindful of treats
In general, treats tend to be nutritionally poor and don’t add much value to your cat’s health. It’s why vets recommend that treats should only be around 10% of your cat’s overall diet.15 So if your cat is on around 250 calories per day, that’d make their treat allowance only around 25 calories in all. (Which might be like a large biscuit – or an extra handful of kibble.)
With the holiday season coming up, you might find your cat sniffing around your kitchen that much more with all your food ingredients all over the place. So make sure to stay informed on:
But most importantly…
Watch out for changes in your cat’s regular habits (eating & more)
If your cat isn’t eating as much as before, it might not necessarily be an emergency. Some of the more benign reasons include eating too many treats, getting a neighbor to feed them, or even being in heat. But if you notice a sudden change in their eating habits or activity levels, it might include more serious reasons. Including:
- Eating something potentially poisonous
- Dental problems
- An infection or a cold
And the scariest part? Cats often mask their signs of illness, discomfort, and pain. It’s wired into their evolution – a sick wild cat would be easy prey, after all. So even if your cat seems normal and healthy, they might still be struggling with an infection or illness. Which you might even miss out on until it’s too late.
But by regularly tracking your cat’s activity and habits, you can catch on to a change that much quicker. And take action by bringing them to a vet right when they need it.
Regular Activity Tracking might even save your cat’s life
One of the first signs your cat might be sick? A drop in their activity levels – aka, if they seem more lethargic than usual. So start by keeping an eye out for your cat’s daily movement, spending more time playing with them, and keeping note of their day to day behavior.
But over time, this might grow cumbersome to keep up – and it might be difficult to track what your cat’s up to if they’re out wandering outdoors and you’re busy with work or chores.
- Once you’ve set up Activity Tracking, your Tractive device’s built-in accelerometer picks up on your cat’s movements throughout the day – no matter where they’re off roaming.
- So with just a glance at your phone, you can track your cat’s active minutes over a long term period.
- This helps you catch on to a drop or a spike in your cat’s activity more quickly – so you can get them to a vet before their condition worsens.
Here’s a story where Tractive’s Activity Tracking saved the life of Poes, an outdoor cat who seemed normal and healthy – until her mum caught on to a change in her regular activity:
“With the Tractive GPS, I found out one night that she’d only made one little trip to the park, slept all night – and didn’t really do much during the day.
So I decided to check her up to see if she was sick – or had something else going on. When I picked her up, the pus oozed over my hand from the abscess bursting!
Without Tractive, I wouldn’t have noticed it at all. I would still see her walk around to drink and feed and think everything is okay. I might only have noticed when I didn’t see her stroll over for a whole day.
At which point, she’d probably have been dangerously sick.
We went to the vet a few hours later – she had a serious fever, a big abscess, and was pretty sick already. So we got it in time.
A whole week of antibiotics – and now she’s herself again.
Tractive is also very handy for when you need to give your pets their medication. All I have to do is check where she is and call her over to give her the antibiotics.“– Cissy V, Netherlands
“It can be easy to miss out on changes in your dog’s or cat’s regular activity – or just if they’re on the move more or less than usual. So we’ve set up Activity Degradation alerts for when your pet’s active minutes drop significantly. They can help you intervene in a situation where your pet might be struggling with an infection or even just pain.”– Sebastian Raab, Product Manager at Tractive & occasional pet-sitter
Wrapping up: How to build a happy, healthy cat feeding schedule
Feeding your cat is way more than just dumping a load of kibble into their bowls. It’s about taking an active role in your feline friend’s health and wellbeing. So here’s a quick recap:
- How often should you feed a cat? In general, around 2-3 times a day around the same time seems best.
- How many calories should a cat eat? It depends on factors like your cat’s size, age, and activity levels. Growing kittens, active outdoor cats, intact adult cats, and pregnant/nursing cats need slightly more calories than neutered adult cats and indoor cats. A general rule of thumb is around 24-35 calories per pound of body weight for healthy adult cats.
- How much dry food to feed a cat? Vets recommend around ⅓ to a ½ cup per day. (Which is around 80-125 grams.)
- How much wet food to feed a cat? Vets recommend around 4-5 ounces (or 113-140 grams) of wet cat food per day.
Besides, monitoring your cat’s movements can help you both track where they’re off searching for food – or if something they’ve eaten might’ve made them sick. (If their activity levels have dropped – or spiked instead.) Luckily, with Tractive, you’ve got one device that helps you holistically track all aspects of your cat’s safety – from where they’re roaming to how well they’re doing, health-wise.
As always, make sure to consult with your local vet for building a personalized feeding schedule for your cat. With consistency and regular monitoring, you’ll be well on your way towards a healthy, fulfilled life with your feline friend.
Want a vet’s take on how much food to feed adult cats – or kittens? Here’s Dr. Amber Andersen covering the basics:
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