How much to feed a cat or kitten, how often, and what to avoid

how much to feed a cat

Outlines how much to feed a cat or kitten, how often to feed a cat, and common misconceptions about feline eating habits and behaviour. We will also discuss how much to feed kittens, how often to feed kittens, and feeding for pregnant or lactating cats.

Some cats always seem to be hungry. But how much food does a cat need a day? This article will help you find the right amount of food for your cat. Is your cat walking back and forth between the empty bowl and you? Does she look at you reproachfully with big, round cat eyes and meow pitifully? That can only mean one thing: “I’m hungry”.

So how much to feed cats and how often to feed cats to keep them healthy but not overweight. Many cats these days eat more than is good for them. Obesity and secondary diseases such as diabetes are no longer uncommon in cats either. So in working out how much to feed a cat, we need to consider what amount of food does a cat actually need so that it neither suffers from hunger nor becomes too fat?

How much to feed a cat: how much food does a cat need?

how much to feed a cat

An adult cat needs about 300 grams of wet food per day. However, this is only a rough guide. The amount of food a cat really needs each day depends on many different factors. The calorie requirement and thus the amount of food depend on the size, age and weight of the cat.

Activity also plays a role. Lively kitties need more food in the bowl than calm house cats. Outdoor cats that move around a lot and walk across a large area usually have a higher need than indoor cats.

In addition, the higher the quality of the food, the less your cat needs it. Good food usually has a high proportion of meat and will satisfy your cat optimally. The bottom line is that those who buy high-quality cat food probably don’t pay more than those who buy cheaper products.

How much to feed a cat: chart of food amounts by weight

Important: This table is an average value that should serve as a guide. In individual cases, your cat may need more or less food.

Weight of the cat in kilogramsDaily ration of wet food in grams
Up to 2120 to 160
2 to 3160 to 210
3 to 4210 to 260
4 to 5240 to 320
5 to 6250 to 360

How much to feed a cat: average calorie needs

A cat’s need for calories depends, among other things, on how much she moves. In this respect, our four-legged roommates are no different from us humans.

A very active cat burns about 80 kilocalories per kilogram of body weight per day. An average active cat has 70 kilocalories and a lazy “couch potato” only 60 kilocalories per kilo of weight. However, these values ​​are only of limited use in everyday practice, because the calorie content is usually not noted on the cat food packs.

Manufacturer’s feeding recommendations

Another point of reference for the amount of food for cats is the manufacturer’s feeding recommendation, which is printed on the packaging.

These details also relate to the average calorie requirement and are not set in stone. However, they are very helpful for orientation.

How much to feed a cat: amounts for wet food

The expert advice recommends an amount of food for cats of 165 to 215 grams per day if the cat weighs between two and three kilograms. Cats weighing four to five kilograms should be getting between 265 and 310 grams a day.

How much to feed a cat: amounts of dry food

Dry food provides more energy than wet food, so your cat needs significantly less of it. According to the feeding recommendation for dry food, a two-kilogram cat only needs 20 to 35 grams, while a five-kilogram cat needs 40 to 70 grams per day.

How often to feed a cat

On average, a wild farm cat catches 15 mice a day. She doesn’t eat it all at once, but – depending on her luck in the hunt – spread over the whole day.

Even house cats that don’t have to catch mice for a living have kept this habit: They don’t empty the whole bowl at once, but divide their amount of food into several small portions.

Such a portion corresponds roughly to the volume of a mouse. Once the cat has eaten it, it will first withdraw to digest its meal. If you put a large bowl full to the brim with food in front of your cat, this equates to a quantity of two to five mice. Her puss can’t do that all at once.

At least three times a day

Therefore, you should offer your cat a fresh meal at least three times a day. Wet food eventually goes bad if it sits around all day because your kitty is just gradually eating it. The food can spoil quickly, especially in summer when it is hot.

If you are at work and not at home during the day, you can make do with automatic feeders. They are also available with cooling elements for wet food.

Some eat everything at once

Exceptions also confirm the rule when it comes to eating behavior: Not all cats are so “disciplined” and share their food. Some cats also eat the whole bowl at once and often have to vomit a short time afterwards. With dry food in particular, one can observe that a cat devours the entire portion in one go.

Tip: Fill your cat’s dry food ration into an intelligence toy. Intelligence toys have small hollows and depressions from which your cat first has to fish the chunks with their paws. So it automatically eats more slowly.

How much to feed a kitten, or a pregnant or lactating cat

Kitten have different rules regarding the amount of food. Up to the age of four weeks, kittens feed exclusively on breast milk. After that, they can slowly get used to solid foods.

You can’t give too much food to a kitten. They still need to grow and should week after week significantly gain weight. Kittens have very small stomachs, and this has to be taken into account not only in how much to feed a kitten but also how often to feed a kitten. Therefore, feed them several times a day. Up to five to six months of age, five meals are perfectly adequate.

Pregnant cats and lactating cat mothers who nurse their little ones also need a lot of energy. Make sure that there is always enough high-quality feed available.

Common misconceptions

Misconception # 1: My cat only eats as much as it needs.

Time and again it is said that cats themselves know best when they are full and only eat as much as they really need. If you watch a cat eating, this opinion seems to be true: the cat calmly nibbles a few pieces of dry food or a little moist food and leaves. The whole thing repeats itself a few times a day.

Unfortunately, however, most cats consume more calories each day than are good for them. It is estimated that around every second cat in Germany is now overweight. Why is that?

  • The feeling of satiety in our domestic cats is unfortunately not infallible. Among other things, breeding could have contributed to this, because completely different criteria play a role in the selection of breeding
  • Most house cats are neutered and neutering leads to more appetite, but at the same time also to a lower energy requirement.
  • The average pet cat is around the house a lot and moves significantly less than their wild relatives.
  • Many cats are fed dry food, which is an “energy concentrate” compared to wet food.

These are not arguments against neutering or dry food, but merely reasons why we should not refill our cats’ bowls indefinitely.

Cats that do not benefit from human care eat 10 to 15 or even 20 times within 24 hours (i.e. day and night) – whenever they are lucky enough to hunt a mouse, a small bird or another prey animal.

Our domestic cats like to eat just as often when they have the opportunity. So there is nothing wrong with filling the daily ration of dry food in the food bowl in the morning and the cat helps itself when it wants (so-called ad libitum feeding). The only important thing is: When the daily ration is finished, the bowl will remain empty for the rest of that day!

If your cat is given moist food, you should divide the daily ration of food into several small portions, which you fill fresh in the bowl several times a day (at least in the morning and evening) so that there are no leftovers. Remnants of moist food that have been lying in the bowl for hours quickly become unhygienic and most cats find them unsavory anyway.

How much cat food your cat needs every day depends not only on the calorie content of the food, but also, for example, on the age and level of activity of your cat. Use the information on the food packaging as a guide and keep an eye on your cat’s weight. If your cat is neutered, a bit older and takes it easy, it needs up to 30% fewer calories than an uncastrated young cat.

Misconception # 2: My cat won’t get full from cat food. She begs all the time and she often goes hunting.

What do you think when your cat comes to you, strokes your legs and mows? “Aha, she wants something to eat.” most people answer. Very often, however, there is a misunderstanding between the cat and the cat owner: The cat wants to make contact, master and mistress donate food. The velvet paw learns very quickly how to get food and shows the “begging behavior” more and more often. So the whole thing is often more of a habit or a misunderstanding than real hunger.

And: Even a full cat still hunts prey, as cats have a very strong hunting instinct. So if your cat brings mice home that doesn’t mean they won’t get full from the cat food.

When your cat comes to you, offer her a play or cuddle unit if you feel like it and have time. Otherwise ignore the suggestions. At first, your cat will certainly demand its usual food reward, but don’t worry: If your cat is no longer successful with begging, it will stop. You just shouldn’t get weak every now and then, because this will increase the begging behavior. Like a gambler, your cat will always hope to finally get the food joker again. Remember: your attention is also a reward for your cat. Begging is just a habit.

Misconception No. 3: My cat needs variety in the food bowl.

Only a varied diet is also a healthy diet, do you think? This is true for us humans, but not for cats, because:

  1. A high quality complete food contains everything, really everything, your cat needs.
  2. Cats are food specialists and by no means complain about a monotonous menu (e.g. mouse, mouse, mouse, …), as long as they can cover all of their nutritional needs with it.

It is true that cats like to try something new and are enthusiastic about a new type of food. If you get your cat used to the fact that a great new taste experience is always waiting in the bowl, you run the risk of turning into a picky eater who will force you to buy the latest cat food creations every few days.

Such feeding habits are difficult to break out of the cat and become a problem at the latest when your cat needs a special diet for medical reasons. Since new taste experiences constantly lead to cats eating more than they should – every person who has been able to storm a really delicious buffet knows this effect – varied feeding is also often a cause of obesity .

From a nutritional point of view, variety is not necessary in adult cats and too much variety can become a problem. Incidentally, also because the gastrointestinal tract does not have time to adapt to the new food and may react with diarrhea for a few days – which is often mistakenly interpreted as food intolerance.

Misconception No. 4: My cat likes or can only tolerate one type of food. I can’t give it any other food.

Many cat owners are familiar with the following situation: They give their velvet paws a different type of cat food that is eaten but immediately vomited again. Ergo we think: “So she likes that, but doesn’t take it.”

Error: The whole thing is a completely normal process, even if it is unsavory for us. The cat first gobbles the treat down hastily and then enjoys it again in peace and quiet.

If we change the type of food from one day to the next, as already mentioned, diarrhea sometimes occurs until the gastrointestinal tract has got used to the new food. This is reflected by itself as soon as the intestinal flora has adapted a little and is not a sign of intolerance. Diarrhea can be avoided very easily by mixing the new food with the usual food for a few days, i.e. mixing in a little more every day.

Quite a few cat owners, on the other hand, complain that their cat does not even touch new food and that too has its origin in the eating behavior of the wild cat ancestors. Two cat-specific behaviors are primarily responsible for refusing food: imprinting as a kitten, and learned aversion.

Imprinting as a kitten

Young kittens learn from their mother what is and what is not edible. If they are fed exclusively with moist food in their first half of life, you will probably get little applause with dry food and vice versa. To avoid this, new cat owners should carefully familiarize their pupils with different types of food in the beginning. It is important not to overwhelm the kitten’s immature digestive tract and to make the whole thing as stress-free as possible, otherwise mechanism number two will come into effect:

Learned aversion

As open-minded as cats can be towards new food, it is over quickly as soon as the cat associates the food with discomfort in some way. Maybe you know that too? Once we have really spoiled our stomach with a fish sandwich, the smell of fish sandwiches may be enough to make us sick. And the spinach, which we had to eat as children, although we didn’t want to, we will probably not love in our lives.

In the case of cats, it is enough if they had to eat a certain food once when they were in the boarding house or at the vet to spoil them with this food. However, this aversion does not last forever. After about 40 days (if the experience wasn’t too drastic) you can be lucky and your cat will eat the food again.

With a lot of patience and a few tricks, the food imprint and the learned aversion can possibly be overcome or at least mitigated if it is absolutely necessary (for example in the event of illness). 

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Dr Alma Peterson Dr Alma Peterson is a skilled veterinary surgeon specialising in small animal practice and focusing on natural veterinary solutions wherever possible.