How Much Should I Feed My Cat?

Pet care & safety
orange cat eating out of bowl

Determining how much food a cat should eat can be confusing for a pet owner. Many cats tend to graze all day, and they are usually very vocal about their feeding schedules. From a veterinary standpoint, the amount of food cats eat per day should be based on their ideal weight and the amount of calories an average cat needs.

Healthy Weight

To determine your cat’s healthy or ideal weight, your veterinarian will perform an exam and determine an approximate weight range based on frame size and body shape. Cats should have ribs and a spine that are easy to feel but not too bony. When looking at a kitty from above, the abdomen (the region between the ribs and hips) should taper in somewhat.

As cats enter adulthood, they may develop extra, loose skin on the belly region in between their legs. This extra skin and fat can actually be normal and is called the primordial pouch. Veterinary experts aren’t exactly sure why cats have it, but it is likely used for protection of important belly structures during a fight. The veterinarian will likely assess this region to be sure it is of normal size and not harboring too much or too little fat.

How Many Calories Does My Cat Need?: Calculating a Cat’s Calories Per Day

Assuming your cat is at a healthy weight and average activity level, you can use a formula to estimate the amount of calories (also called kilocalories or kcal) your cat needs in a day:

Calorie (kcal) needs = 1.2 [70 x (weight in pounds ÷ 2.2)0.75]

A healthy, 10-pound cat with an average activity level will need to eat around 260 calories a day to maintain his weight. This amount is only an estimate and should be based on the cat’s needs - if he is overweight, he will need less calories. If he is very active, he will need more. If this is a pregnant or nursing cat, she will need a lot more calories. Sick pets, such as those with cancer or kidney disease, will likely need more calories as well. Feeding kittens is a little more complicated because of how quickly they grow. Your veterinarian will be able to discuss ideal ways of meeting your cat’s calorie needs further if needed.

Calories in Cat Food

After figuring out your cat’s ideal weight and calories you need to feed him each day, you can determine how much of his regular cat food you should be feeding him. Each bag of cat food should label how many calories are in the food. This information is often on the side of the bag,usually below the ingredients and percentages of protein, fat, etc. If you can’t find this information, you may need to check the cat food company’s website or give them a call. The food calorie label may look like this:

Calorie Content: 3515 kcal ME/kg (319 kcal/ cup)

This means that one kilogram of this cat food contains 3,515 calories (kilocalories of metabolizable [usable] energy) and one standard measuring cup of it has 319 calories. This works the same way for canned food as well. If our 10-pound kitty from the example above needs roughly 260 calories a day, one cup of this food will be too much for him to eat in a 24-hour period. Half a cup would be only 160 calories, which is not enough. If you feed ¾ of a cup, you would be feeding 240 calories, which puts you closer to meeting his calorie needs, but you will probably need to offer just a bit more to ensure he gets enough.

How Often Should I Feed My Cat?

Many cats graze all day, which is normal. Others prefer to be fed morning and evening. In some cases, such as with kitties that eat only wet or canned food, specific feeding times are needed to make sure the food is fresh and safe to eat. Regardless, how often you should feed your cat in a day is not as important as making sure he gets the right amount of total calories each day. Remember, the number calculated above is for a 24-hour period.

An Easier Way

Calculations, measurements, and detective work are not for everyone. Luckily, most cat food brands have made life easier for everyone by listing suggested feeding guidelines on the side of the food bags and cans, as well as on their websites. This means that once you and your veterinarian figure out your pet’s ideal weight, you can look at the handy chart on the food, find his weight and age, and you will see a range based on measuring cups (or amount per can if using canned food) needed per day. As with calculating calories, cats with high calorie needs (e.g. sick, underweight, pregnant/nursing cats) or overweight cats will probably need an adjustment to these charts.

Quality of Food

Remember that the quality of food is JUST as important as the number of calories. The nutritional needs of a cat include adequate amounts of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, amino acids, etc. Even if you were able to calculate calories perfectly, if you feed your cat a diet that is unbalanced, he won’t have his needs met and can’t benefit from the calories you feed him. If you are not sure whether the cat food you are feeding is right for your pet, ask your veterinarian. If you have concerns about your pet’s current weight and health, get a check-up and make sure you and your cat are on the right track so issues can be addressed and managed quickly.