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Written by leading veterinarians to provide you with the information you need to care for your pets.

Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Cat Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of cat nutrition.

How Much Food Does a Cat Need?

December 21, 2012 / (3) comments

With the holiday weekend beginning, Dr. Coates is taking some much deserved time to spend with her family this week. Please enjoy one of our favorites from June on the topic of determining the right amount of food to feed to your cat.


I’ve talked before about how feeding distinct meals to your cat is generally a healthier option than is free choice feeding, but after making the switch, you have to answer the question, "How much should I feed my cat?"

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. How much a cat needs to eat depends on a variety of factors, including size, age, metabolic rate, the amount it exercises, and even environmental temperatures. In addition, the same volume of different foods can have varying caloric contents, showing that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. This does not mean, however, that owners are without any resources to help figure out how much to feed their cats.

For starters, use the feeding guide on the cat food label. It will look something like this for a dry food:

This gives you a ballpark idea of what your cat should be getting. But be aware that the ranges are pretty large to accommodate the needs of different individuals within a certain weight range. Also, take note that the amount listed is "per day," not "per meal." I recommend that my clients measure out the day’s complete ration and place it in a sealed container to reduce the chances of overfeeding. This way, everyone in the house should know to only take meals from this container rather than out of the bag.

Once you’ve used the back of the bag to come up with a starting point, assess your cat’s body condition to narrow in on what the correct amount should be. If your cat is already at her ideal weight, offer an amount that falls in the middle of the recommended range. If she’s a little thin, use the bigger numbers, and if she’s a little "portly," use the smaller ones.

Every two weeks or so, reassess your cat’s body condition and adjust how much food you offer accordingly. Once you have found the amount that maintains your cat’s ideal body condition (i.e., not too thin, not too fat), you can use monthly weigh-ins in addition to body condition scoring to make small adjustments to how much you are offering to keep her right where she needs to be.

Of course, what you feed is just as important as how much you feed. While you are looking at the label, make sure your cat’s current food is providing her with high quality, natural ingredients and balanced nutrition. The MyBowl tool can help you determine whether your cat’s current food is providing optimal nutrition and can also be used to compare foods if you think they might benefit from a change. If your cat needs to gain or lose a lot of weight, talk to your veterinarian. He or she can rule out any health disorders that might be causing, or might have developed as a result of your pet’s weight, and can put together a plan that suits your cat’s particular needs.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Anthony Bolan / via Shutterstock

Comments  3

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  • Comment
    12/21/2012 11:58am

    Just leaving a comment so others will come via email.

  • Daily Food requirements
    12/22/2012 02:52pm

    It is important to also mention that dry food is harmful to cats, mainly due to the high carb % which can lead to feline diabetes in many cats. Switching to low carb wet cat food helps the cat's pancreas deal better.

    As well, some conditions like feline diabetes have shown that cats will need to eat more food until their diabetes is regulated and their bodies are capable of processing the food to extract the nutrients needed.

    Cats DO self-regulate their own food intake, for the most part.

    One of my cats has acromegaly and was eating close to 30oz per day but he is now down to 10oz at the most per day, and some days he eats closer to 5 or 6oz.

    You can find a great deal of info on proper cat feeding on the site of Dr. Lisa Pierson .... catinfo.org.

  • Dry food for CATS???
    12/22/2012 03:14pm

    It's a trick question, because cats don't need ANY dry food. If all you feed your cat is dry food, you shouldn't have a cat. Get a Chia Cat and stick grass seeds on its head, instead.