You just got a new fluffy pet and you are stuck wondering – just how much food should a cat eat? It is perfectly reasonable to feel confused, especially if you have never owned a cat before, but even experienced cat lovers can sometimes feel as if they need a more structured answer to this question. No one wants to give too little food to their pet as that can seriously damage their health, but also, one should think about the other extreme – feeding your cat too much – which can cause weight gain and additional health issues.
Essentially, feeding a cat is not a complicated process, however, you need to have some basic knowledge of your pet’s nutritional needs. These vary depending on your cat’s breed, age, weight, activity level, pregnancy or nursing factors, and, of course, the choice of food.
Additionally, whether you use wet or dry food, the brand of kitty gourmet meals does make a difference as some are of higher quality and contain more relevant nutrients, and some, lower quality ones, do not contain as many nutritional ingredients and therefore require a larger amount on the plate. So, let’s dive in into the everlasting question and get some answers – how much food should a cat eat?
Calories in and Calories out
If you are anything like the next person you have probably been on a diet at some point in your life. Therefore, you must be familiar with the old rule of calories in vs calories out.
This amazingly simple equation means that if you want to lose weight you should eat fewer calories than you burn, and if you want to maintain it, try to keep these two level. This simple rule works for every single being on this planet, which means that it also works for cats.
If you are using a prepackaged cat food that you can buy in most pet stores and supermarkets, you may find yourself confused when trying to find caloric information on the packaging.
Various brands of cat food may not even disclose this information on the package, which means that you will have to go to the brand’s website and look for the info there. Generally speaking, a cat should eat 25 to 35 calories per one pound of body weight in order to live a healthy life.
Feeding Too Little, Too Much, or Just Right
Now, let us see what happens when you feed your cat too little. If your pet is not getting sufficient nutrition, you will be able to see the effects that make on its body. This is mostly visible in stray cats and newly adopted animals who have spent a considerable amount of time in a bad animal shelter where they did not receive enough food.
On shorthaired cats, the ribs will be visible. The cat will have no palpable fat and have a drastic abdominal tuck. You will also be able to notice lumbar vertebrae and wings of ilia. If you notice an obvious waistline behind the ribs, the cat is underfed.
On the other hand, an overfed cat will have palpable ribs with excess fat covering. You will see that the cat’s waist is anything but slim and that it does not have an abdominal tuck. In ever more overweight cats, ribs would not be palpable and will have an excessive amount of fat covering them. They would also not have a waist, and you’ll be able to notice the rounding of the abdomen.
Ideally, your cat’s ribs should be palpable and with a minimal fat covering. You should be able to notice a waist behind its ribs, but that waist should not be too thin. A healthy cat should have a slight abdominal tuck and minimal abdominal fat pad.
How Often Should You Give Food to Your Cat?
One of the most important things a cat owner should know is how often to present a bowl of food to a cat. The most common mistake people make is just leaving a full bowl of food in the reach of their feline friend at all times. This is, in fact, the leading cause of obesity in cats and the worst thing about it is that it is completely preventable.
It is important to remember that cats are natural predators, so having food available all day long goes against their natural instincts of being a hunter. Most cats in the “wild” will get probably two or three small meals each day.
Taking this into consideration, giving your furry friend a full bowl of food two times a day is perfectly fine, but if you are a freelancer working from home, you can also divide these two meals into three or four and space them throughout the day.
When it comes to kittens, the story is a little different. As babies, kittens need more calories per pound of body weight, so make sure to read the labels carefully as to avoid underfeeding a developing kitten. Make sure to monitor your little furry baby’s weight, as their nutritional needs vary as they grow, and adjust their food portions accordingly. One the little one is six months old, you can start feeding it a regular adult cat diet.
If you have adopted a cat from a shelter or taken one from the street, make sure to feed it the same or similar amount of food that it got before it became your pet. Cats are very sensitive when it comes to diet changes, so make sure you ease her into your regular feeding schedule. At this point you should also decide which type of food will be her main source of nutrition, as there are a lot of options to choose from – wet, dry, raw, or a combination of all three.
Calories and Ingredients
When it comes to a healthy feline diet, cats mostly require a lot of protein, way more than dogs do. Most of this should come from flesh-based protein foods such as meat, poultry, and fish. If you choose to feed your cat mostly dry food, make sure it is high in animal protein and low in plant protein, which cats cannot digest properly. Carbs should not be over ten percent of the ingredient mix. Also, wet foods should be mostly made of meat, with as little fillers and other ingredients as possible.
Regarding the calorie count, a healthy and active 8-pound cat should eat about thirty calories per pound of body weight each day, which means that 240 calories per day are enough. Usually, a cup of dry food adds up to about 300 calories, and canned foods have approximately 250 calories per can. If you take this as a general rule, 4/5 of a cup of dry food, and a little less than a full can of canned food will be enough for a typical 8-pound cat each day.
If you notice that your cat is getting fat or considerably slimmer even with these precautions, you can always take it to the vet and as him or her directly what you should do. A vet will assess your cat’s physical condition and will be able to give you a good diet plan you can follow to keep your feline friend happy and healthy.
Mistakes to Avoid
In order to have a healthy pet, you should avoid some of these common mistakes even the most proficient cat owners make:
Not enough water. Water makes up almost 70% of adult cat’s body weight and a deficiency in water can lead to serious health problems. Since cats are not like dogs and usually won’t drink water by themselves, offering them wet food can solve this problem to an extent. You should always keep a bowl of fresh water in your cat’s reach, and you can encourage it to drink it by placing a bowl somewhere where your furry friend likes to be during the day. Note that some cats are fine with tap water while others will be able to detect the chlorine and refuse to drink it, so opting for bottled water, in this case, might be a solution. You can also place a few crushed catnip leaves on the bottom of the bowl to encourage your feline friend to get more hydrated.
Dry food only. Another common mistake is feeding your cat only dry foods. This again goes back to the water issue and the low thirst drive of cats. Canned foods can meet your cat’s daily water needs.
Going green. Even though vegetarian and vegan diets are perfectly healthy for humans, you must remember that these diets simply will NOT work for a cat. Cats are natural carnivores which mean that they absolutely need to eat meat in order to survive. So, even if it goes against your beliefs to purchase animal products, remember that your pet’s life is on the line here and that it must eat animal protein in order to be healthy.