How Much to Feed Your Cat (and how to feed them!)
Feeding your cat the right amount, and in the right way is a cornerstone of health.
If you get it wrong (and it’s not always easy), then obesity, boredom and poor health are not far away!
How do I know how much to feed my cat? I feel like most food dishes are too big! - Lords of Podtown
This is a fantastic question. It considers how we are actually feeding our cats as well as how much to feed them.
Cat Feeding Basics
Avoid Ad-lib Feeding
Never feed just by filling up a bowl.
Never, ever just fill up a bowl (this is worth repeating!) and keep filling it up when it becomes empty or as it is getting low. We call that ad-lib feeding, which basically means that your cat is in control when it comes to deciding how much they are going to eat. They've got completely free access to food.
It always used to be thought that dogs needed to be feed set, measured meals, and that with cats you could just leave food down and they'd self regulate how much they’d eat.
This is simply not true! Cat obesity is a huge issue, and is a big source of poor health.
Never ad-lib feed.
Feeding Guides Are Not Absolute
The next point to consider is that any feeding guides really are just that. They are guides rather than rules.
You need to be taking all of the step I’m going to discuss, and then you need to be constantly reevaluating how much you are feeding your cat based on the size, weight, and in the condition that your cat is in.
How Much to Feed Your Cat
Find Out The Appropriate Diet For Your Cat
The first step is to feed the most appropriate diet for your cat. This is going to make sure that they are getting all the nutrients that they need as is appropriate for their life stage and condition.
Are they kittens or adults? Are they a geriatric cat? Are they neutered, as neutered animals need significantly less energy than entire animals? Do you need to feed a light diet or weight loss diets?
Feeding the most appropriate diet for your cat is going to help you not just feed the right amount, but also feed the right amount while at the same time ensuring that they get all of the nutrients that they require. This will prevent deficiencies and also help prevent them from becoming overweight while at the same time maintaining their muscle mass which is clearly very important.
Your Cat’s Ideal Weight
The second step, once you know what diet to feed, is to determine what your cat's ideal weight is.
You can do this by performing something called a condition score or a body condition score.
This is a way of asking some simple questions that lets you know whether your cat is overweight, healthy, or underweight, and that takes into account the frame of your cat.
No more “big boned” excuses!
You do not have to rely on breed charts or standard weight charts which can be very inaccurate. They have really wide ranges and are going to be off by a significant amount for a large number of individuals.
We need to condition score, which I discuss in detail in my post all about how to tell if your cat is overweight.
The other way to determine your ideal weight is to have a vet check. Get your vet to check your cat over next time you are at the clinic and ask your vet what their ideal weight.
As vet’s, we are seeing multiple cats every day, and as a result we can very quickly assess whether your cat is a healthy weight, overweight, or underweight.
Having an ideal weight to aim for is incredibly important if you want your cat to be as healthy as possible.
If Healthy Weight: Use Packet Guide
Now the next step for feeding your cat is, if they're a healthy weight, then just start with using the guide on the side of a packet.
In my experience, these guides do tend to be overestimated amounts. It is pretty common for the food manufacturers to slightly overestimate the amount that you should feed your cat. Now, the cynical among you will say, "Well, that's so that you're feeding more food so you're buying more food and they're making more money." There may certainly be some truth in that, but also they will say that they need to make sure that the amount they are feeding is going to be appropriate for every cat.
They tend to make this guide on the assumption that your cat is both entire and is very active. This contrasts with the reality that the majority of cats are neutered and lead quite sedentary and inactive lifestyles.
These cats are going to need much less energy.
It is also vital to take into account any treats or any other diet or food you are feeding your cat on a regular basis. If you are regularly giving your cat a treat at breakfast or when you go to bed or some other points of time, you need to be reducing the amount of food that you are giving them at meal times. Otherwise they’re bound to gain weight.
If Overweight: Feed For The Healthy Weight
The next step if your cat is overweight is to feed for their healthy weight.
This means that, if for example you've got a cat who should be 4kg (9.6lb) then you need to look on the side of the pack and find out what amount you should be feeding for a 4kg cat. It doesn’t matter how much they actually weigh.
You should then reduce this guideline amount by about 15% in the first instance.
If our 4kg cat should be fed 50g based on the packet guidelines, you need to reduce this by 15% and feed 42g.
If you’ve got an obese cat who is significantly overweight, then you need to implement a proper weight loss plan to maximize the chance of them achieving their healthy weight. There are also some dangers if a really fat cat loses weight too quickly and so I’d always recommend talking to your vet before undertaking a major diet change.
Monitor Your Cat’s Weight
We can’t just decide how much to feed and leave it at that. You also need to monitor your cat's weight to see if they are gaining weight and becoming overweight, whether they are maintaining their weight nicely, or catch on that their weight is falling.
Take this information and adjust their diet accordingly.
How to Feed Your Cat
As I have mentioned at the beginning, you also need to think about how you are actually feeding your cat.
Food Bowl Feeding
The temptation is, and what the majority of us will be doing, is simply popping it into the food bowls. Your cat will then be going straight to their food bowl at meal times, and often they will eat a lot of food in a short space of time
This is really not great for their mental stimulation and for their well-being as a whole. Quite aside from the fact that they are likely to be eating much more when fed this way as they are filling themselves up before the feeling of being full hits their brain.
They are continuing to eat despite the fact that they have eaten more than enough.
Use activity toys, instead of food bowls. You can use food puzzles to make your pet work harder and force them to think about how they are going to get their food.
There are treat balls that you unscrew, fill with food, and then your cat has to bat it around along the floor. As the ball rolls along, there's a hole that food falls out of, providing only 1 or 2 pieces at a time.
There are other food puzzles where you hide the food and your cat has to perform certain tasks to get to it. Or others where they have to try and dig it out of a long, hollow tube (these are one of my favorite).
There are a whole number of different types of activity feeder, as well as different DIY feeding strategies (just take a handful of food and throw it out on the lawn is a super basic example!) that you can use to slow down your cat’s eating.
It also gives your cat something to do. Life can often be pretty boring otherwise. They are just sitting there sleeping all the time because there is not much to do. Cats aren't big players, but if you motivate them with food then they are going to have a much happier time at mealtimes. They can be entertained and at the same time eat less and be less likely to gain weight.
Surely this is a recipe for a happier, healthier cat!
The above is a transcript taken from the Call the Vet podcast.
If you would like me to answer any question you have about your pet’s health, simply fill in this form and I’ll try and get you the information that you need. It’s that simple!