How Much Should I Feed My Cat?

Determining “how much should I feed my cat?”

How much should I feed my cat

Every responsible cat parent wants to know the answer to the question, “How much should I feed my cat?”  The answer depends on these six factors:

That may seem like a lot to unpack, but it’s not as hard as it seems.  In this article, I will explain how to work through each issue to understand how much you should feed your cat. 

There is no clear consensus on EXACTLY how many calories you should feed your cat. Use the information here to become the expert on your kitty’s individual requirements. Aim for that sweet spot where the amount you feed your kitty maintains a healthy weight and Body Condition Score. 

Once you’ve figured it out, you’re done! You will just need to keep tabs on your cat’s weight and health to make occasional adjustments as necessary.

I’ve spent considerable time researching this topic.  Below I help you understand the factors that 

answer the question, “How much should I feed my cat?”

Size Matters

big man little cat

Start by understanding that your cat is tiny compared to you.  It’s hard to think about surviving on ⅓ cup of dry kibble per day.  But that may be all your cat requires. And more may lead to obesity and disease.

At the end of this article, I provide you with two calculators to make this calculation a breeze. 

Every cat is different.  Your cat’s metabolism may run higher or lower than average and require more or less food to keep an ideal weight.  If your kitty has any special needs or if you feel at all hesitant about figuring this out on your own, consult with your vet for guidance.

How to Calculate the Amount of Food Your Cat Needs

A cat in the wild will consume small animals that it has to hunt and kill.  A mouse will give this wild cat 30 calories.  So a 10-pound feral cat will need to kill more than ten mice per day to stay active and healthy. Naturally, the hunting, catching, and dispatching of the mice will require even more calories.

Your domesticated kitty depends on you to provide that nutrition.  So how do we figure out how much food you should feed your cat?

Read below to determine how Age, Size, Activity Level, etc. impact your cat’s calorie requirements.  Once you have determined the ideal number of calories your cat needs each day, look at the nutritional label on the cat food you purchase. If you feed your cat wet, dry, or raw foods, or if you provide some combination of these three, your calculation will be a bit more complex. 

If your cat needs 250 calories per day and you want to feed him all wet or all dry food, just divide 250 by the number of calories per cup or can of food to determine the quantity.

Cat food can information

In the above example, a cat that required 250 calories per day would need 3.75 cans of this food to meet that requirement. (250 calories / 66 calories/can = 3.78 cans)

If you feed him ⅔ wet food and ⅓ dry kibble, it means 167 calories will come from wet food and 83 calories will come from dry kibble (250 x ⅔ = 167 and 250 x ⅓ = 83.)  Just adjust your measurements to accommodate this total.

Let’s get even funkier!  If you want to give your cat treats, subtract the number of calories in the snack food from the amount of meal-time food you give your cat.  Just to be sure you aren’t starting to inadvertently pack the pounds on kitty, put the snacks into a bag or bowl at the beginning of the day, and keep it to that amount.

How Does Age Impact How Much You Should Feed Your Cat?

Older cat sleeping in sun

Kittens require more calories than indoor adult cats because they grow rapidly and add weight, bone mass, and tissue mass. As a kitten grows, it has to get enough calories to build all this extra mass.

According to All Feline Hospital in Lincoln, NE, the average indoor cat should eat about 20 calories per pound of ideal weight to maintain health.  However, the average outdoor cat should consume about 30 calories per pound of ideal weight to maintain health.

As your cat ages, continue to monitor her weight and adjust the number of calories you feed her each day.  Don’t be surprised if your senior cat begins to need more calories per day! As she ages, her body may not extract the calories from her food as efficiently as she did when she was a younger cat.  So you might need to adjust the type and amount of food you give her.  

Consult with your vet if you have any concerns about how to feed your kitty.

How Does Size Impact How Much You Should Feed Your Cat?

Maine Coon and Singapura

According to VCA Hospitals, the average housecat should weigh between 8 and 10 pounds.  Your cat’s ideal weight may, however, vary.  The ideal weight of a Siamese will differ enormously from a Maine Coon.  

By common consensus, vets agree that the male Maine Coon is the largest cat breed and can reasonably weigh 24 pounds.  You would need to feed your 24-pound Maine Coon 480 calories each day to maintain this weight!

Compare that to the female Singapura that may weigh only 4 pounds fully grown.  This delicate little beauty will only need 80 calories per day to stay healthy and active.  That’s 400 calories less than the Maine Coon!

Your cat’s breed (or combination of breeds) is the primary determinant of her adult size.  If you have a rescue cat and don’t know the breed, keep an eye on the Royal Canin Body Condition Chart below to see if you are over or under-feeding your little furry friend. Your cat should achieve full size by the end of its first year.

Your vet may also be able to shed some light on how large your cat will grow, so feel comfortable asking her for her opinion.

How Does Activity Level Impact How Much You Should Feed Your Cat?

A more active cat will burn more calories than a sedentary cat.  In general, an indoor cat will need about 20 calories per pound of ideal weight. In comparison, an outdoor cat will need about 30 calories per pound of ideal weight.  

The difference in activity accounts for the difference in calorie requirements.  Your outdoor cat will burn more calories to climb, run, and hunt than a sedentary indoor cat burns taking naps with occasional trips to the food bowl and litter box.

If your cat is overweight, it may help to help him increase activity levels.  Some vets recommend hiding small meals in bowls around the house – different places every day.  This game encourages your cat to “hunt” for his food.  You can also play with your cat using toys that allow him to mimic hunting and stalking behaviors.

The increase in activity will impact your cat’s weight, so put him on that scale often.

How Does Reproductive Status Impact How Much You Should Feed Your Cat?

Cat with litter of kittens

Just as a kitten needs more calories to build bone and muscle mass, your pregnant kitty will also need more calories to build those kittens!  

Your cat’s food requirements will gradually increase as the kittens grow.  By the time she delivers, your pregnant cat may need 2-2 ½ times more food than she required pre-pregnancy.  According to the National Research Council of the National Academies, you should increase your pregnant cat’s body weight by 40%-50% by the end of her pregnancy. This will give her reserves for the 7-9 weeks of nursing ahead of her.

Incidentally, it’s tough to eat when you are enormously pregnant.  Feed your pregnant cat smaller, more frequent meals using the highest quality animal protein you can afford.  This helps ensure she and her kittens thrive during pregnancy.

After the kittens are born, the nursing mother will continue to require more calories since she is maintaining not only her health but also the nutritional requirements of her kittens.  The more kittens, the more food she will require.

A consultation with your vet will help you calculate exactly how much more food your pregnant or nursing cat needs to sustain her health and deliver healthy kittens.

How Does Body Condition Impact How Much You Should Feed Your Cat?

This chart from Royal Canin gives you a good idea of how a cat should look and feel when they are at the appropriate weight.  Notice that abdominal fat and your ability to feel the rib cage are important factors in determining the Body Condition Score.  

Royal Canin Body Condition Score Chart

Important: If your cat is overweight, do not move too quickly to reduce her weight.  PetMD says that dieting cats should not lose more than 1-2% of their total body weight per week.  If your cat weighs 18 pounds, that translates to losing between 2.8 ounces and 5.7 ounces per week.

If you are putting your cat on a calorie-restricted diet, consult with your vet to create a safe weight-loss plan. And weigh your cat often to ensure you are not moving too quickly.  

If your cat develops any illness, it may impact the amount of food she wants and needs.  If your cat is ill, you MUST take her to the vet to coordinate her treatment with adjustments to her food levels. 

How Do Wet and Dry Foods Impact How Much You Should Feed Your Cat?

wet, moist, and dry cat food

The simple answer is that wet foods contain more water which has no calories.  Therefore, you will feed your cat a larger amount of wet food than dry to provide the same calories.

Think of it this way; to make a food dry, you have to remove the water.  This reduces the total volume of the food.  Reading the labels of the cat food you buy, you will see that  ½ cup of wet food contains far fewer calories than ½ cup of dry kibble.

Cats evolved in desert climates. They evolved as obligate carnivores who drank very little water.  Their protein and water requirements are all supplied by animal protein.  To go back to our wild cat who eats mice example, a mouse contains:

  • 70% water 
  • 48% protein
  • 1%-2% carbohydrate

While cats can use plant products to produce energy, their bodies do not digest plant proteins as efficiently as animal proteins.  In fact, your body obtains energy by digesting carbohydrates.  A cat obtains energy by digesting animal proteins.  

When you feed your cat dry kibble, you are probably feeding her incomplete plant protein and requiring her to drink water which is not in her nature.  If you do feed your cat kibble, you can encourage her to drink water by crushing a couple of catnip leaves in her water bowl to add some enticement.

Calculators to Help You Determine “How Much Should I Feed My Cat?”

The ASPCA has produced a detailed calculator to help you determine how much to feed your kitten or cat.  It requires Microsoft Excel to use.  If you have Excel, here is the link to download the calculator.  This calculator has one page for dogs and one for cats.  Look toward the bottom of the sheet and find the tab labeled “Felines” for the cat calculator.  

The Pet Nutrition Alliance has a calculator that will work for a rough idea of how much to feed your cat.  It doesn’t account for all of the factors listed here, but it might be a way to easily begin determining the amount you should feed your cat.

Obesity is the Biggest Health Issue for Pets

I know you want to give your cat a long, active, healthy life.  This requires some discipline in feeding your cat the appropriate amount.  It’s easy to give your kitty a bit of chicken here, an extra treat there.  And that’s perfectly okay!  It’s hard to say no to your little furry buddy.  But you need to subtract the calories of that treat from his daily feeding.

Check this article for the healthiest way to handle feeding human foods as snacks for your cat.