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How Much Should I Feed My Cat?

If they’ve lost their hourglass figure, then not that much — according to a veterinary nutritionist.

by Jodi Helmer
March 30, 2021
overweight orange cat

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You were taught to clean your plate so can you blame your cat for not being wasteful? Knowing if you’re feeding your cat too little or too much isn’t easy since vets rely on visual assessments over weight scales, however, most people are overfeeding their cats, according to Dr. Angela Rollins, DVM, DACVM, and board-certified veterinary nutritionist. If your cat sports a paunch that hangs between their paws, you probably need to start calorie counting.

On average, cats need to eat about 200 to 300 calories per day. “Even if you feed them the amount recommended on the bag, it still may be more than your pet needs,” adds Rollins. “If your pet is gaining weight, don’t be afraid to reduce [the recommended amount] — it’s just a guideline.”

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While cats in general have cruelly slow metabolisms, the metabolic rate can fluctuate. A 13-pound male cat will need more calories than a seven-pound female cat, and outdoor cats that roam and hunt need more calories than their indoor friends that spend their days napping in the sunshine. Makes sense, right? Rollins also notes that spayed and neutered cats have even slower metabolisms and might need 25% fewer calories than intact cats.

If you fill your cat’s bowl to the brim and they devour it in one sitting, try feeding one meal a day and measuring out the portions. You’re right to be confused — one meal per day sounds like the opposite of human weight loss advice — but a 2020 study found that cats that ate one meal per day spent less time begging for food than cats that were fed multiple meals. “Practicing portion control and preventing weight gain is so much easier than trying to get your cat to lose weight,” says Rollins. “It doesn’t matter what kind of food you’re feeding; if it’s freely available you won’t be successful [at managing portions].”

In a multi-cat household, you may have to get creative to figure out if one is under- or over-eating (if it isn’t obvious). “There are great tools like automated feeders that use microchips on cats’ collars to allow separation at the feeder,” says Rollins. “It allows access to the thin cat all day but the overweight cat [gets portioned meals].” And lest we forget about treats. If you liberally dole out Temptations or offer up the milky remains in your ice cream bowl, the extra calories will add up. Rollins recommends limiting treats to no more than 10% of your cat’s daily caloric intake.

Playing the diet police will undoubtedly make you feel like the bad cop, but it will also increase the odds that your cat maintains a healthy weight and lives a long life — you can’t argue with that!

Jodi Helmer

Jodi Helmer is a North Carolina-based freelance writer who shares her home with an embarrassing number of rescue dogs and relies on four feral cats to patrol the barn. When she isn’t refilling food and water dishes, Jodi writes about animals for Scientific American, Sierra, WebMD, AKC Family Dog, Living the Country Life, and Out Here.