Feeding Your Adult Cat (cont.)

When and how much food should I feed my adult cat?

Mimicking a trend of many of their owners, one in five cats in industrialized countries today is obese. Many factors seem to contribute to this widespread problem, from inactivity to overfeeding rich foods to neutering - castrated cats are up to four times more likely to be obese. Fortunately, you can take many steps to help manage weight problems, including playing with your cat and controlling food intake around the time of neutering.

As for feeding times and amounts, here are a few things to keep in mind.

“There are equations you can use to predict the energy needs of a cat,” Larsen says. But these requirements are affected by many things, such as climate, activity, and the cat's individual metabolism. You can simply evaluate your own cat by looking at his or her silhouette and touching the belly from the top and sides, she says. If you can't feel ribs, you may need to make adjustments in how much you're feeding your cat. If you want more guidance, you can find body condition scoring systems online.

Bough agrees that it's difficult to evaluate the exact amount of food a cat needs. “You can start by weighing your cat and looking at the product packaging,” she says, “But watch your cat and work with your vet to determine how much your cat should weigh.”

There are several types of feeding methods owners commonly use, which may vary depending on the needs of their adult cats and their schedules:

  • Portion-control feeding involves measuring the food and offering it as a meal. It can be used for weight control and for animals that tend to overeat if allowed to feed at will.
  • Free-choice feeding means food - typically dry food, which is less likely to spoil - is available around the clock. Nursing cats are commonly fed free choice. But you can see why this method can turn into a problem for a cat that doesn't know when to stop.
  • Timed feeding involves making food available for a certain amount of time, then picking it up after, say, 30 minutes.

Larsen recommends twice daily feedings. Bough says, “As a general rule of thumb, we recommend that cats be fed twice daily using the portion control feeding method. “To do this, start by dividing the amount suggested on the label of your pet's food into two meals, spaced eight to 12 hours apart. You may need to adjust portions as you learn your cat's ideal daily ‘maintenance' amount.”

And what about treats? “Keep the calories from treats to less than 10% of daily calories,” Larsen says. Otherwise, your cat might start to eat less of his or her regular adult cat food, which means his overall diet could lack essential nutrients. And, of course, too many treats can make kitty's waistline that much tougher to recover.


Jennifer Larsen, DVM, PhD, nutritional consultant and assistant professor of clinical nutrition, William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, UC, Davis.

Mindy Bough, senior director of client services for the ASPCA Midwest Office.

Committee on Nutrient Requirements for Dogs and Cats, Board on Agricultural and Natural Resources, National Research Council of the National Academies of Sciences; July 24, 2006.

"Your Cat's Nutritional Needs. A Science-Based Guide For Pet Owners" Zoran DL.

Topics in Nutrition: The carnivore connection to nutrition in cats. JAVMA, vol 221, no. 11, Dec. 1, 2002.

Diez, M and Nguyen P. The epidemiology of canine and feline obesity. Veterinary Focus Magazine. vol 16.1: 2006.