A common question among cat owners is “How much should I feed my cat?” When I tell people I feed my cats five times a day, I’m often met with confusion and concern.

“Isn’t that too much? Aren’t you making them fat?”

No, I’m actually keeping them from getting fat! I’m not giving them any more food than I would if they ate less often, I’m just breaking it up into smaller, more frequent portions, so they’re less hungry throughout the day.

According to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s website, one larger meal per day is okay nutritionally, but several small meals may make cats feel less hungry. The “less hungry” part is certainly true in my house.

If I try to feed my cats larger meals just once or twice a day, Ghost Cat will meow loudly and frequently, using increasingly annoying pitches to convey her dissatisfaction. When her meals are broken up over the course of the day she is way less whiny and much more active.

In our current routine my cats get two high quality dry food meals (dispensed by an automatic feeder) and three nutritious wet food snacks (served by me). Dry food is dispensed at five o’clock in the morning and five-fifteen in the evening, while spoonfuls of watered down wet food are dished out at eight-twenty in the morning, noon, and ten o’clock at night. Fresh water is always available and low calorie treats are doled out at my discretion (except for when Ghost Cat breaks into the cupboards).

When I began feeding my cats five times a day I just knew that it was working to keep Ghost Cat happy and control her weight. I didn’t know that researchers at the University of Illinois College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Science studied the practice of serving multiple, smaller meals to cats in an effort to decrease obesity. The researchers found that increasing the frequency of meals (without decreasing the overall amount of daily food intake), as well as serving meals with added dietary water promoted physical activity in the cats studied.

I may not be a scientist, but I know that my girls are much more playful when they eat several small meals than if they eat one or two massive meals. Big meals just turn them into cat loafs. This change in activity level is one of the reasons why I can’t free feed my cats.

It seems like leaving a bowl of kibble out for them to snack on whenever they like would be ideal, as they would be able to feed themselves throughout the day, but the truth is, I don’t trust them not to gorge themselves. If I portioned out a whole day’s worth of food in the morning it would be gone in minutes, and soon they’d be crying for more. Letting my cats graze at their own discretion would be a disaster, because Ghost Cat and Specter are gluttons when left to their own devices

Ghost Cat in particular has always had a weird relationship with food. I don’t know if it’s because she experienced food insecurity back in her stray days, but ever since we brought her home from the shelter she’s been obsessed with her food dish. She can’t stand to see her dish empty (even if she only just finished licking it clean).

She used to knock her feeding bowls around as soon as she’d emptied them, and after we bought the automatic dry food dispenser she would try to reach her paw up inside it, trying to pry some kibble loose. She would do this obsessively, starting at about fifteen minutes before feeding time each day. Then, when the dry cat food would finally fall into the dish, she would gobble it all up in celebration. I’m convinced that she thought she’d manipulated the machine into producing food. These days, Ghost Cat has a new and even more bizarre food dispenser routine. She just lies in front of it and stares — for like 20 minutes straight — like she’s praying to it. The kibble dispenser is Ghost Cat’s god.

There’s only one thing Ghost Cat loves more than that kibble machine, and that’s the sound of me cracking open a can of wet cat food. The three small servings of wet food that I serve up daily are as much bribes as they are snacks. I use wet food to bribe my cats into letting me leave the house and into letting me go to bed. I also use wet food to bribe Ghost Cat into drinking more water — I just add extra water to the fishy pate.

They may eat five times a day, but my cats aren’t getting any more calories than they need (save for occasional mouthfuls of human food and a few treats here and there). Ghost Cat’s weight is under control, and both my kitties are energetic and active. It works for my cats, but I understand that it might not be right for everyone. Cats have different metabolisms and activity levels, and humans have different schedules. I’m doing what works for us — even if I do have to defend my methods to people who think I’m fattening up my cats.

How often do you feed your cats? Do you think five times a day is too much? Tell me in the comments!

Read more about Ghost Cat and Specter by Heather Marcoux.

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About the author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but Specter the kitten, GhostBuster the Lab and her newest dog, Marshmallow, make her fur family complete. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google +