Cat Feeding Schedule: The Benefits of Meal Feeding Your Cats

A multicolored cat eating food out of a bowl.
A multicolored cat eating food out of a bowl. Photography by Remains/Thinkstock.

Do you have multiple cats? Is your cat is overweight or even obese? Or, maybe your cat is on a special diet. How do you monitor your cat’s food intake? It can be difficult to stick to a cat feeding schedule and monitor how much a cat eats — unlike most dogs who gobble down food in seconds flat — cats tend to graze. They nibble and wander and return to nibble again and again throughout the day. Enter meal feeding, a scheduled way to feed your cats twice a day, taking the food away if your cat does not eat it at mealtime. Here’s how to do it and why it’s beneficial.

A schedule for meal feeding cats:

An orange tabby cat eating out of a food bowl.
An orange tabby cat eating out of a food bowl. Photography by deyangeorgiev/Thinkstock.

Typically, you’ll serve your cats twice a day — morning and evening — at times that best fit your schedule. With meal feeding, wait about 30 minutes — then remove their bowls. You’ll be surprised how quickly your cats adapt. Dr. Nicole Uranko, Chief of Staff at Pleasant Valley Animal Hospital, says, “They’ll protest at first, but they’ll adjust. It’s much healthier to meal feed them.”

The benefits of meal feeding for cats far outweigh the slight inconvenience or extra time it takes to divvy out separate meals twice a day. Here’s why a set cat feeding schedule is beneficial:

1. A cat feeding schedule helps you figure out how much to feed cats.

Portion control is a biggie! Cats get overweight easily. I use a simple plastic measuring cup to dole out each cat’s portion based on his age and weight.

If you have multiple cats, feed them in separate areas or rooms to ensure that no one is mooching off another cat’s portion.

If your cat is used to having food available all day long, he may whine and cry for more in the beginning. Keep in mind that you are working toward a healthy feeding schedule. Check with your vet to see if you can offer your cat healthy treats in between meals.

Remember, it’s OK if your cat doesn’t eat every last morsel in the allotted time. (With the exception of cats who take their medication mixed into their food. See below for tips on doling out medications). They’ll be back for dinner and for breakfast tomorrow and so on.

2. Meal feeding cats lets you observe your kitty’s eating habits.

It’s important to regularly observe your cat’s eating habits. This is especially true if your cat is on a special diet or takes medicine in his food. You’ll be able to see if your kitty is getting the proper nutrition and medicine dosage he needs to be healthy.

Observing the eating habits of multiple cats is much easier with meal feeding. With each cat being fed in a separate area or room, you will notice subtle changes in eating habits much more quickly.

Regular observation also keeps you in the know and alerts you to any changes:

  1. Increase or decrease in appetite
  2. Lack of appetite
  3. Food-guarding behaviors
  4. Speed eating
  5. Level of disinterest in new food (Any change in diet is bound to raise more than a cat tail or two, but meal feeding gives you an up-close-and-personal view of your cat’s reaction to new food.)

3. A specific cat feeding schedule makes it easier to give your cat pills and medications.

If your cat takes medication on a daily basis, mealtimes are the perfect way to mix in a little medicine on the sly. However, some pills and medications can be quite smelly, and most scent-savvy felines will turn up their noses at the faintest whiff. You might need to get more creative. Your veterinarian may be able to offer you the same medication in a different form, such as a flavored liquid. Your vet might also recommend an alternative medium to mix medication into such as tuna fish, baby food or a soft, malleable feline-specific treat.

4. Meal feeding cats is a great way to bond with your cat.

Sharing mealtimes with your cats is a great way to strengthen bonds.

Make mealtime special by sitting nearby. As your cat adapts to this new cat feeding schedule, he will no doubt nibble and wander slightly. Use this time to pet him and catch up on the latest gossip while gently redirecting him toward the food. Sharing mealtimes is easy if you only have two cats — you can “eat with” one during breakfast and the other at dinner. For multiple cats, divide up your mealtime visits throughout the week.

Why not go all out? Add a little festivity to your feline’s meal time with colorful, seasonal or cat-themed placemats. They also help make clean-up a little easier.

5. Use this cat feeding schedule as a helpful reminder to freshen water.

My cats are mischievous. They like water. They play in their water bowls. So, our meal feedings are a timely reminder for me to freshen up their water supply because, as far as I know, spring water should not contain actual tiny, colorful springs. Nor should it contain litter residue from busy feline feet.

According to Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, “Healthy cats don’t tend to drink a lot of water. They sometimes drink what they need, but often they drink less than what they need.” So, refreshing water twice daily will help you to better keep track of your cat’s water intake.

Tell us: What is your cat feeding schedule like? Do you meal feed your cats?

Thumbnail: Photography by Remains/Thinkstock.

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20 thoughts on “Cat Feeding Schedule: The Benefits of Meal Feeding Your Cats”

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  3. Recently I changed jobs and work from home. Soon after we transitioned our ‘kids’ to twice daily feeding. What an eye opener this was. I watched them go from slugs that slept, ate, and slept some more all day, to little kitty’s that played. When they get up from a nap now they can’t go straight to a food bowl. Yes they beg a bit but then it’s as if their primal hunting gene kicks in and they become playful. They play with toys they never use to touch, they go out to the yard and chase butterflies and leaves (yes they are safe, they have a cat door and invisible fence.) When they’re done playing awhile they nap again. They actually seem to be happier.

  4. My 13 year old cat loves to eat with me at breakfast and dinner. my 81 year old mother gets up a lot during the night to use the rest room and while doing so our cat gets up with her and my mother feeds her even though most of the time she doesn’t eat it or very little of it. She has been vomiting on the average about once or twice every two weeks. We are going to schedule an appointment with our vet the first of the year. But in the mean time do you think she is getting sick because she is eating too much? Thank you

    1. Hi Don,

      Thanks for reaching out. These articles might help. Definitely call and ask your vet; perhaps you can get advice before the appointment:

  5. I leave kibble out for my two cats all day so they can graze. When I get home from work I can tell how much they’ve eaten. I usually will then open a can of wet food and divide it between them, still leaving whatever is left of the kibble. Cats are not dogs. They will not eat when they are not hungry just for the sake of eating… Cats get obese because humans will feed them high calorie human food as a treat. Only one of my cats likes human food but I make sure that aside from a possible lick of my finger, I don’t give her human food.

  6. Our two girls are both Ocicats, a fairly large breed (for a shorthair), little girl Viola is around eight pounds while our older girl Saphira is north of ten. We feed each of them one 5.5 ounce can of a high quality canned food per day, divided into three meals, and we feed them when we eat. They both finish a meal in a few minutes, and their vet is happy with their diets and weights. Both are very active and are absolute joys.

  7. Jennifer Johnson

    I am curious why it is so important to take the food away if it is not eaten after 30 min. I give my cat a very fixed amount of food 2 x a day that I want her to eat, and I don’t necessarily want her to have to eat it all at once. Why can’t the food be left out until it is eaten? I do not believe that it will go “bad” if that’s the argument.

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  12. I have 12 cats, 8 of which all eat in 1 room. It’s old be impossible to give 8 separate bowls and watch them all. Any suggestions?

  13. I don’t like the idea of leaving food out in the open for many reasons, so I’ve been giving my cat three or four small meals a day—and until a few months ago, cats—for several years. Currently I don’t give him any kibble, just canned, and his coat is luxurious.

    One benefit of not leaving the food out: he’s grateful for what he gets, and finishes each portion.

    1. That sounds like a good idea. My cat wants to graze, eat when she wants. I am afraid of her getting overweight, so l will be more strict at mealtime.

  14. We used to free feed but our guys, being from feral stock, got overweight on that regimen. So, instead, we started feeding several measured meals every day. Because cats in the wild eat several small meals a day, we tried to make our feeding schedule something similar. Right now, they get a bit of wet plus kibble in the morning. Then 3 feedings of kibble and one of wet in the late afternoon up to bedtime. Once we both retire, I think I’ll move the late afternoon feeding closer to noon and spread the others out as well. It seems to work well and they’ve all lost weight.

  15. But I’ve also read that several small meals are best.

    Our 18 yr old cats are skinny, and the vet has recommended feeding them whatever and whenever they want to keep some weight on.

    1. Hi Carol
      I would say, always be guided by your vet. The article is general in nature. It has very good advice, but it is predicated on healthy cats.
      Well done with your senior. You are probably doing what I did when my senior was in the same boat : small meals and often. Possum’s intake was about the same as the other cats, but spread over a 15 hour period. In between, he mainly slept.

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