How Much Should I Feed My Cat?

A fluffy white cat eating wet food off of a dish or bowl.
A fluffy white cat eating wet food off of a dish or bowl. Photography ©RooIvan | Thinkstock.

If you’re a first-time cat owner, “How much should I feed my cat?” is likely to be one of your first questions when you bring your cat home. Even if you’ve owned cats for years, you may sometimes wonder whether your cats are getting too little food or too much. Let’s go through a few factors to consider when answering “How much should I feed my cat”?

How much should I feed my cat? The basics

If you've ever wondered "How much should I feed my cat?" We've got the answers. Photography ©g215 | Thinkstock.
If you’ve ever wondered “How much should I feed my cat?” We’ve got the answers. Photography ©g215 | Thinkstock.

The answer to “How much should I feed my cat” is based on many variables, including a cat’s weight and a cat’s age, whether you’re feeding wet cat food or dry cat food, the cat’s activity level, and whether or not she is pregnant or nursing.

The brand of food you’re feeding also makes a difference when we’re answering the question “How much should I feed my cat.” A dense, high quality dry cat food will contain more nutrients by weight than a low-quality food, and thus require smaller portions to deliver the same amount of nutrition for your cat.

Many cat owners allow their cats free access to dry food, supplemented by canned food once or twice a day. A dry-food-only diet is not necessarily a bad pet diet if you’re feeding high quality food, but it does require that you encourage your cat to drink a lot more water to compensate for what she’s not getting in canned food.

When to feed your cat

When you bring a new cat home, it’s important to continue to feed her the same amount of the same food on the same schedule that’s she’s been accustomed to, then gradually migrate to your own food and schedule. Cats are very sensitive to change, and a new cat will be dealing with a lot of new-environment stress, so keeping the food and schedule consistent will ease her transition and keep intestinal upset at bay.

When you’re ready to transition your cat over to your own food and schedule, you’ll need to determine what kind of food you’ll be feeding her (wet or dry, raw food or a combo), and using the calorie counts in each food, determine how much of which kind to feed her.

What to feed your cat — wet food or dry food?

A closeup of a gray cat eating wet food.
How much to feed a cat also depends on if you feed your cat wet or dry food. Photography by africa studio/shutterstock.

Another important factor in answering “How much should I feed my cat?” is considering what you’re feeing your cat. The foundation of a healthy cat diet is flesh-based protein like meat, fish or poultry. Dry food should be high in animal proteins, and low in plant proteins (which cats are ill-equipped to digest). Carbohydrates should make up no more than ten percent of the mix of cat food ingredients.

Wet foods should consist predominantly of meat with as few by-products and fillers as possible.

Still wondering, “How much should I feed my cat?” Some calculations

According to the Animal Medical Center in New York, a healthy, active 8-pound adult cat requires about 30 calories per pound per day. So, the average 8-pound cat requires about 240 calories per day.

Typically, dry food contains about 300 calories per cup, and canned food contains about 250 calories in each 6 oz can. (or, 125 per 3-ounce can). Using these counts as a guide, an 8-pound cat would need 4/5 of a cup of dry food or just less than a full 6-oz can (or two 3-ounce cans) of wet food per day. You can adjust the proportions based on whether your cat prefers more or less dry or wet food.

If you’re free feeding your cat dry food, each day measure out the day’s allotment of food into your dry food feeder. This decreases the amount of food that gets stale and needs to be discarded. It will also help you monitor how much your cats are eating. If you have to take a thin cat to the vet, it will help in the diagnosis if you can identify exactly how much she eats per day.

Portioning out the food will keep your cats from overeating. Free choice feeding is one of the top contributors to feline obesity.

How often to feed a cat

A multicolored cat eating food out of a bowl.
Your cat’s feeding schedule is another thing to consider. Photography by Remains/Thinkstock.

Another factor in determining “How much should I feed my cat” depends on how often you feed your cat. And how often to feed a cat depends on what you’re feeding her. Most cat owners feed their cats in the morning and at night, and may or may not supplement those feedings with free feeding of dry food throughout the day.

Is your cat eating enough — or too little?

Throughout your cat’s life you will need to modify her diet to accommodate changing metabolism and dietary needs. Feel your cat’s backbone and ribs. If the ribs and backbone show through her skin, she is too thin. If you can’t feel the ribs, your cat is likely overweight. Adjust her portions accordingly.

Keeping your cat from becoming obese is much easier than forcing an obese cat to diet. And it will make both you and your cat a lot happier.

Thumbnail: Photography ©bluebeat76 | Thinkstock.

This piece was first published in 2009. 

Read more about cats and food on Catster:

208 thoughts on “How Much Should I Feed My Cat?”

  1. I care for feral cats who live in woods by a stream. Nothing processed out of a bag or can; fresh fish mixed with noodles twice a day, all they want. Result? Beautiful, healthy, well-muscled cats who love to play and enjoy being cats! Try this recipe with your babies: 1 can of mackerel mixed with 2 Ramen noodles. Crush the noodles & let ’em sit in hot water for about an hour before adding the mackerel. Bust up the mack into fairly small pieces and mix well (be sure to add the juice & extra water if needed; they like it sloppy!). The only processing done with mack is cut the head, tail and fins off and remove the guts; otherwise all the skin, blood, fat and bones for vitamins & minerals + the super high protein meat is still there (don’t worry about the bones, they’re mushy soft after being in the can). Sometimes I add a can of tuna for extra protein & also hand fed sardines which they love!

  2. My 11 years old female domestic black was vomiting her vet dry kibbles. I tried serving small amount in case she was simply stuffing her face but nope, vomit almost every single time.

    So I switched to a 100% wet food and some human grade raw fish, cooked chicken or raw beef depending on what we are eating and if it’s ok for her. Vomiting problem fixed! Whatever was making her stomach upset is gone.

    I buy whatever is on special, cheap store brand, Friskies, Fancy Feast. 2 cans per day (4 if it’s fancy feast because the cans are super small), one in the morning, half of the second one at dinner and the other half at bedtime. She’s a slim 10-12 pounds and eats about 300 calories per day.

  3. I have 3 cats. One male Tabby of 4 Mo and 2 female cats one domestic short haired Calico 10Mo and the other is a Snowshoe Siamese 8Yrs young. I have trouble portioning the food out and the Snowshoe is a bit overweight and the other female Calico is headed in that direction. I feed them blue buffalo dry and wet cat food, they’re not picky at all that I’ve noticed. I’ve tried other food brands when Blue Buffalo is out of stock and they eat it fine. Also, when I adopted the cats I was told not to give the Snowshoe female kitty food as it will upset her stomach, so I usually buy kitty food AND adult cat food. Any recommendations on how to portion this out?

    1. unless you can monitor feeding and keep kitties separate during feeding it will be tough. ever consider harness and leash? walking kitties exercise can be helpful. also consider researching some low calorie water additives so kitties will be encouraged to drink more and feel fuller. other than these ideas I’d say consult a skilled veterinarian who understands diet. NOT all do so keep that in mind during your search. all the best.

  4. I have a female tuxedo, 3 years old. She loves Fancy Feast, only grilled type. I feed her twice daily 3 oz can at 7 am and 7 pm. I also feed her one handful of Fancy Feast dry food. It doesn’t seem like much but she’s getting fat. She’s very food motivated so she cries a lot if I try not to feed her the second can or if I don’t give her any dry cat food. I tried other ‘best cat food’ brands but she only wants Fancy Feast.

    1. I feed my cat 1/2 a can in the morning and 1/2 a can at night. And 2tbsp of dry a day. By splitting the can she still thinks she’s getting the whole thing at once. Try it you’ll be surprised

    2. Our Ginger is overweight because he was getting fed by both my husband and I. Fooling both of us that he hadn’t eaten.
      I’ve now portioned out 3 meals a day in little containers. This way if breakfast container is empty we both know he’s been fed.
      They equal one cup or 300 calories per day. He’s on blue Buffalo weight control and he’s already lost a month. He was 17# and his vet said to get him to 15#’s.
      You need to stand firm and ignore her or redirect her energy. When our Ginger cries we play or ignore him until he gives up. It works.

  5. Well written article! I have three cats. This article will help me to create a better diet plan for my cats. One of my cat is obese. One question, what would be best cat food with low digestion?

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  7. Feeding a cat is simple. NO dry food, NO free feeding, and DON’T feed the amount the manufacturer recommends because it’s too much! It’s a surefire way to get a fat cat! I feed my cat two to three teaspoons of wet food every four to five hours hours.

    1. Della Underhill

      I’ve had cats all my life (I’m an old lady. lets leave it at that) and every cat I’ve had I’ve fed them a high quality dry food (free range) supplemented by a high quality wet food twice a day. My cats have had few health issues aside from dental issues due to age. On average my cats have lived to be 18 to 20 years and my last baby lived to the ripe old age of 23. I’ve had a couple cats on the pudge side but taking into account they still lived to 21 I don’t think it hurt them.

      1. Della What brand Wet food do you use? My cat will only eat Friskys because of the gravy its not the best one but I have tried every kind of healthy and he will not eat those. Thank you

        1. My cat only eats the gravy in the Frisky’s! (He does eat dry food) very frustrating not to find a good wet cat food he’ll eat.

          1. Are you just plopping down the new food or gradually working into the Frisky’s until totally switched? Cats don’t like change so start with 1/2 teaspoon for a few days, then a whole teaspoon and continue adding more each few days and see how that works out.

          2. Are you just plopping down the new food or gradually working it into the Frisky’s until totally switched? Cats don’t like change so start with 1/2 teaspoon for a few days, then a whole teaspoon and continue adding more each few days and see how that works out.

      2. Thank you Della! I needed to read this from someone like you. I too have had cats most of my life. I have a five year old who is a complete house cat. I feed her high quality wet food (Nutrish) and dry food (Nutrish). She too is pudgy because of the free feeding of her dry food by me. I’ve actually cut back on how much dry food I give. She’s a loving cat and a great little companion.

  8. I have two cats and I feed them Simply Nourish dry cat food. Is that brand good food?
    One cat is 12 lbs. and the other is 11 lbs.

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  10. First of all, NO DRY FOOD! Wet food is good, grain-free is better, raw is best, and the worst wet food is better than kibble. Also, NO FREE FEEDING! Feed on a schedule. (This all comes from the “Cat Daddy” himself, Jackson Galaxy.)

      1. I have yet to watch feral cats ravaging grain crops in fields or barns. They always seem to go for things that run away from them… aka MEAT.

        I think that if they were meant to eat grains they would be posing a much larger problem for crop farmers.

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  19. Unless very young – or very old – 30 cal per pound of cat is WAY too much, and you will soon be on your way to a fat and unhealthy kitty.
    Especially if those calories are coming from kibble, which will lead you to have a dehydrated fur baby as well. Research how a cat’s metabolism functions and look up bioavailability. Your kitty’s kidneys will thank you.

    1. My kitty is 16 lbs. she’s picky. She likes fancy feast seafoods. I give her a hand of finger grabs 3-4 times. She’s also on steroid for asthma. One can of seafood or chicken fancy feast 1/2 can a day. She pers a whole bunch. Is she ok?

    2. Thank you for posting. I was thinking…does that mean that would be feeding my large framed cat of 15 lbs, 4 3oz cans per day? That seems like a lot but he’s been begging since I pulled the dry food at the vet’s recommendation for long term health. I’d appreciate your thoughts. Thank you!

      1. iRi was just asking the same ? When my screen went black. My vet told me because my Dale Earnhardt Jr ( DJ ) is 20 lbs because he’s eating to many carbs with the Beyond dry. She said it’s like eating nothing but bread, potatoes, and pasta. And there’s no protein in it. And to give one in the morning and the can at bedtime. But HOW MUCH OF DRY AND 1 SM CAN OR LARGE CAN AT NIGHT. God I’m confused. Cause in the afternoon he’s begging me by walking all over me or sets on my Stomach and fake sneezes. Knowing now I have to get up and wash my face and clean phone, table or whatever drink I have ( PEPSI, OR GINGER ALE. And I have to walk by his food and water bowl. And nudges me towards it. So can you or someone else that’s dealing with a cat that’s been fed when ever he cried for it? I get absolutely 0 sleep. I’m on Catastrophic Disability and have to sleep in recliner on 7 pillows. And if by chance I’m sleeping and my husband gets up for work he’ll feed him not telling me then he watches me like a hawk if I make any movement he starts in. And I feed him again. CAN SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME HOW OFTEN TO FEED HIM? THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

        1. Wish I could help, but I have similar problems with Maurice, the Gangster of Love. He’s been avoiding his dry food and loves to hunt his “prey” (me) in the middle of the night. He wishes he could drag me by the neck to the wet food. Also, I liked your mention of fake sneezing!

        2. Hi Judy,
          I know this is an old post, but just wanted to say that cats can be drama queens (or kings) and love to beg for food. I have a 15 year old Norwegian Forest cat who is starting to have problems with many foods. He wouldn’t touch canned food for years, but he only has three teeth now, and suddenly prefers canned, but also likes to graze on dry a bit. If I give him the wrong type of food or the wrong mix of proteins he vomits and /or has diarrhea.

          However, with all this transition from dry to many types of canned, here is what I have learned:
          1. Feed at exactly the same times every day (or as close as possible). When I was figuring out his schedule and how much he needed, I would feed him 2-3 times per night (a tablespoon each time) to see if he had a bad reaction to the new food. It ended up making him constantly believe he could have food whenever he wanted it, and that was a problem. It took a week of listening to him cry all hours to break him into a schedule of 7:30 AM and 6:30 PM again. (I feed him 1/2 of a larger can each feeding).

          2. Monitor your cats weight. The easiest way I have found to do this is to weigh myself, then pick him up and weigh both of us, and subtract my weight alone from our combined weight. He is currently 13 pounds which is a healthy weight for him. Before we started on canned food he was down to 10 pounds and very thin for his cat type. This will help you know if you are on the right track with too much or too little food.

          3. I have never allowed my cats to sleep with me, so he is not used to that (unless they are very sick). However, if I had to sleep in the same area as him, I’d set up a nice bedtime/cuddle routine and then ‘tuck him in’ in a different room. Your rest is incredibly important, and cats are nocturnal, those don’t go together.

          4. Finally, I’d definitely keep a spray bottle handy and spray him to let him know when any behavior he is doing is not acceptable. This works well with our cat for behavior correction (such as begging for human food at meal time). If we stop correcting his behavior he becomes much worse after a few days of ‘letting it slide’. Just like any animal or child, cats do need some correction, and the spray bottle doesn’t hurt him, but lets him know that we mean business.

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  39. How about ground seaweed? It’s in the dry cat food I bought. It also has 4 meat products. They claim to boost the protein value in their food.

    1. Is he also vomiting and going outside of his cat box? Diabetes can cause insatiable hunger in cats. If you are worried, see a vet. ❤️

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  41. Nancy Roodennsten

    We feed only Meow Mix – never had to be recalled – you can’t argue with that – then just go by the label- sometimes they catch a mouse – bird – squirrel – snake and they’ll eat that or part of it lol

    1. Meow Mix has a lot of corn in it which breaks down into sugar, leading to diabetes in cats. If you want your cat to live longer, don’t feed him/her corn.

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