So you’ve just gotten a cat and you’re wondering if you should be feeding her once, twice, three times a day. What’s the right number? Does it depend on the size of the cat? Does it depend on what kind of food I’m feeding my cat? There are so many variables that factor into this decision it can be mind boggling!
You’re probably just asking how many times a day should I feed my cat? On top of this, you’re probably wondering how much you should feed your cat in each meal! Before we get into the details of how often to feed your cat let’s take a look into your the general diet of your cat.
What Do Cats Eat?
Cats are obligate carnivores. This basically means they can’t live without meat in their diet because specific nutrients they need simply aren’t available in plants. While the form of meat can range from beef to poultry to fish and everything in between, cats do require a source of meat to maintain a healthy diet. This doesn’t mean a cat cannot eat things like peas, or potatoes or rice, it just means that they can’t survive solely on a plant based diet.
To build protein, cats need to get an adequate supply of 11 different amino acids that their body can’t naturally produce. Without getting into the technicalities of it, there are some 23 amino acids that are used to build all protein and cats can only naturally produce 12 of them. This means they have to get the other 11 from their diet otherwise health issues ensue.
The health issues can be very serious, so do pay close attention to the amino acid contents. If you’d like to read more on the necessary amino acids and why they are so important checkout this article from PetMD that describes it in detail.
You can read a full run down on what cats eat here in another article I posted, I provided a shortened version above for ease of reading!
What All Factors In?
While there are of course a few generally accepted rules regarding feeding your cat…there are also a couple of factors worth taking into account before you make a decision on how often you should feed your cat. The key items worth noting are:
- Kittens require more food per pound of body weight to support their growth than do adult cats. They also require a higher protein diet than adult cats although the recommended differences are small. Kittens should therefore be fed more often throughout the day.
- The shelter I volunteer at generally recommends that kittens be free fed with dry food all day up until they are about 6 months old. If you’re having issues with your kitten constantly eating and worried she may get overweight definitely speak with your vet about spreading the meals out and controlling portion size.
- A normal adult cat will generally not require feeding as often as a kitten so you can provide larger meals. If you have a cat that is a bit of a hoover and eats too fast and gets sick then you can break up the meals or use a puzzle feeder to help slow her down.
- When a cat ages, her teeth may start to encounter problems and she might also develop gum disease. This can make it a heck of a lot harder for your cat to eat dry food. If you encounter this problem then switch to wet or at least provide a combination of the two. While you can also try sprinkling some water on dry food some cats won’t touch it afterward.
- If your cat suffers from a health problem such as diabetes, you may need to feed her based on whenever she is administered insulin. The shelter I volunteer at has a resident cat named Pierre that needs to be fed on a very rigid schedule to ensure he stays healthy. This often coincides with the time that insulin is given to him, but be sure to ask your vet if you have a diabetic cat as each one is unique.
- If you are having trouble with your cat constantly eating it is also worth noting your cat could have a hyperthyroid problem. This is definitely worth a discussion with your vet to ensure it gets treated.
What if My Cat Is Overweight?
Just like humans, the metabolism of your cat will change throughout her life and you will need to modify her diet accordingly. If you’re not sure if your cat is overweight be sure to have your yearly vet check up where you can get an expert opinion.
If you want to check yourself you can 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 and keep track using a scoop you can measure with.
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.
So How Many Times a Day Should I Feed My Cat?
The number of meals a cat eats per day depends on all of the above as well as what can be reasonably accomplished with your schedule as a cat owner. That being said, free feeding cats dry food 24 hours a day is not recommended because it almost guarantees your cat will get overweight.
Cats should eat at least two meals each day. We personally feed our cats Beastling and Lexi at about 8 AM and about 8 PM each day. This is a pretty typical schedule at about 12 hours apart.
That being said you can use a schedule that includes breakfast, lunch, an afternoon snack, dinner, and right before bed meals. This is an equally great option if you can support it. If more than 12 hours passes between meals your cat’s stomach can become overly-acidic and may result in your cat getting sick. Beyond this most cats will also just get really hungry and probably not be too happy! Do your best to avoid long breaks between food.
If your cat seems to still be hungry with the schedule you are using you can also try feeding her some snacks in between meals, cat grass is a great healthy snack for cats and is super easy to grow. There are also tons and tons of treats out there on the market you can use, but be sure to limit these to keep your cat healthy.
I know I haven’t yet provided a recommendation on how much to feed your cat, I’ll provide that in an upcoming article. While there are some generally recommended estimates, you should have a discussion with your vet on what is right for your cat as it will depend on the age, breed, activity level and many other factors.
Wrapping It Up
While you’ll have to personally decide on what is best for your cat, there are a couple of general rules of thumb when it comes to feeding your cat(s). Here’s a quick rundown of what you need to know when you’re trying to answer the question how many times a day should I feed my cat:
- Cats depend on a high protein diet whether you’re feeding them wet or dry food
- You don’t want to free feed your cat unless they manage their own diet, free feeding leads to overweight cats
- You’ll generally want to feed your cat at least twice a day, spreading it into more meals is fine if you can accommodate the schedule
- Deciding the exact amount to feed your cat depends on the age, size & activity of your cat, consult your veterinarian
- One additional thing you should always keep in mind as well is that your cat should always have access to fresh water
If you have any other thoughts on the how often you feed your cat please leave a comment below or send me an email at Craig@StuffCatsWant.com so I can update this article or respond in kind.
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