Feeding a cat properly is more complicated than you might think. While it’s tempting to toss a cup or two of dry food in her bowl whenever she fusses for a snack, this can lead to health problems down the line. The type and amount of food you give your cat will depend on a number of factors. The cat’s age and weight will dictate the quantity of food and her state of health will have an impact on the type of food it’s safe to give her. To avoid under or overfeeding your pet, you should know how much food she needs. You also need to know what kind of food will be best for your cat’s health.
How much dry food should I feed my cat? Around 15 g of dry food per 450 g in body-weight. An average cat should have around 4/5ths of a cup of dry food per day. Note that wet food is significantly preferable to dry.
If you’ve recently adopted a cat or your cat’s dietary needs have changed, you probably have a lot of questions.
- How much dry food should a cat eat every day?
- Is it safe to free-feed a cat?
- Is dry food good or bad for urinary health?
- Is wet food better than dry food?
- What should you look for when choosing a brand of dry food for your cat?
Maybe you’re looking for a cat feeding guide – wet and dry. Keep reading to find out more about how much food your cat needs, what type of food is the best, and how often you should feed her.
How much dry food should I feed my cat?
The average cat requires around 30 calories per 450 g (1 lb) of body-weight. A cup of dry cat food weighs between 120-130 g and contains between 300 to 500 calories depending on the brand. Most brands these days offer information as to how many calories the food contains. Some manufacturers also put a chart on their packaging now, explaining the right amount of food based on an animal’s age and weight. You can often find more details about portion sizes and daily food allowances on the manufacturer’s website.
In general, I prefer to avoid dry food. I generally feed my cats a good-quality wet food. I do give kibble if I’m going to be out for the day and want to leave them a snack in their feeder, or as a filler for treat balls and other puzzle toys; for their main diet, though, I prefer wet food from cans or pouches. Wet food contributes useful fluid to the cat’s diet. Wet food tends to be more nutritious than dry food, which is often stuffed full of inferior ingredients: soy, grains and other things that aren’t really very good for cats.
With all that said, there’s nothing terribly wrong with dry food if your cat is in good health and you make sure she gets plenty of water. It’s particularly important to choose a good quality food with a high level of protein and no grain fillers. Look for a well-formulated dry food with a high protein content (at least 30 per cent), low fat (under 15 per cent) and enriched with additional nutrients. Among the most important of these is taurine, which is vital for neurological and visual health
If your cat suffers from urinary tract issues, you need to be particularly careful about the dry food you choose. Fortunately, there are specially formulated dry foods that are made to support a cat’s renal and urinary function.
Some people choose dry food because they can free-feed their cats without worrying about food poisoning. Unlike wet food, dry food can be left out for some time without the risk that it will go sour. Unless you have an especially sensible kitty who is inclined to pace meals, however, this is generally a bad idea. Cats with unlimited food access will tend to overeat and then beg for more food. In the short term, this can lead to nausea and vomiting. In the longer term, free-feeding can result in obesity and ill-health.
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Cat feeding Guide – Wet and Dry
It’s very common for people to offer both wet and dry food to their cats. In many cases, wet food is used to make up the bulk of the cat’s nutrition while dry food is used for a variety or as treats and snacks. This is how I personally feed my cats: they get wet food twice a day (more if I have a kitten or a large, active cat to feed), with a little dry food in their treat balls or as a reward if they’re training a new skill.
In other cases, you may want to give dry food because you’re away from home during your cat’s usual feeding times because you’ve been prescribed a dry food by your veterinarian or as a cost-cutting measure. Another reason I like to give my cats a little dry food from time to time is dental health. Alongside regular weekly tooth-brushing, a little crunchy kibble keeps their teeth in good shape.
Wet and dry food usually contains a different number of calories. You will need to look up the energy content of the brand you wish to feed your cat to determine how many calories each portion contains. Foods formulated for kittens and young cats tend to be higher in calories while products aimed at senior kitties are often lower-calorie recipes.
As well as their age, cats have different caloric and nutritional needs depending on their weight and other factors. A strapping seven-kilo British Shorthair lad with no weight issues will need more food than a small but obese domestic kitty at a similar weight. If your cat is on the hefty side, you may want to select an over-the-counter weight reduction recipe. If your cat’s problem is severe, your vet may prescribe a special diet to help get her back down to a healthier weight. Very roughly, I would suggest feeding one half of a large can (or a single small can) two to three times a day, plus a few additional snacks; this should be enough for an average cat in decent health.
If you decide to feed dry food alongside wet food, you will need to adjust the amount of each to make sure you’re not overfeeding or underfeeding your pet. For example, if you feed your cat wet food in the evenings but put out a portion of dry food in the morning before work, you might leave two-thirds of a cup of dry food for breakfast and then make up the rest of your cat’s daily calories with half a can of wet food. Make sure that the total calories are not over or under your cat’s recommended daily intake.
If you want to leave a larger portion of dry food out but you have an immoderate eater, you can use a slow-feeding dish or an automatic feeder with a timer if you’ll be away for more than one meal. Choose a sturdy, reliable model as cats are remarkably good at tipping over or raiding automated feeders to get at the kibble.
Mixing wet and dry cat food
There are a number of reasons you might want to mix wet and dry food for your cat. Adding dry food to wet food can have various benefits. One is simply that it can create a variety for your cat and make her food more palatable. I’ve stirred a handful of my cats’ favourite kibble when a particular brand of salmon-flavoured food didn’t meet with their approval — they happily accepted the “upgraded” recipe and I didn’t have to let the wet food go to waste. I’ve also done the kibble trick when a cat I was minding became picky about her meals due to separation anxiety; she didn’t like being without her humans and went off her food. Varying her wet food a with a topping of kibble seemed to make her feel cared-for and got her eating normally again.
Another reason for mixing wet and dry food is that you have been prescribed a particular food by your vet and your cat won’t eat the new product. It can be a struggle to persuade cats to accept a different food to the one they are used to. Cats are often creatures of habit and don’t always take kindly to having their diet changed. Mixing a little of their favourite wet food in with the prescription dry food (or vice versa) can be a good way to get around this.
Care needs to be taken when adding dry kibble to rejected wet food. Don’t add dry food to wet food that’s been left out long enough to spoil; this can result in a cat eating the spoiled food she was avoiding and making herself ill. You also need to keep in mind the fact that even small quantities of dry food will contribute to the amount of calories your cat consumes. When mixing wet and dry cat food, you’ll need to cut back the amount of wet food accordingly.
Cat feeding guide by weight
Any cat feeding guide by weight will be approximate. As previously discussed, there are many factors involved in working out the right amount of food for your cat. This is a general guide that can help give you an idea of how much your cat might need. Your individual cat may have different needs — and her needs are likely to change over time. A lively little kitten who’s still growing will need proportionately more calories than a more sedentary adult cat who is no longer developing.
Kittens: Kittens should have at least 40 calories per 450 g (1 lb) of body-weight. Don’t worry about over-feeding at this age — excessive weight gain is not a concern for kittens, while under-nourishment certainly is. Do not feed kittens dry food until they are starting solids and then only give them small pieces for dental health.
Adult cats (normal weight): A cat who is already at her normal weight should get roughly 30-35 calories per 450 g (1 lb) of body-weight. The exact amount will depend on your individual cat’s metabolism and level of activity. A quiet, sedentary cat who prefers the quiet life will need fewer calories than a lively, energetic feline who spends her days climbing on the bookshelves. Some cats simply burn through more calories than others and can get away with a few additional snacks, while others need to be a bit more parsimonious.
Adult cats (overweight): If your cat is overweight, you’ll need to drop her calorie intake to help her shed the extra poundage. While fat kitties look cute and a little extra weight won’t hurt them, it’s dangerous to let them become too big. They can develop problems with their hearts, joints, lungs and other systems. Monitor your cat’s weight loss and adjust her food intake according to your vet’s advice.she should get between 25 and 30 calories per 450 g (1 lb) of body-weight.
Pregnant/nursing cats: Nursing and pregnant cats require additional calories. You don’t need to worry about over-feeding a mother cat until her kittens are fully weaned. It’s very dangerous to underfeed cats when they are expecting or feeding kittens; not only will you compromise the mother’s health but her babies’ too. Give your cat around 50 calories per 450 g (1 lb) of body-weight.
Senior cats: Cats over the age of ten or so often require different nutrition to younger cats. You’ll need to ensure that your cat gets all the additional nutrients she needs, particularly Omega 3 and 6 (older kitties get arthritis just like older humans and can benefit from a diet that helps their joints). Give your senior cat between 25 and 30 calories per 450 g (1 lb) of body-weight and talk to your vet about the right food for her.
Some cats are very food-motivated and will fuss if you reduce their food. You can get around this by giving them lower-calorie foods (there are plenty of specialist foods for weight loss) or using a slow feeder cat bowl.
Dry cat food for weight loss
Personally, I would not recommend dry cat food for weight loss. In general, dry food is less satiating than wet. Most dry foods contain large amounts of unnecessary fat and carbohydrates that cats really don’t need. They lack fluid, which makes them less filling and satisfying. Cats can easily gain weight if allowed to free-feed on dry food.
With all that being said, there is a place for dry food as a weight-loss tool. I’ve already mentioned treat balls and puzzle feeders. These are toys that are loaded with dry food. They dispense small pieces of dry kibble when manipulated correctly. I like treat balls. These are round dispensers that are filled with dry kibble. As your cat pushes the ball around, chunks of kibble drop out for her to eat. You can also find toys where a cat must push a piece of kibble through a maze to get at it. Puzzle toys are quite easy to make yourself — simply poke a few holes in a large soda bottle and place a little dry food inside.
Toys like these benefit cats in three ways. They slow down food consumption by doling out food a little at a time; they induce cats to exercise physically; and they also provide mental stimulation. They’re a great tool for kitty weight loss if you have a cat who tends to be sedentary and eats out of boredom. In this case, you’d be using the dry food as a motivational tool rather than as your cat’s main diet, supplementing her primary meals of wet food.
You can also find lower-calorie dry foods. These can be helpful in getting your obese cat back to a healthier weight — but do keep in mind that you’ll need to provide additional fluid if you feed your cat on any dry food as their main meal.
Dry cat food for urinary health
Urinary tract issues are very common in cats and there are various foods that claim to address this. These products have low magnesium content and a recipe that is intended to lower the pH of the cat’s urinary tract, reducing the likelihood of kidney stones and discouraging infections. Along with plenty of water, this kind of dry food can be an acceptable choice for cats with urinary tract issues (although I would still prefer wet food rather than dry cat food for urinary health). Your vet may have recommended this type of food.
Hydration is likely to be an ongoing concern if you give your cat a diet of primarily dry food, whether it’s healthy in other ways or not. Cats are not thirst motivated; they evolved to get their fluid from their food. Many cats — most, even — have a tendency to become dehydrated without showing any outward signs of it. Over the long term, this can cause UTIs, kidney stones and other urinary issues. Make sure that your cat has plenty of water, with a water dish in every room where she hangs out. Keep her water dishes clean and change the water at least once per day. My favourite tool for improving kitty hydration is a pet water fountain, which provides a stream of clean water for your cat to lap up.
You can also increase hydration by offering fruit or vegetable snacks. Cats are obligate carnivores and don’t require vegetables for nutrition; however, cat-safe fruits and vegetables can be a useful source of additional fluid. Be aware that some common fruits and vegetables are toxic or just unhealthy for cats, such as grapes or onions. Safe foods include cucumber and cantaloupe melon.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.