How Much Food Does My Cat Need?

While most adult cats need around 250 calories per day, those needs vary based on the age, breed, size, activity level, and health of the cat.

Apr 10, 2024By Ryan Brennan
how much food does my cat need

According to VCA Animal Hospital, approximately 60% of all domestic cats in the United States are overweight. And, believe it or not, the most common culprit of cat obesity is the practice of free-feeding.

In fact, some studies find that anywhere from 50-60% of domestic cats are free-fed throughout the day.

That’s not to say you can’t free-feed your cat. But if you do, it’s important to watch your cat’s calorie intake – too much food can be detrimental to your little one’s health, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid!

Factors Affecting How Much to Feed Your Cat

orange cat food bowl

So, how much food does your cat need?

As much as I would love to give you a clear answer, that’s simply not possible. While most cats require around 250 calories per day (about ½ cup of food), those needs can change based on a variety of factors.

For example, your cat’s age, breed, size, activity levels, and health status could result in your cat needing more or less daily calories. And failing to meet those needs – well, let’s just say that welcomes problems.

Whether you’re a new cat owner who wants to do right by their furry friend or a veteran cat owner whose furry friend is starting to pack on weight, understanding how much food your cat needs is important.

So, let’s take a closer look at those factors!

A Cat’s Age

dry cat food gray cat

There are four primary life stages of a cat: kittens (less than one year), young adults (1-6 years), mature (7-10 years), and seniors (over 10 years). How much your cat eats will vary in each stage of their life.

Kittens are generally more active and still growing and developing, so they tend to require more calories – anywhere between 60 calories per pound of body weight split between at least three meals every day.

Young adults and mature cats aren’t as active and spend a lot of their day sleeping. Owners can get away with feeding them between 25 and 30 calories per pound of body weight, split between two meals daily.

Most healthy senior cats will have similar nutritional needs as adult cats, but that all depends on the cat’s health and whether it is suffering from any diseases or conditions – which we’ll discuss a little later.

A Cat’s Breed

woman feeding seven cats

All cats are different – even if they’re part of the same breed. With that said, some cat breeds are more prone to putting on a little extra weight, while others are less likely to gain a few pounds – even if they overeat.

If you own a shorthair (domestic, American, and British), domestic longhair, Maine coon, or Manx, then you might want to keep a closer eye on your cat’s weight – they’re all known for packing the pounds.

Meanwhile, some studies show that Persian and Birman cats are less likely to put on excess pounds.

You should also consider that some breeds tend to be bigger (like Maine Coons) and/or more active (Abyssinian or Balinese cats) than others – but we’ll discuss these two factors in more detail below.

A Cat’s Size

cat eating out of bowl

There are two things to consider here – your cat’s natural frame and their ideal body weight.

In most cases, cats with a bigger frame require more calories per day than a cat with a smaller frame – even if they’re the same breed. This is important because, like humans, cats come in various sizes.

As far as weight is concerned, I suggest speaking with your veterinarian to determine your cat’s ideal weight – it’s different for all cats and varies based on a lot of the same factors (age, breed, activity, etc.).

In general, a cat below its ideal weight requires more calories, whereas a cat above its ideal weight requires a diet.

For example, let’s say your cat’s ideal weight is eight pounds, and desired calorie intake is 250 calories. If your cat weighs six pounds, try feeding it 300 calories. If your cat is 10 pounds, go for 200 calories.

A Cat’s Activity Level

black white cats eating outside

Your cat’s activity levels play an important role in their dietary needs. A cat who’s constantly on the hunt (whether it’s a mouse or a laser) will require more daily calories – while a cat who sleeps all day won’t.

It’s the same concept as humans – the more active you are, the more calories you burn. And if you don’t replenish those calories, you’ll start losing unnecessary weight and lack the energy needed to function.

That said, this really boils down to whether your cat is an outdoor cat (which is generally more active than its counterpart) or an indoor cat (which tends to spend most of its day sleeping or lying down).

Another thing to keep in mind: most recommendations on cat food labels are for outdoor/active cats. If your cat sleeps all day (which most cats do), feed it less than what’s recommended to avoid obesity.

A Cat’s Overall Health

gray cat chewing food

The health of your cat significantly influences how much you should feed it, as nutritional needs are subject to change if your cat is dealing with an illness, disorder, injury, disease, or health condition.

For example, cats with diabetes need a more consistent eating schedule and often require fewer calories to induce weight loss. Your vet will likely recommend a low-carbohydrate diet to meet those needs.

Cats with a parasite might need to eat more to compensate for the calories lost to the disease. Likewise, a sick cat might lose its appetite and eat less, but it will temporarily eat more as it continues to recover.

If your cat is struggling with a feline health condition, don’t hesitate to ask your veterinarian if you should change their eating patterns – including how much they eat, how often they eat, and – of course – what they eat.

Wet Cat Food vs. Dry Cat Food

orange cat wet food bowl

Whether you feed your cat wet food or dry food won’t change how much you feed your cat – as long as your cat hits their calorie goal, it doesn’t really matter if they eat wet food, dry food, or a hybrid of both.

That said, there are some clear pros and cons to each. Wet food generally contains more protein than dry food and also contains water, which is preferred for feline friends who often struggle with cat dehydration.

On the other hand, dry food is a lot easier to maintain because it can be left in a bowl longer without going bad. This is ideal for cats who free-feed – though most experts recommend avoiding free-feeding cats.

Since there are benefits to each, we recommend a combination of both wet and dry food – personally, I like to use wet food as a ‘cheat day.’ If he has been a good boy lately, I’ll give him a ‘wet food day.’

How Long Can Cats Go Without Food?

cat nibble overflowing bowl

Feeding your cat isn’t just about how much you feed them, but also how often you feed them.

While most cats can technically go three to four days without food (maybe longer if they have a water supply), we obviously don’t want to put them through that type of experience – it could be fatal, after all.

Ideally, most kittens are fed small portions three to four times daily. Adult cats can get away with one or two feedings per day, while senior cats only need to be fed once – as long as they get enough calories.

If you’re still having trouble figuring out how much to feed your cat, speak with your veterinarian. They know your cat just as well as you and can tailor their recommendations to better meet its dietary needs.

Ryan Brennan
By Ryan Brennan

Ryan is a content writer with 10+ years of experience in the field. He is the proud owner of a white domestic short-haired cat with black spots named Jaxx - he looks like a cow, but acts and sounds like a cat. They enjoy doing laps around the house with a laser pointer and snuggling when it’s time for bed. Ryan hopes to give Jaxx a puppy friend someday.