People who acquire their first cat, or who finally decide to give scheduled feeding a try, may feel clueless with questions such as how often should they feed their cat. Above all, you must remember that feeding a cat is not a “paint by numbers” process, and you will always be able to come up with a solution that suits both your cat’s nutritional needs and your schedule.
In this article, you will learn not only how often you should feed your cat, but also how much food you should give to a cat and whether free-choice feeding might be an acceptable choice for your situation.
A cat should be fed at least three meals per day…
…if he or she is on fixed schedule meals, but “at least” means that the more, the better.
Seriously, in the wild, a cat may eat even up to ten meals per day, if he can catch that many mice, that is. The main point here is that cats have naturally evolved to be animals that eat small meals, like one mouse at a time, but on a regular basis. Ten meals? Why not?
The reality is that we usually suggest three or four meals per day, as this both avoids leaving too large a gap between meals and is also convenient enough for an owner to provide.
Aren’t three meals too much for a cat owner to provide?
The main concern about suggesting three meals is that it may be too much for an owner to handle. People often say, “I am not ready to provide lunch for my cat at the midday. I have a job and am not coming home just to feed a cat.” The truth is, they don’t have to. Your cat will do well, even without the lunch.
A great feeding schedule for a cat eating three daily meals would be:
- In the morning, before you leave home
- In the evening, as you return
- At night, just before you go to bed
If you are home, then yes, you could fit in one more meal at midday.
How much food should you give your cat for each meal?
The next question is “How much should you feed your cat?” The best way to answer this question is to look on your cat food packaging for recommended feeding guidelines. What you see there will be a range of a daily amount of food necessary for a cat, depending on his weight.
Our suggestion is to start with the lower amount listed on the package, and then modify it accordingly, if your cat loses or gains weight or is showing signs of starvation.
IMPORTANT: If your cat is overweight, here are our series about obesity in cats, in which you will learn how to tell if your cat is obese, how to determine a “normal weight” for your cat, and featuring tips on how to achieve this weight.
Divide the recommended daily amount of food into three (or four) parts and feed this amount to your cat during each meal. We find it convenient to measure the amount in the morning, placing it in a measuring cup to keep it separate from the rest of the food. Then, you can use this cup at mealtimes, measuring as you go and pouring all of the remaining food out at the last meal of the day. You can give some treats in between meals, or during training. Never worry about overfeeding your cat with treats.
Can you free-feed a cat?
It is possible to pour a large bowl full of dry food and let your cat choose when to eat on his own? Wouldn’t such a setting provide her the ability to eat in a natural way, maybe up to ten meals at times, when she wants it?
In the perfect world, yes. You can free-feed a cat. Studies suggest that cats and dogs can monitor their food intake adequately under several circumstances: the cat must be healthy and his activity levels must be much higher than average indoor cats nowadays have.
You can also monitor your cat’s food intake yourself, by adding only as much food as is necessary per day. The sad thing is that you can only do this if you feed dry food (read about why wet food is better for cats here), and you can only have one cat. If you free-feed more than one cat, it becomes impossible to ensure that all cats get an even share. You can read about other benefits of fixed scheduled meals here.
So, how often do you feed your cat? What is your reasoning behind this choice? Are you trying to meet your cat’s needs, or do you try to find an approach that also suits your schedule? We don‘t think there’s anything wrong with either approach.