How often should you feed a cat

How often should you feed your cat? It’s a question first-time cat owners struggle with a lot, just as people who have finally decided to give scheduled feeding a try.

We feed our cats three times a day, but that does not necessarily mean you should too. Above all, 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.

cat waiting for dinned according to his schedule
“According to my schedule, it is dinner time!” Photo by Mihail Ulyannikov.

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 two to 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 one manages to catch that many mice, that is. The main point here is that cats have naturally evolved to be animals that eat small meals. For example, one mouse at a time, but regularly. Ten meals? Why not, but, of course, it wouldn’t be practical.

The reality is that we usually suggest two to four meals per day, as this both avoid leaving too large a gap between meals and is also convenient enough for an owner to provide. Two is the compromise, though the best option would be three. Erm… isn’t that too much?

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 hard 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 lunch.

A nice feeding schedule for a cat eating three daily meals would be:

  1. In the morning, before you leave home
  2. In the evening, as you return
  3. At night, just before you go to bed

If you are home, then yes, you could fit in one more meal at midday. If you go away early and return late, then, obviously, a three-meal schedule is not suitable for your situation.

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 at your cat food packaging for recommended feeding guidelines. What you’ll see there is a range of a daily amount of food necessary for a cat, depending on his weight.

Our suggestion is to start with the lowest amount listed on the package, and then modify it accordingly. If your cat loses or gains weight or is showing signs of starvation — increase the amount slightly.

IMPORTANT: If your cat is overweight, check our series about obesity in cats. In it you will learn how to tell if your cat is obese; how to determine a “normal weight” for your cat; how to put your cat on a diet; and you will find tips on how to achieve this weight.

Divide the recommended daily amount of food into three (or two) 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 pour part of food from this cup at each mealtime, and deliver the remaining amount at the last meal of the day.

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 naturally, 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, 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.