How often should I feed my cat?

Young black cat waits to be fed.
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Question:

How often should I feed my cat?

Answer:

There is no quick and easy answer to the frequency with which a given cat or kitten should be fed, as the age and relative health of your cat, how many cats you have,  your own home environment, as well as the type of food you feed, will  all play a large part in how you handle feeding. For example, a stay-at-home caregiver will be able to feed canned food to kittens or geriatric cats several times a day.

On the other hand, a single, working owner or a two-income family will rely more on dry cat food, with early-morning and late-night supplements of canned food.

Frequency to Feed Kittens Canned Food

Kittens need roughly twice the nutrients of adult cats, for both growth and energy. Obviously, their tummies cannot handle large quantities of food. Therefore, much like human babies, they need frequent feedings at first, tapering off as they grow. It is important during this time to weigh the kittens regularly, to ensure they are gaining regularly, but not becoming overly fat. Their hunger will usually be a pretty good guideline for determining if they are getting enough nutrition.

As a rule, kittens under six weeks old should remain with the mother cat. If this is impossible, a kitten may be fed by bottle between four and six weeks old. Alternatively, the kitten can at five weeks old, be gradually introduced to a good canned kitten food, mixed with equal parts of a "kitten formula" such as KMR. (Kitten Milk Replacer).

Note: I do not advise giving kittens whole milk, as many cats are allergic to it. As the kitten approaches six weeks old, the amount of KMR can be gradually reduced, until the kitten is eating canned food alone. 

Note: These guidelines refer to feedings of canned food; dry food will be addressed later.

  • At 6 Weeks: Four or more small feedings, spaced regularly throughout the day. Be sure to weigh the kitten regularly, and record his or her weight in a dated chart to keep track of its development. 
  • 12 Weeks: Increase the amount of each meal, and gradually space them out to three meals a day.
  • Around 6 Months:You may gradually space out the meals to twice daily.

Adult Cats

Unless a kitten is showing excessive weight gain, he is considered an "adult" at the age of one year, and for the next nine years or so, may be fed adult "maintenance" food twice daily, with supplements of dry food when needed, as listed below.

Dry Food

Dry food is more for the convenience of the caregiver than for the nutritional needs of the cat. This subject is discussed more fully in the article on Canned Cat Food. However, in the past, cats have lived long and happy lives on an exclusive diet of dry foods, and for working caregivers, adult cats may be fed a meal of canned food morning and night, with dry food left out for "grazing."

Geriatric and Special Needs Cats

Older cats and "special needs" cats with conditions requiring specific dietary needs may need to be fed more often. It is best with these cats to follow your veterinarian's directions for feeding, both to schedule and type of food.

For more information on cat food and nutrition, see the topics listed below.