How Often Should You Feed A Cat?

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A cat lays on the floor indoors. Both paws, eyes and ears are pointed directly up, looking at something just out of view

Find food that fits your pet’s needs

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Find a cat food that fits your pet’s needs

This is a great question and can actually make a big difference to the health and happiness of your cat.

When it comes to keeping pets, traditional views and practices can be difficult to move past. People tend to keep doing things just because that’s the way they’ve always been done. Since cats stopped being used for pest control and made their way into our homes and our hearts, there has been a tendency to feed them like dogs, with one or two meals a day. In fact this doesn’t suit your cat or their digestive tract very well.

Pet cats may have been domesticated for thousands of years, but they are still very similar in many ways to their wild ancestors and their wild-living, modern-day cousins. They are obligate carnivores, which means they have to have meat or meat products in their diet. They are hunters by nature and, as anyone whose cat has brought home a delightful “gift” will know, feeding them does nothing to remove this ingrained instinct. When cats fend for themselves, they spend hours and hours a day searching for prey and will eat between 10 and 20 small meals a day. Their digestive tract is relatively short, so eating little and often is what suits them best.

Obviously, a pet home is very different to the wild living scenario. Not many of our cats expend as much energy as they would when fending for themselves, and our busy lives pretty much rule out giving 20 meals a day! But we can do more to mimic a natural balance than one or two meals a day.

Feeding multiple meals a day

Ideally, cats should have several small meals a day. Between five and eight meals is ideal, depending on your cat and the food they eat. This helps keep them slim (if their daily ration isn’t exceeded), and keeps them interested and feeling fuller through the day. It also makes them less likely to pester you for food or steal food from worktops.

You may think that feeding multiple meals is impossible with our own busy lives, but timer feeders are a great resource to help with this. There are lots available that will give four to six meals a day.

Feeding and the bond with your cat

Giving food is one of the most important parts of the human-animal bond. We love to treat our pets and see them relish what we give them to eat. You may worry that timer feeders are going to take you out of the equation, but there are a couple of things to say about this.

Firstly, you can still give meals when you want to and just use the timer for when you’re out. You might decide to give the best meals of the day, like breakfast and pre-bedtime, yourself. If your cat has wet and dry food and the wet is a real treat, you get the glory of giving the favourite meals and the dry food stays fresh and tidy in the timer.

Secondly, sometimes timer feeders can really help you not seem like the bad guy. If your cat is on a weight loss regime, for example, your cat will stare at the timer feeder rather than at you when they’re wanting food, so you won’t feel so guilty! As cats don’t have a particular daily rhythm either, you can set your timer to feed your cat if they like to eat during the night so they don’t disturb your sleep.

In short…

Feeding five to eight meals a day is ideal for cats. You can feed in multiple locations to stimulate exercise, use puzzle feeders for some meals, or keep it simple with a timer. It all depends on your schedule and what your cat likes. Just make sure to check with your vet that the food your cat is on and the daily ration is right, and then you can decide how many meals would suit your individual cat best.

Reviewed by Dr. Hein Meyer, DVM, PhD, Dipl-ECVIM-CA