The actual amount of food a cat needs varies among cats of equal weight because of differences in metabolic rate and activity level. Labels only provide guidelines—the actual amount to feed must be customized to the individual cat. Spayed and neutered cats have a much lower metabolism than intact cats.
How much to feed an adult cat?
Generally, an active adult cat will need about 30 to 35 calories per pound of body weight per day, and some will do well with about 25 calories per pound per day. An inactive cat will need about 18 calories per pound of body weight per day. Even if they are active, many spayed and neutered cats do very well on the lower calorie estimate.
Pregnant and nursing cats have much higher requirements—figure about 45 calories per pound of body weight per day during the last trimester of pregnancy and as high as 140 calories per pound during the peak of lactation.
The bottom line on feeding requirements is that each cat is an individual. You need to look at your cat objectively and determine the correct amount of food based on her activity level and metabolic rate, as well as the nutrient density of the food you feed her.
Cats vary widely in the amount of food required to maintain normal body weight and should be fed whatever is necessary to maintain the ideal body condition. This means the ribs cannot be seen but are easily felt, and the abdomen is trim but not flabby. Older, sedentary cats require fewer calories than the amounts indicated in the table, while active cats require more. Considerably more food is required for nonmaintenance activities, such as pregnancy and lactation.
Select several nutritionally complete cat foods and offer them one at a time to your cat for several days in succession. Note which ones your cat seems to like best. Having found two or three products acceptable to your cat, use them interchangeably to provide variety and appetite appeal. This is also a good idea in case of food recalls so that your cat will eat another food.
Cats may be fed free choice, where dry food is available at all times, if the cat is active and maintains good body condition. (Canned products should be fed twice a day, at the same time each day, and left out for just 20 minutes. After that, throw away what hasn’t been eaten in the cat’s dish). If your cat tends toward obesity, however, food should not be left down free choice. Even dry food can be put out for just 10 or 15 minutes two or three times a day.
There are advantages to feeding meals. You will know how much your cat is eating and whether your cat is eating at all. Regular meals give the cat something to look forward to. For a cat on medication, feeding meals makes it easier to sneak in pills in treats. Cats with health problems such as diabetes may need to be on regimented feeding schedules. Regular meals in a multicat household enable you to monitor and make sure timid cats are not being bullied away from their food. (Of course, each cat must have her own dish).