How Much Food Should I Feed My Cat?

According to a May 2014 survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, over half of American pets are overweight or obese.

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The survey found that almost 53 percent of dogs and a whopping 58 percent of cats were packing too many pounds. And, just as with humans, an obese pet is at increased risk of many added health problems, including diabetes, heart problems, joint disease, respiratory problems, increased risks during surgery, and a shortened lifespan.

It may be hard to believe, but many owners are unaware that they have an overweight or obese cat. Pounds can creep up on a cat, year after year and the owner doesn’t notice. Or, the owner may think that “bigger is better.” Some cat lovers are proud of having a very large cat or think that their cat has “big bones” so it’s okay for him to weigh more. However, in most cases, cats simply weigh more because their humans feed them more. Most cats also get less exercise and become less active as they get older, meaning they use fewer calories in their food. The calories that were burned off in play when the cat was a young adult are stored as fat as the cat gets older and lives a more sedentary lifestyle.

How many calories does your cat need?

In order to maintain a healthy weight, cats need different amounts of calories at different periods in their lives. Other factors also come into play such as how active the cat is, whether s/he is spayed/neutered, your cat’s ideal weight, and his overall health and condition. For example, a cat that has been through a severe illness or trauma may require extra calories to help him recover. A 5-lb kitten after weaning may need 200 calories per day since kittens use a lot of energy while they grow. But a fit, lean adult cat weighing 10 pounds may only need 280 calories per day since adult cats use less energy than growing kittens.

If your cat needs to lose or gain weight, you can use these daily calorie guidelines as a target. Keep in mind that cats don’t usually enjoy dieting any more than people do. If your cat is several pounds overweight because you have been giving him twice as many calories as he needs, it’s not a good idea to cut your cat back to minimum calories overnight. Your cat is not going to be very happy with you if you do. It’s better to work on slow weight loss and cut back on your cat’s calories gradually. Try to aim for 2 to 3 percent loss of body weight per week. This may not sound like much – it may only be a couple of ounces of weight for your cat. But the weight loss will add up and it will be easier for your cat to sustain without being miserable (or making you miserable).

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If your cat needs to lose more than just a small amount of weight, we suggest that you consult your veterinarian before you begin a weight loss regimen. Your vet can help you determine your cat’s ideal weight and make sure that your cat doesn’t have any health problems contributing to his weight problems.

Figuring calories for your cat

The calorie estimates provided here are simply government estimates based on research. For the most part, these are the same figures that cat food companies use when they give feeding suggestions on their labels. There are more precise ways to figure how many calories your cat needs per day but they involve a little math on your part.

Most adult domestic cats should ideally weight around 10 to 12 pounds. (There are exceptions, of course. Ask your veterinarian if you are not sure about what your cat’s ideal weight should be.) You can use your cat’s ideal weight for this formula to determine how many calories to feed per day:

Ideal weight in pounds divided by 2.2 will give you your cat’s ideal weight in kilograms (kg);

Calculate your cat’s Resting Energy Requirements (RER) based on this ideal weight; then use this formula:

70 x [(ideal weight in kg)] ¾ or 70 x [(ideal weight in kg) to the ¾ power]

Or, you can use this formula:

Calculate your cat’s Resting Energy Requirements (RER) based on his ideal weight; then use this formula:

RER in kcal/day = 30(ideal or target body weight in kilograms) + 70

Both of these formulas will give you the same result.

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To help your cat lose weight you can use multiply the Resting Energy Rate (RER) by 0.8 to find out how many calories your cat needs per day.

For example, if your cat’s ideal weight is 8 pounds, you would divide 8 by 2.2 to get 3.64 kilograms for your cat’s ideal weight, then multiply by 30 and add 70 to get approximately 180 calories. To find out how many calories your cat needs to lose weight, multiply 180 calories times 0.8 to get 143. This would be the recommended number of calories to help your cat reach his ideal weight of 8 pounds, though you can use your best judgment. You don’t have to feed exactly 143 calories. Remember that every cat is different.

If your cat’s ideal weight is 12 pounds you would divide 12 by 2.2 and get 5.45 kilograms for your cat’s ideal weight. Then multiply by 30 (163.6) and add 70 to get 233.6 calories per day. If your cat needed to lose some weight to reach this ideal weight, you would multiply 233 times 0.8 to get 186 calories per day.

(We didn’t create these formulas. We know that most Americans don’t use or like kilograms. Yes, it is a pain to have to convert things between kilograms and pounds. Some of us are also math-challenged but we do these things because we love our pets.)

How to find calorie information on your cat food packaging

Now that you know how many calories your cat needs, where can you find the calorie information on a can of cat food? Well, truthfully, you may not be able to find it. According to the FDA, AAFCO has created voluntary calorie statements for pet food manufacturers to include on their labels. Some companies include them on their labels and some don’t. To be fair, if you pick up a tiny can of cat food, there is not much room to include calorie information after the company has already given all of the information that they are required by law to put on the label. But there is no good reason why companies shouldn’t give calorie information on bags of food where there is more space.

You can still find calorie information for most cat foods on company web sites, along with their AAFCO nutritional statements, guaranteed analysis, ingredients, and feeding suggestions. Simply go to a company’s web site and browse around until you find the food that interests you. This is also a good way to find out more about a food and the company that makes it.

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When you are reading calorie information on a company web site, do be careful about how the information is provided. Some companies will say that the food contains X number of calories per cup; while others will tell you that the food contains X number of calories per can – and the size of the can may vary. It could be a 3 ounce can, or a 5.5 ounce can, or a 12.7 ounce can. Make sure that you are comparing containers of similar size so you can really tell how many calories per ounce the food has. If you are comparing a canned food to a dry food, you will need to do a comparison of the dry matter of the food, with the moisture removed.

If you have looked on a company web site and you still can’t find how many calories a food contains, you can call the company and ask them. This kind of information should be easily available to all consumers and they should provide it to you without any hesitation.

Feeding your cat

When you know how many calories are in a food and how many calories your cat needs, then it becomes easy to feed your cat the right amount of food. It’s always up to you whether you choose a canned or dry food. Some people prefer to feed 2-3 small meals per day and others like to leave some food down for their cat so he can eat when he feels like it. While we usually tell people not to free feed dogs because it can lead to weight gain, we concede that cats are a little different. If you and your cat like free feeding, that’s up to you. However, do pay attention to how much food you are putting down and don’t let your cat overeat. It’s also important to watch the treats. They often contain lots of calories. Try to find some healthy treats for your cat that don’t have as many calories so he won’t add inches to his waistline. And as always… feed you cat a quality cat food with lots of real meat.

Carlotta Cooper

Carlotta Cooper is a freelance writer and a long-time contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine, Dog News. She is the author of The Dog Adoption Bible, the Dog Writers Association of America Adoptashelter.com award-winner for 2013. Additionally, Carlotta is the author of Canine Cuisine: 101 Natural Dog Food & Treat Recipes to Make Your Dog Health and Happy, as well as other books about pets. She is a guest writer for numerous website and blogs and a frequent pet food reviewer.

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