how to feed a cat

It’s important for new pet owners to learn how to feed a cat the proper food to avoid some of the common mistakes many owners make in the beginning. Reading the feeding guidelines on a cat food’s package often doesn’t offer much information, so you’ll need to do your own research to learn what to feed your cat and how much. There are many factors that will come into play when determining what type of food to feed your cat. In this guide, I’ll go over those factors, the importance of healthy food and what to look for in a new food for your feline.

Following a Healthy Diet

Feeding cats the proper food is crucial for growth and development. To keep your cat healthy, you must do the following:

  • Feed your cat based on veterinarian recommendations and feeding guidelines
  • Adjust the amount of food your cats eat accordingly
  • Keep track of how much your cat weighs
  • Evaluate your pet’s physical condition. Are your cats inactive?
  • Switch food if your cat shows signs of allergies or they are obese.
  • Try to offer a food cats prefer, such as canned, if you have a stubborn cat who refuses kibble and is underweight
  • If your cat is underweight, make sure they have access to food and that the family dogs are not eating their kibble when you’re not around
  • If you have many cats at home, place several bowls of food out, with plenty of space in between, so there is no fighting and other cats in the home are not able to eat another cat’s meal.

A Natural Diet

If you have multiple cats in the home, ensuring they eat natural food will be essential to their health. Both a kitten and adult feline love to eat natural food that they would enjoy in the wild. Some cats may even still frequently hunt when they’re allowed outdoors for playtime. As a responsible feline owner, you need to offer food that is similar to what a cat would eat in the wild, with the added benefits of certain supplements such as healthy fats and taurine. Natural food often consists mainly of meat, with very little carbs.

Choosing the Best Cat Food

man feeding his pet

Making the switch to the best cat food for your feline can have a major impact on your cat’s overall health and whether you’re feeding your cats kibble or wet food. Of course, if you’re a new pet owner, then finding the perfect cat chow for your cats can take plenty of research. Fortunately, most manufacturers have made the process a little easier by labeling the age range for each type of food. So, if you have an obese senior, make the switch from an adult cat chow to a formula designed specifically for older cats. If you have an adult, choose a formula designed for adults. If your cat is seriously overweight, purchasing a weight control formula can keep your cat thriving and can prevent them from packing on the pounds.

If you have kittens, you should be feeding them food that’s specifically formulated to promote healthy growth and development.

Speak with Your Vet

If you don’t know what type of formula you should be feeding your cats, a veterinarian is the best source of information concerning food options based on how much your cat weighs, breed, size, and unique needs. Speak with your vet regularly regarding any concerns you may have and how you can help your pet to maintain the ideal weight.

How to Feed a Cat

There are four common feeding methods that pet owners use.

This includes:

  • Meal feeding
  • Time-limited feeding
  • Free feeding
  • Smaller, frequent meals

Free Feeding Your Cat

Free feeding your cat involves leaving out a bowl of kibble so that there is food available at all times. In some cases, feeding a cat throughout the day is necessary, especially if the cat is underweight, prone to low blood sugar, or you want to boost their metabolism.

Time-Limited Feeding

This method works as exactly as it sounds. You’ll leave a bowl of food out for your cats for  a certain amount of time. Make sure you stay on top of your cats feeding time and give them food at the same time each day.

Meal Feeding

Meal feeding consists of measuring the kibble and giving cats a bowl of food on a schedule, at specific meal times every day. Typically, this is done twice a day. Keeping a cat on a feeding schedule can be very beneficial for cats who are struggling with obesity. Some cats may have become obese because they previously had food available at all times. Obese cats need a more structured meal time and schedule, to prevent them from eating around the clock, when they’re not really hungry.

Often, owners will create their feline’s feeding schedule depending on their own, which can be problematic for cats that are overweight or underweight.

Small Meals

In some cases, offering multiple small meals will work for cats who overeat or cats who don’t eat enough. Feeding a cat multiple small meals several times a day can boost their metabolism if they’re overweight. In underweight cats, feeding multiple small meals can give them more opportunities to eat and achieve the recommended daily caloric intake. How often you feed a cat and how much will depend on each feline’s needs, weight, and age. There are many benefits to offering smaller meals. However, if you are not home often enough then this type of feeding option, then following it correctly may not be possible.

Feeding Cats Treats

While it may be tempting to give your cats table scraps, human food doesn’t provide cats with the right balance of nutrients that they need for immune, skin, and coat health. Additionally, feeding your cats mainly table scraps can lead to obesity if they tend to eat human food more so than their kibble or canned foods. If you keep cat treats on hand, even low calorie treats for cats should be given sparingly. Cats that eat treats as part of their regular diet can end up overweight. Obesity is very common in cats that are not very active.

Healthy treats, such as whole meat, veggies, and low-calorie processed treats, can be fine if your cat is only eating them one to two times a day.

The Senior Stage of Life

senior cat eating cat food

Around seven to eight years of age your cat will reach the senior stage of life. Their nutritional needs will change, and you may find that they’re not eating as often as they used to. During this time, some vets may recommend keeping a regular feeding schedule of twice a day, using their normal dry food, unless they have lost or gained weight. If your cat is obese or underweight, your veterinarian may want to run some tests to rule out diabetes or hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.

They may also suggest free feeding if your cat is experiencing a lack of appetite. In this case, try to give healthy foods cats like, such as lean sources of protein rich foods. Never free feed obese seniors, unless recommended by their veterinarian. Vets usually advise against free feeding because it’s a common cause of obesity. Additionally, it makes it harder to determine how much food a cat is eating daily, especially if there are dogs in the home that often get caught eating the cat chow.

Age-Appropriate Options

Choosing food for cats based on age will be crucial. For example, kittens will require more meat per pound of body weight in order to support healthy growth and development. Unlike adult cats, a kitten will benefit from frequent feedings throughout the day. A growing cat up to six months of age will often require three feedings per day.

Once cats reach adulthood at one year of age, you will only need to feed cats twice a day.

You should feed cats over seven years of age twice daily.

Cat Health & Changes in Behavior

cats eating cat food

A cat that is fed a diet that contains whole ingredients with lean animal protein sources will often thrive and will be less likely to become obese in their senior years. A cat that’s fed the wrong diet can suffer from complications as they grow older. A feline has very different dietary requirements compared to dogs and other domesticated animals. Many prefer food that mimics the taste and scent of their usual prey, however, if a vet says you must switch to a low-calorie kibble formula, you’ll need to follow their recommendations, especially if your feline has developed serious health issues because they were fed the wrong food for most of their life.

Rule Out Medical Conditions

If you notice a change in your feline’s behavior, including unwanted behaviors such as inappropriate elimination, overeating, or aggressive behavior, your cat may be dealing with an underlying illness. While their food most likely isn’t to blame, certain health conditions can be exacerbated if they’re on the wrong diet. This can include irritable bowel disease, UTIs, diabetes, and thyroid issues.

While it can be hard to give up a food your cat likes, in favor of meals that consist of foods that make up a well-balanced diet, your feline’s health is crucial. Free feeding or offering too many meals per day can cause a variety of health issues.

If your cat is diagnosed with certain health issues, such as diabetes, they may need to be fed meals based on when their insulin is administered.

Hyperthyroidism and Hypothyroidism in Cats

If your cat has been diagnosed with an overactive thyroid, they may feel hungry all the time and will resort to eating several meals a day. This constant eating will continue to be an issue until they receive hormone replacement therapy, which is basically synthetic thyroid hormones that are designed to regulate the level of thyroid hormones in the body. Once this condition is under control, a cat will no longer feel hungry all the time and can be fed their regular diet. In fact, a skinny cat suffering from an overactive thyroid will soon begin to gain weight, once they undergo thyroid hormone therapy.

Healthy cats can continue to be fed their usual food intake of two feedings a day, unless instructed otherwise by their vet. Some cats may need small portions of food throughout the day if a vet is concerned that the feline is not receiving adequate nutrition.

What’s the Right Food for My Cat?

cat eating wet food

Cats often enjoy a can of wet cat chow because its taste closely resembles that of the prey they hunt in the wild. This kind of food is very appealing to cats of all ages. Of course, there are also plenty of benefits that come with feeding cats kibble. Every animal is different and should be fed food depending on whether you’re raising kittens, you have adults, or you have seniors. All animals will have a food they prefer, however, just because a cat prefers a certain kind of food or meat doesn’t mean it’s good for them.


Most feline owners turn to kibble, especially if they have multiple cats at home. Dry food is a good option as long as the formula is balanced and complete. Dry food is also more affordable compared to canned food and tends to stay fresh longer. Cats that only eat dry food will need to have plenty of fresh water available, especially if the cat is prone to urinary tract problems.

Canned Food

It can be very expensive to feed a feline canned food, especially if you have multiple cats at home. Canned food contains around seventy to eighty percent of water and can be given in addition to dry or it can be given alone. Many cats find wet food more palatable but may consume too much if they’re allowed access to it at all times.

Cats can be very picky. Many cats prefer wet food because it closely mimics foods in the wild. As with kibble, when cats are on a wet food diet, a pet owner should closely monitor their food intake and adjust it accordingly if their pet is not gaining enough or if the cat is overweight.

Common Feeding Mistakes

eating cat food for sensitive stomach

Many pet owners will make simple mistakes when feeding their cats, whether it’s giving too many treats, not practicing portion control, or not keeping an eye on their feline’s food intake. Cats can be very fickle about what they eat and how often. If you have recently adopted a cat, he or she may be used to foods that are very different from what your cats normally eat. In fact, it can be difficult to switch a cat that has had a diet that consisted mainly of wet food to kibble for most of their life.

Below, you’ll find a list of the common mistakes many new cat owners make when it comes to feeding their cats.


The most common mistake is overfeeding cats, whether it’s dry food or wet food. While an overweight cat may be cuddlier, obesity is often linked to other health issues in cats, including:

  • Urinary tract disease
  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes

So, how much dry food should you be feeding cats? Veterinarians often recommend giving cats twenty-four to thirty-five calories per pound, daily. This will keep cats at a healthy, normal weight.

Giving a Cat Dry Food Only

Another major mistake that new owners make when feeding their cats is offering dry food only, which can lead to dehydration Most cats will not voluntarily drink water. Because cats naturally produce urine that’s highly concentrated, a lack of water is basically just setting the stage for urinary tract problems later down the line.

When a cat is constantly struggling with UTIs, most vets will recommend feeding your cat wet cat chow, since it contains seventy to eighty percent moisture.

Not Offering Enough Water

Water is vital to cats and can account for up to seventy percent of a feline’s body weight. Dehydration can have critical repercussions for cats, causing a serious illness or even death. Cats prefer fresh water, so adding more water bowls around the home can help increase their daily water intake. If your cat is very stubborn, then making the switch to wet food may be the best option.

Pay close attention to where your cat spends most of their time and make sure there are a couple of fresh water sources in this area. When feeding your cat, set out a fresh dish of water next to their food bowl.

Offering a Vegan or Vegetarian Diet

Cats have evolved over the centuries and are obligate carnivores. This means their meal plan mainly consists of meat, but they can also digest carbs. This doesn’t mean it’s okay to turn your cat into a vegetarian or vegan. As a responsible pet owner, it’s important, when feeding cats, to feed them the foods nature intended and not choose your cat’s foods based on your ethics. A vegan or vegetarian food can lead to a wide range of health problems in cats, even if you end up purchasing a commercial vegan or vegetarian cat chow. The lack of taurine in these pet foods can cause blindness, heart problems, and even death.

The lack of essential nutrients in this type of meal plan can also lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. A cat’s body needs nutrients that are derived from meats, such as poultry and fish. As a responsible pet owner, it’s important that you do what’s best for your cat and feed them the appropriate diet.

College of Veterinary Medicine

cat taking a pill

According to the CVM, reading the nutrition label on bags or cans of food is the absolute best way that pet owners can ensure the food they are feeding their cats is loaded with all the right nutrients. These labels contain important nutritional information that is regulated by the FDA and AFFCO.

The ingredients in feline food are listed based on the quantity of each ingredient. For example, if the protein source, such as chicken, is listed as the first ingredient, this indicates that the formula has a high chicken content. Feeding cats healthy pet food can be a challenge if you don’t do the proper research and pay close attention to the ingredients listed on the cans or bag of food.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to feed a cat the proper diet is crucial to their health. A poor diet can lead to multiple health issues, such as failure to thrive in kittens, vitamin and mineral deficiencies in adults, urinary tract issues, and digestive upset. If you’re still not sure which kind of food will work the best for your cat and meet your cat’s needs, and which formula offers the type of nutrients your cat needs to thrive, speak with your vet. Your vet will be able to recommend a great food for you cat based on your specific cat’s age, weight, and nutritional needs.