Making the Great Canned Food Switch
November 25, 2012 9:28 AM   Subscribe

Trying to figure out how much we really need to feed our cats. Hoping someone here can help because I've read everything and it sounds slightly as if I would be preparing my cats for careers as foie gras geese.

OK. So after the last adventure, one of the cats is happily back to kibble, and the other one is still being a prima donna. For various reasons, we're looking at swapping them over to all-wet-food. We're getting two of these feeders. They like the Newman's Own Organics Turkey (and it doesn't make the fat one sick, like Wellness unfortunately does). The last question we're trying to answer is how much they should be fed.

The Fat One (Daeva) weighs about 15 lbs that's honestly too much. The Rotundity is getting out of hand. Daksha weighs about 9.5 lbs now after having lost a leg to a cancerous land shark, and he seems a little skinny to me right now. So obviously, two different situations. They are littermates and will be 10 years old next April.

We have a couple big bags of their dry food I wouldn't mind getting through (Natural Balance Reduced Calorie). Daksha won't eat any more than about a 1/4 of a can at a time, plus a tablespoon or so of dry mixed in to slow him down from wolfing.

So. WHAT IS THE MAGIC FORMULA? The cans say 1 can per 6-8 lbs of body weight (so I guess that if your cat weighs anywhere from 9 to 12 lbs, 1.5 cans per day would be correct. However, there is nothing on there about age and activity level - they're getting to be middle aged and they are indoor - not a lot of activity. They play, but obviously less as they get older.

We'd like to feed 1, 5.5 oz can per day, 4x per day, plus a little kibble to make up whatever the deficit is - which I can't really figure out b/c the can doesn't say how many calories are in it. The dry food has about 22 calories per tablespoon.

According to this, I've calculated Daksha needs about 160 calories to maintain - I'd like him to gain just a smidge, so 165 calories a day looks like it might do it. Daeva needs to eat LESS THAN 220 calories a day to lose some chub.

So, after all that, questions as follows:
1. What are the calories in that can of cat food? I can't find it anywhere - is there some standard about # of calories per can that I'm just totally missing?

2. If 88 of their calories are made up by 4 tablespoons of kibble per day, is 1 can per day + 4 tablespoons enough for each cat (to help one maintain and one lose)?

Thank you in advance. Other information that might help you in your answers include that the cats treat collars like Houdini treated handcuffs, and SkinnyPants will very soon go through (another) period of needing to wear an e-collar unless he's supervised constantly.
posted by Medieval Maven to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What does their vet suggest?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:31 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a dog owner, not a cat owner, but in my experience the pet food companies tell you to feed your animal waaaay more than the animal needs. The first time I gave my dog canned food, I gave her 1/3 of what they recommended for her size and she came waddling out of the kitchen several minutes later so overfull that she couldn't walk properly around her distended belly.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 9:55 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I give each cat one 5.5oz can of wet food per day, half in the morning and half in the evening. All three, even the biggest, are sleek, lean and healthy.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:57 AM on November 25, 2012

Best answer: Newman's Own website lists the caloric value of their canned turkey cat food as 192 Kcal for the 5.5oz can.
posted by jamaro at 9:59 AM on November 25, 2012

My Digby gets half a can of fancy feast (yes, the small can) in the am and the other half when I get home from work. He also has about a half cup of dry food throughout the day. When I first got him he was a super tiny kitten and I had to fatten him up so he used to have all the dry he wanted, but I've pulled back as of late and it's down to half a cup if not less.

He also ascribes to the "red dot exercise program" where at least once daily we sit and play with his red laser dot toy; he actually jogs these "laps" back and forth through the kitchen and living room chasing after it in addition to the slower stalking of said red laser.
posted by NoraCharles at 10:03 AM on November 25, 2012

The volume of cat food your cat needs completely depends on how much filler there is. The better the food, the less volume. Here's a handy caloric chart (PDF).

To figure out the calories in their current food, you can either google it or multiply the grams of protein and carbohydrates in a serving by 4 and the fat by 9 to give you a quick calorie count.

Note: this is just a starting point, you can adjust once you see how they're doing on a given diet.
posted by zug at 10:11 AM on November 25, 2012

Response by poster: ARUGH. @jamaro I swear I looked all over that website and scoured the cans.

It seems like 1 can of food for skinny cat and 1 can + 1tb of dry for fat cat should do it. We can add the Tb to the midday feeding to slow her down so she has less of a chance to hassle skinny cat. Who of course eats more slowly.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:12 AM on November 25, 2012

The Newman's Own website is like a 90s wonderland in its poor navigability. Try googling for "[pet food brand name] ingredients kcal" and more often than not the right link will turn up.

I'm using a kibble ball to slow down the eating speed of my own fat cat with varying degrees of success.
posted by jamaro at 10:23 AM on November 25, 2012

Response by poster: I think 'kcal' was the term I was missing in my own Googling.

I wish a kibble ball would work, but she would just give up and go eat HIS food. And while he often gets away with bullying HER, even with three legs, he's never as hungry as she is, and will let her muscle in on his eating.

Additionally, since they had their brush with flowers (arugh) I have felt more and more that we need to be careful of their kidneys, and with the chilled feeders, we can do it.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:35 AM on November 25, 2012

If you are switching them to wet food, you might try raw food. There are no fillers so it seems like there is a natural weight maintenance, we have had our old chow cat on raw food for the last few months, all she can eat, and no weight gain. (We had her other on other food that required she be on a continuous extreme diet, no fun for anyone).

Our vet was initially against anything high-protein, due to her kidneys, but we decided to try it anyhow because she was doing so poorly. She just had her vet check-up and she looked so good (coat is better, dandruff is gone, arthritis is less, more alert and better muscle tone), the vet did not want to do her usually battery of tests.
posted by nanook at 10:43 AM on November 25, 2012

Vet vet vet. People on the internets can't answer this question adequately for you. If your vet won't discuss this with you to your satisfaction, ask a different vet.
posted by matildaben at 10:51 AM on November 25, 2012

Best answer: I use this tool to help me figure out how many calories my cat needs and how much to feed them. They have suggestions for both maintenance and weight loss. Weight gain, I imagine just add 10-20% in calories of whatever you would feed them for maintenance. Weight loss in cats is the same as people: calculate how many calories they need and subtract from that.

There are also calculators for helping you estimate the caloric content of your cat food if you can't find the specific information.

I helped my cats lose weight by feeding twice a day and putting them in separate rooms to eat. I even weigh their food on a food scale because I am anal about it. I give them 20-30 minutes to eat (e.g. the time it takes for me to get ready in morning) and then pick up the food. When they were used to constant feeding they whined at first but got used to the schedule. Even the stray cat who comes in from the backyard to get fed now knows when feeding times are.

Anyway, all the cats I've had have responded to this method and the only time they chub up is when I get lazy about measuring their food or don't keep them separate and one starts eating the other's leftovers.
posted by schroedinger at 11:24 AM on November 25, 2012

Your vet should be able to give you a specific answer. When we put our dogs on fancy canned food when they were sick, the vet gave me a handy computer printout that calculated the calories they needed and how much was in each can.
posted by radioamy at 11:49 AM on November 25, 2012

I suggest that you are perhaps thinking about this too hard.

Has either cat exhibited behavior indicative of an eating disorder, such as refusing food or gorging? If so, consult your vet.

But if not, then, well: cats are marvelously self-regulating little beasties. The answer to "how much should I feed them?" is "as much as they'll eat."

Free feed dry kibble, split a can of gushy food (sorry, that's what my cat calls it) between them.

Don't worry about it. They're cats. They don't obsess over their diets. Why should you?
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:13 PM on November 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

I just feed my dog less if I want her to lose weight and more if I want her to gain. So make one can your baseline and weigh the cats once a week. Adjust as needed.
posted by fshgrl at 12:14 PM on November 25, 2012

But if not, then, well: cats are marvelously self-regulating little beasties. The answer to "how much should I feed them?" is "as much as they'll eat."

Whoa, some cats are definitely not self-regulating. Have you had a fat cat? For a non-self-regulating cat free-feeding kibble is the best way to get them fatter. I did the free-feeding thing for a week when work was particularly busy and I wasn't always able to make it home, and in that week my poor chub cat put on nearly a pound (percentage-wise, it would be the equivalent of me packing on 10 pounds in a week).

There exists a not-insignificant growth in obesity in pets that mirrors the obesity explosion in humans precisely because of the preponderance towards free-feeding high-carb kibble.
posted by schroedinger at 12:57 PM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're right, schroedinger, but I'd rather have a fat cat than a dead one.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:08 PM on November 25, 2012

That's horrible BOP. But a cat so fat it can no longer clean itself or get up and down stairs is not a happy cat. My parents' cat lived out the last year-and-a-half of her life in the basement because her obesity contributed to pain in her joints and made it impossible for her to move well. Meanwhile, the moderate weight loss in two overweight cats I had resulted in increased energy and health. There is a happy medium between your vet's obviously fucked up recommendations and morbid obesity.

Most cat diet foods are high-carb, low-protein, and low-fat, which is pretty terrible for a carnivorous animal (what happens when you base cat diet food off of human fad diets). It's also true overweight cats are at risk of feline hepatic lipidosis if they lose weight too quickly. But a cat fed a high-protein, moderate-fat diet with a moderate decrease in calories is generally OK. For example that calculator I linked to subtracts about 10% of caloric needs to achieve weight loss, which is pretty reasonable.
posted by schroedinger at 1:36 PM on November 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: schroedinger: Thank you for the calculator. According to it, Newman's Own's calculations about how much energy is in their food is . . .off. I've been able to formulate a plan now that I can talk to my vet about, which is great.

I probably am over-thinking it, but whatever, I don't have kids, I have these cats.

Also: FHL is more or less my worst nightmare after the one we've already had (cancer) so trust me - I'd rather her be fat than anything else, but she really needs to lose 2-3 lbs. Slowly.
posted by Medieval Maven at 3:24 PM on November 25, 2012

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