Am I starving my cat?
December 7, 2012 9:07 AM   Subscribe

How much to feed my cat? My vet tells me half a 5oz. - 6oz. can twice a day, the can of cat food says one can twice a day. I can find backup online for either statement. Help?

10lb active male 3 year old indoor cat. Used to be dry fed is now attempting to steal our food which was never a behavior issue when he was on free fed dry food. Is also aggressively waking us up in the morning to be feed and body slamming when we come home. He seems hungry, basically. I've started doing one full can in the morning and a half can at night, as some sort of weird compromise.
posted by edbles to Pets & Animals (25 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Try a different vet? It totally depends on the size of the cat, age, etc. so I wouldn't go by the can, but half a can seems really low. I have a 10 pound five year old and a six pound one year old, and the vet says they are on target weight wise because the five year old is just...bigger. Broader, taller, etc but not overweight. They are both very active indoor cats.

I give them both two cans in the morning and two cans at night, and supplement with a few handfuls of dry food, because they are such monsters in the bowl that I have no idea who's getting how much and the five year old ended up sick and I was worried he hadn't been getting enough.

If he seems hungry he well might be, bring this up with the vet or get another opinion. My instinct is one can a day is too little.
posted by sweetkid at 9:14 AM on December 7, 2012

Best answer: I recently asked this question and got pointed to this great tool which helped me work out the caloric requirements for a cat of my various cats' sizes.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:16 AM on December 7, 2012 [15 favorites]

My kitties (both normal weight) each get a 5.5 ounce can in the morning and one at night. They are very active (4 years old and 10 months) and chase each other all day long. I should note that the 4 year old has asthma and is very insistent on eating on her schedule.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:16 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I feed our cats one can a day each -- so that's half a can per cat for two meals a day. I think the younger, more active cat would like to be eating more, but his weight is stable (he was previously getting pretty heavy) and he's healthy. I may up it a little, and give him 3/4 of a can instead just so he's marginally less irritating to be around in the hours before I feed him, but I don't think he really needs it.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:18 AM on December 7, 2012

Look at your cat: If his stomach bulges out more than his ribcage, you're feeding him too much. If its concave, you're feeding too little. Something like the bottom of this web page (Appendix 3: Body Condition Chart – Cats). You can scale back or feed more accordingly.
posted by Seboshin at 9:22 AM on December 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Is also aggressively waking us up in the morning to be feed and body slamming when we come home.

If you are feeding him first thing in the morning and when you get home, you're training him to do this. Given certain cues, every cat or dog I've had will/would exhibit FEED ME NOW behaviors even if they just ate 15 minutes ago.

As to amount, my practice is to weigh the animal, feed it a consistent quantity for a couple of weeks, weigh the animal again and adjust quantity. Lather, rinse, etc. until we're holding steady at a healthy weight. My vets have always been happy with the results.
posted by jon1270 at 9:22 AM on December 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Feeding a cat X amount if he weighs Y kilograms is very much akin to saying that humans should be eating X calories a day if they weigh Y pounds. You don't take into consideration the activeness of the cat, nor the metabolism, or even the type of canned food.

If your cat wasn't gaining any weight before, and he's at a reasonable weight now, then you were feeding him an appropriate amount.

Have you weighed him since he started to eat the new food?
posted by nikkorizz at 9:26 AM on December 7, 2012

As to amount, my practice is to weigh the animal, feed it a consistent quantity for a couple of weeks, weigh the animal again and adjust quantity. Lather, rinse, etc. until we're holding steady at a healthy weight. My vets have always been happy with the results.

Yes, this exactly. Metabolisms and activity levels vary; feed your cat the amount he needs to maintain a healthy weight.
posted by insectosaurus at 9:26 AM on December 7, 2012

Best answer: I've used these calculators to set a baseline for my cats, then bi-weekly weigh-ins for adjustment (weigh self, weigh self holding cat, cat weighs the difference). Different pet foods have different caloric content, and cats of different weights need different amounts of food. Without knowing the exact caloric content of your pet food your vet can only give you rough guidelines. As for directions on the cat, well, they pretty much all say the same thing and tend to overestimate so you buy more food.
posted by Anonymous at 9:55 AM on December 7, 2012

I came in here to also say that you should train your cats to not body slam you or wake you out of bed.

I have not explicitly trained my cats, but it just happens that 90% of the time, I feed them right after I use the bathroom. So now if they're hungry and I use the restroom, they'll start acting super affectionate and tripping me, and making little trilling noises.

Also, it's really hard for us to answer this question without a cat picture.
posted by ethidda at 10:09 AM on December 7, 2012 [8 favorites]

Think about the motivations of your information sources. Your vet wants to keep your cat healthy. Your cat food company wants to sell cat food. Listen to your vet.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:09 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

What is the KCal content of the food you are using? What else is the cat consuming (treats, people food)?
posted by Nickel Pickle at 10:12 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've used trial and error to zero in on the optimum daily dose of food for my cats. I think it really varies depending on the cat's size, age, activity level, and spay/neuter status as well as on the formula of food and how many treats they get. I'd stick with your current regimen for a couple months and see if you observe any changes in his weight or body composition. Feeling the thickness of flesh on his ribs is a good way to keep track, as is observing his shape around the waist when he's standing and you look at him from above.
posted by Orinda at 10:13 AM on December 7, 2012

Cats require routine and they freak out at the very suggestion of change. If your cat is begging for food now but didn't on the past, this doesn't necessarily mean the cat is hungry. It could instead just be freaked out about how there isn't foods when there used to be. Keep in mind that it WANTS you to think it's starving, because that will get you to give it what it wants.
posted by meese at 10:14 AM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah, I gauge how much food my cat needs based on body condition/weight. He's a big boy--15 lb and LONG--and eats anywhere from 1 and 1/3 to 1 and 1/2 cans a day.

If you give your cat even an extra teaspoon of food before bed it should help with the morning hunger. If he's anything like ours, he's doing a lot of scampering around in the dark apartment in the dawn hours. Stupid crepuscular cats.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:17 AM on December 7, 2012

I am the laziest cat owner. We free feed kibble. The two cats (11 and 13 pounds respectively) share a 1/2 can of Fancy Crack at night.

While occasionally the cats will meow in the morning, it's usually because they want to be pet, scritcheled, see the sun rise from my bedroom or nibble on my shoestring, not because they are hungry.

Our vet is very happy with their weight and our cats are very happy with this arrangment. (except that they want more treatz, but hey, we all do.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:51 AM on December 7, 2012

You could always go to a different vet for a second opinion, but I would be less inclined to take the advice of the people who print the instructions on the can--and who naturally want you to buy more cans of food.

FWIW, our 1.5 year old boy was 15 pounds when we got him this September, and we've gotten him to drop about a pound per the vet's advice. On one level, he's just a big boy; he's tall and long and he's got a big frame. But as noted above, the shape of a cat's belly is a key indicator, and he looked a little chubby. We give him 1/4 cup of kibble in the morning and a 3 oz can of wet food in the evening. Treats happen randomly throughout the day if we're home. He gets pushy for food before I wake up in the morning, but he's doing fine.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:13 PM on December 7, 2012

Yikes, according to this, I feed my kitties hardly anything. When I get home from work, they get enough dry food to cover the bottom of their dish, plus a tablespoon of wet food. They rarely eat all of this in a 24-hour period, so it seems like that's plenty. They are older, and don't have a huge house or yard to run around in, so their caloric needs are less.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 12:28 PM on December 7, 2012

My cat is on a diet, he eats 3 2.8oz cans a day and that maintains his (now healthy) weight. But he was heavier, and thus clearly prefers to eat more --- and so he _says_ he's hungry a lot now. And he may well be, but there is a tradeoff that you may have to make between having a sometimes hungry cat and not having a giant cat.

I've read several places that, like humans, some cats will overeat and some won't. Given an unlimited supply of food, some will just maintain a good weight, others (like mine) will begin to resemble a sphere.

So then it's a matter of training your cat out of begging/etc, feeding at a specific time(s) every day can help this some.
posted by wildcrdj at 12:31 PM on December 7, 2012

The way my vet explained this to me (though it was for dogs) is that the pet food companies list the equivalent of a "restaurant" portion. It's fine every once in a while, but if you finish off restaurant portions every day, you'll put on weight. The goal of the pet food company is to get you to buy more of the food.
posted by kamikazegopher at 12:54 PM on December 7, 2012

We feed our two cats a combination of wet and dry. In the morning they each get about 2 oz of Felidae wet food, and in the evening between 1/2-1/3 cup each of Halo kibble. If they clear out the dry food more than a couple of hours before their evening feeding time, they get the higher amount, if not, they get the lower.

The reason I mention the brand names is that we were feeding them a different wet food for a while (ran out of Felidae) and at the same amount they started acting hungry--fighting more with each other, vacuuming up all the food earlier, and so on. Once we made the connection and increased the amount of wet of that brand, they stopped that. We went back to the regular amount when we got the Felidae back in, and they were fine with that.

We had to go by the vet's assessment of their body weight because they hit the opposite ends of the spectrum and completely fail to fit the charts. Nefer is built like a linebacker and rates as 'obese' if you go by the charts, but the vet says she's happy with her weight. Sora looks scarily skinny according to the charts if you're looking down at him from above, because his sides curve in so much, but if you look at him from the side he's got quite a paunch. The vet, last time we went, said she'd like to see him weigh a little less (and I think we've achieved that; will know at the next visit).
posted by telophase at 12:55 PM on December 7, 2012

It's also worthy to note that wet foods vary wildly in caloric content. I just used the calculator Medieval Maven linked above, and discovered that we've been underfeeding ours by ~20%, because the vet's recommendation of cans/day was based on average calorie density, and we're feeding them food that's lower in carbs and higher in moisture. So definitely listen to your vet, but double check your numbers with the exact figures for your cat's weight and food of choice.
posted by Mayor West at 1:00 PM on December 7, 2012

Your vet knows your cat. The makers of the cans of cat food want to sell more cans of cat food. I'd at least start with the vet's recommended amount and then verify the cat's weight and health at the next checkup (say in a month or three).
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 2:41 PM on December 7, 2012

Response by poster: The fuzzy monster in question. I felt like he was getting skinnier with the 1/2 a can twice a day thing. But I also think he may be thickening up with the 1.5 can situation. His spine feels bone-y which seems bad. I'm going to check out that calculator and start weighing him and also look at those cat body pictures. He was on the wet food diet for 6 months and then recently he's been getting more aggressive with scavenging food so that aspect is a recent thing. Thanks mefi!
posted by edbles at 6:20 PM on December 16, 2012

Response by poster: Oh also the switch to wet food wasn't a kitty getting tubby thing it was a boy kitty had crystals thing. So I asked the vet when we turned over how much he should be getting. He was 1-2 lbs overweight for his age on the dry food and got down to a normal weight as of last check-in but seemed like he was continuing to lose weight as of recently which made me nervous and prompted the question.
posted by edbles at 6:32 PM on December 16, 2012

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