How much should he be eating?
August 14, 2014 9:31 AM   Subscribe

I recently adopted a 10 month old cat. He wants to eat a lot more than I expected. What is the right amount?

He's 10 months old more or less. Just adopted him a week ago. I'm leaving dry food out in a small bowl and feeding a heaping tablespoon of wet food 4-5 times a day. He eats the wet food really really fast then demands more. One difficulty is that he is deaf, so all of his meows are at top volume. It's is super cute but hard to figure out whether a meow is serious business or just happy chirping.

About half the time I'll give in and feed him another serving. He doesn't really touch the dry food.
There are other cats but they don't have access to my room, where his stuff is. He doesn't have access to the room where their food is stored.

If you want more info please ask! The last time I had a 10 month old cat I just fed her as much as she wanted, but she wanted a lot less food. I'm worried about the amount and also about whether this indicates something may be wrong.

Oh and here he is: Alligator, Alligator
posted by kittensofthenight to Pets & Animals (26 answers total)
I have never had this problem with my cats, so take my words with a grain of salt, but I have known others' cats that have had problems with free-feeding (possibly in particular those adopted from shelters, who had an experience of food scarcity while on the streets). In these cases I would imagine that you wouldn't want to let him gorge himself all day, as I don't think that all cats can regulate their food intake well on their own by free-feeding. I'm sure others will weigh in on the appropriate amount for a young cat, but I wanted to put that out there.
posted by ClaireBear at 9:36 AM on August 14, 2014

Has he been wormed?

He could just be begging because he knows you'll give in- rewarded behaviour continues. I know cats who have a similar feeding set-up (free fed kibble, wet food twice a day) and they beg any time you step into the kitchen. Is there a reason why you're feeding such frequent small portions? Perhaps if he got the wet food in a bigger portion he would be more satisfied. But in any case I would get a vet to weigh him and advise you on what his daily food intake needs to be, and then feed that in two or three portions at set times. Then you'll know he's getting the right amount and any begging is just greediness.
posted by mymbleth at 9:47 AM on August 14, 2014

My college roommates and I adopted a cat just slightly younger than this who had similar food habits (ie, EAT ALL OF IT RIGHT NOW AND ASK FOR MORE!!!! MORE PLEASE!!!!!) He is now about 8 years old, and while I no longer personally feed him on a regular basis as he lives with one of the roommates, as far as I know, and when I visit, he eats just as much as ever--that is, as much as people will give him, or as much as he can gain access to via whatever nefarious means.

I am not sure what the right amount for a hungry cat is--that might be a good vet question, if you are planning to see one any time soon, as it may vary between individuals. Our cat usually got a cup of dry food each morning and evening, with various supplemental snacks occasionally (yoghurt is one of his favourites). Nothing is wrong with him, he's just a bit of a gourmet.

Be on the alert for other food-seeking behaviours, such as chewing through plastic bags to nibble on bread, figuring out how to open a foot-pedal-opening garbage can for access to discarded meat scraps, or climbing on kitchen counters to gain access to anything left on the stove in a pot for more than 10 minutes unsupervised.
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:48 AM on August 14, 2014

Best answer: You have to train him. Stop giving in and stop the feeding him throughout the day. Feed the cat at set times two or three times a day and that's it. Ignore the meowing — don't acknowledge it, respond to it, or even recognize that the cat wants something. The cat will learn in about 10 days. Mostly.

We feed our cats at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. A half-cup of dry food each twice a day, and half a can of wet food once a day for the big cat (17 lbs.) which the small cat (8 lbs.) isn't interested in. They both know when it's mealtime and rarely bug us for food outside of those times.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:48 AM on August 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: To clarify, I'm leaving out dry food but he isn't really touching it, then giving him one portion 4-5 times a day while sitting with him. The timing is for wet food something like 6am, 8:30ish, 5:30pm, 9pm. The wet food isn't sitting out. FWIW.
posted by kittensofthenight at 9:49 AM on August 14, 2014

Oh, and we've never fed them human food, so they never ask for it. They have been rudely pushed off of tables and counters (where there is more food) and, therefore, now almost never do it.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:49 AM on August 14, 2014

In my opinion that's too often. I'd cut it back to twice a day but the same amount of food. The wet food sitting out isn't a problem.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:50 AM on August 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Huh. I don't know why I am doing the small portions or so often. It was inherited wisdom about the size of a cat stomach when a previous cat had puke issues.
posted by kittensofthenight at 9:51 AM on August 14, 2014

Best answer: At 10 months he is almost an adult, so he should be close to following adult guidelines (1 oz per lb per day for wet food) though maybe eating a little more assuming he is still growing and pretty active. I feed mine ~7 oz per day (they are adults, 6 and 8 lbs) and they usually don't eat it all. That's about 9 heaping tablespoons per day.

Most cats don't overeat wet food (mine will gorge themselves if they have access to dry food) so I would lean on the side of feeding a bit more if he's not touching the dry food.
posted by matcha action at 9:55 AM on August 14, 2014

The food can should have feeding guidelines on it. It's usually one 4oz can per 6-8 lbs of body weight, but it depends on the brand. If the cat's not eating the dry food, it's not getting enough food.
posted by jaguar at 9:56 AM on August 14, 2014

One thing that's important here is that your cat is still growing! American shorthairs keep growing till at least a year. (Maine coons and some others keep growing for the first three years!) So it's good that he's hungry! He should eat.

My setup is very eerily almost identical to Mo Nickels. They get wet food breakfast and dinner at 7 and 7 (one can divided in two each meal), and they also get, from a feeder, dry food three times a day. (Dawn, noon and midnight.) This way they get hungry, and can appreciate mealtime, but they don't ever REALLY really get hungry, because that would be mean.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 9:57 AM on August 14, 2014

Oops, I meant one 4oz can twice a day per 6-8 lbs of body weight.

Basically, you need to be feeding based on weight, not age.
posted by jaguar at 9:57 AM on August 14, 2014

We have a very vocal new (adult) cat, who begs for cat food refills, and gained a bit of weight in our first month of free-feeding. Here's what we're doing now:
  1. We got her this automatic feeder, set to dispense 1/4 cup of food, 3 times a day. That way, she'll (hopefully) disassociate feeding with us, and more with the machine.
  2. She "tolerates" being held, so whenever she gets whiny, we pick her up and give her affection. We figured that would either make her enjoy being held more, or less yowly. (The result was that she now enjoys being held, and is even more yowly, though!)

posted by homodachi at 9:58 AM on August 14, 2014

Best answer: Ohhh, what an adorable love! Some thoughts:

- 10 months is still cat teenager-dom and he's still growing. I was shocked at how much my (tiny then, still tiny, no medical problems) cat ate at that age. She eats a little less now, but still has a huge appetite, which leads me to...

- There is some evidence that cats are good at adjusting their activity level to their food security. This is partially why small frequent meals are so great for weight loss in cats - they become more active as they adjust to being fed at frequent intervals. If your cat is super active he is really using all that food (and meeting the caloric demand is making him more active, etc).

- But I think a tablespoon four or five times a day is way too small and frequent, and possibly not enough for him to feel satiated after each feeding, hence the begging. And depending on what your heaping tablespoon is like, you also just might not be feeding him enough. If there are no eating too much too fast/puking issues I would suggest something more like half a large (6 oz) can twice or three times a day (depending on weight - the guideline for adult cats is an ounce per pound per day; he may well need more as a growing not-quite-adult). You know, more mouse-sized at each feeding.

- He may also still have habits learned at the shelter or on the streets or in some other food-insecure environment. It takes cats a long time to unlearn things, and you've only had him for a week.

In general cats eventually optimize their intake very well on wet food, not so much on dry. In your shoes, I would probably feed him as much wet food as he can eat two or three times a day, provided in one go at each feeding rather than in incremental reward servings after begging. Take the food away after half an hour. You'll have some waste food in the short term but after a week or two I think you will have a good idea of how much he really needs/wants, and the begging will stop.
posted by peachfuzz at 10:12 AM on August 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I adopted a 7 month old boy from a shelter, and I wanted him to know there were no more food worries for him, so I gave him.. Essentially as much food as he wanted for the first couple months. That equaled at least two servings of wet food (1/3 of a can) but three if he ate it all, and I free fed dry constantly as well. He ate like a maniac the first couple weeks he was comfortable with me, but then slowly weaned himself down to a reasonable amount of food, once I think he realized it was always available to him and wasn't a survival issue. I did this with both my cats and now they free feed and neither of them have weight problems.
posted by euphoria066 at 10:12 AM on August 14, 2014

Our cat is about three years old (age was estimated at 1 year when we adopted her 2 years ago). She will gorge herself on whatever dry food she has access to. She has no interest in wet food or human food or dog food.

I have the same automatic feeder as homodachi, set to dispense 1/4 cup of food at 6 AM and 2 PM and a 1/2 cup of food at 9 PM. We keep the feeder on a high counter that the cat can easily get to but the dogs cannot (our dogs all seem to very much enjoy the taste of cat food). As soon as she hears the feeder dispense, she makes a beeline for the counter and eats it all.

If we notice she's getting chunky, we'll set the 9 PM feeding to 1/4 cup and/or eliminate the 2 PM feeding. But then she gets too skinny and we put it back.

She used to meow at the feeder dispense until I picked her up and put her on the counter because she was too lazy to/didn't want to jump up there. I tried ignoring her meows for a while (~2 weeks) and now she jumps up on the counter by herself.

I'll second getting an automatic feeder and ignoring her meows.
posted by tckma at 10:15 AM on August 14, 2014

Let's try and put some numbers to all of this as food based on cups and oz isn't always accurate because each branch and type of food is different.

According to the Animal Medical Center in New York, a healthy, active 8-pound adult cat requires about 30 calories per pound per day. So, the average 8-pound cat requires about 240 calories per day.

Typically, dry food contains about 300 calories per cup, and canned food contains about 250 calories in each 6 oz can. (or, 125 per 3-ounce can). Using these counts as a guide, an 8-pound cat would need 4/5 of a cup of dry food or just less than a full 6-oz can (or two 3-ounce cans) of wet food per day. You can adjust the proportions based on whether your cat prefers more or less dry or wet food.

At the end of the day read the label of the food or go online to find out how many calories are in what you are feeding. I feed a few different types of wet food and each brand and type of protein is a bit different.

Lastly I would also suggest just feeding twice a day and stick to that routine.
posted by firetruckred at 10:44 AM on August 14, 2014

That doesn't sound like nearly enough food at one time to me. Over the course of 50 years and multiple cats at all times, my family has always averaged about 1 of those 5.5 oz cans of wet food per cat, per day- 1/2 in the morning and 1/2 at night. (If you're feeding high quality grain free food, they may eat less.) And we've alway left dry food out all the time - I use the grain free, because the other stuff isn't good for them and makes them fat.

This is for older, more sedate cats. Your cat is a growing boy, and if there's one thing I know about teenage boys of *all* species, it's that they're always hungry and they can eat amazing amounts of food. (I work in a restaurant and every day, I'm astounded at how much teen boys can eat!)
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:45 AM on August 14, 2014

Yes, spoon feeding wet food on demand will lead to madness! I feed one small can split between two kitties twice a day, and there are several treat times in the evening. There's also a tiny amount of dry food to prevent starvation, and yet the kitties are always trying to convince me of how desperate their situation really is. But I think they are fine.
posted by feste at 10:46 AM on August 14, 2014

Of course he's meowing for the wet stuff. That's the Good Stuff. Why eat dry kibble when Human will provide the Good Stuff in the next few hours?

I would wait him out - feed him dry in the morning, and then put a bit of wet on top of dry for dinner. He will soon get the idea that dry is edible too.

It's hard not to give in when they are meowing like crazy but remember you two are training each other.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:46 AM on August 14, 2014


2) Yeah, stop the positive reinforcement. It'll be an annoying couple of weeks.
posted by maryr at 11:33 AM on August 14, 2014

Response by poster: I really appreciate the advice! I'm going to go with this routine: 3oz wet in the morning, 3oz wet at dinnertime. Leave a cup of grain free dry out and measure how much is eaten over a few days, then decide on how to handle dry.

The advice has also really helped re: human training. Previous cat was raised from an infant in one home and didn't have such a forceful personality.
posted by kittensofthenight at 11:48 AM on August 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

He is super adorable, that cat!

Our grown, adult cats have access to dry food throughout the day and each get 1/2 to 1 full (small) can of food twice a day. (They're not super chunky, so I assume they regulate their intake of dry to compensate for the canned food.) They also get treats, lots of them.

Doling out wet food a tablespoon at a time sounds annoying, so why not put down a full can and see what happens? He might eat it all and then cry for more, so give him more and see what happens then. Can he take more? Then give him more. At some point, he's going to reach the point where he can't physically eat more, right? If he's still meowing at that point, maybe he's wanting to communicate something other than "more food, please." (In fact, we have one cat, adopted as a stray, who knows that meowing at the door gets us to respond by getting up. We assume he wants to go and sit on the patio, but about a third of the time, he meows at the door and when we get up he runs to his food bowl or purrs and rubs against our legs for attention. He's learned that we respond to meowing at the door so that's what he uses for everything.)
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 11:50 AM on August 14, 2014

If he's not eating any of the dry food, then it may be that he's really not getting enough food.

If you're OK with just feeding him wet food, great! Lots of people think that's actually a good idea (you can find ten million pages about this if you search).

If you really want him to eat dry food, you can start mixing it into the wet food, gradually increasing the proportion; you can also try wetting dry food, and see if he likes that, then decreasing the moisture content slowly.

Also check his teeth to make sure it doesn't hurt him to crunch the kibbles.

Please also monitor how much he's drinking - if he doesn't know how to drink (cats sometimes aren't very good at it), or doesn't like it (they sometimes get water in their noses), this could account for his insistence on wet food.
posted by amtho at 12:08 PM on August 14, 2014

Best answer: I'm mostly here to chime in on worming him. I adopted a 1 year old that had been "wormed" by her previous owners at Petsmart and was rail thin. She fattened up with a giant appetite. A year later she threw up an 8 inch roundworm and it was crawling around on the kitchen floor when I got home. Worm that cat. (I just bought Drontal wormer on ebay, but vet visits are better.)

Also congrats, because he looks like such a sweetheart. He's very lucky to have you. :)

If he doesn't want dry, I would not force it on him for your convenience. It's not really good for cats anyway; it's very dehydrating for an animal that doesn't have a strong thirst drive because they are supposed to be getting their moisture from their kills. I'm biased against it.

Give him the appropriate amount for his age and weight and that's it. Twice a day. Lay down the law. Our new adoptee basically taught herself portion control through this method and will eat a little bit, then go back later for a little more, etc etc.

about 1 of those 5.5 oz cans of wet food per cat, per day- 1/2 in the morning and 1/2 at night

This is what ours gets as well. It may even be too little for a growing boy like him.
posted by Sayuri. at 2:49 PM on August 14, 2014

Mine has access to wet food all the time. She also went through a stage around a year old where she ate a TON of food, and I kept having to refill the bowl. But she grew out of it. Literally. She had a bit of a growth spurt then. Also, if we feed her favourite flavours (fish), she will gorge herself, but will be more restrained with her less favoured ones (chicken, lamb). It doesn't really seem to matter, though, as she does adjust her activity levels correspondingly. Specifically, if she eats a huge amount of food in one go, she then usually has a bout of the zoomies, running at top speed around the house, demanding games, pouncing on shadows, etc for 20 minutes or so. It's kind of hilarious actually.

YCMV (your cat may vary.)
posted by lollusc at 8:40 PM on August 14, 2014

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