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Our cat (a 7-8 month old unsterilized female) eats only dry cat food (actually she's currently eating prescribed "Veterinary Diet S/O Fibre Response" brand food).

If I follow the recommended dose printed on the bag (according to her weight) and give it at once, after a few hours there is nothing left and at the end of the day she's licking the empty bowl and wailing for more. I often took pity and gave her more, but anyway she lost about 200g in two weeks.

I mentioned it to our vet, who said we may give her a bit more than what is written, and to give it as several portions rather than at once. Today I gave her three portions, equivalent in total to the bag recommendation. She didn't complain, and actually I noticed she only ate half of the last portion immediately, and the other half later.

I don't have feedback on the influence of the new policy on her weight, but it seems obvious that it has a physiological influence, since she doesn't seem to be hungry anymore, while eating less. Hence the question, is there an ideal frequency for feeding a cat? For me, it seems that once a day is not a good policy.

P.S.: Amusingly, there is a similar question for Bichon Frisé, which says the printed recommendations on the food packaging is usually too much

Edit : To clarify things since both current answers mention we're doing the right thing as the cat is losing weight, we do not want her to lose weight, she's already quite thin — and she's 7-8 months old, she's supposed to gain weight. We feed her prescription diet food because of transit issues.

  • I have three cats and they are all fed with dry food. Depending on the cat, some cats are very self controlled and will never gain weight even if their plates are full all day, two of my cats are like this, we would just fill their plates whenever they were empty and that worked great for them and us. The third cat however (rescue cat, probably starved before living with us) eats more than required and started gaining weight when he was around two years old, so now we fill their plates to the middle when they are empty and he's losing some of his weight while the other two are still perfect. – elibud Jul 1 '14 at 17:54
5

When studying animal husbandry, we were taught that cats, in nature, generally fed on many small meals throughout a 24 hours period. An example being they may catch mice at different points throughout the day and night. They don't have the same circadian rhythms as human beings, or dogs, and, naturally, spend as much time active during the day and night. I mention this, as it is different to feeding dogs, that will usually thrive on one good meal a day and then sleep afterwards.

From my experience and study, it is best to feed for cat at least three smaller meals a day. If the cat does not have a weight problem, and feeding the cat frequently is an issue, that is where dry food comes in handy, as the cat can munch on this on and off throughout the day.

So to answer the question:

is there an ideal frequency for feeding a cat?

Yes, 5-6 small meals a day is the ideal feeding regime. It's not that pets cats are being mistreated being fed less than this, the question is asking for ideals.

Certainly feeding a cat once a day, and not having dry food left out, is not a pleasant experience for the cat, as they get hungry and are prone to prowling. Any frequency under three times a day, it would be preferable to have dry food left out, but this does cause problems in households with multiple pets and obese pets.

  • 1
    It's not easy to find references on this topic. It seems that some studies showed a link between the feeding frequency and obesity, but other studies didn't. Anyway I'm not worried about obesity, but about why our cat seems to need more than the recommended amount of food. It seems to make sense indeed that wild cats only eat small meals along the day, so I guess it would help keeping her not hungry. I'll think about a DIY cat feeder. ;) – Skippy le Grand Gourou Nov 5 '13 at 21:58
5

Off the bat, I don't think there's a specific ideal to feeding a cat; this is going to vary a bit based on the age and the activity level of your cat. In general, we feed ours twice daily, once in the morning and once in the evening and both cats are at good weights. That's pretty anecdotal, however, and it's mostly because we must feed moist cat food and medically dose one of the cats for megacolon.

Nevertheless, in my experience, a cat that has plenty of space to move around and exercise will eat according to need and balance out their weight properly. I've never had an issue with an endless food supply and active cats, it's only when they don't have a lot of space and become especially sedentary that I've seen the weight gain.

(Edit to reflect update)

If you're feeding her diet food and want her to maintain weight, not lose it, then I think you may want to ensure that the food is always readily available rather than having spaced feeding times. She's already demonstrated that she'll eat what she wants and move on, coming back for more later when she is hungry, so I would key off that and then monitor her food dish and her weight, but otherwise keep her supplied.

3

Since cats in nature hunt at dawn and dusk, a two meals a day strategy fits best with their nature. I have some dry food out for nibbling with my cats, but they don't have an eating disorder. In your case you could use a treat or a bit of the food as a between meals snack so the cat doesn't feel deprived of food and get anxious.

One advantage of feeding when the cat is more active is that you have a chance to work some off right then by play just before or after the meal.

Since the cat is losing weight, looks like you are doing something right!

  • I'm a big fan of feeding my dogs twice a day; three times a day is too much busy work. – JoshDM Nov 2 '13 at 0:50
  • @JoshDM - Dogs are quite okay with just once a day feeding schedule. Cats, on the other hand, are not dogs. It would be good to feed them five times a day if possible. – Esa Paulasto Feb 9 '14 at 20:22
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You should feed your cat twice a day but in summer they won´t eat as much as they do normally. Nevertheless your cat won´t gain weight if there is something wrong with it´s thyroid. For example if she eats a lot but don´t gain any weight that may be the problem ?

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