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Your Cat’s Feeding Schedule: How Many Meals Should Cats Eat Per Day?

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Lindsay Butzer, DVM
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Dr. Lindsay Butzer
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How Many Meals Should Cats Eat Per Day

Does your cat have a set feeding schedule, or do they let you know when they’re hungry with that mournful, drawn-out meow-ow-ow?
A set meal schedule can help support your cat’s digestive system, maintain an ideal weight, and put their mind at ease because they’ll always know when their next meal is coming. Learn when, how often, and what to feed your cat to keep them happy, healthy, and satisfied.

How Many Meals Should Cats Eat Per Day?

Fully grown cats over 18 months of age should eat at least 2, up to 5 meals per day.
Your cat’s daily caloric intake should be divided evenly between these meals. You can feed a variety of foods, ideally mostly canned, wet, or fresh. Healthy cat treats can be given anytime, but should make up no more than 15% of your cat’s diet.

How Many Meals Should Kittens Eat Per Day?

In their first six months of life, your kitten will grow the most rapidly, and will require about two times as many calories per pound of body weight compared to an adult cat.
To ensure your kitten takes in enough calories to support their growth and development, feed them around 4 to 6 times per day from 8 weeks old to 6 months of age.
After the six-month mark, your kitten’s growth will have begun to slow down. You can then begin to transition to an adult feeding schedule of 2-5 meals each day. By the time your cat is 12 to 18 months old, they should be eating on the same schedule you expect to keep for the rest of their life.

How Cats Eat In The Wild

While your cat shares about 95% of their DNA with lions and tigers, their eating habits are vastly different from those of their wild cousins. Large predators have a “feast and famine” feeding cycle, gorging on up to 100 pounds of meat after a hunt, then fasting for several days until their next meal.
Domestic cats, on the other paw, have a small stomach about the size of a ping-pong ball. In the wild, a feral cat hunts and consumes around eight to ten mice per day, along with other small prey like birds and bugs. Like their feral counterparts, our house cats seem to thrive on and prefer small frequent meals.
Cats follow a natural feeding cycle throughout the day: hunt (or, in your indoor cat’s case, play), eat, groom, and sleep. Aim to schedule meals so you have time to play with your cat before feeding. That way, you’ll engage them when they’re most active and ensure their natural hunting instincts are fulfilled - even though they no longer have to hunt their meals.

Why Your Cat’s Feeding Schedule Matters

Research studies suggest that frequent meals are more gentle on your cat’s small stomach and less likely to prompt gulping, indigestion, and vomiting. Cats that eat often are also more likely to drink water throughout the day. What’s more, cats that go long hours between meals may be more stressed and more likely to fight with other pets as they feel they’re in competition for resources.
While other animals may benefit from fasting, for cats, it can be dangerous. During long stretches between meals, the body naturally breaks down body fat. Cats, especially those that are overweight, can experience hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver syndrome, a life-threatening condition that causes fatal liver failure if left untreated.

Is Free-Feeding Good for Cats?

Free-feeding means leaving your cat with constant access to a bowl of food, all day long.
While free-feeding does allow your cat to eat throughout the day, even when you’re not home, it’s not usually the healthiest option.
Cats that are allowed to free feed are susceptible to weight gain. They may eat out of boredom, rather than hunger. It’s more difficult to monitor your cat’s food intake, so you may not notice changes in appetite that can indicate a potential health issue.
What’s more, free-feeding is usually done with kibble, as it keeps well at room temperature, unlike wet foods. While dry kibble is a complete and balanced source of nutrition for cats, it’s also high in carbohydrates and more likely to cause weight gain and diabetes, especially when not fed in moderation.
If you choose to free-feed, only do so if your cat is at their ideal weight and does not seem prone to becoming overweight. Your veterinarian can let you know if your cat is at their ideal body condition during their annual wellness visit.
When free-feeding, you should still give your cat a measured daily ration of food,and monitor for changes in weight or appetite. You should clean out your cat’s bowl at the end of each day, rather than simply topping it off whenever it’s running low.

How To Change Your Cat’s Feeding Schedule

Whether it’s time to transition your kitten to a more grown-up meal schedule, you’d like to add more frequent, smaller meals, or you’ve had a change in your own day-to-day schedule, you’ll want to make gradual changes to avoid gastric upset, stress, and meowing fits of protest.
You can shift meals by 20-30 minutes each day until your cat is fully transitioned, or offer snacks or treats between meals to hold them over while they adjust.
If you are not always available to serve up frequent meals, consider using an automatic feeder. A timed automatic feeder is invaluable for keeping your cat on schedule even when you’re not home. Most automatic feeders are only compatible with dry food, though a select few can be filled with moistened or canned food.
Regardless of your cat’s diet and feeding schedule, they should always have access to fresh, clean water.
If you have questions about your cat’s weight, diet, or if you experience any concerning symptoms like gastric upset, excessive hunger, or loss of appetite, make an appointment with your veterinarian.



Every pet deserves to live a long, happy, healthy life.