Little kittens have little stomachs and want to be fed about four times a day. When those kittens become grown cats with grown stomachs, you can feed them less often, like three or two times a day. What I asked myself when my cats Garrus and Wrex were growing up is: How do you transition cats to a different feeding schedule? This is how it works in my experience:
To feed your cat twice a day instead of three times a day, give them more food at those feeding times to make sure they won’t go hungry. Once the new feeding times have been established and they’re used to two feedings a day, you can reduce the food in increments to an appropriate amount.
Of course this is mostly for cats that don’t have dry food available at all times (free-feeding), but cats that only get fed at regular times (in our case they’re getting wet food). There are cats that have a few bites of their food, then they leave and resume eating later. Our cats Garrus and Wrex are certainly not that kind. They will vacuum up any cat food immediately and will not leave even so much as crumbs for later.
Pam Johnson-Bennett wrote an excellent book called Think Like a Cat in which she also points out that free-feeding your cats will take away your chance to use food as a tool for behavior adjustment. This is relevant if you want to teach your cat tricks or if the cat has a negative behavior that you’d like to correct by rewarding good behavior. Obviously not everyone wants to do this, but it’s worth mentioning just in case.
How often should you feed a kitten?
As mentioned before, it’s recommended to feed your kittens as many small meals as possible, not just one or two big ones a day. Cat food company Whiskas recommends on its website to feed 3-4 meals – if your time schedule allows you to feed your cat four or five times a day instead, I see no reason not to do it. How much to feed your cats is another question again. In my experience, feed them enough so they don’t seem hungry anymore. If your kittens go crazy each time you feed them, make sure you give them more food. Kittens have to eat a lot while they’re still growing. If you feed them enough so that they leave a small amount in their bowls, you can be sure you’re not underfeeding them.
How often do you have to feed grown cats?
Ideally you will feed your grown cats two or three times a day. Feeding cats once a day is really not enough, unless you are free feeding them and they can eat whenever they like. Ours eat all the food they are given, so they really can’t be free fed.
When Garrus and Wrex were 1.5 years old, we still fed them three times a day: once in the morning when we got up, once in the evening when we got home from work, and once at night before we went to bed. I’d recommend this as a feeding schedule. In the wild, cats will occassionally catch a mouse, a bird or a bug here and there – in other words, they eat small meals several times a day. If it’s possible to feed your cats like this, you should do it.
We found it hard to continue that feeding schedule – also, Wrex used to get very impatient two hours before his feeding time at night. He used to walk around impatiently, he begged, he meowed pitifully, walked up and down the desk and licked my hand. So we switched them to two meals a day. Since then, Wrex doesn’t get impatient anymore because he knows very well he won’t get another meal that night. I’ve yet to find anyone who thinks feeding a cat once a day is enough and I very much discourage you from doing it. (Again, this is about cats who get fed regularly, not cats that are happy having a bowl of dry food put out in the morning that they regularly snack on during the day.) If you want to feed your cats three times a day but you can’t fit it into your schedule, you might want to consider buying an automatic pet feeder – more on that in a moment.
How often should I feed my cat wet food?
Ideally, you will always feed your cat wet food. Wet food is more like the food they would eat naturally and it helps them stay hydrated. Most cats are lazy drinkers, so wet food helps. You could also give them a bit of cat milk or lactose free milk every once in a while as a snack to keep them hydrated.
If you’re only available once a day to feed your cat some proper wet food, feed them wet food once. You can also look into automatic pet feeders to make sure they get some smaller meals of dry food in between.
What do I do if my cat begs for food?
First of all you should ask yourself if your cat gets enough food. Forums regularly have desperate cat owners post questions about unwanted behaviour of their furry friends (like scratching doors, meowing, stealing another pet’s food), who then have to find out that they’ve simply been underfeeding their cats.
If they are kittens, they should be allowed to eat as much as they want. I’d also like to encourage any cat owner to occasionally weigh their cats. (Just use a normal bathroom scale and weigh yourself twice, once while holding your cat and once without.) This way you have an idea if your cat is becoming bigger or bigger or if it’s more or less keeping a steady weight.
Let’s assume your cat is indeed getting enough food. In this case, ignore the begging behavior. Cats are clever little buggers who will quickly understand the connection between “annoying my human” and “receiving food”. If your cat meows and you then present it with food, it will not stop meowing because it’s no longer hungry, but it will meow more often because you just rewarded it for meowing. Maybe the cat wants attention, maybe it wants to play or maybe it wants you to pet it. Cats that live inside depend on you for their entertainment. They want to be challenged, they want to run after a toy, they want to explore. Not every meow automatically is a request for food.
Adding additional meals with a feeder
If you can’t feed your cat twice a day, you should first of all consider if you really want to have a cat in your house or apartment. Cats need attention and love as well as food – how can you provide that if you don’t even have time to feed them? But let’s assume time is not the limiting factor but rather regularity. In such cases, feeders can be a big help.
Feeders are available in many different models that each have advantages and disadvantages. I personally use the PetPod feeder to offer my cats a little snack in between meals. At the very beginning we used to have the Trixie TX1 feeder. We used it when we stayed out late after work and wanted to make sure the cats wouldn’t go hungry. It works well – or used to anyway until the cat pushed it off a shelf and broke its timer – but the big negative about this feeder is that it’s really only intended for one cat, not two. The PetPod feeding is so convenient though, that meanwhile I like to program a little extra snack of dry food in between their normal feeding times. This way they don’t get too hungry.
So anyone who has problems making sure their cats are fed regularly – cats sure like a fixed schedule! – might benefit from one (or several) pet feeders to automate one or more meals. (However, please don’t use a pet feeder to feed your cat while you’re on vacation! Automatic feeders might break down and batteries might die faster than you think!)
If you have a cat that gets impatient in the mornings and who meows outside your bedroom door, it might be possible to stop this by using an automatic feeder. This way your cat will NOT think “I will only get food when the human wakes up, so I’ll meow until the human wakes up”, but it will know that there is a machine that spits out food at regular times, so it’ll just have to wait for the machine to do its thing.
A little snack
Apart from feeders that will automatically provide a whole meal, there are also various toys that will challenge your cat before they release small amounts of food. Pam Johnson-Benett recommends these toys, so-called puzzle feeders or activity toys in the book I mentioned above.
Puzzle feeders or activity toys are available in many different shapes and sizes: Some are balls with little holes that have to be pushed around so the treats fall out. Our cat Garrus thinks they’re great, but living in an apartment I sometimes worry that the noise of the ball rolling around on the floor might bother the neighbors. Another thing that has worked for our cats is an activity blanket. Hide treats in there for your cat to find. This should be fairly quiet and not get on your neighbors attention.
For larger amounts of food or when you want to animate your cats to eat their food more slowly, there are also special slow feeding bowls that cats have to dig their food out of. We bought a slow feeder called Tiger Diner and we’re very pleased with it. It’s available in plastic or ceramic, we have the ceramic one. It’s quite heavy so it doesn’t move much when the cats dig around in it with their paws to get at the food. Amazon or your local pet shop will have a variety of slow feeders, so look around and see if you find something you like.
I’ve now explained how we changed our cats’ eating schedule from three times a day to twice a day – mostly because when I was looking for this information, I couldn’t find any info on the process. As far as I can tell, the way we did it was painless for both cats and humans. I expected them to be a lot grumpier about the change and to be very impatient when their usual feeding time rolled around. However, it went extremely smoothly.
If it fits into your schedule, consider feeding your cats smaller portions more often rather than feeding them bigger portions only twice a day. No doubt this would reflect more the way they are fed in their natural habitat. However, if you still feel you want to switch your cats to two meal times a day, I hope my little guide helps you to make the switch smoothly.