It might happen while you're eating your own dinner, or while you're watching television -- your cat, staring at you, imploring you with her beautiful eyes to give her something to eat. It's hard to resist her pleading gaze, and she might look cute as a full-bodied kitty, but feeding your cat properly is a basic way to maintain her good health.
The Correct Weight
It seems like a simple thing to feed a cat, but it's not always so easy. Age, health, activity level and the type of food all affect how much a cat eats on a daily basis. Like people, cats aren't cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all creatures. Some cats are built larger and can carry more weight while others are petite and should tread a bit lighter. The best place to start is to figure out your cat's ideal weight. If you aren't sure about where your cat should be hitting the scale, your vet can let you know.
Determining Serving Size
Whether cat or kitten, small or large, your cat should be eating a nutritionally complete diet. After you and the vet determine a healthy weight for your cat, you can look at her food packaging to get an idea of what your cat's daily intake should be. There are considerations to keep in mind, however. Cat food manufacturers often list the high range of a serving size on the package because it means your cat will eat more, which means you'll buy more. As well, you need to adjust for your cat's activity level. If she's a couch potato, chances are she won't need as much as the package states she will. While you're talking to the vet about her ideal weight, it's worth having the vet take a look at the food label and help you determine the right serving that will keep your cat on track.
When you establish the proper serving size for your cat, remember you're talking about daily intake and adjust her feeding schedule accordingly. If you choose to free-feed your cat dry food, stick to the established serving size, using a measuring cup to ensure you're not feeding too much or too little. If you don't free-feed, try to be consistent with the time of day you serve breakfast and dinner and be sure to serve her the proper portion. If you switch foods, you'll have to re-evaluate the serving size -- calories and nutrients can vary widely among brands. A 1/2 cup of one food may translate into 1/4 cup of a more nutrient and calorie-dense food.
Keep an eye on your cat to see how she's carrying her weight. According to the Body Condition Chart, a cat should be well-proportioned, with her waist visible behind her ribs and a minimal abdominal fat pad. You should be able to feel her ribs, though they should have a bit of fat covering them. If you have a scale, a periodic weigh-in will clue you in if she's eating enough -- or too much -- on a daily basis.
Change Over Time
As cats age, their bodies change and they're prone to disease. Some cats slow down and become more sedentary, while others develop conditions, such as hyperthyroidism, that burn more calories. The point is your cat's food intake needs will change as she ages, sometimes increasing, sometimes decreasing. A nutritious diet, your keen eyes and regular veterinary checkups will help her to maintain a healthy weight.