Feeding your cat

28 Nov 2023

Domestic cats are ‘obligate carnivores’ which means they need to have meat in their diet to be able to survive. As strict carnivores, cats have several specific dietary requirements that many other animals don’t.

Choosing a cat food

Feeding your cat a good quality commercial cat food is the best option. It is a real challenge to provide a good balanced diet for your cat with food prepared at home because of their unique dietary requirements. When choosing a food for your cat, make sure it’s a ‘complete’ food that has been specially developed to meet all your cat’s nutritional needs. Check the packaging to be sure. Avoid feeding your cat foods intended for other animals (e.g. dogs).

Although we know the type of foods cats tend to prefer, there is a lot of variation between individual animals. Some of this comes from their food experiences as kittens. Some develop a preference for a food (e.g. wet or dry) when fed over a long period of time. Although some cats may develop a preference, generally it is a good idea to offer your cat both good quality dry and wet foods. International Cat Care recommend feeding healthy cats both wet and dry food so they can enjoy the benefits of both. Research also suggests that feeding a mixed diet may reduce the risk of obesity in your cat compared to a dry only diet.

Dry food can help improve your cat’s oral health, and wet food can help make sure your cat is getting enough water. Cats get lots of their water intake from their food, and wet food obviously provides more water than dry food.

  • Wet - Wet food comes in many different flavours and forms with jelly or gravy and in tins, pouches and trays. Some cats may prefer meat or fish-flavoured food – other cats will eat both.
  • Dry – Dry food is great for cats who prefer to ‘graze’ as it doesn’t go off as quickly as wet food.

For some cats, especially those with certain medical conditions, increasing their water intake can help manage their condition and so wet food can be beneficial.

Wet and dry foods can vary enormously in price and quality – we recommend opting for the best quality food that you can afford.

If your cat is on a ‘prescription diet’ for medical reasons, talk to your vet before making any changes.

If you need to change your cat’s food (e.g. as a result of advice from your vet) you should aim to do this by initially mixing a very small amount of the new food in with your cat’s usual food and build this quantity up over time. This process should be gradual as changing to a different food or diet too quickly can lead to an upset tummy.

Feeding adult cats – Age 9 months plus

Just like their wild ancestors, cats naturally hunt on their own which means they tend to go for small, manageable prey. A typical mouse only contains about 30 kilocalories, so in the wild cats need to hunt, kill and eat approximately ten mice a day to meet their daily nutritional requirements. Under natural circumstances, this means cats eat little and often, over a 24 hour period.

You can recreate this at home with your cat by feeding them regular small meals alongside a measured amount of dry food left out to allow them to graze.

Cats have a very well-developed sense of smell, so the smell of food is particularly important to them. Cats also tend to prefer food at body temperature (about 35°C) so it’s always best to allow any food kept in a fridge to warm up to room temperature before offering it to your cat.

Food bowls

Ensure your cat has two food bowls – one for wet food and another for dry. Cats tend to prefer shallow bowls with a wide diameter, so the cat’s whiskers don’t touch the sides and to allow the cat to see more easily around them whilst they’re eating. We recommend using glass or ceramic bowls rather than plastic as these can pick up smells which can be unpleasant for your cat.

Food bowls should be placed well away from full-length windows, cat flaps, busy areas, noisy household appliances and litter trays as locating them in these areas is likely to feel dangerous or stressful for your cat. Cats prefer to be able to see all around them while they eat, so placing bowls away from walls and corners allows a cat to position themselves at any point around the bowl.

If your cat is much older, feeding stands and raised bowls can help them access their food and helps them to feel more comfortable when eating.

Making mealtimes interesting

As well as providing food in bowls, feeding time is also a good opportunity to let your cat search for, capture and ‘kill’ their food, like they would in the wild. This way of feeding will give your cat some mental and physical exercise and can also help stop them feeling bored, frustrated or anxious.

Here are some feeding tips to try with your cat:

  • Feed your cat little and often, dividing their daily food ration into at least five portions. If it’s not practical for you to feed your cat little and often, then we recommend feeding your cat two meals of wet food per day with a measured amount of dry food available throughout the day so your cat can snack.
  • Use puzzle feeders and timed feeders. Puzzle feeders are like feline ’brain-teasers’. Your cat has to engage their brain to release the food, which means meals last longer and they get a little brain and body workout. If your cat is struggling to get the food out of a puzzle feeder, make it easier initially and then slowly make it more challenging over time as they get the hang of it.
  • Try scattering some of your cat’s dry food for them to ‘forage’, or hide it in different locations around the home for your cat to seek out and find. We would recommend sticking to dry food for this in order to avoid any forgotten, smelly surprises!

Puzzle feeders and food toys don’t need to be expensive – there are plenty of ideas online for how to make your own homemade ones out of household objects like empty toilet rolls and cardboard boxes.

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How much to feed your cat

It is important to monitor your cat's food intake to avoid them becoming overweight. Like people, all cats are individuals and have different requirements to maintain their natural, normal weight. Senior cats may benefit from a diet which is designed specifically for older cats, and your vet is the best person to talk to about this.

You can find feeding guidelines on cat food packets that will give you a range of quantities based on your cat’s bodyweight. If your cat is less active you may want to feed the lower end of the recommended range, and if they are more active, spending long periods outdoors, they may need to be fed towards the upper end of the range. Guidelines are a good place to start but remember to adjust the daily amount you feed your cat either up or down as necessary.

With dry food, it’s advisable to weigh it out rather than using a measuring cup, as it’s a more reliable way of making sure you are feeding the correct amount. Weighing the food will add a couple of minutes to your cat’s feeding routine but it could add years to your cat’s life through preventing weight gain. Dry food is very energy dense which means the correct amount for your cat will probably look small, but it provides all the calories a cat needs to remain fit and healthy.

Having your cat weighed regularly during health checks at the vet can also be helpful in order to monitor your cat’s weight and to ensure that your cat is being fed appropriately. If you are concerned about anything to do with feeding your cat, including your cat’s weight, please consult your vet for advice.

Feeding kittens – Age 9 weeks to 9 months

As kittens develop and grow at such a rapid rate, they generally need to eat more than adult cats.

Like adult cats, it is best to feed kittens little and often as not only is it a more ‘cat-friendly’ way of feeding but kittens also have quite small stomachs. Over feeding your kitten could result in diarrhoea and vomiting.

Kittens should ideally have a balanced diet of kitten wet and dry food as these contain all the important nutrients to support their growth and development.

Typically, kittens from 9 weeks of age should eat 4 or 5 small meals a day, consisting of wet and dry kitten food. If it’s not practical for you to continue to feed your kitten little and often as they mature and would prefer to feed your cat fewer meals a day, you could reduce to 3 meals a day when your kitten is approximately 5 months old. Depending on their weight, an older kitten of 8-9 months could be on 2 meals a day. By this time, we would recommend weaning your kitten onto a good quality adult food.

Make sure your kitten also has access to fresh water, and change it on a daily basis. You should also never give your kitten cow’s milk or kitten milk as this can lead to an upset stomach. Once a kitten has left their mother, they do not need any type of milk, including specialist cat milk.


Cats need access to fresh water daily. Although cats don’t tend to drink as much water as dogs do, it’s important to encourage your cat to drink enough water – especially if they are on a dry-only diet or prone to urinary tract problems (e.g. cystitis or kidney disease).

We recommend larger diameter bowls filled to the brim so your cat can drink without lowering their head and whiskers too far into the bowl. It’s best to avoid using plastic bowls for water because they can release harmful chemicals into the water over time and affect the taste. Ceramic or glass bowls are the best option.

Like food bowls, water bowls should be placed away from full-length windows, cat flaps, busy areas, noisy appliances, litter trays etc. and away from walls and corners so a cat can position themselves where they feel safest. Food and water should be in separate areas as cats wouldn’t naturally eat and drink at the same time in the same location. You can also offer your cat multiple water sources around the home.

Some cats may prefer rainwater so leaving a dish outside to collect water when it rains and then offering this to your cat can be a good idea. Other cats may like running water from a tap, some enjoy drinking from glasses, or you could also provide your cat with a special pet drinking fountain. Sometimes it’s helpful to provide options and see what your cat prefers.

If you notice your cat starting to drink more or less than usual, we recommend contacting your vet as this may be a sign of a medical concern.

Should I give my cat milk?

Cow’s milk is difficult for cats to digest and can cause diarrhoea and/or vomiting. Cat milk which is sold specifically for cats can be purchased in most supermarkets. However, we recommend only giving cat milk as a very occasional treat (and never as an alternative to water) as it can be high in calories, limited in its nutritional benefit and can lead to stomach upset. You should never give your kitten cow’s milk or kitten milk as this can lead to an upset stomach. Once a kitten has left their mother, they do not need any type of milk, including specialist cat milk.

How to feed cats when you have more than one

In households with more than one cat, each cat should have separate food bowls, ideally placed in different areas of the home so individual cats can eat in private away from each other.

Having evolved as a solitary hunter, having to share food can create tension between cats which can lead to conflict as the cats feel they need to compete with each other.

It is also a good idea to have more than one water bowl in different locations around the home (as well as other resources such as litter trays, scratching posts, comfy hiding places etc.).

Giving your cat treats

Cat treats tend to be high in calories and can lead to upset tummies, so always give treats in moderation. Stick to the feeding guidelines provided on the pack, and if you’ve given your cat treats then it is advisable to reduce the amount of wet and dry food you give them to account for the additional calories from the treats.

Toxic Foods for Cats

Lots of human foods can be toxic or harmful to cats, for example, chocolate, onions, garlic, leek, grapes and dried fruits. Avoid leaving these foods out around the house and stick to cat food and cat treats. You can find out more about what foods and substances are harmful for your cat in our toxic food for cats article.

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