How to Care for a Healthy Cat: FEEDING AN ADULT CAT

The Classic Comprehensive Handbook of Cat Care


Although most adult cats require around 40 calories per pound body weight per day, each cat has his or her own individual requirements, and package information can be used only as a guide to feeding. Active cats require more calories than sedentary ones; uncastrated males, in particular, require more calories than neutered ones. Obesity in most cats, as in most people, usually indicates that you are feeding too much. Use whatever feeding method seems most convenient for you and your cat as long as you provide all the nutrients your cat needs.

Most cats seem happiest if provided with at least two scheduled meals daily, free access to food, or a combination of free access and supplemental meals, since multiple meals are compatible with their natural tendencies. Of course, free access to food will have to be limited if you notice your cat becoming overweight. It has been proven that underfeeding does not encourage a cat’s hunting tendencies, so cats kept for rodent control should be fed normally.


Cats undergo aging changes as do humans and may require special diets for maximum health and activity in old age. In general, older animals require fewer calories per pound body weight than when they were young; the amount of food given must usually be decreased or the kind of food fed changed to one with lower calorie density to avoid obesity as a cat ages.

Body changes can result in decreased utilization of nutrients, and, additionally, intestinal absorption of nutrients may be impaired. There is then a rationale for using balanced vitamin-mineral preparations to supplement the older cat’s diet. Certain conditions, such as recurrent constipation, or heart or kidney failure, which tend to occur more often in older animals, require special diets. The presence of such conditions should be determined by a veterinarian, however, before any special diet is used.


Although it is not necessary to a cat’s diet, many cats enjoy eating catnip (Nepeta cataria), also called catmint, catswort, or nep. This member of the mint family contains a biologically active compound called nepetalactone that causes behavior changes in about two-thirds of all adult cats who eat it. (Cats younger than six to eight months usually don’t respond to catnip but actively avoid it.) Usually the cat sniffs, then licks and chews the catnip. Headshaking and chin and cheek rubbing follow, and later total body rubbing and head-over-heels rolls are seen. The whole episode usually lasts less than fifteen minutes and will not be repeated before an hour or more passes even if more catnip is consumed immediately. Catnip provides a harmless entertainment for cats who are responders, and a pot-grown plant can be used to divert your cat’s attention from houseplants. There is no evidence that catnip is toxic or addicting, and it can be offered freely since cats regulate their own indulgence in it.

If your cat does not care for catnip, you might try growing small pots of wheat, oat, or rye grass as substitutes. Although grasses do not provide the stimulation of catnip, many cats enjoy eating them, and they also help divert attention from houseplants.

For more information on feeding during pregnancy and lactation.

For information on feeding orphan kittens.

For information on feeding sick animals.