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What Time Of Day Should You Feed Cats

↯ Key takeaway points

  • Cats are crepuscular, meaning they are most active and prefer to eat at dawn and dusk.
  • Feeding cats at specific times creates a routine, which helps them feel secure and prepared for meals.
  • Adult cats should ideally be fed two meals per day, around 12 hours apart.
  • The amount of food to feed depends on the cat's weight, with adult cats needing about 24-35 calories per pound of weight.
  • Free-feeding should be done cautiously and with measured portions to prevent overeating and obesity.
Written by Jay
BsC (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare graduate with a passion for advocating for misunderstood animals.
Zoo and wildlife doctor in veterinary medicine passionate about animal welfare and preventive medicine.
Published on
Monday 8 January 2024
Last updated on
Monday 30 October 2023
What Time Of Day Should You Feed Cats
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Despite our feline friends’ disrespect for our own sleep schedules, cats are not nocturnal – instead, they are crepuscular. This means that the optimum time to feed your cat should reflect this natural behavioral cycle. So what time of day should you feed cats?

The best time to feed a cat is any time that reflects its crepuscular nature. But what does it mean to be crepuscular? How often should you feed a cat around these times? And how much does a cat need to eat to be healthy? To find out more, cuddle up with your cat (preferably at dawn or dusk) and read on with us today.

What Is The Best Time to Feed Your Cat?

Most cats will prefer to eat their meals at dawn and dusk. This timing reflects the cat’s natural hunting patterns, wherein they would normally hunt and catch prey at these times of the day. Your cat is a creature of habit, so you can take advantage of this by creating a feeding schedule and sticking to it. Our cats appreciate the security of having a routine, and mealtimes become a cornerstone event in the day which they will plan other activities around. Using a routine will also help your feline friend to cope when there are stressful changes in the home. Not only this, but routine meals allow your cat’s body to prepare for its meal beforehand. To conclude, the best time to feed a cat will be dawn and dusk.

How Often Should You Feed Your Cat?

Our adult feline friends do best eating two meals per day, around 12 hours apart. If your cat goes more than 12 hours without a meal, the stomach becomes hyper acidic which can make them feel sick. In contrast, kittens under six months of age may do better eating three to five meals per day. This is because kittens require more food per pound of body weight to assure healthy growth. But, when feeding your cat twice a day, be sure to create a routine that you will stick to. Our cats are comforted by the familiarity of routine, so this will help them to manage their expectations and get their bodies ready to eat when the time comes.

If your cat manages their food intake well and prefers to graze, creating routine mealtimes is still a good idea. To do this, measure our your cat’s entire food portion in the morning and offer the bowl several times throughout the day. Be sure to pick regular times to create a routine, which we know is helpful and comforting for cats. Most importantly, measure the portion carefully using a measuring cup or kitchen scale to avoid overfeeding. The best time to feed a cat remains at dawn and dusk regardless of how often your cat eats through the day.

How Much Should You Feed Your Cat?

Before discussing how much to feed your cat, it’s important to know the main factor that influences their diet. Firstly, cats are obligate carnivores. This means that they must eat meat in order to stay healthy. They may accept other foods that are offered to them, but these are not essential to their health and well-being. Instead, cats are wholly dependent on nutrients that are only found in animal tissue, such as essential fatty acids, amino acids, and a range of vitamins and minerals.

It may come as a surprise that cats require far fewer calories than we do every day. Overall, the number of calories required depends on the cat’s body weight – between 24 to 35 calories per pound of weight if the cat is in an ideal body condition. However, this also varies depending on your cat’s health status, age, and breed. As such, it’s best to consult with a veterinary nutritionist for optimum advice. But, generally speaking, you can follow a simple rule. For example, a 10lbs (most domestic cats) lean cat should eat 280 calories per day. A 15lbs (i.e. male Siamese) lean cat should eat 360 calories. Lastly, a 20lbs cat (i.e. Ragdoll) should eat 440 calories per day. The best time to feed a cat is still at dawn and dusk regardless of how much they eat.

Should Owners Allow Their Cats to Eat Freely?

If given free access to food, many cats will eat several meals every day, evenly spread out through the 24-hour cycle. This is most important for lactating cats, who should have free access to high-calorie and highly-palatable foods. But is it advisable to offer food all day every day to most other cats?

As obligate carnivores, cats have a daily routine that consists of three main activities: hunting, eating, and sleeping. As such, their digestive system is adapted to process 1-2 small meals per day. So, when they have access to plenty of food and not enough enrichment to keep them busy, many cats will over-eat and become obese. It can also be more difficult to tell if your cat’s appetite is changing, especially if you own multiple cats. More importantly, free-feeding should be done by weighing out how much food your cat needs each day. If you own multiple cats, you cannot be certain that each cat is meeting their nutritional requirements. However, if your single cat has access to plenty of enrichment to keep boredom at bay, and you know they manage their food intake well, free feeding may be an option for this cat only.

What Time Of Day Should You Feed Cats: FAQs

Still wondering what time of day you should feed cats? Feel free to check out our Frequently Asked Questions for advice on the best times to feed cats. If in doubt about your cat’s diet, always ask your local vet for advice!

Should I feed my cat wet food in the morning or at night?

If you feed your cat wet food, the current best advice is to feed them once at dawn and once at dusk. This allows your cat to meet their instinctive need to feed at these times. It also allows their bodies to prepare for eating food before the meal comes. If feeding once a day, though, it may be best to give their wet food in the morning rather than at night. This ensures better hydration and energy for the day to come.

Should cats have access to food all day?

There are two specific instances where a cat can safely have free access to food. Firstly, lactating cats should have free access to a high-calorie diet in order to maintain their bodies whilst they produce milk. This diet should also be highly palatable to encourage them to eat. Secondly, if you own a single cat who has access to plenty of entertainment away from the food bowl, and you know they manage their food intake well, free feeding might be a safe option.

Is it OK to feed cats once a day?

Most veterinarians agree that cats should eat two meals per day, once at dawn and once at dusk. Interestingly, newer research now suggests that cats might fare better on one large meal rather than two. But, while the data might suggest that once-daily feeding promotes better satiation and lean body mass, the researchers note that they would prefer to do longer studies in the future. It’s also worth noting that the cat sample size was small, with only eight indoor cats.

Do cats get bored of eating the same food?

Wild and feral cats feed on a wide variety of prey items, including mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects. As such, eating the same food, in the same way, each day may not provide enough instinctive satisfaction. You can add some variety to your cat’s diet by heating it up, feeding them healthy treats like cat-safe vegetables, and using interactive cat feeders to get them more involved. Always transition your cat’s diet gradually, like you would for a dog.

Should I leave food out for my cat at night?

If you choose to leave food out for your cat at night, it’s always best to leave dry food rather than wet food. Compared to dry food, wet food has a much shorter shelf life and will not spoil through the night. This is especially important during hot weather, where meat can spoil quickly and attract flies.

So, what time of day should you feed cats? Overall, it’s best to feed them at dawn and dusk to match their crepuscular nature.

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