How big is a cat’s stomach? And are we feeding our cats all wrong?

The size of a cat’s stomach is important in working out how to feed our cat. The domestic cat’s stomach is about the size of a ping-pong ball ‘they say’. This is the equivalent of no more than a maximum of about 2 tablespoons of food at one time. Although it is flexible. It is hard to find a clear answer. Dr Fogle in his excellent book The Encyclopedia of the Cat presents a drawing. I have taken the liberty of representing part of it here under fair use. Per the drawing the size is a little larger than a ping-pong ball. It’s about one third in length of the cat’s flank.

Size of cat's stomach

Size of cat’s stomach

Because of this feline nutrition experts such as Dr Elizabeth Bales DVM say that domestic cats need small and frequent portions of food daily. And they need to treat their food as prey in an ideal world.

Indoor hunting feeder no bowl system


The advantage of domestic cats treating their food as prey is that it is claimed that they get a high when they have successfully hunted it. She makes the point that if a domestic cat is allowed to seek out their food, find it and eat it, the brain releases dopamine (a chemical released by nerve cells to send signals to other nerve cells). This supposedly makes him/her better behaved.

One of the big issues with cat relinquishment is that often cat owners say it is because of behavioral problems. Dr Bales says that hunting for food will help to eliminate behavioral problems. Although I think it is fair to say that often ‘behavioral problems’ are more to do with human attitude and expectation problems. Feline behavior is sometimes used as an excuse for cat relinquishment.

In light of her proposition, Dr Bales has created a feeding system which does not require the typical cat bowl. You can see it in the video below. It was formerly called the Nobowl Feeling System and is now a product of Doc & Phoebe’s Cat Co.

A lot of cat experts have tried to emulate feline hunting behavior for domestic cats when they are confined. It is one of the great challenges for cat owners to provide adequate stimulation while at the same time ensuring that their cat is safe. There are other similar products on the market and the pet products market is a very big and profitable one.

I tend to agree with Dr Bale on hunting for commercially prepared cat food. The obstacle is how to do it. In the wild, cats would spend around 60-80% of their waking hours looking for prey. Typically, cat owners deprive their cats of expressing this natural behavior. Incidentally, she refers to a recent Norwegian study published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery which came to the conclusion that cats want to be in charge when feeding. This points to the need to allow them to hunt and search out their food which supports Dr Bales’ system.

I have tried this system and failed. Or my cat has failed to become interested in it. I like the concept but my cat simply does not understand the purpose of this device.

As a postscript, she says that it is important for cats to eat alone because cats are solitary hunters and eating with other cats may cause stress with the associated risk of overeating and then perhaps being sick. I agree that in multi-cat households there is a danger of timid cats being stressed and this is sometimes overlooked by cat owners.

The weakness with her system – as is explained by people who have commented on it – is that it depends upon kibble. A lot has been written about dry cat food and its advantages and disadvantages. The general consensus is that it should not be the only form of nutrition for a domestic cat.

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How big is a cat’s stomach? And are we feeding our cats all wrong? — 2 Comments

  1. My feeling is that a hide and hunt feeding system is just too extreme. You will need to monitor each hidden mouse to see how much has been eaten, for one. In addition this would be too hard for ill, blind, disabled, or elderly animals. Most cats seem content to eat out of a bowl, groom, and go to sleep. I could see this working as a playtime activity with treats.

    • Yes, I tend to agree. The theory is okay but I think it is doubtful if it will get traction in the pet product market.

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