Although I set out below, in a spreadsheet, the answer to the question, “how many calories does a cat need?”, there are stages in the life of a cat when she/he has increased or decreased energy requirements and a list of these variations are also set out in the spreadsheet below (2nd block down). There are also the natural differences in cat size and weight to contend with. Illness can also increase energy requirements. These are all covered in the spreadsheet.
Calories are required to supply a cat’s daily energy needs for these purposes:
- maintain resting metabolic rate (RMR) – this is the energy needed to maintain homeostasis during rest. Homeostasis is the regulation of a stable condition inside the body3 including such functions as blood circulation, respiration, kidney and liver function2. Cats with a high proportion of lean tissue (e.g., young cats) will have a high RMR.
- meal-induced thermogenesis (thermogenesis is the process of heat production in organisms. It occurs mostly in warm-blooded animals1). When cats eat energy is consumed to digest, absorb and utilise the nutrients2. About 10% of the calories in the food eaten is “lost” in this way.
- voluntary muscular activity. This is responsible for about 25-30% of overall energy consumption.
- maintenance of body temperature2
The charts below, in respect of the calorie needs of a cat, are to be used as a starting point only.
The energy in food comes from three major sources:
- Carbohydrates (28% of energy source in cat food for adult maintenance)
- Proteins (28%)
- Fats (44%2)
The carbohydrates in cat food comes from cereal, legumes (the fruits or seeds of anything that comes in a pod5) and plant foodstuffs4.
A rough test for a normal sized cat is to take a commonsense view. Is your cat well proportioned? Can you feel the ribs (thin covering of fat over the ribs)? The waistline should be moderate. See cat obesity.
I will add some more details if I may. One vet website states that a cat requires 24-35 cal a day per pound to keep cats and a normal healthy weight. If the average weight of a domestic cat is around ten pounds that means around 240-350 cal per day. Another website says the average indoor cat should have 20 cal per pound to maintain weight. Clearly the number of calories that a cat eats and needs to eat depends upon several factors including their age and activity level.
Another website (another veterinary website) states that a fairly inactive 10-pound cat between the ages of 1-7 requires 200 cal per day to maintain healthy body weight. Snacks should be no more than about 10% of a cat’s daily calorific intake.
Delivering 250 calories per 24-hour period
What does 200-250 cal look like? Some cat food manufacturers tell you how many calories ACSA of food contains. But they are not required to put it on the label. The calorie content is more likely to be listed if it is a dieting cat food such as one that is light in calories in order to help combat obesity.
Apparently, the calorie count for dry food is somewhere between 350-500 cal per cup. A cup is equivalent of 0.2 L. Wet food ranges from 120-190 cal per cup or 0.2 L.
There is a big question mark about how many meals a cat caregiver should give their cat. Should there be three meals a day or two meals a day or perhaps five? You will find varying opinions on this. I believe that in the wild the wildcat ancestor to the domestic cat will eat whenever they can. They don’t have set meal times like humans!
Therefore, I would suggest that you could give as many as five meals to your cat over the period of 24 hours. You would, therefore, under the circumstances, need to divide the 250-calorie target for that 24-hour period by five which results in each meal having a calorific value of 50. I would suggest a 50 cal is a very small amount of food. Perhaps it equates to the contents of a small sachet of wet cat food.
How many calories does a cat need? — Sources:
- 1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermogenesis
- 2. The Cat, Its Behaviour, Nutrition & Health
- 3. .
- 4. http://dels.nas.edu/dels/rpt_briefs/cat_nutrition_final.pdf.