The most epic post ever written about how to feed a cat

Guest post by Ariel van Spronsen
Ceramic bowl with cat ears by BardoCeramics

I think cats are great. If you’re lucky enough to have been adopted by a cat, you’re now her source of food! Many people think cats are self-sufficient, but by definition no domesticated animal can survive without human intervention. We made it that way, and we get to reap some fabulous rewards. If you think about it, cuddling a small lion is a pretty cool thing!

I’ve lived with cats all my life and spent a lot of time volunteering at my local animal shelter, and I’ve learned a thing or two in that time. I’m also one of those people who reads everything I can about things in my purview, and I’m obsessive about optimizing my systems. So here are a few cat feeding tips and tricks from my experience:

Feeding Times

The most convenient way to feed cats (for us humans) is to put out fresh food every day and let the cat decide when she will eat. This can work really well, depending on the cat. Some cats will self-regulate, but most will not. Younger cats especially are often bored when they’re home alone, and will walk their circuit trolling for something to do. Food is something to do.

If you want to try free-feeding make sure your cat has lots of activities her daily path (cat fort!), and see how it goes. If your cat starts gaining weight, you’ll have to switch to feeding once or twice a day at a fairly consistent time. Fat cats may be cute, but just like humans the extra weight puts a strain on their health, leading to more vet bills.

Ceramic Cat Bowls by Susabellas

Dishes and Location

Cats are not terribly picky about what they eat out of, but you should be. Here’s why:

  1. Did you know that cats get acne? It’s not pretty. The primary cause of cat acne is their face rubbing on the greasy sides of their cat food bowls.

    To prevent this, use bowls that are made of a non-porous material like stainless steel, glass, or ceramic, and keep them clean. I switch out Zena’s dry food bowl every other day, and use a clean bowl for wet food at every feeding. Also make sure the bowl isn’t too deep — no deeper than the depth of the cat’s muzzle. The idea is to minimize contact with the sides of the bowl.


  1. Cat farts. Also not pretty. Cat digestion is sensitive, and both the shape and position of their dishes can affect how they take their food in, and how much stink they make.

    Bowls should be big enough to hold the food portion, and have somewhat upright sides. This makes it easier for the cat to “corner” her food and get it in her mouth without gulping. Some folks recommend elevated bowls to make the eating position more natural, too. I think it’s a great idea. I don’t use elevated bowls myself because most of the ones I’ve shopped tip over too easily, but this one looks pretty good.

Cats are, however, a bit sensitive about where they eat.

Ideally you can feed your cat in a location where she can get some privacy while she eats. If a cat is at all anxious she’ll tend to wolf her food, which makes for digestive badness. The kitchen is often a preferred feeding location, but I recommend against it if it’s generally a busy place in your home. Personally I like to keep food happenings in the kitchen because I’m a clean freak, so I feed my cat there, but I also am willing to leave the kitchen for a few minutes after I plunk down her food.

On the cleanliness tip: In the past I’ve put placemats on the floor under my cats’ dishes. I’d shake them out every couple of days and launder them every week to keep things neat. Nowadays my cat actually has an elevated dining table of her very own, which keeps crumbs off the floor and looks darn cute.


This is a big topic and merits a separate discussion, but here is my opinion in brief: Feed both canned and dry food. And unless you are financially unable, buy high quality food for your cat.

By high quality, I mean food made from actual meat. Most of the stuff you see in grocery stores is made from meat processing by-product — what I like to call “lips and assholes”. There are people who truly can’t afford more than 59 cents for a can of Friskies. If that’s your situation you are a wonderful human being for sharing some of your limited income to feed a feline friend, and by all means buy the Friskies. But barring poverty I say pay the extra $5-10 a month for decent cat food. To me it’s worth cutting a few dinners out to keep my cat happy and healthy.

There are many great brands of cat food out there. A store like Mud Bay here in Seattle specializes in carrying only high-quality foods, and the staff are often super knowledgeable. Stores like Petco usually carry both the good stuff and the stuff made from lips and assholes, so do your research. Here is a good place to start learning more.

Sometimes cats have medical conditions for which vets will prescribe special diets. Vets also often sell prescription foods from their offices. Most of these foods are relatively high quality but still contain meat by-products (though several natural food companies like Wysong are starting to make prescription diets as well). In my opinion, if the medical issue is serious, like pee crystals or renal failure,  you go with the prescription diet.

simplehuman Medium Pet Food Storage Can

Food storage

I find that feeding dry food out of the bag is a pain, so I’ve invested in an airtight container. I spent $13 on a plastic container a few years ago, and if I keep it away from light in a cupboard, it seems to work just fine. Someday I hope to upgrade to the beautiful stainless steel simplehuman container. It has the added bonus of being opaque, which helps keep food fresher by blocking light, and the liner is BPA-free.

There are many ways to store unused canned food, and the relative merits of each have been debated (yes, really). It definitely needs to be refrigerated, and the most common way of handling this is to slap a lid or some tinfoil on the can and plunking it in the fridge. This can be ok IF the cans are lined, and IF you use the food quickly, otherwise you risk metals leaching into the cat food. Personally, I take a few seconds to put unused cat food in a small glass storage container before I put it in the fridge. I have used plastic containers in the past, but glass has even lower leaching risk and cleans up so much easier.

If you feed your cat raw food, glass containers can also be used to rotate portions from the freezer through refrigerator for thawing. With raw food it’s super important to use it within 2-3 days of thawing, so when I’ve fed it to my cat in the past I’ve used masking tape to write the date I pulled a portion from the freezer on the container.

As an extra kindness to your cat you may consider adding a teaspoon or so of hot water to her wet food when it’s been refrigerated. Most cats are just grateful to get the food, but if you think about how they eat in the wild, the meat is body temperature — not refrigerator temperature. As an added bonus, adding some hot water increases your cat’s moisture intake, something they are not always great at managing themselves.

Comments on The most epic post ever written about how to feed a cat

  1. I just wanted to pass along an experience I had with holistic, organic, (expensive!) cat food.

    While I definitely agree that higher-end food is better for your cat, please be careful when buying them and do your research first. They often advertise that their food contains organic fruits and vegetables. While this sounds delicious to us, cats have little need for fruits and veggies in their diets. After getting a nice raise at work I decided to start investing in quality cat food for my kitties. However, the $50 bag of organic cat food I bought my cats made one of them extremely sick. I took her to my incredible vet who specializes in cats and found out that she had developed crystals in her urine because of the potatoes and tomatoes in her fancy cat food. My vet said that, while many of the high-end foods are better for cats, what is more important is to look for the AAFCO statement on the bags. Specifically, look for, “animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures,” as opposed to the food saying it uses “AAFCO-approved ingredients” or something like that.

    The feeding tests are the important thing, he said, as the brand has then proven throughout the life of a cat that their food is good for kitty’s health.

    I had no idea of any of this information before going through this with my own pets, so I thought I would pass it along to others as well! A lot of the high-end and holistic foods do these feeding trials, so just make sure you’re buying a food that has proven it’s quality.

  2. Loved your article, you definitely know a lot about cats!! I adopted my cat 5 months ago & I feed him wet & dry. Is it true that I should stay away from feeding my cat fish flavored food because it is suppose to be bad for cats? Do you know of any good natural dry & wet food brands to feed my cat? I live in Canada & currently am feeding performatrin ultra grain free dry food & blue buffalo wilderness, wellness, merrick grain free & almo wet food. Thank you again for your article:)

  3. This is great advice! I would add that incorporating wet food is also important because cats need a high level of moisture for their livers especially, but for overall health and digestion too of course. The average cat, like the average person, does not get nearly enough water each day, and many common but deadly feline ailments are thought to be related to this. I have recently started mixing wet and dry for this reason. Best of both worlds as far as the little guy is concerned.

  4. I left a big bag of canned cat food in my trunk for 2 days and I live in a climate that it gets 110 plus degrees in the car. Can this heat effect the cat food? I’m sure the food wasn’t shipped in a refrigerated truck, so I have to assume that it was this got during transition from the factory to my city. Any thoughts?

  5. Just a short reply our 7 month kitten daisys favourite food is me preferably my thigh when i least expect it and have my back to her. Great post very interesting reading thanks x

  6. Hello I was wondering what to do with my kitty Ginger. She weighs about 14-15 lbs and the vet told me to feed her only 1/4 c of food twice a day. I feel its not enough because she is ALWAYS coming into the kitchen when Im in there looking at her bowl, waiting for me to feed her again. I feel bad, but dont want to condone to her weight issue and provoke any illnesses to come along.
    Its hard for me to watch her as she eats her food up so quick, because there’s hardly any in her bowl and then she seems hungry 1/2 hour later. I also feed her wet food (1 TBS) every other day to keep her hydrated and for a nice treat for her. Again…she wolfs it down! I DO try to get her to excercise every day a few times a day and sometimes she’ll play for about 5-10 minutes. But She isnt very energetic at 6 years old and seems to be gaining more weight. is there another solution Im not aware of?

  7. One thing I’ve not seen mentioned here is where to keep water bowls in relation to food bowls. We always kept ours next to each other plus we had a kitty water fountain in a different location which seemed to work well until we got our youngest kitty who likes to swim in the fountain and would routinely up-end it spilling litres of water everywhere so we ended up having to give up on the fountain. After some research and being concerned that our lot weren’t always drinking enough water I discovered some pretty interesting articles about why most cats wont drink from water bowls next to food ones and we moved theirs to the other end of the hallway and now the bowl will completely empty if left for a few days where as before no more than an inch of water would go from the top. Just seemed worth pointing out! 🙂

  8. Hi

    Thank you for this website. I have an important question about feeding cats and then abruptly stopping. The story goes like this. I moved into a rental home on a farm 6 months ago and after about 4 months the two barn cats made their why to my house which is 30 feet from the barn. I started to feed them dry food twice a day and of course they now hang out outside and wait for me to feed them. The owner of the farm asked me to stop feeding them, which I have but they are still hanging around outside. How long will this go on for?

  9. Thumbs up Offbeat home for sharing a wonder article on cat feedings, I agree with your article In my view, feeding both dry and wet cat food is better, you can even fix both this feeding method known as topping. Canned food is best for urinary problems it keeps your pet hydrated and it does not contain any synthetics and preservatives. On the other hand, Dry food is more convenient it is easy to store & feed and it also gives well-balanced nutrition.

  10. Great article. One thing though, dry pet food should never be stored in plastic containers. The kibble can go rancid when the fats and oils are exposed to air and moisture, and then can grow mold that can make your cat very sick, and potentially be fatal. The bags the food comes in are the best containers to store the food, since they have plastic layers to help keep air out. The best thing is to get a container that the bag fits in, and leave it in the bag inside the container.

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