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How do I know if my cat is hungry?

Cats are wonderful companions, but they can seem quite mysterious at times. It can feel like you need an owner’s manual to decode their behavior, including knowing when they are hungry. However, there are a few signs that can let you know it’s time to feed your cat. 

How do I know if my cat is hungry?

Decoding your cat’s signs of hunger isn’t difficult once you know what to look for. 


Cats are intelligent. Perhaps they use vocalizations so often because they know it melts human hearts. Who can resist a cat looking up at you, meowing plantively? 

You can almost hear them saying, “Feed me please”. Or, depending on the tone of their meow, perhaps they are saying, “Feed me now human!”. Regardless, vocalizations are a key way your cat communicates when they want something from you, including food. 

The Stare

Your cat may stare at you when they are hungry. This is often combined with meowing. You’ll find your cat looking at you expectantly, or perhaps even impatiently. Somehow you know that the stare says they are hungry. 

Getting Close

Your cat may also rub against you or climb into your lap. Rubbing against your legs is particularly common when your cat is hungry. They may follow you around from room to room as well. 

Going To Their Bowl or Food 

You may also find your cat waiting by their bowl or the place you store their food. This may be combined with a meow and a stare when you notice your kitty. 


Cats also seem to know when it’s mealtime. If you feed your cat on a schedule, which you should, they will know when it’s time to eat. They may show signs of hunger when it’s mealtime, because they have an expectation to eat at this time. 

You may have experienced something similar. Have you ever realized it’s mealtime, or that you were so busy you missed a meal, and felt like you were starving as soon as you realized it was time to eat? Your brain tells the body it’s time to eat, so the body says it’s hungry. It’s possible your cat experiences the same thing. 

How often do cats get hungry?

Cats get hungry, or expect to be fed, at different times depending on what they are accustomed to. However, there are some basic guidelines you should know. 

Cat Digestion

Cats digestive structure is similar to humans. Food moves into the stomach. After a few hours, the food is broken down and moves to the intestines. After 8-10 hours of the stomach being empty, your cat will be hungry. 

How Often to Feed Your Cat

How often to feed your cat really depends on your schedule. Most pet parents find it easiest to feed their cat around the same time they have their meals. 

Your cat needs to eat at least two meals, about 10-12 hours apart. However, you can feed your cat more often if it suits your schedule, and your cat. 

Some cat owners prefer to feed their cat 3 or 4 times a day. This is fine, as long as your cat eats the proper amount of food each day. 

If your cat goes more than 12 hours without eating, their stomach can develop too much acid. You may have experienced this yourself. 

Have you ever went longer than normal without food, only to find you had nausea or a stomach ache when you finally began to eat? This is because your stomach had too much acid. 

Your stomach, and your cats, produces acid to break down food. When there’s no food to break down, there’s nothing to neutralize the acid. 

How Long Can cats go without food?

It’s never ideal for your cat to go more than 12 hours without food. However, you may wonder just how long your cat can go without any nutrition. 

A cat, like a human, can only survive about 3 days without water. Cats can survive about 2 weeks without food, as long as they have plenty of water. 

However, they can die within 3-4 days without food, especially protein. Their livers and other organs can shut down without protein. Their bodies aren’t designed to sustain them with fat stores the way our bodies are. 

When to Worry About a Cat Not Eating

If your cat hasn’t eaten in 24 hours or longer, it’s time to call your vet. The longer they go without food, the greater the chances of organ damage or weakness to their bodies. 

How much should a cat eat a day?

How much your cat should eat each day depends on several factors. We’ll look at averages, but first let’s take a look at the individual factors that impact your cat’s caloric needs. 

Factors to Consider

The first thing you should consider is size. A 2 pound cat will obviously require much less food than a 10 pound cat. Averages are generally given for an average size cat of 10 pounds. If your cat is smaller or larger, you’ll need to adjust the amount. 

Age is another factor. Kittens are growing, and have higher caloric needs than adult cats at approximately the same weight. Kittens are also more active, which brings us to the next factor. 

Activity level is often overlooked, but it shouldn’t be. Generally, outdoor cats will burn more calories than indoor cats, because they tend to be more active. However, if your cat frequently runs around the house or plays vigorously, they will burn more calories than one content to nap in your window most of the day. 

Obviously, pregnant or nursing cats will need more calories than those that aren’t. They are providing nutrition for kittens, in addition to themselves. 

How Much Food Does My Cat Need?

Most dry foods have 500 calories per cup, or 8 ounces. The average 10 pound cat needs 300 calories per day if they are intact, or 1/2-2/3 cup of dry food. A spayed or neutered cat will need a little less, at 260 calories, or about 1/2 cup of dry food. 

A 20 pound cat that is intact will require 500 calories a day, or 1 cup of food. A fixed 20 pound cat will require about 440 calories a day. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a 5 pound cat will need 180 calories if intact, and 155 calories if fixed. 

When it comes to wet foods, most wet cat foods contain 150-200 calories per 5 ounce can. Wet food contains more water, which can help kitties stay hydrated. 

Will cats stop eating when full?

It truly depends on the cat. However, 50% of cats are obese, so clearly, many cats cannot regulate how much they eat. 

Do Kittens Know When They Are Full?

Kittens do not know when they are full. It’s common for kittens to gorge themselves and eat far too much if it’s available for them. Think about a young child. Do you expect a toddler to know when to stop eating? Most parents look for cues that their child is full, instead of expecting them to know when to stop eating. Particularly if it’s a food they really enjoy. 

A young child isn’t likely to overeat their veggies, but will certainly eat all the candy they can get their hands on. You can expect the same behavior from your kitten. They aren’t able to self-regulate their food intake. 

Do Adult Cats Know When They Are Full?

Some cats will know when they are full and stop eating. However, 50% of cats aged 5-11 are obese, or over their ideal weight. This tells us that the majority of cats will continue to eat even when they are full. 

Adjusting Food Intake

It’s also important to adjust your cat’s food intake as they age. A young, energetic 1 year old cat will require more food than a 10 year old cat that’s not very active. 

Just like humans, cats maintain weight by a simple mechanism. 

When they take in approximately the same amount of calories they expend, they maintain their current weight. When they burn more calories than they consume, they will lose weight. When they eat more calories than they are burning, they will gain weight. 

If you continue to feed your cat the same amount you did when they were 1 year old at 10 years old, the cat will likely become obese. The amount of calories they expend has dropped, but the amount of calories they are taking in has stayed the same. 

Cat Metabolism

Cat metabolism is a bit more complicated than humans. Just like us, their metabolism slows down as they hit middle age. The middle age period for cats is 4-9. At this time, you can expect your cat to require less food because they burn the calories more slowly. Experts recommend a 20-30% decrease in their food intake during this time period. 

However, after middle age, things reverse somewhat. At age 11 and higher, cats have a harder time processing fat and protein. This means that they need more food than they did in middle age. 

Think of it this way. If a middle age cat gets 90% of the nutritional value of their food into their body, but they only get 70% at age 11 and older, you’ll need to increase their food intake by 20% to cover the gap. 

This is only an example, not a specific metabolic change. It’s best to work with your veterinarian to determine how much you should feed your cat. They can do metabolic tests to see how your cat’s metabolism is functioning. They will then combine this with your cat’s age, weight, and activity level, to determine how much your kitty needs to eat each day. 

How can you tell if a cat is thirsty?

Water is important for your cat, just as it is for you. Another similarity is that many cats don’t drink enough water. Your cat should always have access to fresh water.

Do Cats Get Thirsty?

Cats do get thirsty, but if you are providing access to water, you may not notice it very often. Food should be provided at set times throughout the day, but water should always be available. 

You may occasionally notice your cat drinking, but they shouldn’t have to request water from you. 

Getting Your Cat to Drink

Cats are notoriously finicky. Many are more finicky when it comes to water than food. Essentially, if your cat doesn’t like the water, they aren’t likely to drink it. 

Use a water bowl large enough to hold a day’s worth of water. Fill it once a day. Before you fill the bowl, wash it with soap and water. This keeps bacteria from growing and improves the taste of the water. 

Do not place your cat’s water beside their food. This might make logical sense to us, but many cats don’t like water being close to their food. It’s also easy for food to fall into the water, which will likely prevent your cat from drinking it. 

Why Is My Cat Always Thirsty?

Dehydration is a concern for cats, but they can also drink too much water. You may notice that your cat’s water bowl is being emptied faster than normal. However, you are more likely to notice that your cat is urinating too much rather than drinking too much. 

The three most common causes of excessive drinking and urination are diabetes, hypothyroidism, and kidney disease. It’s also possible that your cat is drinking too much as a behavioral issue. Some cats will drink too much water as a way to calm anxiety. 

If your cat is drinking more water than usual and showing signs of an illness, bring them in for a checkup. 

Signs of illness include fatigue, behavioral changes, loss of appetite, and stomach upset. 

How Much Is Too Much or Not Enough?

If you have an adult cat, the easiest way to decide if they are drinking the proper amount of water is to consider their normal intake. If they are drinking much more or less than normal, you should be concerned. If they are drinking around the same amount, don’t worry if they are drinking more or less than the average cat, as long as they aren’t showing any signs of a problem. 

The first sign of too much water most cat owners notice are urinary issues. Your cat may begin to pee outside the litterbox. They may also begin to leave much more urine in their litterbox. 

If they aren’t drinking enough water, they will display signs of dehydration. The signs of dehydration include fatigue, panting, and refusing to eat. You may also notice that their eyes are sunken, and their gums are tacky and dry. 

What time of day should I feed my cat?

You should feed your cat at least twice a day, in the morning and evening. You can choose to feed them more often if you wish, but they require at least two meals a day. 

Feeding them first thing in the morning is fine. At night, it’s best to have a play session about  1 1/2 hours before bedtime. After you play, then feed your cat. 

This will allow them to begin winding down and go to sleep with a full stomach. Feeding them right before bed can make it difficult for them to sleep, because their body is focused on digestion.