I am an Affilate!

I hope you enjoy any product or service that I recommend. :) Just so you understand, I may take a share of any sales or other compensation from the links on this page. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Thanks if you use my links, I really appreciate your support.

Should I Leave Food Out For My Cat at Night?

If you are planning a short break or weekend away, you may wonder if it’s a good idea to leave food out overnight (click here to see my best automatic cat feeders for overnight feeding) For this reason I will answer this and more…

Should you leave food out for your cat overnight? Yes, this is fine. But, do not try this with wet food. It needs to be dry food. Also, you need to consider your strategy of feeding you are using, if its free-feeding then leaving food out is ideal.

Now that you know this is fine, let me explain the different feeding schedules you can choose, the pros and cons of each, how they impact overnight feeding and much more…

What types of feeding is there?

A cat looking into a red food bowl.

A cat looking into a red food bowl.

As discussed briefly, Yes, you can do leave food out overnight. However, it’s best to provide dry food rather than wet food. The reason for this is probably quite obvious. But, to clarify, it is because wet food has a limited amount of time that it can be left out.

There is a limit with dry food as well. But, it will last a lot longer than wet food without being refrigerated. Regarding leaving out food overnight. You need to consider what type of feeding method that you’re going to use. There are two methods:

  • Meal feeding.
  • Free Feeding (Grazing).

It is fine to leave the food out overnight if you’re using the free feeding method (more detail on this later by the way). However, if you are using the Meal based approach, then leaving food out overnight is not a good idea.

I will explain more about these different types of food preparation in the next section.

What are the pros and cons of meal feeding?

Meal feeding is one of 2 different types of feeding schedules that you can use to feed your cat, as discussed briefly in the previous section.

Essentially, meal feeding is providing set meals for your cat during the day. As opposed to allowing them to graze on food without any set times.

During each meal, they will have specific portions laid out for them. Your cat will typically eat the entire meal in one sitting.

What are the advantages of meal feeding?

The advantages are, you can monitor your cat closely. You can see exactly how much food your cat is eating. You can also detect if he or she is losing their appetite. Or, if they might have some issues with their eating a lot faster.

In addition to this, if you have more than one cat in your household, this can help to eliminate the chances of one of your cats stealing all the food. If this happens, it leaves one smaller vulnerable underfed.

What are the disadvantages of meal feeding?

Meal feeding is great. However, you may find that your cat may moan and cry for more food in between meal times.

Therefore it’s important you establish and stick to a set routine. This is so they know when to expect the food. In time she will get used to the amounts that she gets and adjusts accordingly.

If you find that she is crying all the time you may discover that you are not giving her enough food. However, there is a fine line between you thinking its underfeeding and your cat just being greedy.

What are the pros and cons of free-feeding (grazing)

Free feeding is the complete opposite of meal feeding. Basically, you are allowing your cat to graze all day on a set amount of food that is left out for them.

Typically this is done with dry food. The reason for this is, if you attempt to leave wet food out all day it can go off or dry out (But, Click here to learn how to feed cats wet food while you are away for Work or Vacation). So, it’s not ideal or even worth trying to be honest.

Even though dry food can be left out all day, which makes it ideal for this, by the way. It does not mean that you can just leave out the same dry food day after day after day, are you with me?

If, after one day, all of the dry food is not consumed, then replace it with fresh food the following day.

Reducing Wasted Food

A tip to stop the wastage is, if you noticed that you are basically throwing away a lot of food over a few days in a row. Then you may need to reduce the portions. Because it’s clearly too much for your cat to consume. Also, check if there are any issues with their appetite or health, could she be off her food for some reason?

Advantages of Free-feeding

The advantages of free-feeding is, it’s quite easy to manage. You do not have to be present for each mealtime. For example, you can simply put out the food in the morning, then head off to work. Then come back in the evening and monitor what’s leftover. If you have multiple cats is even easier.

Disadvantages of Free-feeding

However, the disadvantages of free-feeding is that you do not have the ability to closely monitor exactly how much food your cat is consuming. This also becomes quite difficult if you have more than one cat.

Using this method you can have one cat that is hardly getting any food. While your bigger dominant cat is gobbling up all of the day’s portions.

One trick to avoid this…

However, there are some interesting strategies to control the amount of food consumed using the meal feeding technique.

If you are going to use the meal feeding technique or you are currently using it. And, if you are having problems with your cat eating too much here are some tips to help you.

Firstly make sure that once the food is consumed do not immediately refill it up. Because this will only entice your cats to eat it immediately again. If you get into the vicious cycle of constantly refilling, she is one step away from overfeeding and obesity.

Instead, once the food is done, it is done! No more food provided until the next day, are you with me?

Another handy trick is using a food puzzle

Food puzzles or “slow feeders” (click here for 3 of my best slow feed cat bowls) will make it a bit harder for your cat to guzzle up the food immediately as soon as you lay it down.

This is a good technique to use because not only will it slow down food consumption. It can also challenge your cat mentally. This is more in line with how they used to live in the wild.

What is the ideal meal feeding schedule (Frequency)?

If you are planning on feeding your cat using the meal feeding approach discussed in this article, I will help by explaining what is a good frequency of food for your cat.

According to cornell.edu, kittens are fine with food 3 times a day. For adults, this includes any cat one year or above, they can usually be fed once or twice a day. In fact, according to Cornell, you could even get away with once a day depending on your particular cat. Either way, many cat owners benefit from using the customizable meal schedule features on automatic feeders to help to automate this (Click here to see why I rate this one best).

Can I leave wet food out overnight?

A cat eating food from a bowl.

A cat eating food from a bowl.

No. You can’t leave wet food out overnight as it is. However, you can purchase a cat feeder that can have wet food in it. This can be programmed to dispense the wet food during the night. But, this may not be practical for all cat owners.

If you leave wet cat food without this it will get contaminated with bacteria after a few hours. Hence the reason most cat owners opt for dry cat food. It’s easier to leave it as it is.

Is it mandatory to leave cat food out for your cat at night?

No. It is not mandatory to leave cat food out overnight. However, some cat owners prefer it. It is also a lot harder if you have more than one cat. This is because it’s hard to gauge how much each cat has eaten, or if one cat has taken it all.

If you have more than one cat, and are keen to leave the food out overnight, you can consider an automatic feeder that is triggered by a microchip. This will only let the cat of your choice gain access to that portion of food.

Will leaving food at night allow me to monitor my cat’s natural eating times?

Yes. It can help to get an idea of your cat’s preferred eating time by letting it free-feed and overnight. However, it requires you to monitor its progress at regular intervals to see which times of the night it has taken the food.

For most cat owners this is not practical. Why? Because even if they discover their cat seems to prefer to eat at 2AM every morning, this may not be convenient for them.

Instead, they will prefer to train their cat to follow their own schedule. For example, before and after work. And, maybe some portions of dry food out overnight.

Is free-feeding unhealthy for cats?

Yes, it can be. This is because some cats will just keep eating regardless of how full they are. Therefore, for those cats, they may become overweight. Or, in the worse case, they could steadily become obese.

Therefore, a meal feeding schedule is ideal. But, it is understood that this is not always the best, or practical option for some cat owners.

What amount of food should I leave out at night?

If you want to leave some food out at night it’s best to offer a small portion of dry food. Also, rather than placing it all in one bowl, either separate into two bowls, in different locations or use an automatic feeder.

This will help to control your cat’s portions. SOme cats have a habit of eating what’s in front of them as fast as possible with no regard for saving it till later.

Related Questions:

In this section, I will answer some frequently asked questions related to overnight feeding (Click here to learn if cats need night lights) . If you feel there are unanswered questions, please drop a comment below.

Do Cats get bored with the same food every day? Yes, they do. They are different from dogs. Dogs will just eat whatever you give them without complaints. However, some cats are quite picky and will flat out refuse some foods.

Also, they may like a certain food for a while but may change their mind on a later date. This is just cat behavior and not generally anything to be concerned about at all.

Sometimes, to add to the confusion, your kitty may just not be feeling comfortable while she is eating. This why some cat owners use high cat feeding tables (Click here to see why this one is popular).

Lindsey Browlingdon