There are an overwhelming number of brands and blends of cat food on the market, and it can be a challenge to choose the most nutritious options for your feline friend. One of the first considerations is do cats need high-protein cat food? Understanding cats’ dietary needs can help you choose the best food for your cat.
What Nutrition Cats Need
Cats are obligate carnivores, animals that have evolved to eat mostly meat and to derive necessary nutrition from meat diets rather than plant material. In contrast, humans and dogs are both omnivores, able to get the nutrition they need from a wider range of foods, including both meat and plants.
Because of their need for a carnivorous diet, cats have unique metabolic processes and require greater amounts of protein than many pet owners realize. Cats lack a variety of amino acids and enzymes that they can only get from meat – plant-based proteins found in vegetables do not provide the same nutrition. The proteins cats need are essential for healthy internal organs, luxurious fur, strong muscles, keen eyesight, and adequate energy.
Therefore, a high-protein diet is essential for every domestic cat. It is particularly critical for kittens and young cats that need even more abundant protein for healthy growth, as well as for pregnant and nursing cats that must nourish their young. Senior cats that have less efficient digestive systems also need higher protein in their diet in order to absorb adequate protein as they age.
If Cats Don’t Get Enough Protein
Cats that lack adequate protein in their diet can develop a wide range of health problems. Heart problems, muscle loss, and poor fur condition are common, and a malnourished cat may have less energy and be more prone to illness. In time, cats can have eyesight problems that may advance to blindness if they do not get enough protein.
If a cat’s diet has too many plants and carbohydrates, weight gain and obesity is likely, which can lead to diabetes and other health problems. Cats on a high-carb diet may also develop digestive problems, including larger, bulkier stools that may be difficult to pass.
Choosing High-Protein Cat Food
The best way to ensure your cat is getting enough protein is to check the nutritional composition of its food. The first ingredients listed on high-quality, high-protein cat food will be animal proteins such as beef, lamb, turkey, chicken, or fish, as well as meat meal or meat by-products, both of which are highly concentrated protein sources. Wet food typically has more protein than dry food, and overall, at least 30-40 percent of a cat’s diet should be protein.
Analyzing the guaranteed analysis composition of cat food can be helpful, but take care to note the different types of protein in the food and avoid cat foods that contain high amounts of vegetable proteins such as soybeans, sunflower oil, vegetables, or grains. Cats cannot efficiently digest plant-based proteins, and a high-protein food based on plant proteins will not be nourishing for a cat’s unique metabolic needs.
In addition to cat food, adding cooked, unprocessed meat such as grilled chicken to a cat’s diet can improve its overall protein levels. Avoid any meats that are heavily seasoned, sauced, or spiced, as those additives are unhealthy for cats and could potentially be toxic. A raw food diet may be another option, but investigate suppliers carefully to ensure the meat is safely handled and suitable for cats.
Ultimately, it is best to consult with your veterinarian about the best food choices for your cat, particularly if your pet has unique health conditions that may impact its nutritional needs. If you must change your cat’s diet, do so gradually to minimize digestive upsets, and watch your cat carefully to learn its food preferences so you can offer healthy, appetizing, protein-rich meals that will meet your pet’s dietary requirements.