Nutrition in Cats

Cats and Protein:

Cat Food I: An Overview

As carnivores, cats normally eat a lot of protein. It is the main nutrient that they use for energy and it is what tells them that they have had enough to eat. To keep them healthy, we recommend feeding high protein foods to most cats. Limiting the amount of food consumed may also be necessary.

Dry foods are always high in carbohydrates and relatively low in protein. Cats fed dry food tend to be more overweight and less active than cats fed high protein canned food. We have had very little success in getting cats to lose weight on any dry food.

Cat Food II: A Case for Protein

We usually recommend feeding cats high protein canned food only. We recommend finding a quality canned food that is at least 12% protein. A ten pound cat should get about 3 oz. (one small can) twice daily.

Cats are not Small Bears:

Cat Food III: Reading the Label

Cats are strict carnivores. Their natural diet does not include cranberries, blueberries, tomatoes, yogurt and carrots. They cannot convert beta-carotene into vitamin A or flaxseed oil into useful omega-3 fatty acids. While all these things have been proven to be beneficial to humans and may be beneficial to bears, they are probably of no value to cats.

Changing from Dry to Canned Food - The Finicky Cat:

If a cat has learned as a kitten that dry kibble is food, they may refuse to eat canned food, either because they don't recognize it as food or because they prefer the taste and texture of the kibble. When this happens, it can be extremely difficult to make the change.

To encourage a cat to eat canned food, there are some things you can try, often in combination:

  • Start by mixing some canned food into the dry.
  • Crunch up the dry food and sprinkle its dust onto the canned food.
  • Add other tasty things to the canned food. The probiotic FortiFlora sometimes works well.
  • Feed enough dry food to keep them healthy but not enough to keep them sated. We usually calculate the amount of calories a cat would need for maintenance and then feed 80% of that.
  • If they pester you for food, get a timer or alarm clock just for them and associate its ringing with food time. Don't give any food unless that alarm is ringing. (Don't use a bell that you ring manually or they will pester you to ring the bell so that they can get fed.)

Changing from Dry to Canned Food - The Sensitive Stomach:

If you have tried food and your cat always gets sick on it, keep in mind that this is almost never because your cat can't eat canned food. It is almost always because they can't eat some canned foods. A lot of canned foods have shared or similar ingredients. If it seems that your cat can't tolerate canned food, we recommend that you start slowly and pick one or two canned foods with limited ingredients in them. It's best to start with foods that are free of carbohydrates, plant proteins, by-products, tuna, chicken, and salmon.

Risks of Changing a Cat's Diet:

Digestive Upset.
Changing suddenly from one type of food to another can cause diarrhea and other gastrointestinal signs. We usually recommend a gradual transition over one or two weeks.

Hepatic Lipidosis.
When overweight cats don’t eat enough, they are at risk of developing hepatic lipidosis – also called “fatty liver disease”. When this is seen, it is usually because a cat stops eating due to illness, but it can also be caused by a diet that is too restrictive or even by a cat being finicky. This is a severe, life threatening disease. If an obese cat hasn't eaten in 24 hours, it should be considered an emergency.

Inflammation of the urinary bladder can be related to obesity, but it can also sometimes be related to the stress associated with changing a cat’s diet. In male cats, it can be life threatening. Whenever changing the diet of a male cat, it is important to be aware of this risk. If any signs of cystitis are seen, it should be considered an emergency. Signs include straining to urinate, frequent trips to the litter box, and urinating outside of the litter box.

Raw Foods:

Most raw meat, poultry, and fish in the United States is at risk of being contaminated with bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella. Cats can get ill from these food borne bacteria and they can potentially transmit these diseases to humans.

We generally recommend feeding cats only meats that have been cooked, especially if any humans are at higher risk from food borne diseases.

If you do decide to feed raw food to your cats, please remember that some raw cat foods are relatively high in carbohydrates.


Obesity is one of the most common life threatening diseases in cats.

Obesity can predispose cats to develop:

  • Diabetes – this is one of the biggest risks.
  • Cystitis – inflammation of the urinary bladder.
  • Liver disease.
  • Skin disease – when cats gain too much weight, they are unable to groom themselves properly. This can lead to hygiene-related skin diseases.
  • Degenerative joint disease (“osteoarthritis”).
  • Other inflammatory diseases.

Additional Sources:

We don't endorse feeding dry food to cats even as a treat. It is high in carbohydrates and / or fat and very low in moisture. It is also highly processed and potentially damaging to a cat's teeth.

Here is a video on the "How It's Made" You Tube channel that describes how this food is made. We are skipping the twenty second introduction that we feel is not supported by science.

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