Cats and Protein:
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 almost 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.
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.
This is a list of foods that are high in protein, moderate to low in fat, and low in carbohydrates:
Cats are Not Small Bears:
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.
We recommend against feeding some bear foods, such as blueberries, to cats.
Choosing Cat Foods:
We recommend choosing canned cat foods without carbohydrates and, ideally, without plant proteins (e.g., glutens). Other than vitamins and minerals, and possible vegetable oil, it should contain animals.
We recommend canned cat foods that have, as listed on the label, at least two to three times more protein than fat.
This is our video on making sense of cat food labels. It includes a lot of math but you can ignore that and still understand the point of the graphs.
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.
An example of a cat food label that shows high protein, low fat, no carbohydrates, and few main ingredients.
Risks of Changing a Cat's Diet:
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.
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.
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 strongly recommend against feeding any raw store bought meats to cats. This is especially important if any humans are at higher risk from food borne diseases.
If you want to feed raw foods to cats, we recommend using cat foods that are intended to be fed raw. There is still risk but it is less than with home made raw food. Also, if you do decide to feed raw cat food to your cats, please remember that some raw cat foods are relatively high in carbohydrates. Some even include odd things like potatoes.
The website catinfo.org has a lot of information and opinions about cat food.
Canned Cat Food Information:
This is their list of canned cat foods with information about protein, fat, carbohydrate, phosphorus, and calories:
We generally recommend feeding foods that are high in protein, low in fat, and absent of carbohydrates. For cats with kidney disease, we also recommend low phosphorus foods (usually less than 300 mg phosphorus per 100 kcals).
Transitioning From Dry to Canned Food
This is their page on transitioning reluctant cats from dry to canned food:
Local Sources of Cat Foods:
There are a number of places to find cat foods including on-line stores, local chain pet stores, and local specialty pet food stores.
This is a partial list of some of the smaller nearby pet food stores that carry some of the foods that we might recommend.
Please don't take this list as an endorsement of these stores or all of their foods. We are not affiliated with any of these stores and a lot of them carry foods that are less than ideal (e.g., high in carbohydrates). Some also carry products that are potentially toxic to cats (e.g., "natural" flea products that contain essential oils) and some even offer services that are potentially harmful (e.g., "anesthesia-free dentals").
2508 El Camino Real #B-2, Carlsbad
2570 Vista Way A, Oceanside
123 N. El Camino Real, Encinitas
We don't recommend 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.
Dry food can be addictive to some cats and it is easier to feed no dry food than to feed a little.
Here is a video on the "How It's Made" YouTube channel that describes how this food is created. We think that the first twenty seconds is specious, but the rest seems accurate.