Cats need more protein than other species, but do all cats need to be fed a high-protein diet? Being obligate carnivores, cats aren’t able to survive without eating meat. Though feeding your cat more protein than they need won’t improve their health in general, it’s also unlikely to cause harm.
High protein diets are often prescribed to cats that struggle with weight or muscle loss or suffer from diseases that cause them to lose protein in their intestines. A cat’s body will simply break down the excess protein and get rid of it through urine.
In certain situations, like if your cat is suffering from kidney disease or liver disease, the excess protein may actually make such conditions worse and cause your kitty to feel more ill.
In this article, we’re going to discuss the ins and outs of protein requirements of cats.
Why do cats need protein?
Protein is an essential nutrient for all animals – it’s the building block of muscles, organs, and enzymes that are crucial for normal body function.
Since felines are obligate carnivores, they need higher amounts of protein than other animals. This is best achieved through a meat-based diet.
For example, cats need 2-3 times more protein than dogs (who eat a mixture of animal and plant foods) and exclusive plant-eaters like cows and horses.
The high protein requirements stem from the fact that cats need protein as a source of energy. Proteins consist of individual components called amino acids.
When a cat ingests a protein, its body breaks it down into amino acids, which can be used for building new proteins or used up as energy.
Cats need very specific amino acids in their diet, which include taurine, arginine, methionine, and cysteine to stay healthy.
Does my cat need high protein food?
The amount of protein your cat needs depends on their general health condition. Extra protein won’t be harmful, except with specific conditions like liver and kidney issues.
According to the Association of American Feed Control (AAFCO), nutrient profiles have a minimum protein of 6.5 g/100 kcal for adult cats and 7.5 g/100 kcal for pregnant and nursing cats and kittens.
Many commercial cat foods have twice as much protein as the minimum requirement, while wet cat food has a more varied protein content.
High protein, low carb diets with controlled caloric content can be beneficial for cats struggling with weight.
Higher amounts of protein could help preserve muscle mass when calorie intake is restricted and by doing so, promote weight loss.
In 2010, a study found that cats on a high protein diet tend to burn more energy, which can encourage weight loss, combined with restricted calorie intake.
Do indoor cats need a high protein diet?
Since indoor cats don’t get hunting opportunities and rely entirely on humans for food, it’s our job to provide them with balanced and nutritious meals.
When it comes to protein, it’s not just about the quantity, but also about the quality. Your kitty needs high-quality, animal protein (rather than a plant-based one), combined with moderate fat levels, as fat is another energy source for cats.
Indoor cats aren’t as physically active as their outdoor counterparts, so it’s a good idea to limit the carb content in their food to prevent potential problems with obesity.
Opting for wet cat food that’s high in moisture will help your kitty stay hydrated. If you choose kibble, be sure to provide your cat with enough water during the day.
Common sources of protein in cat food
The two main sources of protein in cat food include animal protein and plant protein.
Cats aren’t able to digest plant protein as effectively as animal-based protein, so plant protein sources alone won’t provide all the nutrients your cat needs.
For example, taurine (an essential amino acid) can only be found in animal tissue, while plant sources don’t contain sufficient amounts of methionine and cystine.
The lack of these amino acids in a cat’s diet can cause growth problems, and in the case of taurine, can even be fatal.
Common animal-based protein sources include chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, and fish. Common plant-based protein sources are wheat gluten, soy, rice, and vegetables.
How do I determine how much protein is in my cat’s food?
The AAFCO lists nutrient recommendations based on a “dry matter basis” (without water content), while pet food labels list nutrient content based on an “as-fed basis” (water content included).
To get the exact amount of protein in your cat’s food, you’ll need to convert the crude protein level printed on the cat food label to a dry matter basis – you can do it with the help of a handy pet food calculator.
To do these calculations you’ll need to look for:
- The Moisture (max) percentage and Crude Protein (min) in the Guaranteed Analysis section on the cat food label.
- You need to subtract the Moisture percentage from 100 to get the percentage of dry matter.
- Then, you need to divide the Crude Protein by the dry matter percent.
- Finally, you’ll need to multiply the result you get by 100 – the number you get is the percent of protein in your cat’s food on a dry matter basis.
For example, let’s say that your cat’s favorite canned food contains 12% Crude Protein (min) and 78% Moisture (max).
The calculation will look like this:
- 100 – 78 = 22
- 12 / 22 = 0.545
- 0.545 X 100 = 54.5
The percentage of protein in your cat’s food on a dry matter basis is 54.5.
Should older cats have a high protein diet?
Optimal protein levels in food for older cats are still a matter of debate among experts.
Senior cats need to eat a higher protein diet to avoid loss of lean muscle mass.
In addition to the right amount of protein, senior cat food should also meet the energy requirements of older cats, meaning that the food shouldn’t be too low in caloric content.
Serving your senior cat frequent, small portions of energy-rich, highly digestible food that meets their energy needs (which increase with age) will reduce protein degradation and avoid the disproportion of protein and calorie intake.
Senior cats may partially lose their sense of taste as they age, so it’s a good idea to feed them a variety of flavors and types of food to help maintain their appetite.
What if my cat doesn’t get enough protein?
Cats that don’t get enough protein in their diets may lose weight and muscle mass, as well as suffer from digestion issues, and even have fluids build up in their chest.
Protein deficiency is unlikely to happen if you feed your cat a high-quality commercial diet.
But, vegan diets or homemade diets that haven’t been designed to meet cats’ nutritional requirements increase the risk of protein deficiency.
Can cats be allergic to protein?
Contrary to popular opinion, grains aren’t a common source of food allergies in cats.
Most pets are actually allergic to animal protein. The most common food allergies in cats are chicken, beef, dairy, egg, and fish (for cats).
Key takeaways on high protein diets for cats
As long as you’re feeding your cat a diet that is formulated to meet AAFCO standards, and following the feeding directions on the label for your cat’s weight, you won’t have to worry about your cat getting too little (or too much) protein.
If you’re unsure about the right amount of protein for your pet, you can always turn to your vet for advice.
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