How Much Crude Protein Should Be in Cat Food?

If you’ve ever been stumped by the nutrition facts on a bag of kibble or canned food, you’re not alone. At the top of that “guaranteed analysis” is crude protein but what does this mean, and how much crude protein should be in cat food anyways? Adult cats need to eat at least 65g per 1000 kcal of crude protein for optimal health.

But unlike the nutrition labels on human food, cat food labels need some explaining to understand. 

Crude protein is one of the most baffling nutrients on the list. We’re here to unpack this labeling mystery and explore:

  • Exactly what is crude protein for cats?
  • What is a good amount of crude protein for cats?
  • Protein levels in and dry cat food
  • How much protein does a cat need daily
  • And more! 

What is crude protein for cats?

According to the FDA, crude protein “refers to the specific method of testing the product, not the quality of the nutrient itself.” Crude protein is a measure of all of the sources of nitrogen in food. This is part of the Guaranteed Analysis or GA, which all pet foods are required to include on the label.

Pet food regulation means that cat food manufacturers are required to accurately share the amounts of crude protein along with crude fat, fiber, and moisture in all of the food they sell. 

Unlike marketing claims which can dress up their products with buzzy words like “all-natural,” protein content (and the rest of your cat’s nutritional needs) is backed by rigorous testing from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AFFCO) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

What is a good amount of crude protein for cats?

According to AAFCO, adult cats need to eat at least 65g per 1000 kcal of crude protein for their body to function best and to stay at a healthy weight. Kittens and pregnant or nursing cats need at least 75g per 1000kcal.

All commercial cat foods labeled balanced and complete are required to contain at least 26 percent protein.

How much protein does a cat need daily?

The European Pet Food Industry Federation (FEDIAF) and AAFCO guidelines report that cats need twice the amount of protein as dogs!

With that in mind, AAFCO and veterinarians recommend that kittens eat 30-40 percent protein. For adult maintenance and to stay at a healthy body weight, your senior cat or adult cat needs to eat 35-40 percent protein daily.

This means that:

How much crude protein should be in cat food kitten

Protein sources in cat food 

The best protein in cat food comes from meat and other animal products. Cats are obligate carnivores which means they rely on animal protein at all life stages to get all the nutrients they need.

When it comes to pet nutrition, it’s important for cat owners to know that our feline companions are unable to metabolize plant-based ingredients as well as humans. 

Because cats evolved to eat prey animals, they don’t get the same nutrients from plant protein. This is why the best nutritionally complete and balanced cat food takes a biologically appropriate approach. These cat foods utilize animal protein as a food source and include organ meats, muscle meat, and sometimes even raw meat.

Animal proteins are loaded with healthy fats, essential amino acids, and other essential nutrients like vitamin E that cats cannot create on their own. 

Foods made up of multiple whole animal meats and proteins (including fish oil) are often higher quality than ones with cheap and highly processed ingredients like bone meal, fish meal, and meat by-products.

Protein levels in wet and dry cat food

Because the protein amounts are a percentage of the entire food contents, if you went by pet food labels alone you’d think wet canned foods crude protein is positively puny. Especially when it’s placed side by side with dry foods.  

This has to do with chemical composition. Because wet food has such a high moisture content a one-to-one wet food vs dry food’s crude protein comparison isn’t possible. 

In order to accurately pinpoint the differences in crude protein between wet and dry cat food, you’d need to grab the specific brand and flavor of the dry and wet food you want to compare and a calculator. It’s time to crunch some numbers! 

Wet food contains between 60 to 80% water, so after figuring out exactly how much of the food your cat is eating you’d need to do a dry matter comparison.

Here’s an equation from the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA) to get you going:

  • Subtract the percent moisture from 100 to get the percent dry matter of the product.
  • Then you’d divide the crude protein percentage (from the label) by the percent dry matter and multiply it by 100.
  • The answer you get here is the percentage of the dry matter in the food that is protein. This will allow you to compare the protein content of two foods, even if one is canned and one is dry.

If a can of cat food has 9% protein and 80% moisture here’s how it’d look:

100 – 80 = 20% dry matter

 9/20 x 100 = 45% protein

Key takeaways on crude protein in cat food 

When it comes to cats and nutrition we all know that protein is king. 

Now you know crude protein isn’t the quality of the nutrient itself, but the results of the laboratory analysis testing all pet food manufacturers need to do before they sell their products. 

With these facts under your belt, you and other pet parents can make the best decision for what you feed your feline friend. 

Victoria Tomis