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high protein cat food

High Protein Cat Foods: Good? Bad? It’s all inside.

High protein cat foods aren't just a trend. Cats require a diet high in protein. This article discusses the role of protein in your feline food.
Cat Food Central

Cat Food Central

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High protein cat foods aren’t just a trend. Cats require a diet high in protein. This is essential for providing the nutrients and energy needed for daily activities, muscle development, and proper body functioning.

With the increasing demand for quality dry cat food, manufacturers focus on developing specially formulated foods that cater to these specific dietary needs.

However, you should know that not all dry foods with high protein diet may be equally beneficial, as factors like heat processing and actual ingredient composition can affect the food’s overall quality and nutritional value. This article discusses the role of protein in your feline food.

Importance of Protein

Think of cats as the definitive carnivores. They crave and thrive on animal-based proteins – the cornerstone of their natural meals. These protein-packed delights deliver essential amino acids, the unsung heroes underpinning their health and happiness. It’s a no-brainer then that a top-tier cat chow should be rich in protein to fuel our furry friends effectively.

Protein wears many hats in the world of feline well-being. It fosters growth, body upkeep, and tissue repair while being the factory for the antibodies, enzymes, and hormones that keep your cat purring. Plus, a proper dose of protein keeps their muscles lean and their immune system sturdy.

It’s also worth noting that cats have a particular fondness for essential amino acids – taurine, arginine, and methionine. These nutrients are primarily found in meaty proteins, which underlines the necessity of a protein-centric meal plan for cats. The consequences of skimping on these amino acids can be dire, triggering a cascade of health woes from vision problems and heart conditions to reproductive issues and abnormal growth.

You can pepper some plant-based proteins into your cat’s meals, but these differ from the cat’s whiskers compared to their animal-based rivals. That’s because they usually lack the full spectrum of essential amino acids that cats need. So, ensuring your cat’s primary protein source comes from animal derivatives like poultry, fish, or meat is paramount.

The Benefits of High Protein in Dry Cat Food

  1. Supporting muscle growth and maintenance: Cats have a high muscle mass and need adequate protein to prevent muscle wasting and losing strength.

  2. Promoting healthy skin and coat: Protein is essential for synthesizing keratin, the main component of hair and nails. High-protein cat food can help cats avoid dry, dull, or brittle fur and skin problems.

  3. Enhancing immune system function: Protein produces antibodies, enzymes, and hormones that regulate the immune response. High-protein cat food can help cats fight off infections and diseases.

  4. Reducing the risk of obesity and diabetes: High protein foods can help cats feel fuller for longer and reduce calorie intake. Protein also helps regulate blood sugar levels and prevent insulin spikes that can lead to diabetes.

Protein Sources and Quality

Some popular animal protein sources include meat, chicken, salmon, tuna, venison, and egg.

Meat-based proteins like chicken, salmon, tuna, and venison are prevalent in many high-quality dry foods. These sources provide essential amino acids crucial for maintaining muscle mass, healthy skin, and coat and supporting immune functions and overall cat health. Additionally, these protein sources deliver various beneficial micronutrients, such as taurine, which is vital for your cat’s heart and eye health.

Another common protein source is eggs. Eggs provide a high-quality, easily digestible protein with a well-balanced amino acid profile. They are often used as supplementary protein sources and can help enhance the overall protein quality.

Animal proteins can be found as meat meal and chicken meal. These concentrated, dehydrated animal protein sources can deliver a high percentage of protein per ingredient weight. Though meat meals might seem less desirable, reputable cat food companies ensure they are made from high-quality sources.

On the other hand, some foods use plant-based protein sources like pea protein as a supplementary ingredient. While it can contribute to the protein content – plant proteins might lack some necessary amino acids or micronutrients in animal proteins.

Ingredients to Look for in High Protein Cat Food

Since not all high-protein food sources are equal, and some may be better suited for your cat than others, here are some of the good ingredients to look for:

Meats and Meat Meal

Meats are the best source of protein for cats, as they provide all the essential amino and omega fatty acids that cats need. Meat meal is a concentrated form of meat that has been cooked and dried, which makes it more shelf-stable and higher in protein. Look for cat foods that list meats or meat meals as the first or second ingredient, and avoid those that use by-products, fillers, or artificial flavors.

Vitamins and Minerals

Ensure the food you feed your cat contains a well-balanced combination of essential vitamins and minerals which support your cat’s health. Some of the important ones include vitamin A, D, calcium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, and taurine. These nutrients help your cat’s vision, bone health, blood formation, skin and coat, immune health, and heart function. Either added vitamins and minerals or natural sources like fruits and vegetables are good.

Fatty Acids

Fatty acids are another essential component in your cat food, as they help your cat’s skin, coat, brain, and immune system. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are the most beneficial ones for cats, and they can be found in sources like fish oil, flaxseed oil, or chicken fat. Look for cat food with a balanced ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids or natural preservatives like mixed tocopherols.


Probiotics are beneficial bacteria in your cat’s gut and help with digestion, immunity, and overall wellness. High-protein cat foods can sometimes cause digestive issues for some cats, so adding probiotics can help prevent or alleviate them. Look for cat food with live or active cultures of probiotics or prebiotics like chicory root or beet pulp to feed them.


Fiber is another ingredient that can help with your cat’s digestion and bowel health. Fiber can help regulate your cat’s appetite, prevent hairballs, and reduce the risk of constipation or diarrhea. Look for cat food with moderate fiber from sources like oatmeal, barley, rice bran, or pumpkin.

Ingredients to Avoid

Here are some ingredients to avoid in your cat food:

  • By-products: These are the leftover parts of animals unsuitable for human consumption, such as bones, organs, feathers, and hooves. By-products are low-quality protein sources and may contain harmful bacteria, toxins, or allergens.

  • Grains: Grains, such as corn, wheat, soy, and brown rice, are cheap fillers that provide little nutritional value for cats and may cause digestive issues, allergies, or obesity.

  • Artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives: These are added to make the food look and taste more appealing, but they have no nutritional benefit for cats and may cause health problems such as cancer, kidney damage, or behavioral issues.

  • Meat and bone meal: This is a product made from animal tissues cooked at high temperatures and pressure. Meat and bone meal is a low-quality protein source that may contain contaminants such as hormones, antibiotics, or diseased animals.

Few More Things to Consider

Remember to consider these factors: (a) life stage and dietary requirements, as well as (b) preferences and palatability.

Life Stage and Dietary Requirements

Different life stages have different nutritional needs for cats:

  • Kittens need more protein and calories than adult cats to support their growth and development.

  • Senior cats may need less protein and calories but more antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids to maintain their health and prevent age-related diseases.

  • Pregnant or nursing cats also need more protein and calories to nourish their kittens.

  • Some cats may have special dietary requirements due to medical conditions like kidney disease, diabetes, or food allergies. These cats may need a prescription diet or a specific type of protein, such as chicken, fish, or lamb. For this, please consult with your veterinarian.

Picky Eaters

Some cats are more finicky than others when it comes to food. They may reject a new food or get bored of the same food over time.

Try different flavors and textures to entice your picky eater. You can also mix different types of food or add some warm water or broth to enhance the aroma and taste.

However, be careful not to change your cat’s diet too frequently or abruptly, as this may cause digestive upset or food intolerance. Always introduce new food gradually and monitor your cat’s response.

Potential Concerns

There are potential concerns with feeding cats too much of high protein diets, especially if they have certain health conditions or dietary needs. Here are some of the possible drawbacks:

  • It may cause dehydration: Protein is metabolized by the liver and kidneys, which require water to function correctly. If cats do not drink enough water, they may become dehydrated and develop urinary tract problems or kidney stones. To prevent this, ensure your cat has access to fresh water and monitor their water intake.

  • It may not be suitable for cats with kidney disease: Cats with kidney disease have trouble filtering out waste products from their blood, which can lead to a buildup of toxins and urea.

  • If your cat has kidney disease, consult your veterinarian before feeding them a high-protein diet.

  • It may lack other essential nutrients: Cats also need carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber to maintain their health and well-being. Some high-protein cat foods may be too excess protein or too low in these other nutrients, which can cause nutritional deficiencies or imbalances.


Protein is the superstar of a cat’s nutrition, the secret sauce that keeps them agile, muscular, and brimming with vitality. High-protein cat food is like a treasure trove of benefits, from gifting them with a glossy coat and supple skin to keeping obesity and diabetes at bay. But remember, not all proteins wear the same cape. Those derived from animals, especially meat and meat meals, are the real MVPs for our whiskered companions.

High-protein diets can be a boon, but they’re not a one-size-fits-all solution. Some cats, particularly those battling health issues like kidney disease, might need a different dietary game plan. It’s vital to ensure your cat’s meal plate is balanced, brimming with essential vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, probiotics, and fiber.

Steering clear of low-grade ingredients such as by-products, grains, artificial additives, and meat and bone meal is just as crucial. And let’s remember your cat’s age, dietary needs, and food preferences should be at the heart of your decision-making process. With the right mix and high quality ingredients, high-protein cat food can be a fantastic way to keep your feline buddy in the pink of health and brimming with joy.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much protein should be in a cat food?

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) recommends a minimum of 26% protein for adult cats and 30% for growing kittens. However, some experts suggest cats may benefit from even higher protein levels, closer to 40%. It is essential to consult with your veterinarian to determine the appropriate protein level for your cat’s specific needs.

What are the benefits of dry cat food with high protein?

High-protein cat food can provide them with essential amino acids, such as taurine, that are crucial for their health and well-being. High-protein cat food can also help cats maintain lean muscle mass, support their immune system, and prevent obesity and diabetes. High-protein cat food can benefit kittens, seniors, and cats with special dietary needs.

Are high-protein treats a good option?

The answer depends on several factors, such as the cat’s age, health, and activity level, as well as the quality and quantity of the treats.
Treats with high amounts of protein can provide some benefits, such as supporting muscle growth and repair, boosting energy levels, and satisfying hunger. However, they are intended to replace a balanced nutrition diet.

What is considered high-protein cat food?

High-protein cat food typically consists of at least 36% protein on a dry matter basis. This ensures that protein is the predominant nutrient.

Which brands offer the highest quality protein for cats?

There ain’t one answer to the question which brand offer the best high protein food – but here are some examples of high-protein cat foods as listed on Cat Food Central:

For Kittens – Dicat Up Kitten: The “Dicat Up Kitten” food is a high-protein cat food with a crude protein content of 40%. The primary ingredients include dehydrated poultry protein (with a minimum of 30% chicken and 5% turkey), ultra-hydrolyzed chicken liver, and egg. It also contains various other ingredients, such as rice, chicken oil, beet pulp, milk, and oily fish oil, contributing to its overall nutritional profile.

For Adult Cats – Alleva Holistic: Adult Chicken & Duck: The Alleva Holistic Adult Chicken & Duck cat food is a high-protein food with a crude protein content of 42%. The main ingredients are dehydrated chicken (42%), de-boned fresh chicken (20%), and dehydrated duck (12%). Other ingredients include sweet potato, chicken fat, pea starch, fish oil, and chicken liver. This product also includes a variety of beneficial supplements such as Aloe vera, ginseng root, and sources of Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.

For Senior Cats – North Paw: Mature/Weight Management: The North Paw Mature/Weight Health cat food is a high-protein food with a crude protein content of 40%. The main ingredients include chicken meal and fish meal. This product also contains other ingredients, such as sweet potato, red lentils, chickpeas, green peas, and blueberries. It supports weight health in mature cats and includes beneficial supplements such as taurine, glucosamine, and chondroitin.

For All Life Stages (ALS) – Go! Solutions: Carnivore Chicken, Turkey, Duck /ALS/: The Go! Solutions Carnivore Chicken, Turkey, Duck cat food is a high-protein food with a crude protein content of 46%. The main ingredients include chicken meal, de-boned chicken, de-boned turkey, duck meal, and turkey meal. It also contains a variety of other ingredients, such as salmon meal, de-boned trout, peas, and potatoes. This product is designed for all life stages and includes beneficial supplements such as taurine and chelated minerals.

Is high-protein cat food suitable for kittens?

Yes. Kittens require more protein, fat, and calories than adult cats to support their growth and development, so high-protein cat food can be a good option if they don’t contain too much sodium, magnesium, or ash, which can cause urinary problems or kidney stones.

What are some safe ways to supplement a cat’s diet with additional protein and which human foods are safe for cats?

The best way to supplement a cat’s diet with additional protein is by providing them with more high-quality, animal-based proteins. Here are some safe ways to do so:

Canned Fish: Tuna, salmon, or sardines in water (not oil or sauce) can be a good source of protein for cats. However, these should be given in moderation due to their high salt content and potential for mercury exposure.

Cooked Poultry: Chicken or turkey can be a great source of protein. Make sure it’s cooked thoroughly and free from any seasoning, bones, or skin.

Eggs: Cooked eggs are safe for cats and can be a good source of protein. Make sure they’re fully cooked to avoid the risk of salmonella.

Baby Food: Meat-based baby food can be a good source of protein for cats, but make sure it doesn’t contain any onion or garlic, as these are toxic to cats.

Cat Treats: There are many high-protein cat treats available on the market. Look for ones with high-quality, animal-based proteins as the main ingredient.

Is there an easy way to know how much protein is in the food?

Yes – there is an easy way to find out how much protein is in dry cat food:
Navigate to the Cat Food Central Advanced Search page.
Cat Food Central Advanced Search Page
Use the Protein % filter to select the desired protein amount.
You can also use the other filters to select food category and life stage and directly search for a brand or a product.
The results will automatically appear on the screen.
Click on a product image from the results to open the product page.
Click on the More button to reveal the lists of ingredients, vitamins, guaranteed analysis, and more – and check the details.
Click More to reveal the full product specification

How the score is calculated?

The actual calculation of the score is based on sophisticated and advanced algorithm that takes into account multiple parameters.

To simplify the explanation, the calculation is based on three main criteria:

(1) Amount of protein (more is better)

(2) Amount of carbohydrates (less is better)

(3) Quality and source of ingredients.

Based on that 3 main criteria, 9 score calculation rules are used to compare the different foods.

One major assumption is that the closer an ingredient is to the top of the ingredient list, the greater its relative weight and contribution to the food.

In general, cat food is composed of protein, fats, carbohydrates, fibers, vitamins, and minerals.

Protein is the most important component in a cat’s diet, and cats primarily get their protein from animal meat.

Fat is a primary source of energy and essential fatty acids.

Carbohydrates are controversial in a cat’s diet, as cats are obligate carnivores and typically consume very few carbohydrates.

Fibers play an important role in digestion and food absorption, and vitamins and minerals are essential for different organism functions.

Dry matter values are used to compare the amount of nutrients in different cat foods.
This means that moisture is excluded from the equation to provide a more accurate comparison.

Putting all of these and more into a formula results in a product score.

The maximum score a cat food can receive is 100.
Points are added or removed based on the score calculation rules.