10 Best High Protein Cat Food in 2021

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This is our review of the best high protein cat food in 2021.

Cats are obligate carnivores who thrive on high protein diets that originate from animal tissue and meat. However, some health conditions will significantly benefit from a high protein diet.

Meat-based protein sources contain essential amino acids that your cat cannot produce naturally, such as arginine and taurine. In fact, taurine prevents severe heart disease such as Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM).

Finding the right high protein diet that is nutrition for your cat can be difficult. So I used my skills in researching and fact-checking to discover some of the best high protein formulas currently available.

American Journey Turkey Dry Cat Food is the best high protein cat food for cats that require additional protein in their diet.

But, each cat is different, with some requiring specific nutrients and additional dietary support. So I have reviewed the best high protein cat food for each scenario to help you make the best decision for your furry friend.

Our Best Low Carb Cat Food

  1. American Journey Turkey Dry Cat Food (Best Overall High Protein Cat Food)
  2. Solid Gold Indigo Moon Chicken Dry Cat Food (Best Budget High Protein Cat Food)
  3. ORIJEN High Protein Cat Food (Best Premium High Protein Cat Food)
  4. Merrick Backcountry Raw Dry Cat Food (Best Raw High Protein Cat Food)
  5. Ziwi Peak Air-Dried Mackerel & Lamb Recipe Cat Food (Best Air-Dried High Protein Cat Food)
  6. Purina Pro Plan Chicken Kitten Cat Food (Best High Protein Cat Food for Kittens)
  7. Nulo Freestyle Senior High Protein Dry Cat Food (Best High Protein Cat Food for Seniors)
  8. CRAVE Grain Free Indoor Adult Dry Cat Food (Best High Protein Cat Food for Indoor Cats)
  9. Nutro Wholesome Essentials Chicken Adult Dry Cat Food (Best High Protein Cat Food for Weight Control)
  10. Blue Buffalo Sensitive Stomach Chicken Dry Cat Food (Best High Protein Cat Food for Sensitive Cats)

10 Best Low Carb Cat Food Reviewed

All of the cat foods we are about to go through meet AAFCO recommended daily nutrient profiles for cats. Before switching your cat’s food, consult a veterinarian. [1]

American Journey Turkey Dry Cat Food

American Journey Turkey & Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Dry Cat Food
  • First 5 ingredients: Deboned Turkey, Turkey Meal, Chicken Meal, Tapioca Starch, Dried Egg Product
  • Guaranteed Analysis: 40% Protein, 15% Fat, 4% Fiber, 10% Moisture
  • Estimated Carbohydrates: 31%
  • Caloric Content: 3,670 kcal/kg, 395 kcal/cup
  • Key Features: Grain-Free, No Corn No Wheat No Soy, High-Protein
  • Life Stage: Adult
  • Best For: Overall High Protein Cat Food

All cats need high-quality, meat-based protein sources to keep them going throughout the day. This high protein cat food is rich in whole ingredients, nutrients, and essential amino acids while remaining low with its 395 kcal/cup caloric content.

The first ingredient is deboned turkey, which provides the primary source of the 40% crude protein content. Adequate protein prevents loss of muscle mass as well as weight in cats. [2]

The use of both deboned turkey and turkey meal ensures there is a source of essential amino acids and minerals such as selenium, phosphorus, and niacin. Turkey is a rich source of vitamin B6, which is crucial for cognitive functions, nervous systems, and the digestive tract. [3]

Added chicken meal provides a natural source of glucosamine and chondroitin, supporting bone and joint development and maintaining cartilage tissue. Chicken also contributes to the high protein contents of the recipe, in addition to the 4% crude fiber content.

This cat food also features adequate taurine levels (0.15 min). This added amino acid helps with eyesight and prevents severe heart conditions such as Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM).

The exclusion of wheat, soy, and corn ensures this recipe avoids common allergen ingredients, making it a suitable choice for cats with sensitivities. However, if your cat suffers from food allergies caused by chicken, this cat food may not be ideal for them.

Some finicky cats may not be suited to this high protein cat food. But, many reviewers mention how happy they are with the high-quality meats in this formula. Some owners also noticed improvements in their cat’s overall health when switching to this formula.

Solid Gold Indigo Moon Chicken Dry Cat Food

Solid Gold Indigo Moon with Chicken & Eggs Grain-Free High Protein Dry Cat Food
  • First 5 ingredients: Chicken Meal, Potatoes, Canola Oil, Peas, Chicken
  • Guaranteed Analysis: 42% Protein, 20% Fat, 3% Fiber, 10% Moisture
  • Estimated Carbohydrates: 17%
  • Caloric Content: 3,985 kcal/kg, 475 kcal/cup
  • Key Features: High-Protein, Grain-Free, Gluten-Free, No Corn No Wheat No Soy, Indoor
  • Life Stage: Adult
  • Best For: Budget High Protein Cat Food

This cat food is packed full of nutrient-dense ingredients, healthy fats, and an exceptionally high 42% crude protein content. This formula features a high 97% meat-based protein content. It omits corn, wheat, and soy, making it a suitable diet for cats with sensitivities.

Chicken meal is the primary source of protein in the formula, adding high vitamin B6, selenium, and phosphorus levels. Phosphorus is a crucial nutrient that supports a cat’s everyday metabolic functions, in addition to healthy bone development. [4]

Chicken is also a natural source of glucosamine.  

Canola oil largely contributes to the 20% crude fat content. It provides your cat with omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids which support coat and skin health. According to the guaranteed analysis of the cat food, it contains 3% min Omega 6 fatty acid content and 1% min Omega 3 fatty acid content.

The use of potatoes in this formula provides a rich source of manganese, copper, potassium, and B and C vitamins. 

Added probiotics promote healthy bacteria in your cat’s gastrointestinal tract, ensuring they absorb and digest all the available nutrients in the formula. [5]

Some cat owner reviews indicate an initial rejection of the food when switching their cat to this formula. Other cat owners noticed the recipe’s lack of odor. The high caloric content of 475 kcal/cup may not be suitable for cats with weight-related issues.

ORIJEN High-Protein Cat Food

ORIJEN Original Grain-Free Dry Cat Food
  • First 5 ingredients: Deboned Chicken, Deboned Turkey, Eggs,Flounder, Whole Atlantic Mackerel
  • Guaranteed Analysis: 40% Protein, 20% Fat, 3% Fiber, 10% Moisture
  • Estimated Carbohydrates: 27%
  • Caloric Content: 4060 kcal/kg, 463 kcal/cup
  • Key Features: Grain-Free, High-Protein, Gluten-Free, Natural, Raw, No Corn No Wheat No Soy
  • Life Stage: Adult
  • Best For: Premium High Protein Cat Food

This protein-rich formula comprises 90% animal-based ingredients, bolstered with whole fruits and vegetables to make up the remaining 10%. All the ingredients of the recipe are explicitly formulated for kittens as well as adult cats.

The first ingredient is deboned chicken, a nutrient-dense, lean meat that provides essential vitamins and minerals that assist with your cat’s overall health. This meat is the primary contributor to the impressive 40% crude protein content.

The use of whole eggs further contributes to the protein in this formula and the 20% crude fat content. 

Eggs are a rich source of amino acids such as arginine, an essential part of removing ammonia, the wastage of protein breakdown. [6]

Atlantic mackerel provides a rich supply of omega 3 fatty acids, which promote cardiovascular health in cats.

The use of whole ingredients also maximizes the availability of all the nutrients contained in the Orijen recipe. [7]

Likewise, the exclusion of by-products, corn, wheat, soy, or artificial additives means this high protein cat food is suitable for sensitive cats.

Many cat owners noticed an improvement in their cat’s coat when they switched to this diet. However, this recipe did not appeal to some picky eaters. The high caloric content of 463 kcal/cup may not be suitable for obese cats.

Merrick Backcountry Raw Dry Cat Food

Merrick Backcountry Raw Infused Pacific Catch Recipe Grain-Free Dry Cat Food
  • First 5 ingredients: Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Turkey Meal, Potatoes, Peas
  • Guaranteed Analysis: 42% Protein, 14% Fat, 4% Fiber, 11% Moisture
  • Estimated Carbohydrates: 29%
  • Caloric Content: 3,588 kcal/kg, 395 kcal/cup
  • Key Features: No Corn No Wheat No Soy, High-Protein, Grain-Free, Gluten-Free, Raw, Natural
  • Life Stage: Adult
  • Best For: Raw High Protein Cat Food

This all-natural high protein formula is specifically designed to replicate your cat’s ancestral diet and ensure they get the vital nutrients and vitamins they need to live a healthy life.

Deboned chicken and chicken meal provide the essential nutrients needed for healthy muscle development and joint health. These ingredients largely contribute to the 42% crude protein and 14% crude fat content.

Starchy vegetables such as peas and potatoes are alternative, refined carbohydrates for additional energy and help keep the 395 kcal/cup caloric content low.

Peas are full of nutritional minerals and also contribute to the 4% crude fiber. Notably, peas are a rich source of vital vitamins such as Vitamin A, B1, B6, C, and K. For example, vitamin A assists with your cat’s vision and provides support for the immune system. [8]

The primary use of meat-based protein sources ensures that there are sufficient origins of omega 3 fatty acids. These meats also provide a natural source of taurine, which prevents heart disease.

This recipe is also free from gluten, grains, corn, wheat, and soy. These ingredients tend to cause adverse reactions in the digestive system of sensitive cats. 

The inclusion of probiotics helps with the digestion of the minerals and vitamins in this recipe.

Merrick uses an 80/20 ratio of meat proteins vs. plant proteins, making it an ideal diet to replicate your cat’s natural diet. Some cat owners noticed an improvement in their cat’s coat when using this formula. However, picky eaters may struggle with the high protein cat food because of its distinct aroma. 

Ziwi Peak Air-Dried Mackerel & Lamb Recipe Cat Food

Ziwi Peak Air-Dried Mackerel & Lamb Recipe Cat Food
  • First 5 ingredients: Mackerel, Lamb, Lamb Heart, Lamb Tripe, Lamb Liver
  • Guaranteed Analysis: 43% Protein, 25% Fat, 2% Fiber, 14% Moisture
  • Estimated Carbohydrates: 16%
  • Caloric Content: 4800 kcal/kg, 273 kcal/scoop
  • Key Features: Limited Ingredient Diet, No Corn No Wheat No Soy, Grain-Free, Pea-Free, Non-GMO, High-Protein, GMO-Free, Natural
  • Life Stage: Adult
  • Best For: Air-Dried High Protein Cat Food

This grain-free cat food features over 95% digestible protein sources. It ensures a healthy, balanced diet with a moderate caloric content of 273 kcal/scoop.

The 43% crude protein originates from the first five ingredients of this unique formula. These protein-rich meats provide essential nutrients that promote lean muscle mass in cats.

The unique air-drying process used by Ziwi eliminates common pathogenic bacteria while maintaining the healthy nutritional content of the formula.

The whole mackerel provides a rich supply of omega 3 fatty acids, improving a cat’s cardiovascular health. And recent reports suggest that mackerel has the highest amounts of omega fatty acids than any other fish. [9]

The use of whole mackerel ensures an adequate selenium source, which supports the immune system, promotes health, and regulates thyroid hormones.

The remaining lamb-based proteins featuring whole lamb, lamb heart, tripe, and liver provides a close replica of your cat’s ancestral diet. These meats and organs also contribute healthy, nutritional fats to the 25% crude fat content.

This formula excludes rendered meats, by-products, fillers, artificial flavors, and starches such as potatoes. The use of wholesome ingredients ensures that this diet is suitable for cats with sensitivities caused by common allergens.

Many reviews indicated this cat food has a distinct aroma which may be off-putting for picky eaters. However, some cat owners recognize the unique use of high-quality protein meat sources as a real plus to purchasing this high protein cat food.

Other positive reviews express how their cat’s stool was less smelly and more consistent when they fed this diet to their cat.

Purina Pro Plan Chicken Kitten Cat Food

Purina Pro Plan Kitten Chicken & Rice Formula Dry Cat Food
  • First 5 ingredients: Chicken, Rice, Corn Gluten Meal, Chicken By-Product Meal, Beef FatĀ 
  • Guaranteed Analysis: 42% Protein, 19% Fat, 2.5% Fiber, 12% Moisture
  • Estimated Carbohydrates: 24%
  • Caloric Content: 4,370 kcal/kg, 534 kcal/cup
  • Key Features: High-Protein, Sensitive Digestion
  • Life Stage: Kitten
  • Best For: High Protein Cat Food for Kittens

Purina Pro Plan is specifically designed to help your kitten thrive and features a high caloric content of 534 kcal/cup, which is ideal for developing kittens.

Real chicken is the first ingredient on the list, which provides nutritional support for developing bones, joints, and lean muscle mass. The use of ingredients such as chicken by-products that supply the 1% min calcium and 0.8% min phosphorus content provides additional support for developing teeth and bones. [10]

Added whole rice is rich in fiber and largely contributes to the 2.5% crude fiber content. Rice also helps regulate a cat’s digestive system and is a suitable remedy for diarrhea by hardening a cat’s stool.

Rice is also a rich source of antioxidants which help support the immune system.

Beef fat provides nutrition for a developing kitten because it’s rich in omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. These amino acids help support brain development and vision. Beef is also a rich source of DHA, which helps with retinal development in kittens, digestion, and reducing inflammation. [11]

Probiotics in the formula ensure your cat absorbs and processes the nutritional content of the recipe, in addition to developing healthy bacteria in a kittens’ digestive system.

This specifically formulated kitten food may not be suitable for kittens who experience adverse reactions to common allergen foods. However, many owners noticed improvements in their kittens’ health. Several reviews described the formula being a massive success with picky eaters.

Nulo Freestyle Senior High Protein Dry Cat Food

Nulo Freestyle Senior Alaska Pollock, Duck & Sweet Potato Recipe Grain-Free Dry Cat Food
  • First 5 ingredients: Pollock, Chicken Meal, Turkey Meal, Yellow Peas, Green Lentils
  • Guaranteed Analysis: 38% Protein, 14% Fat, 6% Fiber, 10% Moisture
  • Estimated Carbohydrates: 32%
  • Caloric Content: 3,454 kcal/kg, 431 kcal/cup
  • Key Features: Grain-Free, High-Protein, Low Glycemic, No Corn No Wheat No Soy
  • Life Stage: Senior
  • Best For: High Protein Cat Food for Seniors

This savory recipe provides an impressive 78% of the protein from poultry and fish animal sources without overloading the 431 kcal/cup caloric content. 

Senior cats are less active than their younger counterparts, so the 38% crude protein content originates from whole pollock, chicken meal, and turkey meal. These diverse animal proteins provide a comprehensive amino acid profile that prevents muscle loss in senior cats.

Pollock is rich in fish oil, ensuring your cat gets nutritional vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins and amino acids. Pollock is a natural source of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids which help with a cat’s skin and develop healthy coats. 

Pollock is also a rich source of DHA, which helps protect senior cats from joint-related health conditions such as osteoarthritis and aids with cognitive functions. DHA also prevents the progression of kidney disease. 

Added L-Carnitine promotes lean muscle development by supporting fat processing in older cats and develops a healthy metabolism. [12]

Turkey meal is another meat-based protein source that replicates your cat’s ancestral diet. Turkey is a rich source of essential minerals such as niacin, phosphorus, selenium. 

Selenium plays a vital role in an older cat’s immune system and helps lower oxidative stress on their body and reducing inflammation. In senior cats, this helps prevent them from developing and catching severe diseases or health conditions. [13]

This recipe also provides essential building blocks required for healthy joint cartilage because of its use of ingredients that are rich in glucosamine and chondroitin. These nutrients are crucial for managing joints in older cats.

This recipe uses probiotics which help a senior cat’s digestive system process the nutrients contained in this diet. Probiotics promote good bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, which promote food breakdown.

Many cat parents report that this diet helped improve their older cat’s mobility and energy levels. However, the recipe may not be suitable for cats that are picky eaters.

CRAVE Grain Free Indoor Adult Dry Cat Food

Crave with Protein from Chicken & Salmon Indoor Adult Grain-Free Dry Cat Food
  • First 5 ingredients: Chicken, Chicken Meal, Pea Protein, Split Peas, Chicken Fat
  • Guaranteed Analysis: 40% Protein, 16% Fat, 6% Fiber, 10% Moisture
  • Estimated Carbohydrates: 28%
  • Caloric Content: 3677 kcal/kg, 379 kcal/cup
  • Key Features: Grain-Free, High-Protein, No Corn No Wheat No Soy, Indoor
  • Life Stage: Adult
  • Best For: High Protein Cat Food for Indoor Cats

Indoor cats require less energy to fulfill their daily activities. So they mustn’t consume a diet packed full of carbohydrates, and their diet must be full of nutritional protein. 

The unique use of vegetable-based proteins ensures this recipe isn’t full of added carbohydrates and helps limit the 379 kcal/cup caloric content, making it an ideal diet for indoor cats.

Whole chicken and chicken meal largely contribute to the 40% crude protein while restricting excess calories. Chicken also adds a natural source of glucosamine which prevents joint-related health conditions from developing for indoor cats. 

The use of pea protein and split peas ensures there are added nutrients and antioxidants that support digestion. These antioxidants fight free radicals in your cat’s body, which prevent cell damage. Free radicals can cause severe health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. [14]

These ingredients largely contribute to the 6% crude fiber and lower carbohydrates to only 28%. The exclusion of grains, soy, corn, and wheat makes it a suitable option for cats with food-related sensitivities.

The unique blend of antioxidants, minerals, and probiotics allows this effective recipe to meet your cat’s nutritional requirements. Many cat owners report improvements in their cat’s mobility and energy levels on this diet.

Nutro Wholesome Essentials Chicken Adult Dry Cat Food

Nutro Wholesome Essentials Indoor Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe Adult Dry Cat Food
  • First 5 ingredients: Chicken, Chicken Meal, Brewers Rice, Pea Protein, Whole Brown Rice
  • Guaranteed Analysis: 33% Protein, 14% Fat, 7% Fiber, 10% Moisture
  • Estimated Carbohydrates: 36%
  • Caloric Content: 3663 kcal/kg, 378 kcal/cup
  • Key Features: Indoor, No Corn No Wheat No Soy, Non-GMO
  • Life Stage: Adult
  • Best For: High Protein Cat Food for Weight Control

Weight control is one of the most common reasons cat owners switch their cat’s diets. This cat food limits carbohydrates and fats to control the 378 kcal/cup caloric content compared to other weight control diets.

Cats need protein to thrive; however, this formula’s 33% protein content is ideal for cats on a weight control diet. Chicken provides appropriate levels of amino acids without piling on excess calories. Excessive calories can be detrimental to less active cats.

The 14% fat content in this diet is relatively low compared to other weight control formulas and is vital for cats who need to lose weight. 

Cats utilize healthy cats for energy, however too much, and they will store it as excess body weight when they don’t use it.

Added pea protein contributes to both the protein levels and the 7% fiber content of the recipe. Fiber aids with healthy digestion and provides suitable levels of amino acids essential for a healthy cat diet. 

Amino acids are essential for overweight cats as they reduce inflammation in overworked joints. [15]

This high protein cat food is also free from corn, wheat, and soy. These ingredients irritate the digestive system of sensitive cats. Unlike many weight management formulas, most cat owners recommend this formula because of its natural flavor for picky eaters.

Blue Buffalo Sensitive Stomach Chicken Dry Cat Food 

Blue Buffalo Sensitive Stomach Chicken Recipe Adult Dry Cat Food
  • First 5 ingredients: Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Brown Rice, Oatmeal, Barley
  • Guaranteed Analysis: 32% Protein, 16% Fat, 3.5% Fiber, 9% Moisture
  • Estimated Carbohydrates: 39%
  • Caloric Content: 3,773 kcal/kg, 422 kcal/cup
  • Key Features: Sensitive Digestion, No Corn No Wheat No Soy
  • Life Stage: Adult
  • Best For: High Protein Cat Food for Sensitivities

This sensitive digestion formula is made with LifeSource Bits, a unique blend of minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants recommended by vets and animal nutritionists to support cats with sensitivities. 

Deboned chicken and chicken meal are the primary sources of the 32% protein in this cat food. As we’ve previously discussed, chicken is a natural source of glucosamine and essential fatty acids vital for a balanced cat diet. 

Chicken is also a rich source of L-carnitine, which promotes lean muscle mass and supports weight management.

This formula utilizes a single source of protein which is vital to limit exposure to other common allergen proteins which may cause adverse reactions. Added oatmeal is rich in B vitamins which support the immune system and develop healthy cognitive functions. Vitamin B12 aids in the healthy digestion of the nutrients.

Additional ingredients are featured in this unique high protein cat food; pumpkin, spinach, blueberries, and blueberries. These whole ingredients provide your cat with healthy fiber, minerals, and vitamins that support healthy digestion of the nutrients in this formula.

The higher 16% crude fat content contains larger amounts of omega 3 fatty acids, boosting the immune system and reducing inflammation. [16]

There are no added preservativesartificial flavorscornwheat, or soy which typically cause sensitivities in cats. However, this recipe contains wheat-based products that may be unsuitable for cats with allergies caused by this type of ingredient.

Many cat owner reviews described an improvement in their sensitive cat’s stool when given this diet. Some owners indicated an initial rejection of the food for their picky eaters.


Meat Protein

High Protein Cat Food Buying Guide

Protein is the essential foundation for a balanced, nutritional diet for any cat. However, not all high protein cat foods are made equally, and some are better than others. There are several factors you need to consider before selecting the best diet for your fluffy friend.

Do Cats Need Protein?

There are various reasons why cats need higher amounts of protein, especially compared to other domestic animals such as dogs.

Compared to many domestic animals, cats require up to three times as much protein. [17]

Cats are obligate carnivores which means their body is specifically designed to consume animal-based meats are protein sources. Generally, cats have not evolved hugely from their wild predecessors. 

While herbivores and omnivores such as dogs can create specific amino acids, cats have less ability to do so. You may have noticed two frequently mentioned amino acids contained in cat food:

Arginine

Arginine plays a crucial role in removing the wastage of protein breakdown in a cat’s body, also known as ammonia. 

This amino acid prevents high traces of ammonia in blood cells. It prevents severe health conditions and symptoms such as excessive weight loss, neurological signs such as seizures, vomiting, and even death. [18]

Diet remains the primary source of arginine for cats.

Taurine

Taurine is vital for eye and heart health and can typically be found in many meat-based protein sources. However, taurine is also an essential amino acid that promotes fetal development, healthy immune systems, and healthy digestion.

Although cats can create limited amounts of taurine, they cannot produce the quantities needed to be healthy. Primarily, cats obtain sufficient taurine through their daily diet. However, their bodies cannot store vast amounts, so they must consume taurine regularly.

Diets deficient in taurine can lead to severe health conditions such as central retinal degeneration (blindness), reproductive failure, and abnormalities of the central nervous system. 

Taurine is also a primary amino acid that prevents severe heart failure, known as Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). [19,20]

Does My Cat Need A High Protein Diet?

Every cat is different, but some health conditions will benefit from a high protein diet.

Obesity

High protein formulas can help your cats lose weight safely while preventing lean muscle loss. [21]

In addition, recent studies have indicated that cats fed on a high protein diet burned off additional calories than their counterparts who eat moderate protein diets. [22]

Primarily, this is because many high protein cat food formulas contain meat-based protein sources which have L-carnitine. Carnitine is an amino acid that converts excess fat reserves into valuable energy sources for cats. [23]

While animal meats are rich in this essential amino acid, plant-based proteins lack the carnitine needed for sufficient and safe weight loss.

Diabetes 

Type 2 diabetes is the most commonly found form of this condition among cats, affecting approximately 80% to 95% of felines with diabetes. 

Cats with this condition should primarily be fed at least 40% crude protein on a metabolizable energy (ME) basis. This helps prevent the loss of lean muscle mass and the development of hepatic lipidosis during weight loss. [24]

Protein ensures a stable source of energy in diabetic cats and prevents peaks in glucose levels in the blood. [25]


What to Look for When Buying High Protein Cat Food

Not all high protein cat food has the same nutritional content for your cat. There are two primary protein sources that you’ll find in cat food; animal-based proteins and plant-based proteins. 

Any diet you feed your cat should always meet their daily nutrient requirements to support their overall health.

How Much Protein Does My Cat Need?

When finding a suitable cat food for your cat, always review the ingredients list on the back of the packaging. Mainly, focus on the guaranteed analysis of the formula.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) recommends that most cat foods contain a minimum crude protein content of 26% to meet the minimum nutritional requirements for maintenance in an adult cat’s diet.

For ‘Growth and Reproduction’ life stages such as kittens or pregnancies, the AAFCO recommends diets containing at least 40% protein content to prevent muscle mass loss. [26]

Common Protein Sources in Cat Food

While many vegetarian formulas may appeal to some cat owners, it is worth remembering that cats cannot survive off of plant-based proteins solely. They need meat in their daily diet.

Certain amino acids and nutrients can only be found in meat-based protein sources and animal tissues that simply do not in plant proteins. We previously discussed some of the amino acids found in meat-based proteins; taurine and arginine. 

There are many more amino acids and minerals that meats can provide for cats, such as vitamin A and D and niacin. 

Meat Protein Sources

Commonly found meats in cat food include chicken, turkey, beef, fish, and lamb. But these meat-based proteins can be found in various ways, including as meat meals or meat by-products.

While many cat owners will think these types of protein sources are harmful to their cats, they are considered some of the best protein sources because of how they are processed.

Meat By-Products

Meat by-products are the ‘offal’ of the slaughtered animal’s carcass. Typically you can find it contains the spleen, lungs, brain, kidneys, livers, bone, blood, stomachs, intestines, and fatty tissue.

It is worth noting that these by-products will not contain horns, hair, teeth, or hoofs. 

Many cat owners will try to avoid these by-products when they actually contain sufficient protein and nutrients needed in a cat’s diet. Cats would consume their prey whole in the wild, so this type of meat replicates their natural diet.

Meat Meal

Meat meal is commonly found on many cat food formulas as a primary source of protein. 

According to the AAFCO, ‘meal’ means an animal-based protein that has been dehydrated and then processed at high temperatures. This dry substance is then used to provide a highly concentrated protein source. 

Poultry meal, for example, is a dry substance that is produced from whole poultry carcasses. However, this meat meal will exclude feathers, feet, entrails, and heads. Meat meal is considered safe and a suitable protein source for cats that replaces their natural ‘wild’ diet.

Plant Protein Sources

Soybean meal, gluten meal, rice protein, and wheat gluten are all commonly found plant-based protein sources in cat food. 

Plant Meal

While these plant proteins may appear to be a suitable alternative to meat-based protein sources, cats simply can not thrive on them alone. A cat’s digestive system is not able to process the nutrients as efficiently compared to animal proteins.

Plant-based proteins also lack essential amino acids needed in a cat’s diet, such as taurine or methionine. Many manufacturers will artificially replicate these amino acids; however, they are not as easily digestible as naturally occurring nutrients from animal tissues.

While plant-based proteins can be in a cat’s diet, they still require animal meat and tissue to have a balanced, healthy diet.

Final Thoughts

All cats need protein for them to live a happy and healthy life. 

This is because they are obligate carnivores meaning their digestive systems need protein to thrive. A lack of protein in a cat’s diet can cause severe heart conditions such as Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) and ammonia toxicity.

I recommend American Journey Turkey Dry Cat Food as the best overall high protein cat food. Primarily, this cat food contained rich, premium meat-based protein sources that will provide your cat with a healthy, balanced diet.

Remember, not all protein sources are created equal, and all of them provide different nutrition to your cat. 

It is always best to feed your cat a meat-based protein source as these contain essential amino acids that your cat cannot produce.

Before switching your cat’s diet, always consult your veterinarian. 

James Fuller

James Fuller

Founder of Honest Whiskers

Hey! I’ve owned a pet pretty much all my life, in fact, I currently have both a cat and a dog! My mission is to deliver a reliable, trusted website that only uses evidence-based information

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