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Protein is important for all animals. It is needed for growth and development and for the immune system. It helps repair cells and make new ones. It is part of the structure of every cell. Protein, made from amino acids, helps create our bodies, and grow skin, nails, and hair. Protein can also be burned as calories or converted and stored as fat if your body has extra protein.
Cats need 22 amino acids (the body uses amino acids to make proteins). Cats can synthesize 11 of these amino acids in their own bodies – this is not unusual. Most species can make some of the amino acids they require. The remaining amino acids – the ones they can’t make themselves – are called “essential” amino acids. Your cat has to get these amino acids in his diet. If your cat is deficient in any of these amino acids, such as taurine or arginine, it can lead to health problems.
What is the Best High Protein Cat Food?
What happens if a cat doesn’t get enough protein?
If a cat doesn’t get enough protein he can start to break down protein from his own muscles, so it’s important that cats do get a high enough level of protein in their diets.
Every source of protein, including meat proteins and plant sources of proteins, has different amino acids. Some are easier for a cat to break down and some are more (or less) usable for your cat. Scientists call a protein’s ability to be broken down and used its “bioavailability.” The egg is considered to be the most food with a bioavailable value of 100. Milk and fish meal have bioavailable values of 92. Beef has a value of about 78. All of these foods can have lots of protein available but that doesn’t always mean they are the best choice to feed a cat for other reasons. Most people don’t choose to feed their cat a cat food that is primarily made from eggs, for example (though some cat foods do use eggs in the ingredients). You always have to consider other factors when you are choosing a diet for your cat.
Most people don’t have to worry about feeding their cat too much protein. If you feed your cat a diet that has more protein than he needs, he will excrete the excess in his urine. Or use some of the protein as calories or store some as fat. The only time a very high protein diet might be a problem is if your cat has late stage kidney disease – and recent studies are suggesting that a high protein diet made from the very best protein sources would still be beneficial for such cats because they would give the kidneys little waste to remove from the cat’s body.
It’s not always easy to know the amount of digestible protein in a cat food. It’s easier to discover this information if you can look at the entire nutrient profile for a cat food, but most cat food companies don’t provide them even on their web sites. Just looking at the percentage of protein in the food from the guaranteed analysis won’t tell you how easy the protein is for your cat to digest. However, most better quality cat foods will usually have better quality ingredients that are easier for your cat to digest. Note that we say “usually.” You can always be fooled. Some meat proteins are easier for most cats to digest, such as chicken, fish, beef, and lamb. Lower quality foods may use lower quality sources of protein that can contain feathers, hair, etc. You don’t have to buy the most expensive cat food on the shelf, but better quality cat foods usually contain better quality ingredients, so you probably need to buy something mid-priced or above to get good quality ingredients for your cat. At the same time, we don’t like to see people buy over-priced, over-hyped foods, and some of the most expensive brands are not really better than the mid-range foods.
Advantages of a high protein diet
There are many advantages of feeding a high protein cat food to your cat. Many cat experts and veterinary nutritionists agree that cats have a need for more protein in their diet than dogs, for example. And you can find plenty of articles and references online that attest to the fact that cats are obligate carnivores, and thus they need meat in their diet. They don’t have salivary amylase to help break down starches; and they don’t have the enzymes needed to help digest carbs in their gastrointestinal tract. Unlike dogs, which have evolved genes to help digest starch since they separated from wolves, cats don’t have the same capacity. Animal protein in a cat’s diet is also a good way to help ensure they get some of the essential amino acids they require.
Cats prefer higher protein
- Given the option, the cats exclusively chose high-protein food over high-carb food even when there was less of the high-protein food available.
- Cats offered a choice of three foods with variable amounts of protein, carbs and fat mixed them to achieve a daily intake as follows:
- 100 calories or 52 percent from protein
- 67 calories or 35 percent from fats
- 24 calories or 12.5 percent from carbs
- When the cats were restricted to a high-carbohydrate food, they did not eat enough of it to get the targeted amount of protein (52 percent).
- Experienced cats eating dry food increased their protein intake and ate fewer carbohydrates than naïve cats offered the same choices. This indicates that given the option, cats learn to avoid eating excessive amounts of carbs.
Interestingly, the nutritional content of an adult mouse is said to be 55.8 percent protein and 23.6 percent fat, so perhaps this provides some insight on how much animal protein cats prefer in their diet. It seems very close to the amount (52 percent) found in the study above.
According to one source, this is what a cat might eat in the wild:
Remember that cats as obligate carnivores need proportionally more protein in its diet compared to other mammals (1-3). Cats do not have a dietary requirement for carbohydrates. Therefore, cats are adapted to eat a protein-rich, carbohydrate-poor diet. The composition of a cat’s diet in the wild (as a percentage of calories or metabolizable energy ingested) is approximately 50-60% protein, 30-50% fat, and 5-10% carbohydrates (2,11-13).
So, if we are agreed that your cat can benefit from eating a high protein cat food, what do you need to look for in one?
High protein cat food diets
AAFCO and other sources today recommend that adult cats have a minimum of 26 percent protein in their diet. Kittens (and pregnant and lactating queens) should have a minimum of 30 percent protein in their diets. These figures are based on dry matter comparisons. Table 4
There are no maximums percentages provided. Note that these are minimums, not the optimum percentages. Cats with specific health issues or elderly cats will need to have these percentages adjusted. Many cats will benefit from eating a diet that is higher in protein, with lower carbs.
The source of the protein is very important in any food you choose for your cat since cats can usually digest meat sources of protein better than plant sources. This means they will obtain more nutrients from the meat source-protein and pass less of the food as waste. It’s really true that if you feed your cat a better quality cat food you can feed less food and pick up less cat poop because your cat is digesting the food more efficiently.
Top 5 High-Protein Cat Foods
Best High Protein Dry Cat Food
The Orijen pet food company is known for producing “biologically appropriate” diets that mimic the natural, ancestral diets of wild cats and dogs. Currently, Orijen only offers three dry cat food products but all of them are protein-rich and full of natural flavor. The Orijen Cat & Kitten Dry Food Recipe is one of these three recipes and it features 90% poultry, egg, and fish ingredients with the remaining 10% coming from fresh fruits, vegetables and botanicals. As a high-quality and high-protein diet for carnivores, this formula contains 0% gluten, grains, potato, tapioca, and plant proteins. All in all, this recipe is nutrient-dense and carefully balanced to ensure complete nutrition for adult cats as well as kittens – it is also proudly made in the U.S.A. from regionally sourced ingredients.
This Orijen Cat & Kitten Dry Food Recipe features deboned chicken, deboned turkey, and yellowtail flounder as the top three ingredients and the main sources of protein. These are not the only sources of protein, however – these three ingredients are followed by whole eggs, whole Atlantic mackerel, several organ meats, and various dehydrated poultry and fish ingredients. This recipe contains more than a dozen protein-based ingredients which combine to offer a crude protein content of 40%. The main source of fat in this recipe (which contributes to the 20% crude fat content) is chicken fat, a highly nutritious ingredient for cats. For carbohydrate energy and dietary fiber, this Orijen Cat & Kitten Dry Food Recipe relies on whole green peas, whole navy beans, and red lentils as well as other beans and legumes. For beneficial supplements, this recipe includes fresh fruits and vegetables as natural sources for key nutrients as well as chelated minerals and dried fermentation products. Overall, any cat or kitten would be lucky to enjoy this high-protein cat food.
The Blue Buffalo company has become widely known as one of the leading producers of high-quality pet food products. This company offers four main product lines for dog and cat foods – the Basics line of limited ingredient diets, the Freedom line of natural pet foods, the Freedom line of grain-free recipes, and Wilderness line of high-protein cat foods. Blue Buffalo Wilderness Adult Duck Recipe Cat Food is an excellent example of a high-protein cat food made with fresh, high-quality ingredients that nourish your cat’s body from the inside out. This particular recipe is inspired by the diet of the wild lynx and it is formulated to meet the nutritional needs of adult cats. It is loaded with high-quality proteins and healthy fats but completely free from corn, wheat, and soy ingredients as well as artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. It is also free from chicken and poultry by-product meals.
This Blue Buffalo Wilderness Adult Duck Recipe Cat Food features deboned duck as the first ingredient and the main source of protein, though it is complemented by chicken meal and turkey meal. Together, these three ingredients make up the majority of the 40% crude protein content in this recipe, though there are some supplementary proteins. This recipe contains 18% crude fat, most of which comes from chicken fat and flaxseed, a combination which helps to ensure a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. This recipe is naturally grain-free, relying on tapioca starch, peas, and potatoes as the primary carbohydrates and main sources of dietary fiber – this fiber helps to promote your cat’s healthy digestion as well as optimal nutrient absorption. This Blue Buffalo Wilderness Adult Duck Recipe Cat Food also includes Blue Buffalo’s LifeSource Bits which contain a proprietary blend of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to ensure complete and balanced nutrition for your cat.
Best High Protein Wet Cat Food
Smalls for Smalls makes fresh cat food that is carefully formulated for your cat based on a profile you create when you sign up. Smalls for Smalls recipes have high protein content because cats are primarily carnivores and get most of their nutrition from meat. They also have high water content, because cats rely on their food to help them stay hydrated. Smalls for Smalls says that if the ingredients wouldn’t be good enough for humans to eat, then they don’t deem it good enough for your cat, either–something you can feel great about! They gently cook all their recipes so the nutrition is locked in, and the benefits are numerous.
Because cats are primarily carnivores, most of their nutrition should be derived from meat, and in Smalls for Smalls recipes, they do just that. The first five ingredients in this Fresh Turkey Pate Recipe are: Turkey Thigh (Skin On), Chicken Liver, Green Beans, Peas, Kale. As you can see, protein is definitely the most abundant nutrient in this recipe.
The Taste of the Wild brand is known for producing premium, grain-free pet foods that are inspired by the ancestral diets of wild cats and dogs. This pet food company designs their recipes around premium-quality meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, and healthy probiotics to ensure complete and balanced nutrition as well as healthy and regular digestion. Taste of the Wild offers a limited selection of canned food products, one of which is the Taste of the Wild Canyon River Feline Formula. This recipe can be used as a complement for your cat’s dry food or fed as a staple diet. It is made with fresh trout and salmon to ensure natural flavor and high protein content – it also delivers gluten-free and grain-free energy in the form of digestible carbohydrates. This recipe offers a crude protein content of 8% and a crude fat content of 3% which translate to a dry matter basis of 44.4% and 16.7%, respectively.
This Taste of the Wild Canyon River Feline Formula features trout as the main ingredient and primary source of protein, though it is supplemented with ocean fish, dried egg product, and smoked salmon. Vegetable broth is the second ingredient and it is used to provide the moisture needed for processing. For carbohydrates, this recipe includes potato starch, pea flour, and several fresh fruits and vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and blueberries. These fresh ingredients serve the dual purpose of also providing natural sources for key vitamins and minerals. This recipe does still require some nutrient supplementary, however, but several of the mineral supplements are chelated which is a good thing. Chelated minerals are mineral supplements that have ben chemically bound to protein molecules in a process which makes them easier for your cat’s body to digest and absorb. All in all, this Taste of the Wild Canyon River Feline Formula is a high-protein option for wet cat food that does more than just meet your cat’s nutritional needs – it exceeds them through the use of high-quality ingredients.
The Merrick Pet Care Company follows the tagline, “whole health made right”. This means that Merrick uses only the highest quality ingredients available in carefully formulated recipes to ensure complete and balanced nutrition for cats – recipes that nourish your cat’s body from the inside out. Merrick is so confident in the quality of their products that they offer their customers a 5-star guarantee the includes the following: local growers, real whole foods, company-owned kitchens, balanced nutrition, and health you can see. Merrick offers three different product lines for cat food – the Purrfect Bistro line of grain-free recipes, the Limited Ingredient Diet line of simple formulas, and the Backcountry line of high-protein and grain-free formulas. The Merrick Backcountry Real Rabbit Recipe Cuts Wet Food is an example of what the Backcountry line has to offer.
The first ingredient in the Merrick Backcountry Real Rabbit Recipe Cuts Wet Food formula is deboned rabbit. Not only is rabbit a high-quality source of protein, but it is also a novel protein which means it has a lower risk for triggering food allergies or sensitivities. The rabbit is supplemented by beef liver, deboned lamb, and dried egg whites to provide a crude protein content of 9% – this translates to dry matter value of nearly 50%. This recipe is made with both lamb broth and beef broth for plenty of natural flavor, not to mention the moisture needed for processing. This formula is thickened with potato starch and guar gum, with beef liver and salmon oil as the primary sources of fat. These two fats combine to provide a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids which help to protect your cat’s healthy skin and coat. In terms of supplements, this Merrick Backcountry Real Rabbit Recipe Cuts Wet Food formula contains numerous chelated minerals which are chemically bound to protein molecules to ensure optimal nutrient absorption. Overall, this recipe is incredibly rich in protein and natural flavor – your cat is sure to love it.
These are all good cat foods with higher protein. The protein in these foods – and in many other good cat foods – is much higher by percentage than the recommended AAFCO minimum. It almost certainly comes from good quality sources, too. There are many good cat foods with high protein. You can make selections for your cat based on other factors about the foods that are important to you and your cat.