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Are Cats Carnivores? What You Need To Know

cat eating piece of meat

Even though there’s been a big trend towards feeding pets a vegan diet, all cats are obligate carnivores, which means they need meat and protein in their diet. If cats do not get a high protein diet, they will not be fed a nutritious meal based on their biology and get sick as a result.

If you are interested in learning what it means to be an obligate carnivore, read on. In this article, we explain why cats are obligate carnivores and what this means for you as the cat’s owner. Let’s get started.

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Are All Cats Carnivores?

All cats are carnivores. More so, cats aren’t just carnivores. Instead, they are obligate carnivores. What this means is that all cats, whether wild or domesticated, absolutely require meat for their biological health and well-being and cannot be transitioned to a plant-only diet.

What is An Obligate Carnivore?

An obligate carnivore is an animal that can depend only on meat in order to survive. The reason for this is that obligate carnivores cannot digest plants properly or get enough nutrients from them. As a result, obligate carnivores need meat to survive.

In contrast, normal carnivores are animals that eat meat primarily, but they can be transitioned to a diet made primarily of plants.

Cats are obligate carnivores since you cannot transition them to a meat-free diet like you can with dogs, which are standard carnivores. For all cats to be healthy, they require meat, no questions asked or exceptions.

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cat eating
Image Credit: Irina Kozorog, Shutterstock

Can Cats Be Vegan?

Because cats are obligate carnivores, they cannot be vegan. Even house cats that do a bad job at hunting require meat to survive. It is for this reason that you should never feed your cat a vegan or even vegetarian diet – it needs meat to survive.

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Biological Features Of Your Cat That Make It An Obligate Carnivore

What separates a carnivore from an obligate carnivore is the animal’s biological features. More specifically, it is the anatomic and physiological features of an obligate carnivore that require them to eat meat.

Here are some examples of biological features of cats that make them obligate carnivores:

Eyes And Ears For Hunting

One of the most notable physical features of any cat is its eyes. Not only do these eyes look haunting, but they are specifically developed for hunting prey in all lighting. Likewise, your cat’s forward facing ears make them better at hunting.

cat in hunting position
Image Credit: Karsten Paulick, Pixabay

Metabolic Features

As an obligate carnivore, cats cannot survive on a wide dietary composition. Instead, cats primarily need protein, fatty acids, and vitamins derived from meat. Unlike herbivores and omnivores, cats cannot produce their own vitamins and amino acids and can only get it from the meats they’re eating.

Nutritional Requirements

Nearly all of your cat’s calories need to come from meat-based protein and some fat. Unlike most omnivores and herbivores, obligate carnivores like cats do not need any carbohydrates to survive.

In addition to high amounts of protein and fat, cats need a high amount of arginine, niacin, taurine, and vitamin A. The best way for cats to get these nutrients is by consuming other animals that have them in their systems.

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Can I Feed My Cat Meat Instead of Cat Food?

As an obligate carnivore, you can feed your cat an all-meat diet instead of commercial cat food. After all, this is the diet that cats eat in the wild. Even though cats eat an exclusively meat-based diet for their nutrients, it isn’t always the best option for domesticated cats.

Cat eating chicken
Image Credit: Mcability, Pixabay

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Downsides To Feeding Your Cat A Meat-Only Diet

Not all meat is safe for cats. Beef, chicken, turkey, and pork are all safe for cats, but fish is not. Fish is especially bad for cats when fed raw.

On top of being careful about what meat types you feed your cat, there is difficulty concerning how to feed meat to cats. All raw meat runs the risk contamination and getting your cat sick. This is especially true when the raw meat is processed, such as raw meat sold at the grocery store.

In the wild, cats aren’t exposed to as many contaminants when eating raw meat because they kill the meat and eat it directly after. When you buy meat, the animal has been dead for quite a while before you ever eat it, leading to potential contaminants.

On the flip side, it will be hard to properly cook food for cats. It’s important that the cooked meat does not include any seasoning, oils, additional fats, or any other ingredients we typically add on our meat. This can make it difficult to feed all types of meat, cooked or raw, to cats.

Another downside of feeding your cat and exclusively meat diet is that it gets expensive fast. Even people who know which meat to select opt for cat food due to convenience and affordability.

What Should I Feed My Cat?

Even though you can feed your cat an all-meat diet, its best to go with a commercial cat food instead. Commercial cat food is completely safe and protects your cat from eating ingredients that are bad or contaminated. Commercial cat foods are also much more affordable.

When selecting a commercial cat food for your cat, look for products that have a high protein, moderate fats, and low carbs. More so, ensure that the proteins are from meat, not plants. On occasion, you can feed your cat cooked and unseasoned chicken as a treat.

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Final Thoughts

Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they must have meat to survive. Unlike dogs, which are regular carnivores, cats cannot be adjusted to a plant-based diet, no matter how hard you try. Because of their biological adaptations, cats can only survive on meat.

Because of this fact, cats can survive on a meat-only diet. In fact, that is what’s best for cats. Because of how difficult it is to feed your cat raw meat safely and affordably, we recommend feeding your cat commercial food anyways.

Make sure that the commercial cat food you select is high in protein and low in carbs. By selecting high quality cat food, your cat will get the nutrients it needs without you spending a fortune on raw meat.


Featured Image Credit: DarkBird, Shutterstock

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