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5 Best Protein Sources for Cats

Kristin Hitchcock

May 21, 2021

Cats thrive on a high-protein diet. However, that does not mean that a food is good for your kitty simply because it has high protein levels— it’s the source of the protein that matters. So, which are the best sources of protein for cats?

Before we answer that question, it is essential first to evaluate a cat’s natural diet, as it determines the ideal protein sources for the animal.

Like their wild cousins, house cats are also obligate (true) carnivores, meaning they rely entirely on animal flesh to obtain the nutrients they require to survive. Dogs are not obligate carnivores, which is why they can ingest plant-based foods without suffering any consequences. However, cats lack the necessary physiology to digest plant matter.

As such, animal flesh is the best source of protein for cats.

Therefore, whether you are buying commercial cat food or preparing your cat’s food at home, ensure that it is flesh-based. With that said, the following are the best animal-based protein sources for cats:divider-cat

1. Poultry

cat-with-a-piece-of-chicken_Irina-Kozorog_shutterstock
Credit: Irina Kozorog, Shutterstock

The best high-protein cat foods are the ones that contain chicken, turkey, or duck. This is because birds are a staple part of a wild or feral cat’s diet. In fact, cats love bird meat so much that they are responsible for the extinction of some bird species. Therefore, you cannot go wrong with poultry.


2. Beef

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Credit: DarkBird, Shutterstock

Beef is an excellent choice for those who prepare their cat’s food at home, thanks to its affordability. Consider going with ground beef since it is easy to prepare and does not tax your cat’s digestive system.


3. Pork

Cat-and-meat_Yurochka-Yulia_shutterstock
Credit: Yurochka Yulia, Shutterstock

Pork is excellent for cats. However, avoid feeding pork products such as ham and bacon to your cat due to their high sodium content.


4. Lamb and Veal

young-cat-eating-red-meat_Lisa-A_shutterstock
Credit: Lisa A, Shutterstock

Lamb and veal are excellent sources of proteins for cats. However, these meats are pricier than other protein sources.


5. Fish

cat-obediently-waits-for-salmon_PakulinSergei_shutterstock
Credit: PakulinSergei, Shutterstock

Cats can eat just about all fish, but unlike the protein sources above, it should not be part of your feline’s staple diet. Feed fish sparingly as a treat. We recommend cooked salmon, but skip the herbs and spices. Canned fish should be fed sparingly due to its high sodium levels.divider-food2

How to Choose Commercial Cat Food With the Best Protein Source

If you prepare your kitty’s food at home, you cannot go wrong with the above sources. However, if you are buying commercial cat food, you must make sure that you are getting the best high-protein cat food.

Be on the lookout because commercial foods often contain ingredients that are unnecessary and potentially harmful to cats.

As such, it is crucial to learn how to read and understand cat food labels. For starters, you want the label to indicate the source of its protein. Avoid products saying their protein comes from “poultry meal,” “fish meal,” or “ meat byproducts.” This is because they do not state where they source their protein specifically. That means that the meal could be made from any part of the animal, including feathers, bones, and hooves.

Therefore, you want a cat food that names its protein sources, such as turkey or chicken. That tells you the protein has not been mixed or processed with anything else.

Just as is the case with human food labels, cat food labels also list their ingredients in order of volume, with the first five ingredients forming the bulk of the food. As such, you want your cat’s food to have the proteins above listed first.


Featured image credit: Viktor Lugovskoy, Shutterstock

Kristin Hitchcock

Kristin is passionate about helping pet parents create a fulfilling life with their pets by informing them on the latest scientific research and helping them choose the best products for their pets. She currently resides in Tennessee with four dogs, three cats, two fish, and a lizard, though she has dreams of owning chickens one-day!


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