Nutritional Needs of Cats: Choosing the Right Diet for Optimal Health


Ru Chen

- Updated April 3, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Cats are obligate carnivores
  • They need to eat meat and animal products to survive
  • Protein, fat, and vitamins are essential
  • Too much of anything can hurt your cat
  • A vet can help you determine a personalized diet
Nutritional Needs of Cats: Choosing the Right Diet for Optimal Health

Cats love treats, but they need more than tasty treats to be happy and healthy. Fat, proteins, vitamins, and minerals play key roles in supporting feline health. Ideally, your cat’s diet should be palatable, meet food regulations, and give them the nutrition they need to thrive.

Let’s dive into what a cat needs for optimal wellness, how health problems can affect diet, and other essentials you should know about feline nutrition.


Understanding the Nutritional Requirements of Cats

Cats are obligate carnivores – they can only sustain themselves on a meat-based diet. These true carnivores cannot survive on plants or fungi like other carnivores can.

Let’s go over the essentials that cats need in their diet, as well as health risks to beware.


Cats need high levels of certain proteins, which can only be found in animal tissue. Protein helps cats develop healthy muscle, skin, nails, tendons, fur, hormones, antibodies, ligaments, and other body parts. Compared to other animals, cats need a lot of protein to stay healthy and energetic. Cats need the following 11 amino acids that are provided by protein: lysine, leucine, isoleucine, histidine, arginine, methionine, phenylalanine, taurine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.

However, too much protein can be bad. Cats with kidney disease in particular need to be wary of ingesting low-quality protein. In addition, food allergies in cats are often linked with proteins.


Fat provides an abundance of energy for cats. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are important types of fat for cats. They promote cat skin and coat health. It’s important for cats to have a healthy amount of fish, chicken, beef, and other fatty meats in cat food formulae.


Unlike other animals, cats actually do not require as much carbohydrate. Instead, cats source most of their energy from fats and protein. Usually, a cat diet should not have too much carbohydrate. When buying dry kibble, look out for high carbohydrate content.

If your cat has diabetes or is prone to weight gain, be careful of cat foods with too much carbohydrate. Significant carb intake can cause health problems for cats. In general, cats should only get <10% of their calories from carbs.


Vitamins are often added as supplements in cat food to ensure a cat gets all the vitamins they need. However, excessive or inappropriate vitamin supplementation can actually cause health issues for cats. Discuss vitamin and nutrition with your vet to see whether a supplement would benefit your feline friend.

Here are some essential vitamins and why they are necessary for cats.

Vitamin A: Bone growth, vision, reproduction, and skin

Vitamin D: Growth and healthiness of bones

Vitamin E: A vital antioxidant

Vitamin K: Normal blood clotting

Vitamin B12: Fat and carb metabolism, and nerve conduction

Thiamin: Carb metabolism

Niacin: Processing fats, carbs, and protein

Biotin: Makes fatty acids, amino acids, and DNA/RNA


Cat food manufacturers often add mineral supplements into cat food formulae to ensure your cat receives the minerals they need. Here are example minerals that a cat needs.

Calcium: Growth of bones and teeth

Phosphorus: Growth of bones and teeth, metabolism

Sodium: Electrolyte to help with hydration, internal balance, and nervous system

Iron: Oxygen transport

Potassium: Electrolyte for nerve and muscle function


Other than food, cats also need water. Make sure your cat always has easy access to clean and fresh water at home.

Types of Cat Diets

Dry food

Dry cat food is also known as kibble. Kibble is the most popular type of cat food and typically has a water content between 6% and 14%. You can buy dry cat kibble in many forms, but most come in bite-sized pieces. Dry kibble includes meat, poultry, grain, fish meal, milk products, and other related ingredients.


  • Easy to store
  • Costs less than wet cat food
  • Reduces risk of dental issues


  • High carbohydrate content can be unsuitable
  • Not good for cats who don’t drink enough water
  • Can lead to dehydration
  • Can cause urinary tract issues

Wet cat food

Also known as wet canned food, wet cat food contains plenty of moisture to keep your cat hydrated. Wet food usually has a water content above 60%. You can even buy gourmet canned food for your cat that uses high quality liver, kidney, and other meat.


  • Good for hydration
  • Closer to a cat’s natural diet in terms of nutrition
  • Higher protein and lower carbohydrates
  • Longer shelf life


  • Spoils quickly once opened
  • May have preservatives
  • Messy to feed and clean up
  • Harder to store

Semi-moist food

Semi-moist cat food aims to combine the best of both worlds. The water content falls between 14% and 60%.


  • Easy to store and feed
  • Nutritionally balanced
  • More palatable in general
  • Cheaper than wet food


  • Can be more expensive than dry kibble
  • Can be less healthy
  • More sodium and sugar

Raw diets

Raw cat diets include uncooked and unprocessed ingredients. High-quality raw cat food from reputable brands can effectively mimic a cat’s natural, wild diet while keeping your cat healthy and hydrated. However, raw cat food prepared by yourself can be risky due to foodborne pathogens in raw animal products.


  • Fewer processed ingredients
  • Less odorous stool and litter boxes
  • Preserves more natural nutrients


  • More expensive
  • Spoils easily
  • Higher risk of foodborne illness
  • Can be contaminated by parasites and bacteria

Homemade diets

Some cat owners enjoy making food at home for their cats, giving the food a personal touch. Homemade diets can vary greatly depending on what you choose as ingredients. However, it’s important to carefully consider whether homemade food is ideal for your cat due to the many risks associated with making cat food at home.


  • More control over what ingredients your cat eats
  • Feel more connected with your cat


  • Risk of an unbalanced diet
  • Needs to be quickly eaten to reduce chances of food poisoning
  • Undercooked or contaminated food can seriously hurt a cat
  • Time-consuming to make
  • Expensive

Palatability of diets

Palatability refers to how tasty and agreeable a cat finds the food. A diet’s palatability depends on texture, odor, shape, taste, mouthfeel, and other factors. In general, moist cat food is the most palatable to cats. Semi-moist is slightly worse, whereas dry food is the least palatable.

How to select the most appropriate cat diet

Make sure you consider your cat’s age, activity level, hydration, health conditions, and individual preferences. Some cats need special diets, especially if they are sick. Take your cat to the veterinarian to receive a check-up. The vet can help you devise a suitable diet that is specially tailored to your cat’s needs.

Reading Cat Food Labels

Deciphering your cat food’s labels can be difficult, but it’s important for determining the nutritional quality and safety of the ingredients. Cat food needs to comply with regulations, with the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) being the go to source for cat ingredient control, nutrition guidelines, and standardized terminology.

Nutrient profile

There are two main types of nutrient profiles for cats: adult maintenance and _growth and reproduction. Food for adult cat maintenance contains fewer nutrients to avoid excessive, problematic consumption.

Nutritional adequacy statement

To get a better idea of what the cat food is intended for, check out the nutritional adequacy statement. This tells you what cat lifestyle and age the food is best for.

Guaranteed analysis

Guaranteed analysis tells you the minimum or maximum amount of each listed nutrient on the cat food label.

As fed: An “as fed” label means the food is assessed based on when you take it out of the can or bag.

Dry matter: This assesses the food when all the water has been removed.


The ingredients section will list you the ingredients, with the frontmost ingredients having the most weight.

Feeding guidelines

This part explains how to feed the cat food to your cat. Your vet may give more specific guidelines that better align with your cat’s needs.

Addressing Common Dietary Issues


It’s important to select your cat’s diet carefully and implement portion control to avoid obesity. Not feeding your cat certain ingredients can also help your cat maintain a healthier weight.

Food allergies

If your cat is allergic to an ingredient, make sure to carefully read all cat food labels before feeding your cat.

Digestive problems

Cats with sensitive stomachs may vomit, regurgitate, or exhibit other symptoms of digestive issues. Choose cat food brands that are easier for them to digest. For example, a special fiber canned food can help cats with constipation.

Veterinary help

A veterinarian can give you personalized dietary recommendations. This is particularly important if your cat has any specific health conditions or risks.


Pet Insurance for Cats

Pet insurance is a financial safety net that provides pet owners with reimbursements for eligible expenses. Pet insurance plans make cat healthcare more affordable, ensuring better access to the healthcare that your cat needs to live a happy and healthy life.

Types of cat insurance

Pet insurance coverage mainly comes in these three types:

1. Accident-only coverage: This is the most basic pet insurance plan. It covers expenses if your cat gets involved in an accident. Common eligible claims include treatment costs, diagnostic exams, surgery, blood work, hospitalization, and medications. If your cat ingests something poisonous or gets ill from food, it may be covered by accident-only pet insurance.

2. Accident and illness coverage: This is also known as comprehensive coverage. On top of standard accident coverage, comprehensive pet insurance also covers vet expenses related to health conditions. If your cat has a digestive illness, obesity, or other health condition that interferes with their ability to eat, comprehensive coverage can provide financial assistance.

3. Preventive care coverage: Also known as wellness plans, a preventive care add-on provides you with coverage for routine vet expenses. This may include dental cleanings, cat vaccines, spay/neuter, and annual wellness exams. Since regular check-ups can help ensure your cat is getting the nutrition they need, a wellness plan is a cost-effective idea for pet owners.

How to research pet insurance providers

It can be tricky to find the optimal pet insurance coverage for your cat. Make sure to find a pet insurance policy that fits your budget and meets your cat’s needs. Here are key points to consider when choosing pet insurance for your cat.

Premium: Your insurance premium is how much you need to pay for active pet insurance coverage every month. Pick a policy that falls within your budget.

Deductible: The insurance deductible is how much you need to pay out-of-pocket at the vet before insurance kicks in. A lower deductible means less out-of-pocket expenses on eligible claims, but you will need to pay a higher monthly premium.

Coverage type: The coverage type determines your premium and covered claims. Consider a comprehensive pet insurance policy to receive coverage for accidents and illnesses.

Exclusions and restrictions: Many pet insurers exclude pre-existing conditions from their coverage. This means that if your cat has been diagnosed with a health condition before you activated your coverage, treatment for that condition will not be covered. In addition, pet insurance plans exclude certain breeds and ages. Before buying pet insurance, check the restrictions carefully.

Top insurance providers for cats

Here are some of the best pet insurance providers to consider.



Cats have many nutritional needs due to being obligate carnivores. Choosing the right diet for your cat can improve your kitty’s overall health and wellbeing.

Remember to seek out a vet’s advice as needed. This is especially critical if your cat has any health conditions or risks that are affected by their diet, such as kidney problems, obesity, or diabetes.

About The Author

Ru Chen

Ru Chen

Content Writer

Ru Chen is a content writer with several years of experience in creating engaging and well-researched articles. She mostly writes about insurance, business, digital marketing, and law. In her free time, she can be found watching horror movies and playing board games with her partner in Brooklyn.

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