Cats love protein. Unlike humans that rely on fat, cats get most of their energy through protein. Protein is, in fact, a highly efficient source of energy directly involved in the production of ATP (the energy unit of cells). The fast metabolism of felines is fine-tuned to tap into that energy potential; but, good protein food is hard to find.
Here are our top recommendations.
Instinct Ultimate Protein is one of the rare cat food products that use raw meat as their main ingredient. The kibble’s protein content is as high as 95% compared to the vegetable protein. It’s grain-free, substituting tapioca and flaxseed for the non-meat intake.
Tapioca is anti-allergenic, containing highly digestible carbohydrates that give an appealing texture. Flaxseed is full of natural oils and vitamins that improve the immune system and the quality of fur and skin. The food is enriched with dried tomato pomace, pumpkin seeds, taurine, and rosemary extract, all to add flavor and vital supplements for regular digestion, health, and daily energy.
An excellent thing about this product is the way it treats meat content, and there are several points.
There’s no meal content, it’s all raw chicken. The meat is also minimally processed to preserve the nutritional value of the content. Chicken liver and chicken heart are added since cats prefer these in their diet for their high ATP content.
The most original feature of Ultimate Protein’s kibbles is that they’re coated with raw chicken meat, adding appeal and palatability to every bite.
- High animal protein content compared to vegetable content
- Raw-meat coated kibble
- Grain-free option (tapioca substitutes potato, grains, etc.)
- Hard to store, spoils easily
- Flaxseed can lead to bloating
All in all, this is a wonderful option for those who want high protein cat food and low plant-based protein with good palatability.
Natural Balance L.I.D. Tuna is great as a nice protein kick in your cat’s diet. The production involves 53% tuna content (including the healthy oils full of fatty acids for skin, fur, and immunity), 38% of plant-based ingredients, and 9% of supplemental ingredients like vitamins, minerals, and other useful ingredients.
Tuna content is mostly tuna and then tuna meal, much friendlier compared to regular meat meals. A high tuna content explains the good palatability. Tuna is easily digestible and low-allergenic. It’s specifically beneficial for cats on a limited ingredient diet.
Tuna-based oils are easily utilized by the cat’s biology and they’re rich in omegas which are beneficial as immunity, fur, and skin boosters.
The plant-based ingredients are carefully chosen not only to avoid the negative effects of grains and starch sources but to support the digestion and resorption of nutritive elements. Pea protein follows up on the tuna content and, along with flaxseed, provide fibers that help the good stuff be absorbed easily and more effectively.
- Good for limited ingredients diet
- Peas as the main plant-based ingredient
- No artificial flavors
- Creates more kibble crumbs than others
- Some cats may have problems with the intense tuna flavor
Natural Balance L.I.D. High Protein Tuna is a great high protein cat food option for all sensitive dietary needs or for those who want to provide healthy fish nutrients in a cat’s daily diet.
This is a highly elaborated dietary plan that’s made with a lot of effort and expertise. The high protein content comes mostly from chicken or better-deboned chicken. This high protein cat food is created with whole chicken meat and never by-products. The result is tastier kibble that cats easily recognize.
Hairball prevention is achieved through carefully chosen ingredients that enrich the kibble with fibers that help eliminate hairballs. The fibers come from flaxseed, psyllium seed husks, and barley grass. These and other ingredients also support healthy digestion and the natural functioning of the digestive system.
Weight control is achieved by balancing the protein, fat, and carb calories in the diet to support the natural metabolism of small felines. The fast spending calories are minimized on behalf of protein, which provides the majority of effective caloric value.
The food comes in combined kibbles, one of which is filled with antioxidants mainly from blueberries, cranberries, and kelp. These antioxidant kibbles are separated to provide variety in a pet’s gourmet life and to ensure the effective implementation of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
- Highly palatable
- Effective hairball control
- Great for weight control
- Separate micro-nutrient kibbles (Life-Source Bits)
- Not as much protein content as in other products
To make sure your cat doesn’t have hairball issues or that it really maintains weight over time and even loses a few pounds, Blue Buffalo made sure that its ingredients are the best and most balanced for the job.
Indigo Moon has a higher protein content than some of the products on the list, reaching 42%. The fat content is a little higher, going towards 20%. The fat content in the food mainly comes from absorbent animal products and the rest is related to ocean fish and high-omega plant-based oils like canola, sesame, and almond.
Though grain-free, Indigo Moon resorts to potatoes as the base of the kibble. Some benefits of potatoes for cats are: anti-allergenic, high potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamins B and C.
To add more nutritional value, micro-elements, and other various beneficial compounds, Indigo Moon implemented traces of cat super-foods like carrots, blueberries and cranberries, broccoli, kelp, lentils, and pumpkin, all to provide good digestion, a healthy body, and beautiful fur and skin.
Peas and pea protein are known to be cat-friendly and beneficial, providing the good types of fibers that help digestion and overall absorption of the nutrients.
- High egg protein content
- Reduces constipation and diarrhea
- Potato isn’t the best for regulating blood sugar
- High oil content not suitable for inactive cats
If you need high-energy food or cat food suitable for different stages of your cat’s life, Indigo Moon is a go-to high protein, nutrient rich choice.
The final high protein cat food on our list by Blue Wilderness is their Salmon edition for adult cats. Salmon has been known to be a natural source of omega fatty acids that benefit the cat’s health, fur, and hair. It’s also a highly absorbing meat full of proteins that directly benefit the cat’s development and healthy organ functioning.
Sweet potatoes and peas were the plant choices in this recipe, both of which are sources of healthy carbohydrates to which cats react well and have almost zero risks for cats’ health. The formula is enriched with additional nutritional wonders such as alfalfa, chicory, blackberries, spinach, blueberries, cranberries, apples, pomegranate, turmeric, and pumpkin.
- Great for sensitive stomachs
- Great for outdoor and indoor cats
- Kibble size may vary
- Not a good option for cats with kidney problems
The bottom line is that Blue Wilderness Adult Salmon for cats is a great source of protein and other nutrients that will keep your cat healthy and happy.
There are several things to keep in mind when deciding which high protein cat food you should buy, and here we’ll break it down so you’ll know what to look for.
Protein Content in Numbers
Once you grab a bag of dry food or you open a page on the web, you’ll probably see a number marked as protein percent. Be careful when reading since every word is important. Here’s what you need to know.
Crude protein doesn’t mean animal protein. On the back of the package, you’ll see a table of contents usually starting with protein or crude protein. People often mistake these digits with the overall animal protein content, but that won’t always be the case.
Crude protein is the total protein that’s left after analysis regardless of its origin, but not all proteins are created equal. There are tiers of protein kinds, and there should be a good balance of different types of proteins (which we won’t cover in this article, due to complexity).
To simplify it, we’ll look into what animal products cats generally like to eat, and that’s the entrails and lean meat. The entrails provide ATP and protein balance for energy, while lean meat provides the building blocks.
Plant-based protein doesn’t do a good job on that front. Their different structure from animal proteins doesn’t pass the natural barriers in the digestive system and the cat’s body doesn’t know what to do with them. The vast majority of them are simply evacuated through the digestive system.
There will always be some plant-based protein in the dry food content. What matters is how much it is compared to the meat protein, and what kind of plant-based protein it is. Check this list to inform yourself about the usefulness of plant-based proteins.
Fresh vs Meal: Meat Ingredient Terminology
You may find slight differences in the list of ingredients among various products. The small differences in wording can make a big difference in nutritional content.
First of all, let’s remember that the first ingredient usually is the most common in a product by percentage. This may not always be the case since there are exceptions, but it’s a good rule of thumb.
In the ingredients section, you can often find terms like chicken, chicken meat, deboned chicken, deboned chicken meat, chicken meal, dehydrated chicken, etc. Once you figure out the more specific terms, you’ll notice how vague the more general wording really is.
Does ‘chicken’ include skin, entrails, kidneys, and bones? It may not always be the case, but it’s a way to mask the specific ingredients in some cases.
Meals, especially meat meals, are an interesting section. Like all meals, these are dehydrated and ground animal parts. Yet there are differences between meals, usually regarding the bone content.
Meals are not necessarily bad, since they can hold a lot of protein content. The problem is that the protein is dehydrated and with that, it loses its natural absorbability and usefulness to the cat. The meal can also feel ‘chunky’ to the pet’s palate. It’s like us when we try to eat cereal without milk, but worse – these cereals are enriched with ground protein pills.
Grain vs Grain-Free: Common Misconceptions
We’ve all heard that grain isn’t good for carnivorous animals, especially wheat, corn, and barley. This is mostly because of the allergic reactions and their bad impact on some cats’ digestive tracts. The high-carb diet also leads to high blood sugar in cats.
The companies now commonly advertise their food as grain-free, but that’s not the end of the story. If a kibble was truly grain-free in a way that it’s only meat, it would be five to eight times as expensive. It wouldn’t be a kibble but a mesh with a lot of unusable crumbs.
Dry food is a complex mixture that needs consistency and structure. Animal protein can’t handle that and be affordable. That’s why carbohydrate content is practically unavoidable.
The companies, therefore, resort to other non-grain sources of carbohydrates, most commonly starch. These include tapioca, potato, rice, peas, and flax. Every one of these has an advantage over grain.
The truth of the matter is that they’re still hyperglycemic. Notice that rice is practically a grain, yet it’s in our non-grain list. Rice and noble types of grain like spelt, often used in European dry food, don’t create the adverse effects regular wheat does and some like spelt have a slightly less impact on the blood sugar.
The bottom line is that carb content is the necessary evil in most dry food products, except for the top-tier, 80-95% animal content dry food like Acana, which is the most expensive. There are also different tiers of starch ingredients with wheat being the worst, followed by corn. Good starch ingredients are spelt, rice, tapioca, and potatoes.
Palatability vs Health: How to Balance The Two
Palatability is the biggest issue with dry cat food, and the hardest one. We’re practically unable to predict whether our cat is going to like a certain product or not.
All we can do is try, but here are some general tips.
- It’s about habits: It all depends on what habits we develop with our cats, especially the young ones. If we’re consistent, we can expect our cats to be more consistent.
- Alternating dry food and wet food: Dry food isn’t easy to eat, so we sometimes want to treat them with an all-wet meal. Once they know there’s that option, they may start refusing dry food completely.
- Keep the center full: As you may have already noticed, cats usually stop eating once they reach the bottom in the center of a tray. All we need to do is give it a little stir to cover the center.
- Try a small bag, start gradually: Once you want to switch to another type or brand, follow the guidelines on how to gradually introduce the food. To minimize the risk of wasting cat food, buy a smaller package first.
- Water, water, water: The palatability of dry food also depends on how much water the cat has after or during a meal. Most manufacturers recommend mixing their dry products with wet food which provides additional moisture.
High Protein Cat Food FAQs
Q: What Protein Percentage is Recommended in a Cat’s Diet?
A: The minimal protein percentage should be 25%, and basically the more the better. The protein content should be of animal origin, not plant-based. Search the ingredients and check whether animal-based protein is more present than plant-based.
Q: Which Cat Food Has The Best Protein Content?
A: To determine which cat food has the highest protein content, you have to compare the analysis table and the ingredients. To our knowledge, the brands that make the top animal protein content are Orijen, Blue Buffalo Wilderness, Taste of the Wild, Acana, N&D, Nutram, and Canidae.
Q: What’s The Easiest Protein to Digest?
A: Egg protein has 98% absorbability. It’s followed by poultry meat and rabbit (92%), organ meat (90%), and fish (75%+).
Q: Does a High Protein Diet Cause Kidney Problems in Cats?
A: Cats are naturally adapted to a high protein diet. Their bodies are constructed differently from other animals and humans, so protein is the main source of energy for felines. The high protein content itself doesn’t cause kidney problems.
The usual causes of kidney problems are high sodium content and poor quality ingredients. Always check what ingredients are used.
Best High Protein Cat Food Brands
The cat food industry has seen an expansion of high-quality pet food brands in the past decade. There were breakthroughs in cat nutrition research and development, and new standards have come into existence.
Here are some of the most respectable brands on the market:
Champion Pet Foods: A Canadian company that started in 1975, Champion Pet Foods decided to go on a path of high animal content, quality pet food. The two most famous brands are Orijen and Acana. They’re famous for using fresh and natural regional ingredients delivered daily including free-range chicken, ranch-raised beef, and wild-caught mackerel.
Instinct Pet Food: Originating in Lincoln, Nebraska, this is a younger company that specializes in developing and researching raw, natural, and scientifically-proven nutrition following a motto ‘the more natural, the better.’ They’re among the leading brands in innovation and their products often come with a creative spin that improves palatability, digestibility, and the overall well-being of pets.
Natural Balance: A company founded in 1989 in California, it’s the leading premium grain-free dry cat food in the U.S. The team consists of pet nutrition and pet health experts that not only cherish veterinary knowledge, but they’re also pet owners who love and care about their pets. This combination makes Natural Balance cat food one of the best brands on the market.
Blue Buffalo: There’s not one long-term pet owner that hasn’t heard of Blue Buffalo. Small retailers battle over the brand’s affection and not every retailer can pride themselves on selling the B.B. brand. They’ve started relatively recently (2003), but they’ve been rocking ever since.
Solid Gold: Solid Gold has decided to go on a path of holistic pet food. They strive to provide balanced nutrition for pets around the world by offering high-quality products made of quality ingredients. They’ve been around since 1974 when Sissy Harington McGill started developing recipes inspired by traditional European diets.
In this article, we summed up some of the best grain-free, high protein cat food brands and products you can purchase for your cat. All the options are stacked with animal protein with high absorbability and comparatively high palatability.
The options listed should cover most of pets’ and pet owners’ needs, such as limited ingredient diet options, a high-calorie diet, as well as hairball and weight control options. The options chosen are meant to be relatively affordable for most, andfor the cheaper options, you can check out Crave or Shiba.
On the other hand, if you want to crank up the nutritional care, you cancheck out some of the ultra-premium options by Orijen or Acana.