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How Many Grams of Protein Does a Cat Need Per Day? Facts & FAQ

Kristin Hitchcock

By Kristin Hitchcock

cat eating on floor at home

Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they were designed to live on mostly meat. Meat is made up of protein and fat for the most part. Cats need quite a bit of protein in their daily lives. Otherwise, they may develop nutritional deficiencies, which can lead to other issues.

If you want your feline to be as healthy as possible, they must be given the appropriate amount of protein. For the most part, adult cats need at least 2 grams of protein per pound of healthy body weight. That said, many factors go into how much protein a feline must eat. Kittens need more protein per pound than adults because they are growing and building muscles. Nursing and pregnant females will also need more protein, for themselves and their kittens.

Generally, this translates into a high-protein diet. Therefore, it is essential that your cat is eating a diet rich in meat, which should be the main source of their protein.

The exact amount of calories an individual animal needs to maintain a healthy weight is variable and influenced by many factors including genetics, age, breed, and activity level. This tool is meant to be used only as a guideline for healthy individuals and does not substitute veterinary advice 

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The Type of Protein Matters

While cats need about 2 grams of protein per pound of body weight, the type of protein does matter. Preferably, the protein should be complete, which means that it should contain all the amino acids that your cat needs to thrive. The more amino acids that a meat contains, the better, as it will help ensure a balanced and complete diet. Otherwise, your cat may develop nutritional issues.

Most meats are a complete source of protein. Therefore, your feline should be getting most of their protein from meat of some sort. Many animal products are also complete proteins, including milk and eggs. When added to your cat’s food, these can provide the necessary amino acids.

Plant-based proteins are not complete, though. Most do not include all of the amino acids that your cat needs. Even if they do, they lack other amino acids that your feline may occasionally need. For instance, some amino acids are technically not necessary, but nursing and pregnant cats need them because they are raising kittens.

Protein from plant sources may also not be as digestible. There is evidence that cats have a hard time digesting plant-based nutrients, which can limit the amount of nutrition that your cat can receive from these sources.

Therefore, animal products are always the better option. Choose them over plant-based sources when possible.

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Should Cats Be on a High-Protein Diet?

What exactly a “high-protein” diet is varies. Compared to people and non-obligate carnivores, cats should be on a decently high-protein diet. However, compared to a cat’s typical nutritional needs, cats don’t necessarily need to be on a high-protein diet. Most felines will not need more than 2 grams of protein per pound of body weight unless they are nursing or pregnant.

However, excessive protein probably won’t be harmful. Most cats can handle slightly more protein than they need. The extra protein can be filtered out and eliminated through the urine, so most felines won’t have anything to worry about.

That said, some cats may have underlying health problems that can make filtering out excess protein difficult. In this case, you may want to limit your cat’s protein intake. Your vet will provide you with the necessary information about your cat’s diet if they fit into this category.

Generally speaking, cats should consume about 25% protein in their diet. The rest should be largely fat. Anything over this is usually considered “high protein.” While not all cats will benefit from extra protein, most won’t be harmed by it either. Kittens and pregnant females may need closer to 30% protein.


How Much Protein Should a Senior Cat Have Daily?

Aging cats often need more protein. Most older cats will lose their ability to digest food as much as they could when they were younger. Therefore, they need increased protein to make up for this issue. Sometimes, cats may need as much as 50% protein.

Furthermore, older cats are prone to losing muscle mass, which can make them unhealthier overall. Therefore, extra protein can help decrease this loss. However, some older cats may have kidney disease, which makes them more sensitive to excessive protein. These felines may need a lower amount of protein to prevent further kidney problems.

persian cat eating dry food
Image Credit: Patrick Foto, Shutterstock

What Type of Protein Do Cats Need?

Generally, all cats should consume mostly animal protein. While plant protein does have its place, it is often missing key amino acids. Therefore, it may not provide your cat with everything that they need to thrive. While most foods are formulated with the appropriate number of amino acids, we’re still learning which nutrients a cat needs and when.

Therefore, it is often better to be safe than sorry and to focus on meat-based protein when possible.

That said, the type of meat doesn’t matter all that much. All meat is nutritious and contains about the same stuff, though the ratio of protein/fat will be a bit different. You shouldn’t avoid one particular type of protein unless your cat is allergic, which can happen. Cats are often allergic to things like chicken, as this is one of the most common proteins. However, cats can be allergic to any protein.

You should provide your feline with many different kinds of meat to ensure that they are consuming a varied diet. When your felines are provided with many different protein sources, they are more likely to consume all the amino acids that they need, as well as other nutrients.

What Is the Easiest Protein for Cats to Digest?

Generally, all meat-based protein is easy for cats to digest. Most of the time, there won’t be much difference between chicken and beef, for instance. Muscle meats are all digestible.

That said, fish may be a bit less digestible than other meats. The higher mercury content also means that cats should not consume high amounts of fish, or they may develop mercury poisoning. For this reason, we recommend choosing different primary animal meats for your feline.

brown kitten eating wet cat food
Image Credit: MaraZe, Shutterstock

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We highly recommend that cats eat at least 2 grams of protein a day, preferably from an animal-based source. Eggs and muscle meats are preferable, though organ meats can also be utilized.

Different cats may have slightly different needs, though. For instance, kittens are growing and often need more protein. Pregnant and nursing females also need more protein because they are providing protein to their kittens too.

Overall, your feline should eat a comparatively high-protein diet, but that is because they are carnivores and would be consuming mostly animal meat in the wild.

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