Indoor cat food is formulated on the premise that cats who stay inside get less exercise than indoor/outdoor or outdoor cats do and need to consume fewer calories. While this may be true, cats have the same nutritional needs whether they live strictly indoors or spend all their time outside. Protein and fat from animal sources are the building blocks of a healthy diet for all cats, and foods developed for specific lifestyles, diseases and ages may be deficient in both.
Indoor Cat Food Replaces Meat With Veggies
To reduce the number of calories in indoor cat food, most manufacturers replace meat and fat with high-fiber vegetables, including beet pulp and powdered cellulose. The theory is that since these fibers ferment slowly and stay in the cat’s stomach and intestines for a long time, the cat will feel like it’s had enough to eat after consuming just a small amount of food. But often just the opposite happens. Since beet pulp and powdered cellulose do not provide adequate nutrition for a cat, the cat eats even more food than normal to keep from feeling hungry!
But Cats Need Meat
The problem with the low-cal formula of most indoor cat foods is that cats are obligate carnivores and need meat, not plant protein. Whether the cat lives indoors or outdoors, an eight-pound cat needs about 30 calories per pound of body weight per day to maintain a healthy weight. Larger cats need more calories. About 20 to 30 percent of a cat’s daily caloric intake should come from meat, fish or poultry. Another 15 to 20 percent should come from fat. Since cats don’t use dietary fiber efficiently, veterinarian Ron Hines says no more than 10 percent of a cat’s daily diet should consist of fiber.
Be Sure To Read Those Cat Food Labels
The labels on cans and bags of cat food list percentages of protein, fat, fiber and moisture "as fed," or before manufacturing removes all the moisture from the food. To get a more accurate picture of the percentages, calculate them on a dry matter basis. If the ingredient label says the food is 10 percent moisture, 90 percent dry matter and four percent fiber, dividing four percent by 90 percent will tell you how much fiber the food actually contains. Determining the amount of animal-based protein is trickier, since most cat food manufacturers also use protein from such grains as corn and rice.
Calories on pet food labels are expressed as Kcals. Kcals and calories are exactly the same.
And Think Mouse
When planning a cat’s meals, veterinary endocrinologist Deborah Greco suggests thinking about the properties of a mouse, which is a cat’s natural diet. A mouse is about 40-45 percent protein, three percent carbohydrate and 40-45 percent fat, Greco says. An outside cat would get the small amount of fiber it needs by eating grass and consuming the contents of a mouse’s stomach, including the plant matter.To replicate a cat’s natural diet as closely as possible, Greco recommends feeding a high-protein, low-carbohydrate all-wet-food diet.
Real Food For Indoor Cats
Indoor cat food is intended to appeal to a niche market. But by reading pet food labels carefully, understanding your indoor cats' nutritional needs and making sure they get enough exercise, you'll probably find that your cats will do better with regular food than on specialized pet food products.