Your kitty may not be as ferocious as the lions on TV nature shows, but these distant cousins share a common bond: “Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they must get nutrients from meat,” explains Maria J. McGeorge, DVM, who runs a felines-only practice in Portland, Ore. “Cats cannot remain healthy on a vegetarian diet.”

High-quality Protein Sources
At least three types of meat provide optimal nutrition for your cat: chicken, fish and lamb. These three meats serve as high-quality protein sources when they are blended into well-balanced commercial cat foods, and they can satisfy your kitty on several counts.

  • The taste test Although cats are notoriously finicky, most felines find the mild flavor of chicken appealing. Fish, on the other hand, may be a good choice for a cat that hasn’t been eating well, advises Tracy R. Dewhirst, DVM, who writes a pet advice column for the Knoxville News Sentinel. The stronger flavor and aroma of a fish-based cat food may tempt your cat to eat. Lamb isn’t a familiar taste for many cats, so introducing the flavor to your kitty may pique its interest. If you offer your cat a taste test involving one of the three proteins, make sure you dish up wet food at the right temperature. “Most cats prefer a freshly opened can at room temperature,” says Dr. Dewhirst.
  • Your cat’s health These protein sources, combined with the amino acid L-carnitine, can help your cat build lean muscle while burning fat to maintain a healthy weight. Fish, such as tuna and salmon, provide omega-3 fatty acids. “If your cat has dry, flaky skin, omega-3s can help,” says Dr. Dewhirst. Omega-3 oils offer a range of additional benefits for your cat, such as fighting inflammation, lessening the effects of arthritis and safeguarding heart health.
  • Answer for allergies For cats that develop food allergies, lamb can be a viable protein alternative. “For many cats, it’s a novel protein that the animal has likely never been exposed to,” explains Dr. Dewhirst. Introducing a new protein source, such as lamb, is therefore useful if other proteins trigger allergies.
  • Your cat’s appearance If your feline is in good health and consumes a cat food with high-quality chicken, fish or lamb, your kitty should have proper muscle tone, a trim physique, bright eyes, healthy gums and a plush, shiny coat. Practice portion control, as recommended by the food’s manufacturer, to keep your cat’s weight in check.

Table Scraps Won’t Do
Chicken, fish and lamb are great protein sources, but Dr. Dewhirst cautions that table scraps or meals you prepare specifically for your kitty don’t match your cat’s nutritional needs. “Feeding one of these [meats] exclusively is not a substitute for a well-balanced cat food,” she notes. Most notably, commercial cat foods contain taurine, an essential amino acid that prevents blindness and heart failure in cats.

“The reason we’re seeing cats living so much longer is due to diets being better,” says Dr. Dewhirst. A good commercial cat food includes high-quality proteins and provides a balance of the necessary nutrients and calories your cat requires, adds Dr. Dewhirst. “It really meets all their needs,” she concludes. “If we could eat like our cats, with all our nutritional requirements in one convenient serving, we’d all be a lot healthier.”