Can Cats Survive on an All-Meat Diet?


Cats are known for being carnivores, preferring a meat-heavy diet over other foods. As obligate carnivores, cats have evolved to thrive on prey-based diets high in animal proteins. This has led many cat owners to wonder – can cats survive and stay healthy on a diet consisting of only meat? While meat certainly makes up an important part of a balanced feline diet, there are some risks to feeding cats exclusively meat without any supplementation. In this article, we’ll explore the unique nutritional needs of cats, look at the potential downsides of an all-meat diet, and provide tips for creating a balanced homemade cat food diet.

Cats are Obligate Carnivores

Obligate carnivore refers to an animal whose diet requires nutrients found only in animal flesh (meat, organs, eggs, etc). Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they must eat meat and cannot survive on a vegetarian diet (Source).

The term “obligate” indicates that something is “by necessity” or “restricted to one mode of life” (Source). Cats are biologically adapted to a meat-based diet through their evolutionary process. They lack certain enzymes and metabolic pathways needed to synthesize essential nutrients like vitamin A, taurine, and arachidonic acid from plant sources (Source).

Unlike omnivores like humans that can meet all nutrient requirements from both plant and animal sources, cats require large amounts of protein and fat found naturally in meat. Their bodies are designed to get energy and key nutrients from breaking down animal tissues.

Nutrients Cats Need

Cats require specific nutrients in order to stay healthy. The key nutrients cats need include:

Protein – As obligate carnivores, cats have a high requirement for protein in their diet. Protein provides amino acids that are essential for building and maintaining muscle mass, supporting immune function, and other bodily processes. Cats require several times more protein than omnivores like humans. High-quality animal-based proteins like chicken, turkey, and fish are ideal sources for cats. [1]

Fat – Dietary fat provides cats with concentrated energy and essential fatty acids. Cats have a higher need for fat than many mammals since they have limited ability to synthesize certain fatty acids like arachidonic acid on their own. Fat supports skin and coat health, immune function, and other vital processes. Animal fat sources like chicken fat, lard or fish oil are recommended over plant-based fats. [2]

Vitamins and minerals – While meat provides many key nutrients, cats also require supplemental vitamins and minerals in their diet. Important vitamins include Vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K. Essential minerals include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, potassium, sodium, chloride, sulfur, copper, manganese, zinc, and selenium. A mix of organ meats, bones, eggs, and small amounts of plant matter can help provide balanced nutrition. [3]


Potential Problems with All-Meat Diet

While meat is a good source of protein and certain vitamins for cats, an all-meat diet lacks some essential nutrients that cats need to thrive (The Little Carnivore). Feeding your cat only meat can lead to several health issues:

First, an all-meat diet is lacking in vitamins and minerals like calcium, vitamin A and vitamin D. Since meat contains little to no calcium, cats on an all-meat diet are at risk for skeletal problems like osteoporosis. They can also develop vision issues due to lack of vitamin A (Purina). Essential fatty acids, like the omega-3s found in fish, may also be missing.

Second, meat provides no fiber. Fiber is important for healthy digestion and preventing issues like constipation in cats. The indigestible parts of plants give cats roughage that supports their gastrointestinal system (WebMD).

Third, without veggies and grains, cats miss out on antioxidants and phytochemicals that support their immune system and organ function. Plant foods provide nutrients not present in animal products.

An unbalanced diet over time can lead to nutrient deficiencies and health problems in cats. While small amounts of meat are fine, cats need a variety of nutrients found in other foods to thrive.

Benefits of Adding Other Foods

While cats can theoretically survive on an all-meat diet, adding other ingredients provides nutritional benefits. In particular, fruits and vegetables can provide essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

For example, green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale provide vitamin K, vitamin A, and magnesium. Broccoli is rich in vitamin C and potassium. Blueberries are packed with antioxidants like anthocyanins. Carrots are full of vitamin A.

Fruits also offer key nutrients. Apples provide vitamin C and fiber. Bananas have potassium and vitamin B6. Oranges and mangos are high in vitamin C.

These fruits and veggies complement the amino acids, fatty acids, and taurine cats get from meat. By incorporating both meat and plant foods, homemade cat food can meet all of a cat’s nutritional needs.

One study found that when cats’ normal diet was supplemented with fruits and veggies, their vitamin and antioxidant levels increased significantly (Source 1). This can boost overall health.

Homemade Balanced Cat Food Recipes

While cats can survive on a diet of just meat, homemade food allows you to create balanced, nutritious meals for your feline friend. When making homemade cat food, it’s important to consult your veterinarian and include the necessary proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals cats need. Here are a couple balanced vet-approved recipes to try:

Chicken and Rice Recipe

This recipe from GetSetPet includes chicken for protein, rice for carbohydrates, eggs for fat and biotin, and bone meal for calcium:

  • 1 boneless chicken breast
  • 1/4 cup cooked rice (white or brown)
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth (low sodium)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1000 mg taurine supplement
  • 1 tsp bone meal

Cook the chicken and rice. Mix all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Portion into daily servings and refrigerate.

Rabbit and Poultry Recipe

This recipe from provides rabbit and turkey for protein variety:

  • 1 lb ground rabbit meat
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup water
  • 1000 mg taurine supplement
  • 1 tsp bone meal

Mix all ingredients together, portion into daily servings, and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw before feeding.

Tips for Transitioning to New Diet

When transitioning your cat to a new diet, it’s important to do so gradually over the course of 5-7 days. This allows their digestive system to adjust to the new food. According to Purina, here is a sample transition schedule:

  • Days 1-2: Feed 3/4 of the normal amount of current food and add 1/4 of the new food.
  • Days 3-4: Feed 1/2 of the normal amount of current food and 1/2 of the new food.
  • Days 5-7: Feed 1/4 of the normal amount of current food and 3/4 of the new food.
  • Day 8: Feed 100% new food.

It’s also best to transition between meals rather than cold turkey. Mix the current and new food together and serve at regular meal times. Watch for any digestive issues like vomiting or diarrhea and slow the transition if needed.

Stick to your cat’s normal feeding schedule as much as possible. Drastic changes can disrupt their digestion. Cats do best on a routine. Making a gradual transition between scheduled feedings reduces stress and supports a smooth switch to the new diet.

Signs of Nutrient Deficiencies

Cats who are lacking certain nutrients in their diet may start to show physical signs and symptoms. Two common signs of nutritional deficiencies in cats are a poor, dull coat and lethargy or low energy.

A healthy, shiny coat is a sign that your cat is getting all the nutrients they need. A poor, brittle or flaky coat can indicate deficiencies in fatty acids, zinc, vitamin C or other nutrients. Cats with nutritional deficiencies may have excessive shedding, bald patches, dull fur or a tangled, matted coat.

Lethargy and low energy is another indicator that your cat may not be getting adequate nutrition. Cats receive energy from protein, fats and carbohydrates in their food. A lack of calories, protein or essential vitamins can leave your cat feeling sluggish. Cats who are malnourished may sleep more and have little interest in play.

Other symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, eye issues, skin problems or changes in behavior can also signal a nutritional deficiency. If your cat shows any of these signs, have them assessed by a vet to determine if their diet needs adjustment. Paying attention to your cat’s physical condition is key to identifying deficiencies early before they cause serious health issues.

When to Consult a Vet

If your cat is exhibiting signs of nutritional deficiency, it’s important to have your vet evaluate their diet and health. Deficiency symptoms to watch for include:

  • Dry, dull coat
  • Excessive shedding or hair loss
  • Weight loss or reduced muscle mass
  • Fatigue, lethargy
  • Poor wound healing
  • Diarrhea or other digestive issues
  • Changes in appetite or thirst
  • Tooth decay
  • Anemia
  • Weakened immune system

According to Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, “Cats with nutritional deficiencies will often exhibit clinical signs such as poor growth, weight loss, dry or dull haircoat, hair loss, changes in appetite, and diarrhea.” (source)

If you notice any of these symptoms in your cat after transitioning to an all-meat diet, consult your veterinarian. They can run tests to identify any deficiencies and make diet recommendations to restore your cat’s health.


While cats are obligate carnivores and enjoy meat in their diet, a 100% all-meat diet may not be optimal long-term for feline health. Cats require a balance of proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are most easily obtained through a mix of high-quality meat sources along with fruits, vegetables, and appropriate supplements when needed. The key is moderation – meat should make up the bulk of their food, but diversity of ingredients can help prevent nutritional deficiencies. Discuss options with your vet and gradually transition to a homemade or commercial cat food diet that provides balanced nutrition. With some adjustments, most cats can thrive on a thoughtfully balanced homemade diet.

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