Meat-Only Diet. Is it Safe for Cats?


Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning their bodies are adapted to eating primarily meat. In the wild, feral cats hunt small prey like mice, birds, and insects to meet all their nutritional needs. This has led some cat owners to believe an all-meat diet most closely mimics a cat’s natural diet. However, commercial cat foods add vitamins, minerals, and other ingredients to provide balanced nutrition. An all-meat diet for cats can work, but it requires careful formulation to avoid potential risks and deficiencies.

This article provides an overview of cats’ nutritional needs, the risks and benefits of an all-meat diet versus limited non-meat ingredients, considerations for homemade cat food, and whether vegetarian or vegan diets can be viable for cats. The goal is to explore whether cats can survive and thrive on meat alone, or if some plant-based foods should be included for optimal feline health.

Cats Are Obligate Carnivores

Cats are classified as obligate carnivores, meaning they rely entirely on animal flesh to acquire certain required nutrients1. Unlike omnivores such as humans that can meet nutritional needs from both plant and animal sources, obligate carnivores like cats lack the physiology to properly digest and utilize plant matter2.

In particular, cats require abundant quantities of protein, as well as vitamins like vitamin A, B vitamins, and taurine that are found primarily in meat sources3. Their bodies cannot produce these essential nutrients on their own or derive them sufficiently from plant products. Without ample meat in their diet, cats will experience deficiencies leading to health issues.

As obligate carnivores, cats have evolved digestive systems suited for processing animal flesh, organs, and bones. Their stomach acid is very acidic, destroying bacteria and pathogens from rotting meat in the wild. Cats also have a shorter digestive tract compared to omnivores and herbivores since vegetables and plant matter require more time to break down and absorb nutrients.

Nutrients Cats Need

As obligate carnivores, cats have specific nutritional requirements that must be met through their diet. There are several key nutrients that cats cannot synthesize on their own and must obtain from animal-based foods:

Taurine – This amino acid is only found naturally in meat. Cats cannot produce enough taurine on their own, so it must be obtained through their food. Taurine deficiency can cause heart and eye problems in cats.1

Arginine – Another amino acid that cats cannot synthesize enough of on their own. Arginine helps maintain the health of a cat’s kidneys, liver, and immune system. It is abundant in meat.2

Vitamin A – Only found naturally in animal sources, vitamin A maintains healthy vision, bones, skin, and more. Liver is particularly high in vitamin A.3

Arachidonic Acid – This fatty acid is important for skin and coat health, reproduction, and a properly functioning immune system. It is found in animal fats and eggs.1

Risks of All-Meat Diet

While meat is an essential part of a cat’s diet, feeding cats only meat carries some risks. One major risk is nutritional imbalance. Meats alone do not provide all the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients cats need. For example, meat contains little calcium or vitamin C, both of which are critical for cats. Without balanced nutrition, cats may face deficiencies leading to conditions like rickets, anemia, or scurvy.

Another risk of all-meat diets is the lack of fiber. Cats need fiber for healthy digestion and regular bowel movements. Meat contains no fiber, so an all-meat diet can lead to chronic constipation in cats. According to veterinarians, lack of fiber in raw meat diets is one of the most common causes of obstructions and other gastrointestinal issues in cats fed raw diets.

To mitigate the risks of nutritional imbalance and insufficient fiber, it’s important to include limited amounts of non-meat foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, or supplements in a cat’s diet. A mix of meat and plant-based foods can provide balanced nutrition and prevent health issues.

Benefits of Limited Non-Meat Foods

While meat is essential in a cat’s diet, limited amounts of non-meat foods can also provide health benefits. Fiber from plant-based foods supports healthy digestion by promoting regular bowel movements and preventing constipation (source). Soluble fiber can also help regulate blood sugar levels. Some vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes provide antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that boost immunity and organ function.

In moderation, non-meat items add important nutritional variety. Cats with food allergies may benefit from hypoallergenic carbohydrate sources as well. However, non-meat foods should only be a small portion of the diet, as cats cannot survive without sufficient protein from animal sources.

Meat-Based Commercial Cat Foods

Most commercial cat foods today contain meat as the primary ingredient. According to, cat food labels that say “with chicken” or “with beef” contain at least 95% chicken or beef in that product. The Association of American Feed Control Officials requires pet foods to have at least 95% of the named meat ingredient.

Meat ingredients in commercial cat food can come in different forms like fresh meat, meat meals, meat by-products, and meat digests. Meat meals like chicken meal or fish meal are meats that have been cooked to remove moisture, leaving a concentrated protein source. notes that meat meals provide more protein than fresh meats.

While most cat foods today are primarily meat-based, the specific meat source and quality can vary greatly between products. It’s important to read ingredients lists and nutritional information to assess the meat content of any cat food.

Homemade Cat Food Considerations

When making homemade cat food, it’s important to balance nutrients carefully. Cats require certain levels of protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals to stay healthy (1). According to the ASPCA, homemade food for cats should contain 18-30% protein and 5-15% fat (2). Meat, fish, eggs, and dairy provide key proteins, while vegetable oils, fish oils, and meat fats supply essential fatty acids.

It’s also crucial to maintain proper food safety when preparing homemade cat food. The FDA advises against feeding raw meat to cats due to the risk of foodborne illnesses (3). Cook meat thoroughly to kill any potential bacteria. Store homemade food in the refrigerator for no more than 2-3 days or freeze meal-sized portions for longer storage. Avoid contamination by washing hands, utensils, bowls, and surfaces after handling raw ingredients.

Following recipes formulated by veterinary nutritionists can help create balanced, safe homemade cat food. Consult with your vet before switching your cat’s diet. With careful preparation, homemade food can be a healthy option for many cats.



Vegetarian/Vegan Diets for Cats

Feeding cats a vegetarian or vegan diet is extremely risky for their health and not recommended. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they need certain nutrients found only in animal-based foods to survive. Their bodies cannot properly digest and utilize plant materials to meet their nutritional needs.

Studies have shown vegetarian and vegan cat foods lead to significant nutrient deficiencies over time. Taurine, arachidonic acid, vitamin A and niacin are some of the critical nutrients cats need that are lacking or minimal in plant-based foods. Deficiencies in these can cause severe health issues like heart disease, vision loss and growth stunting.

While a small number of anecdotal cases exist of cats appearing to thrive on vegetarian diets, these are very much the exception, not the rule. The vast majority of veterinary health experts agree meat is an indispensable part of a cat’s diet. Any owner attempting a strictly vegetarian or vegan diet for their cat is putting them at serious risk of malnutrition and disease.

There are specialty supplement powders owners can try adding to plant-based foods to increase nutrient levels. However, these do not replicate all the benefits of whole food sources found in meat. Relying on artificial supplementation long-term has unknown risks. The safest option is feeding high-quality, meat-based commercial cat foods or balanced homemade recipes.

In summary, vegetarian and vegan diets should be avoided for cats. Their biology and health needs make animal-derived foods essential. Owners wanting to feed plant-based diets would be better suited adopting an herbivorous pet.

Cats Need Meat But Not Only Meat

While cats thrive on meat-based diets, some non-meat foods can provide important balance. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, cats need certain vitamins, fatty acids, and minerals that may be lacking in an all-meat diet (

For example, fruits and vegetables can provide antioxidants, fiber, and phytochemicals that support a cat’s health. Whole grains can also be an important source of B vitamins, iron, and magnesium. Limited amounts of these non-meat foods as part of a balanced, meat-focused diet may help fill nutritional gaps for cats.

While cats are obligate carnivores and depend on animal-based proteins, incorporating some plant-based foods under veterinary guidance can help round out their nutritional needs. An exclusive all-meat diet risks certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies over time.


In conclusion, while cats are obligate carnivores and require animal-based proteins and fats in their diet, they do still need certain nutrients from limited non-meat foods. An all-meat diet does not provide cats with sufficient vitamins, minerals, fiber and more. Commercial cat foods including both meat and non-meat ingredients, or homemade cat food recipes following veterinary guidelines, are required to meet all of a cat’s nutritional needs.

Some key takeaways:

  • Cats need animal-based proteins and fats, but also require vitamins, minerals and fiber from limited non-meat foods.
  • An all-meat diet can lead to deficiencies and health issues in cats over time.
  • Vegetarian/vegan diets are not recommended for cats as they cannot properly digest plant proteins and oils.
  • It’s important to follow vet guidelines when preparing homemade cat food recipes to ensure nutritional adequacy.
  • Well-balanced commercial cat foods provide complete nutrition in appropriate meat/non-meat ratios.

While meat is essential for cats, they are healthiest and happiest when their diet includes both meat and non-meat components in proper balance.

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