Chicken or Fish. Solving the Cat Food Dilemma


Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they must eat meat and animal proteins to survive and thrive. Their bodies are designed to process proteins and fats from animal sources, not plant sources. Choosing the right protein sources in your cat’s diet is crucial for providing complete and balanced nutrition.

This article explores whether cats should eat chicken or fish as their main protein source. We’ll examine the nutrient profiles of both, potential allergies, digestibility, taste preferences and offer final recommendations to help you choose the best protein for your feline companion.

Natural Diet

Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning their bodies are designed to get nutrients primarily from meat-based foods. In the wild, cats prey on small animals like mice, voles, rabbits, birds, lizards, and insects to fulfill their nutritional needs. Unlike dogs or humans, cats have a higher protein requirement and limited ability to digest plant foods due to the structure of their digestive tract. As the article “The Natural Diet of the Cat” on Food Fur Life explains, “Cats eat small prey animals. Not grains. Not legumes. Not vegetables. Not fruit.” 1 Cats’ teeth and digestive systems evolved for catching, killing, and eating whole prey. Their natural diet consists of the meat, organs, bones, and stomach contents of their prey. As obligate carnivores designed to get water from their food, cats have no physiological need for carbohydrates or plant matter in their diet. The ideal diet for cats mimics their ancestral natural diet as closely as possible.

Nutrient Needs

Cats require several essential nutrients including protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water. According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, cats require certain amino acids like taurine, arginine, and methionine that they cannot synthesize themselves and must obtain through their diet (1). Taurine, for example, is an amino acid essential for eye and heart health in cats. Cats also need adequate amounts of vitamin A for vision, vitamin D for calcium absorption, and B vitamins for converting food into energy. Important minerals for cats include calcium for bone health, phosphorus for energy production, and zinc for skin and coat health. Ensuring cats receive the right balance of these nutrients is critical for their overall health and wellbeing.

(1) National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2006. Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.


Chicken can be a great source of protein and nutrients for cats. According to, chicken contains nutrients like selenium, vitamin B6, and phosphorus. Selenium helps boost the immune system, vitamin B6 aids in metabolism, and phosphorus supports bone and teeth health. Chicken is about 80% protein and very low in fat, making it an ideal protein source for cats compared to red meats.

Some key nutrients found in chicken that are beneficial for cats include:

  • High-quality protein for maintaining muscle
  • B vitamins for metabolism
  • Zinc for skin/coat health
  • Iron for immune function and oxygen transport

As long as it is cooked properly and any bones are removed, chicken can make an excellent addition to a cat’s diet in moderation.


Fish can be a great source of nutrients for cats when cooked properly and sourced safely. According to Bella and Duke, fish like salmon and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which support skin and coat health. Fish also contain important nutrients like potassium and selenium. However, Hill’s Pet Nutrition notes that fish has lower amounts of other key nutrients like vitamin E compared to meats like chicken. Therefore fish shouldn’t comprise the entirety of a cat’s diet.

When feeding fish, it’s important to cook it thoroughly to kill any potential parasites. Avoid raw fish. Opt for low mercury fish like salmon, pollock, tuna (in moderation), cod, and sardines. Only feed fish in small amounts initially to watch for any allergic reactions. Overall, fish can offer beneficial nutrients as part of a balanced homemade or commercial cat diet.


Some cats can develop allergies to ingredients commonly found in cat food like chicken and fish. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, the most common food allergens for cats include beef, dairy products, fish, chicken, lamb, and eggs.1 Allergies to chicken and fish can cause symptoms like itchy skin, excessive licking or scratching, skin lesions, hair loss, vomiting, and diarrhea. If a cat has an allergy to an ingredient, it needs to be removed from their diet. Some cats may need to avoid chicken and fish completely if they have developed an allergy.

According to VCA Hospitals, cats must be exposed to an ingredient first before developing an allergy to it. So even if chicken and fish are new proteins for a cat, they can still potentially cause an allergic reaction.2 That’s why it’s important to monitor a cat’s reaction whenever transitioning to a new food or protein source.


Cats have a strong preference for certain textures of food based on their anatomy and natural hunting behaviors. According to Wellness Pet Food, in the wild a cat’s prey will have different textures, so their texture preferences are instinctive. Domestic cats often prefer soft, minced textures that are easy to chew and swallow. However, some cats enjoy foods with more texture, like chunks or shreds, that mimic the muscle fibers found in whole prey animals.

As MeowBox explains, a cat’s small teeth and jaws make it difficult for them to properly chew large, dense pieces of food. Their preference is for foods that readily break down in their mouth. Foods with a smooth, pâté style texture or shredded meats in sauce allow for easy chewing and digestion. When introducing new textures, it’s important to transition slowly and closely observe the cat’s preferences.


Cats have preferences for certain flavors due to their sense of taste. According to a research study published in the journal Animal Frontiers, cats have around 470 taste buds compared to humans who have around 9,000 ( This means cats experience taste differently than humans. For example, cats cannot detect sweet flavors but have a much stronger sense for bitter tastes. Cats generally prefer flavors that are rich in amino acids like meat and fish.

When it comes to commercial cat food, flavors are designed to entice a cat’s sense of smell and taste. Common cat food flavors include chicken, tuna, salmon, turkey, and ocean fish ( It’s a good idea to offer a variety of flavors since each cat has their own preferences. Pay attention to which flavors your cat enjoys most and feed a rotation of their favorites.


When deciding between chicken and fish for your cat, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind:

Chicken is a great source of lean protein and essential amino acids like taurine. It contains more iron and B vitamins than fish. Chicken may be a better choice for overweight cats who need to lose weight, according to

Fish like salmon and tuna provide omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for skin and coat health. But too much fish can lead to mercury buildup. Fish-based foods may also be more allergenic for some cats, according to

Consider your cat’s unique nutritional needs. Kittens and pregnant/nursing cats may benefit more from chicken. Older cats may need fish oil supplementation. Talk to your vet to determine the best protein sources for your cat’s lifestyle and health.

Rotate between both chicken and fish canned/wet foods to provide variety. Avoid tuna and feed fish like salmon no more than once a week, according to


Both chicken and fish can be healthy parts of a cat’s diet, but they have some key differences. Cats are obligate carnivores and need a high amount of protein from animal sources. Chicken provides lean protein and is generally safe for cats to eat, while fish is palatable but may pose risks like mercury exposure. Consider your cat’s nutritional needs, allergies, and tastes. Aim for a balance of protein sources like chicken, fish, beef or turkey. Watch for signs of food sensitivities. In moderation as part of a balanced raw or wet food diet, both chicken and fish can be healthy options.

The main takeaways are:

  • Cats need animal-based proteins like chicken and fish due to being obligate carnivores
  • Chicken provides lean protein and nutrients cats need
  • Fish tastes appealing but has some health risks to weigh
  • Watch for allergies or intolerances to new proteins
  • Chicken and fish can both be healthy in moderation as part of a balanced diet
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