Indoor Cat Food - What Should I Feed My Indoor Cat?

A home-body feline baby has a very different lifestyle from an outdoor cat. Logically, the diets of these two cats should be slightly different. But how different should it be and what exactly should you feed an indoor cat?

To keep your cat hale and hearty, there are a few basic principles to follow with regards to feeding. The principles are based on your cat’s needs and condition. This article also deals with the misnomer of “specialised” indoor cat foods.

What is an Indoor Cat?

A pure indoor cat is not allowed to roam outside of the house or even in the yard on its own. Its time is either predominantly or entirely spent in the house.

If at all it is let out, the owner would keep it on a leash or its time outside is supervised. Then the cat is brought back into the safety of the house. Some have the luxury of a large cat enclosure in the yard.

Conversely, an outdoor cat is allowed to enter and leave the house freely at any time to roam as it pleases.

Do indoor cats need different food?

Yes and no. An indoor cat can eat the same food as an outdoor one. Both have the same requirement for nutrition and need plenty of clean water.

The difference is in the calories. The energy needs of an indoor cat is far less from that of its outdoor friend.

Even though a cat may play and romp around the house on a daily basis, its activity level is still incomparable to that of an outdoor cat, which walks possibly a few miles throughout the day and night.

Thus, the diet of an indoor cat should consist of less fat content.

Consideration must also be given to the cat’s existing weight. If your cat is already on the thin side, you shouldn’t simply switch to a lower fat diet just because it is always indoors. 

What else makes indoor cat food different?

Some specialist indoor cat foods tout a high fiber content. This is to cater to hairball problems caused by grooming. Issues with hairballs are more common among indoor cats than outdoor cats.

The former group tends to groom themselves a lot more than the latter, which spends a bulk of time outdoors. The reason for this behaviour is the environment.

As they are stuck indoors, they have less stimulation and less activity to focus on. So, they end up having a lot more time on their paws to lick not only themselves but their furry friends at home.

Grooming is a cat’s natural behaviour to keep themselves clean. Their rough tongues have fine tiny spiky protrusions which act like a micro comb.

Licking helps to remove dirt and grime. The saliva also functions like our sweat, helping to cool the cat’s body.

Why do cats groom other cats or other animals? Some areas are hard to reach, like behind the ears and under the chin. So, cats use a buddy system to clean those areas.

It is also their way of showing affection or  showing protection for a loved member. You should be happy when your cat licks you although it can be scratchy or a little painful.

Long-haired cats are more prone to developing hairball issues because of their long fur. These breeds are usually kept entirely indoors.

It is normal for a cat to occasionally cough up hairballs or expel them through stool. However, the build-up of hair sometimes becomes too high because of the cat’s excessive licking.

High fiber foods help to move the hair along the intestines before the hair accumulates into large balls.

However, one must be careful when choosing indoor formula cat food. Sometimes, the meat content is replaced by high fiber vegetables to reduce the caloric value of the food.   

Is dry or wet food better for indoor cats?

Indoor cats can eat either dry or wet food. However, there are a few concerns regarding dry food:

1. It is especially calorie heavy

Dry food tends to have a high carbohydrate content, mainly due to the flour used as a binding agent to form hard biscuits. Carbohydrate is a big no-no for cats, as it is scientifically proven to be bad for felines.

Since you are supposed to give your cat lower calorie food, this high carbohydrate content defeats the whole purpose. Carbohydrate is a source of energy. Having a high percentage of this in the food actually makes the calorie count of the food higher.

Furthermore, cats are not evolved to process carbohydrates like we are. Regular intake of carbohydrate, especially for a less active indoor cat, leads to weight gain, digestive issues, diabetes and other diseases.

2. It has very low moisture content

In the wild, cats obtain at least 60% of their water needs directly from the meat of their freshly killed prey. This dictates how much moisture each domestic cat’s meal should contain.

Dry food only contains 6 to 10% of water. Since cats have a very high tolerance for thirst, they may not even drink fresh water (nor can they be forced to do so) that is within easy access.

This means, they are essentially being deprived of water each time they eat. Long-term dehydration has been cited as the main cause of urinary tract diseases, kidney failure and many other illnesses.

3. There is a tendency for higher plant protein

The protein choice in dry foods tends to be higher in plant and not animal-based protein. High levels of plant protein can lead to insufficient nutrition.

Cats depend heavily on a wide range of amino acids from animal proteins. They are not able to synthesize the nutrients they need from plant sources like omnivores or herbivores.

4. Dry food has more artificial content

Synthetic vitamins are usually added into dry foods to make up for the removal of natural ones during processing. In contrast, wet foods can generally be more nutritious with more natural available vitamins and fatty acids.

There are two types of vitamins: fat-soluble and water-soluble. Wet foods, being moist, would hold vitamins more easily than dry foods.

Vitamins B (Thiamine, Riboflavin, Pyridoxine, Pantothenic Acid, Niacin, B-12) and C are water soluble. Cats need these vitamins to boost their immunity, support growth and development as well as help their organs function properly.

Apart from fatty essential acids linoleic and arachidonic which cats need for overall health, the fats in their diet provide much-needed vitamins D, E, A and K.

It is also this fat that makes food tasty for cats. They are attracted to it since fat is their natural source of energy.

However, dry foods lack this type of oily fat, making them less palatable. That is why there are many dry foods coated with flavour enhancers to make them tastier for cats.

What is the best cat food for indoor cats?

The ideal food should constitute:

  • High moisture of over 60% per serving
  • High protein from only animal meat
  • Medium or low fat from only animal source
  • Zero carbohydrate
  • Some fiber from plant or animal source

Whether a cat is indoor or outdoor, it needs the same minimum amount of water, protein, fatty acids, minerals and vitamins.

The cooking process destroys a large percentage of these nutrients. That is why food that contains the highest amount of nutrients is fresh meat.

Wet foods have at least 70 percent of moisture. The best wet cat food would adhere to this and be made from a mix of raw or unprocessed meats, animal organs and animal fat.

Any kind meat is fine as long as you give your cat a variety and not stick to just one type of meat. The reason is different types of meat and organs contain varying percentages of nutrients.

Wet canned food comes packed in small quantities at a time, so that the food can remain fresh and can be finished in a single sitting. Each cup of wet food from Pet Cubes, for example, weighs only 85 grams: an amount any average-sized cat can handle.

The brand also offers different unprocessed meats (chicken, fish, wild kangaroo, beef, lamb, duck, venison) in a single pack so that your cat gets a variety of flavours and will never get bored.

The meat is either organic or comes from free-range farms, and does not contain artificial flavours or preservatives.

If the fiber content in commercial wet food is insufficient, you can always add a small portion of finely chopped vegetables to the food. Cabbage, lettuce and carrot are safe for cats in small quantities.

Aside from providing additional texture and taste, adding vegetables is a natural way of boosting your cat’s moisture, fiber and water-soluble vitamin intake.

How much food should an indoor cat eat?

To avoid overfeeding your cat, measure a serving size at each meal. Follow the label on the food container to know how much each serving size is. To be extra sure of the right amount, consult your veterinarian.

If you feed several, small meals throughout the day, your cat will quickly learn to adapt. This will keep its energy up but prevent weight gain.

Conclusion

In summary, the best way to keep your indoor cat robust is to give it high quality wet food made from a variety of raw or unprocessed meats. Clean water should always be available.

Watch out for the fat content on the labels of cat food. Make some comparisons with several brands of cat food.

If your cat is overweight, you should go with the lowest percentage of fat. Keep in mind the protein content should always be higher than fat and there should be zero carbohydrate if possible.

If your cat is at its ideal weight or is underweight, you shouldn’t simply cut your cat’s fat intake. You may not even need to change its diet if it is already on high quality wet food.

The healthiest way to weight-watch is still exercise. Give your cat more play time or add opportunities for it to use its muscles inside the house. 

Sources:

IntechOpen. 10 October 2018. Nutritional Composition of Meat. (Online) Available at: https://www.intechopen.com/books/meat-science-and-nutrition/nutritional-composition-of-meat  [Accessed 27 June 2020]

Vetinfo. What Makes Indoor Cat Food Different? (Online) Available at: https://www.vetinfo.com/what-makes-indoor-cat-food-different.html  [Accessed 27 June 2020]

Cornell University College of Veterinary Science.July 2017. Feeding Your Cat. (Online) Available at: https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feeding-your-cat  [Accessed 13 June 2020]

Cat Care Centre of Baton Rouge. 2020. The Pros and Cons of Different Types of Cat Food. (Online) Available at: https://www.catcarecenter.com/services/cats/feline-nutrition-cat-food  [Accessed 13 June 2020]

CatInfo.org. 2020. Feeding Your Cat: Know the Basics of Feline Nutrition. (Online) Available at: https://catinfo.org/  [Accessed 13 June 2020]

Felineliving.net. Indoor Cat Food vs Regular Cat Food – Why and What to Choose. (Online) Available at: https://www.felineliving.net/indoor-cat-food-vs-regular/#Resources  [Accessed 27 June 2020]
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