Not much has changed since cats evolved from their hunting ancestors. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they require nutrients found only in animal products to live a healthy life.
You might be looking to feed your cat low carb, high protein foods to mimic their natural diet, or because your vet recommended it. Either way, this article will provide the information you need to choose the best low carb option for your cat. We researched hundreds of products to find the 5 best low carb foods, and paired them with a guide to help you navigate the process. Here’s our list:
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Our Picks for the Best Low Carb Cat Foods
1. Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein Paté – Wet Cat Food
The Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein Paté is a solid choice for low carb cat food. 95% of the protein content comes directly from chicken, and is made without poultry byproducts or wheat fillers. The food also includes flaxseed for omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. Using the guaranteed analysis below, we’ve calculated the carbohydrate percentage in this food to be a low 11%.
- Wet cat food, 100% grain free paté
- Made in the USA with all natural ingredients
- Primary food ingredient is chicken and chicken liver
- No poultry byproducts, corn, wheat, or soy fillers
- Doesn’t contain artificial flavors or preservatives
- Includes flaxseed, taurine, and other essential vitamins
- Also available in a turkey and salmon paté
Crude Protein: 10% (min)
Crude Fat: 8% (min)
Crude Fiber: 1.5% (max)
Taurine: 0.1% (min)
Moisture: 78% (max)
Carbohydrate percentage on a dry food basis: 11%
2. Nutro Perfect Portions Natural Wet Cat Food – Chicken, Liver & Shrimp
Nutro Perfect Portions is a grain-free wet paté made with almost all protein sources, leading to a low 2% carb percentage. It has no artificial flavors or preservatives, and contains a host of essential vitamins and minerals.
- Wet cat food paté
- 24 twin packs per order (48 total servings)
- Chicken, chicken liver, and chicken broth are first three ingredients
- 100% grain free: no corn, wheat, or soy
- High protein cat food
- Includes essential vitamins and minerals
- No artificial flavors or preservatives
- Also available in beef, chicken & shrimp, salmon & chicken, and turkey liver flavors
This calculation is for the chicken, liver & shrimp version of the product, at the time of this writing.
Crude Protein: 11.5% (min)
Crude Fat: 6% (min)
Crude Fiber: 1% (max)
Taurine: 0.06% (max)
Ash: 3% (max)
Moisture: 78% (max)
Carbohydrate percentage on a dry food basis: 2%
For more information on what “ash” is, read this article. In short, it refers to a collection of vitamins that your cat needs to function.
3. Tiki Cat “Born Carnivore” Low-Carbohydrate Dry Cat Food – Chicken & Egg
If you’re looking for a lower carb, dry food option, take a look at Tiki Cat’s Born Carnivore line. The kibble is completely grain free, and contains vitamins and minerals including Vitamins B1, B3, A, B6, B12, D3, and zinc. Our guaranteed analysis calculation shows a carbohydrate percentage of 23%.
- High protein, high fat, low carbohydrate dry food
- Grain free: no gluten, wheat, soy, or corn
- All ingredients are 100% non-GMO
- Contains essential vitamins and minerals
- Suitable for all lifestages
Crude Protein: 43% (min)
Crude Fat: 19% (min)
Crude Fiber: 3.5% (max)
Moisture: 10% (max)
Omega Fatty Acids: 3.75%
Carbohydrate percentage on a dry food basis: 23%
4. Purina Beyond Grain Free Wet Cat Food – Arctic Char & Spinach
Purina’s Beyond Arctic Char & Spinach is another great high protein, low carb wet food option. The formula is completely grain-free, and includes Arctic Char (similar to salmon) as the first ingredient. Based on our guaranteed analysis calculation, this Purina Beyond flavor contains only 13% carbohydrates.
- Natural, grain-free wet cat food
- Arctic Car is the first ingredient; contains other fish, liver, and chicken as secondary ingredients
- No corn, wheat, soy, or poultry byproducts
- No artificial preservatives, flavors, or colors
- Includes added vitamins and minerals
- Comes in packs of (12) 3 ounce cans
Crude Protein: 9% (min)
Crude Fat: 5% (min)
Crude Fiber: 1.5% (max)
Moisture: 78% (max)
Ash: 3.5% (max)
Taurine: 0.05% (min)
Carbohydrate percentage on a dry food basis: 13%
5. Tiki Cat Grain-Free, Low-Carbohydrate Wet Cat Food
The Tiki Cat Luau Wet Food is a high protein, low carb cat food that comes in a variety of seafood options. This specific pack includes 6 different options, made with actual pieces of fish and shellfish (not a paté). Based on our guaranteed analysis calculation below, the carbohydrate percentage is 15%.
- High protein and grain-free wet cat food
- Animal protein is the first ingredient
- No animal byproducts, corn, potatoes, wheat
- No artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives
- Real fish flakes and garnered with whole shellfish on top
- Variety pack of flavors, (12) 2.8 ounce cans of Sardine & Lobster, Ahi Tuna, Ahi Tuna with Crab, Sardine, Mackerel & Sardine, Tuna in Crab Consummé flavors
This calculation is based on the Ahi Tuna recipe at the time of writing. Exact numbers may vary depending on the flavor.
Crude Protein: 16% (min)
Crude Fat: 2% (min)
Crude Fiber: 0.5% (max)
Moisture: 78% (max)
Taurine: 0.04% (min)
Carbohydrate percentage on a dry food basis: 15%
Low Carb Cat Food Buying Guide
Why cats benefit from a low carb diet
Historically, cats hunted their prey to get crucial nutrients from the animals they consumed. A high protein, low carb diet benefits cats because they have a relatively simple digestive system that doesn’t produce certain vitamins that must be included in the food they eat. They also have trouble digesting plant-based food. One example is taurine, an essential amino acid that is found in animal protein. It is important for heart function, vision and reproduction.
Foods that are high in carbohydrates can trick cats into thinking they are still hungry. If you free feed, a cat will end up gaining weight because they don’t feel full after eating.
Does my cat need low carb cat food?
Depending on your cat’s age, weight or health problems, you may want to start incorporating low carb foods into their diet. Even without the above considerations you might choose to use low carb cat foods because it’s best for a cat’s physiology.
Cats at different stages of life require different nutrition. Kittens and young cats are more active and need certain nutrients to aid their growth. A mother nursing kittens needs high caloric intake. Older cats are lower energy and don’t require the same nutrients and can develop allergies over time.
Be wary of foods that say “all life stages” on the packaging. Food for specific life stages will be better for your cat(s).
More than 35% of cats in the U.S. are overweight and just an extra two pounds of weight can increase the likelihood of your cat developing health issues. Contributing factors to obesity can include age, sex and activity level, but also the type of food they are eating. Cats lack salivary amylase and have trouble digesting carbohydrates which means extra calories — if not burned off through activity — will be stored as fat.
Low carbohydrate foods will help the cat lose weight and maintain lean body mass, whereas a high carbohydrate, high fiber diet may make the cat lose weight but it will not maintain lean body mass and end up regaining the weight.
Obese cats are more likely to develop other health problems like diabetes, liver problems and joint pain. You may need to consult your veterinarian when figuring out how many calories your cat needs. Lowering the caloric intake and increasing activity can help your cat safely lose the extra weight.
Feline diabetes tends to resemble type 2 diabetes in humans — where the body makes insulin but doesn’t absorb it properly. This causes sugar to build up in the bloodstream leading to thirst and frequent urination. Obesity and old age seem to be the leading cause of diabetes in cats. Diseases such as pancreatitis and hyperthyroidism and certain medications can also lead to diabetes. By utilizing a low carb diet, your cat will likely lose weight which can help the diabetes become more manageable. We wrote a detailed guide about diabetic cat foods if you’d like to learn more.
Types of Low Carb Foods
Wet, semi-moist and dry are the types of commercial pet food available. They vary in water content, calories, protein content, taste and digestibility. Is one better than the other? Cats get a lot of their moisture from food so if your cat doesn’t frequent the water bowl very often you may want to choose a wet or semi-moist low carb foods. Nutritional content and quality of dry food has improved so if canned food is cost-prohibitive or inconvenient there are viable dry low carb options.
Making your own cat food might sound appealing but it’s likely to be a fruitless and time-consuming process. Most recipes for homemade cat food don’t content the necessary nutrients that cats need in the correct proportions. If you are set on making your own food, consult your vet for recommended recipes.
Wet food is a good choice because the water content is around 75%, making it a good source of H2O. Cats who are picky eaters seem to prefer wet food but it is the most expensive type of commercial cat food. It can be stored indefinitely when unopened but should be refrigerated and used promptly after opening. Be sure to read the label as some wet foods can be nutritionally incomplete. Wet food left in a bowl can produce bacteria so wash bowls regularly to keep your cat from getting sick.
Meat and meat byproducts typically make up semi-moist, low carb cat food. It also contains 35% water. It can also contain other ingredients such as grain byproducts, soybean meal or cereals.
Dry food is calorie dense, relatively inexpensive and contains about 6-10% water. Not as easily digested, stored in a cool, dry place and used by the expiration date. Storing food for a long time can decrease the potency of vitamins and give fats a chance to spoil. It can be tempting to buy a bigger bag of food, but if you’re a one-cat household you may not use it before it starts to go bad.
Common dry food ingredients include:
- Meat and/or poultry and/or seafood
- Meat and/or poultry and/or seafood byproducts (don’t be deterred by byproducts in cat food, they can be a good source of nutrients)
- Grain and/or grain byproducts
- Fish meal
- Sources of fiber
- Milk products
- Vitamins and minerals
Foods your cat shouldn’t eat
A good rule of thumb is to not feed your cat human food, however, a piece of cooked meat, egg or mashed sweet potato from time to time is acceptable.
The following foods should not be ingested by cats:
- Grapes and raisins
- Artificial sweeteners (found in gum and sugar-free candy)
- Cow milk
- Coffee, tea, soda pop
- High-fat foods (bacon or ham, for example)
- Fruits with a pit
- Macadamia nuts
- Bread dough or anything with yeast
How to Read the Nutritional Label
When reading the nutritional label of cat foods, the first ingredients should be meat, meat byproducts, or seafood. Beware of marketing terms and look closely at the ingredients in the food. Words like “primal” or “wild” can be misleading and don’t actually mean anything. Same with “premium,” it could just mean you’re paying more for food that doesn’t incorporate higher quality ingredients.
Fillers, such as grains, in cat food can lead to malnutrition and cause health problems in your cat. Look for approval on the label from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). That means the food is verified as complete and balanced. When in doubt, check with your veterinarian for guidance on which low carb foods would be best.
The name normally highlights a key ingredient. Products named “Chicken Cat Food” or “Salmon Cat Food” means that they contain at least 95% of the named ingredient (in this case chicken or salmon) not counting water added for processing. Counting water, the named ingredient should make up 70% of the product.
Words like “dinner” or “entree” in the product name, “Tuna Cat Dinner”, means that the product contains less than 95% meat or fish but more than 25%. Using “with” means there could only be 3% of the named ingredient included in the food. For instance, “Cat Food with Chicken” may have less chicken than “Chicken Cat Food.”
Statement of purpose
Cats have specific dietary needs so be sure somewhere on the label it says the food is for cats.
Ingredients are listed in order of weight, so ingredients that weigh more will be listed at the top. Ideally, the first few ingredients will be meat, poultry or seafood or byproducts of those three. If you’re not sure, just confirm that the food has been approved by the AAFCO.
Shows the minimum and maximum amount of protein, fat, moisture, and fiber in the food. Most cat foods will show the amount of carbohydrates in the food as well. Try to choose brands that ideally have around 15% or less of carbohydrates (in dry food terms). If the label doesn’t list carbohydrates you can use the following formula to figure it out.
100 – (Protein Percentage + Fat Percentage + Fiber Percentage + Ash Percentage) = Carb Content
Wet foods have differing levels of moisture (up to 80% in some cases). You’ll need to convert this to a “dry food basis” to get an accurate comparison. For example, let’s say a canned food has 80% moisture, meaning it has 20% food content. Let’s also say that the food says it has 8% protein content.
Simply divide the 8% protein level by the 20% food content = 40% protein on a dry matter basis.
This equation removes the water from the equation and shows the exact percentage amounts within the food matter itself. Note that some dry dog foods may have low levels of moisture; you can also use this equation in those situations. We’ve provided calculations for our above recommendations using this formula.
Gives insight into how much food to feed the cat. Contact your veterinarian if you think the suggested amount is too much or too little.
Nutritional adequacy statement
Tells the age and/or lifestyle of the cat the food is intended for, kittens, mature cats, etc.
Statement of responsibility
Provides contact information for the manufacturer of the food.
How Often and How Much to Feed Your Cat
The amount of food you feed your cat depends on their size and energy output. Typically, feeding twice a day using portion control methods does the trick. Divide the amount of food suggested on the label into two meals served eight to 10 hours apart. You can also limit the amount of time the food is out during each meal. For example, leave the first meal out for 30 minutes and then take it away if the cat hasn’t finished it by that time. Free feeding, or leaving food out for cats to graze on all day, can lead to obesity. Free feeding is acceptable if you have a kitten, as they need to eat often.
If your cat has diabetes, it’s important to coordinate feeding with insulin times. Dosing your cat with insulin right after a meal will ensure that they’ll absorb calories at the same time their insulin is peaking. Otherwise, they could get low blood sugar.
How to Tell if the Low Carb Food is Working
Most cats will reach their goal weight between six to eight months. In the case of feline diabetes, you should monitor blood sugar levels at home or at the vet and keep track of frequency of urination, appetite, weight and water consumption. With diet and insulin, you might be able to lower the insulin dosages for your cat. They may even go into remission, which means they still have diabetes but a controlled version of it.
Low Carb Treats
Treats should be used sparingly and should not exceed 5-10% of daily caloric intake, eating treats too often can disrupt cats’ nutritional balance.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does my cat need to be on a low carb diet?
Maybe; a low carb, high protein diet is ideal for cats. If your cat is overweight, older, or has health issues such as diabetes, then you may want to switch to a low carb diet. If you’re unsure of whether you should switch, you should ask your veterinarian.
Are carbs bad for cats?
No, but they also aren’t essential nutrients for cats. In moderation, they provide a reliable source of energy; however, too many carbs can cause obesity and other health problems in cats.
Which types of cat food are low carb?
Low carb cat foods come in most types, including commercial wet, semi-moist, and dry food.
What should I look for on the nutritional label?
Labels can tell you a lot about the cat food you are purchasing. Look for product name, statement of purpose, ingredients list, guaranteed analysis, feeding instructions, nutritional adequacy statement and manufacturer contact information.
The product name can be especially telling if you know the regulations around cat food names. Products named “Chicken Cat Food” or “Salmon Cat Food” means that they contain at least 95% of the named ingredient (in this case chicken or salmon) not counting water added for processing. Counting water, the named ingredient should make up 70% of the product.
Words like “dinner” or “entree” in the product name, “Tuna Cat Dinner”, means that the product contains less than 95% meat or fish but more than 25%.
Using “with” means there could only be 3% of the named ingredient included in the food. For instance, “Cat Food with Chicken” may have less chicken than “Chicken Cat Food.”
How do I know if my cat food is low in carbohydrates?
Look at the nutritional label, most pet food companies will have calculated the amount of carbs for you. Look for a percentage ideally below 15%. If the nutritional label doesn’t say, add the crude protein, crude fat and crude fiber and ash, then subtract from 100 (for dry food). The difference is the percentage of carbs in the food.
Can dry food be low carb?
Yes, dry food may contain fillers to keep the ingredients together but can still be a quality, low carb diet for cats.
Is grain-free the same as low carb?
No. Some grain-free foods may actually contain more carbohydrates. Look at the nutritional label for guidance.
Aren’t byproducts bad for my cat?
Byproducts can have a bad rap, but some provide nutrients not found in protein. For example, chicken byproducts contain more additional nutrients than a chicken breast.
When should I feed my cat and how much?
Normally, twice a day for around 30 minutes is a good jumping off point. Unless you have a kitten, don’t let your cat graze the food bowl all day. Free-feeding can lead to obesity and other health problems.
Look at the feeding instructions on the label of your cat’s food and use that to guide the amount you feed your pet. Depending on your cat’s size and activity level they may need more or less than the package recommends. If you aren’t sure, ask your veterinarian.
What if my cat doesn’t like low carb food?
Consider mixing up the type of food — dry, semi-moist, wet — to please your cat’s palate. Wet food is typically a favorite among felines. You can also try switching up protein types so that they don’t get tired of one formula.
Is it better to make my cat’s food?
Not necessarily. Cats have very specific dietary needs that may not be addressed in homemade cat food. If you are set on making cat food, consult your veterinarian for a recipe that ensures all nutritional needs are met.
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