Can I Give My Cat Protein?
For much of human existence, generations have disagreed with each other on what constitutes a healthy diet and lifestyle. In the era of nutrition, fitness gurus, the Internet, reality television, and the scientific method, this is more evident than ever—everyone swears by their own special diets. In the 90s, everyone did away with every single fatty food in their pantry. After coming home from our aerobics classes, we would treat ourselves to diet soda and a side of nonfat yogurt. Ten years later, carbohydrates had usurped fat as public enemy number one, and we were all enraged to discover that our nonfat yogurt was loaded with sugar.
Even today, many battle over whether fat or carbohydrates are less healthy. The one nutrient no one ever screams about, however, is protein. Whether you’re a college athlete or a busy mom of three, you have probably made a conscious decision to maximize the amount of protein you get in a day. And, of course, as pet parents, we often drag our furry friends along with us when we start on health or fitness journeys.
But is it okay to pull the cat along on my paleo diet? Can cats have protein?
Well, yes and no, depending on what you define as protein. Ever since the birth of the first food pyramid, we have thrown around the word ‘protein’ as if it were a type of food, but most of the time, this isn’t quite accurate. Protein is one of three macronutrients that are found in almost every single thing you put in your mouth. The word protein is also used to refer to highly concentrated supplements like protein powder.
Should you give your cat foods that contain protein? Absolutely—your cat is a carnivore who should get a large amount of their calories in the form of protein. Should you give your cat protein powder? Absolutely not. These supplements are highly processed, formulated for humans, and often flavored with ingredients that are toxic to felines. If you have any reason to believe that your cat isn’t eating enough protein, consult a veterinarian. Never attempt to supplement your pet’s diet without veterinary guidance.
When looking for the perfect food for your pet, protein is one of the biggest things to consider. The healthiest, most wholesome brands of cat food tend to be those that are high in proteins which have been formulated to meet feline amino acid needs. The brands that are considered to be unhealthy are the ones that contain large amounts of carbohydrates from grains like corn, soy, and wheat.
Protein plays a key role in full-body health for our cats—it is necessary for almost every aspect of regular functioning. Every part of a cat’s body, from their immune system to their heart and lungs, relies on protein to function properly. Cats, as carnivores, also burn protein for energy. Minor, chronic ailments that have not come about as a result of an underlying illness can often be alleviated or totally cured by increasing the amount of protein and other nutrients in the cat’s diet.
If your cat is suffering from a nutritional deficiency, they may develop symptoms such as extreme weakness, lethargy, constipation or diarrhea, excessive gas, dry or scabbed skin, impaired vision, an increased number of infections as a result of a suppressed immune system, weight loss, weight gain, and behavioral changes. Cats who are pregnant or currently lactating often have slightly higher protein requirements than usual. If mother cats do not consume adequate protein, it may result in health problems for the kittens.
Things to Consider
Protein powders formulated for people, however, are not a good idea. Plant-based or vegan protein powders such as soy, pea, hemp, and wheat protein do not contain the proper balance of amino acids for felines. Because dairy is not good for cats, neither casein nor whey protein powder are likely to help them, either—eating dairy products, even whey protein, is likely to cause digestive problems or weight gain.
As a general rule, your cat should not eat supplements that have been formulated for humans. This is especially true if the supplement in question has been flavored in any way; many flavors we use, including xylitol and chocolate, are extremely poisonous to cats. If you think your cat is protein deficient, consult a veterinarian. They may prescribe a type of protein paste that has been designed specifically for cats. This can help give them all of the amino acids they need without the risk of poisoning.
In conclusion, yes, cats need protein, but you should never give them protein supplements designed for humans. Most cats should be able to get all the protein they need by eating a balanced diet featuring high quality pet food. If you think your cat is low in protein, have them examined by a vet— if their symptoms are caused by kidney disease, you can actually kill them by feeding them too much protein.