6 Essential Nutrients that Your Cat Needs to Thrive


Nutrition plays a great role in everyone’s health. Each food or liquid consumed contains certain nutrition which is very necessary for our physical and mental development. Cats, just like humans, require a biologically appropriate diet that satisfies all of their nutritional needs to thrive. In this article, you will learn about the basic yet the most important nutrition tips to nourish your feline friends’ health- 6 essential nutrients that your cat needs.

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What Are the Essential Nutrients that a Cat Needs?

Every good pet food ingredient contains some important nutrition like proteins, fats, carbohydrates (fibers), water, vitamins and minerals. All these play a different role in building a cat’s body and keeping it healthy.

Let us look further into each of these essential nutrients for cats:

1. Animal Protein

Cats are obligate carnivores! Therefore, animal protein is number one on the list.

Protein is a macronutrient that provides calories or energy. There are three macronutrients i.e., proteins, fats and carbohydrates.

Among the three macronutrients, protein is cats’ most important source of energy. Cats have a dietary macronutrients intake target of approximately 59% of their daily energy intake from proteins, 36% from fats and 5% from carbohydrates.

Protein exists throughout the body—in skin, hair, tendons, muscle, bone and virtually every other body part or tissue. It is made up of long chains of amino acids. Cats can obtain all the essential amino acids such as methionine, arginine and taurine from animal protein.

Deficiencies of any of the essential amino acids can cause serious health issues. For example, a cat may suffer from blindness, heart disease and poor growth performance in the shortage of taurine.

Hence, it is important to ensure that your cat’s diet contains sufficient high-quality protein from the animal.

How Much Protein Does My Cat Need?

According to The Association of American Feed Control Officials (“AAFCO”), at minimum, cat food for adult maintenance should contain 26% of crude protein on a dry matter basis, while a minimum of 30% for growth and reproduction life stages.

Nevertheless, the suggested minimum amount of protein as above is likely just to sustain a cat’s life. An even higher percentage of protein is almost always better for the health benefits of your cat, with the optimal level at around 50%. According to recent studies, adult cats that do not take a diet with at least 40% protein lost lean body mass over time.

2. Fats or Lipids

Dietary fats provide the most concentrated source of energy as fats consist of more than twice as much energy as proteins and carbohydrates.

Cats require omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids in the diet because their bodies cannot make these essential fatty acids on their own.1     

Fatty acids are vital for maintaining cell membranes, supports immune function and heart health, reduce inflammation and keep your cats’ skin and coat healthy.

How Much Fat Does My Cat Need?

The AAFCO minimum requirement for fat in a cat diet is 9% on a dry matter basis.

Most commercial cat foods typically contain 8% to 40% fat on a dry matter basis. One reason for this wide range of dietary fat levels is that it can be adjusted according to a cat’s condition. For example, a higher level of fats may be appropriate for a highly active cat or an underweight cat. While lesser fat may be fed to a cat with obesity. A normal adult cat needs 20% to 24% of good fats in its food for a quality diet.

3. Carbohydrates

While carbohydrates are not typically seen as an essential nutrient in a cat’s diet, it provides an abundant energy source to cats. Grains, potatoes, peas and other plants are the major sources of carbohydrates in most commercial pet foods.

Carbohydrate is an important source of energy for many animals, but not a cat. This is due to cats are obligate carnivores, they have limited ability to ferment fibres found in many carbohydrates because of the short length of their long intestines.

A diet with high carbohydrates is not natural for cats. It may potentially cause obesity, diabetes and other health problems in cats.

How Many Carbohydrates Does My Cat Need?

Although cats can digest limited carbohydrates from plants and use them for energy, they should play just a small role in a cat’s diet. Ideally, carbohydrates should be less than 5% of the total calories that a cat needs.

4. Water

Seventy percent of a cat is water. Water is a key component of healthy living cells of the body and it helps:

  • Maintaining body temperature
  • Digestion and absorption of nutrients
  • Toxins and waste removal from the body

When living in the wild, cats obtain water from the moisture content in their prey like birds, lizards and rodents, whereby there is high water content in the flesh and blood. However, domestic cats generally have a different diet whereby the water is delivered in a bowl or through hydrated food fed by their pet parents.

How Much Water Should My Cat Drink?

To help your cat maintain healthy hydration, fresh and clean water should be provided at all times, every day.

A cat generally needs to consume around 60ml of water per kilogram of body weight, includes both what it gets from the food and also a water bowl. For instance, a 4kg cat would need to consume around 240ml of water per day.

Wet food generally has around 70 to 80% of water content. Cats who eat wet canned food may not need to drink much supplemental water because they are already consuming water when they eat. On the other hand, cats who eat dry cat food do not consume as much water from the food as kibbles typically contain only 10 to 12% of moisture content. In this case, it is important to keep the cats hydrated by ensuring they taking more supplemental water.

5. Vitamins

A vitamin is an organic compound, it is essential to make our cat’s body function properly. Vitamins are categorised into two families: vitamins that are soluble in water (hydrosoluble vitamins) and vitamins that are soluble in fats (liposoluble vitamins). Liposoluble vitamins accumulate in the body and can become toxic if consumed excessively. It is important to feed vitamins in the right proportions.

According to AAFCO, a cat diet should consist of the following vitamins:

  • Vitamin A: For vision, bone and tooth growth, reproduction and immune function
  • Vitamin D: Support growth and skeletal structure
  • Vitamin E: A powerful antioxidant
  • Vitamin K: For blood clotting and bone proteins
  • Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): For carbohydrate metabolism
  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): Releases energy from proteins, fats and carbohydrates
  • Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid): Needed for energy metabolism
  • Vitamin B3 (Niacin): For enzyme functions
  • Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): For red blood cell function and hormone regulation
  • Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid): For amino acid metabolism and synthesis of DNA
  • Vitamin B7 (Biotin): For the metabolism of fatty acids, amino acids and DNA/RNA
  • Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin): Required for enzyme functions and nerve conduction
  • Vitamin B4 (Choline): For cell membranes structure and act as a neurotransmitter

6. Minerals

Minerals regulate a cat’s body processes and are essential in making body tissues.

It is important to feed minerals in the right proportion as feeding too much or too little can lead to health problems. For instance, an excess of dietary magnesium, phosphorus and calcium can contribute to the formation of stones and crystals in the urinary tract.

According to AAFCO, the following 12 minerals should be included in cat food:

  • Calcium: Vital for the formation of bones and teeth and as cell signalling
  • Phosphorus: Essential for skeletal structure and energy metabolism
  • Potassium: An electrolyte that’s important for nerve function, muscular contraction, and heart rhythm
  • Sodium: For acid-base balance and transmitting nerve impulses
  • Chloride: Maintain proper blood acid balance
  • Magnesium: Important for hormone secretion and enzyme function
  • Iron: For oxygen transport throughout the body
  • Copper: Plays roles in iron metabolism, skin pigmentation, and connective tissue formation
  • Manganese: Important for metabolism function and bone development
  • Zinc: For cell replication, skin function and wound healing
  • Iodine: For the formation of thyroid hormones
  • Selenium: For immune system and defense against oxidative damage                    

Conclusion: 6 Essential Nutrients that Your Cat Needs

We see that nutrition plays an extremely important role in maintaining our cats’ mental and physical development.

On top of that, the quality of the nutrients is what really matters. We should avoid cat foods that do not name their protein and fat sources precisely. The protein and fat sources of good quality pet food should mainly come from animals, but not plants.

Therefore, a pet parent should understand the nutritional needs of a cat and always read a pet food label carefully in order to pick the right pet food with complete and balanced nutrients for your cat.


1. National Research Council. Fats and fatty acids. Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats. Washington, DC: 2006 The National Academies Press, pp 81 to 110.

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