Do Indoor Cats Need Different Food?




If your cat recently switched to indoor living from an outdoorsy lifestyle, you might be wondering if their dietary needs have also changed. Cat food brands offer an enticing variety of cat food formulas designed for your cat’s unique activity levels, age, breed, and health conditions.

Indoor cat food in a special variety that promises to nutritionally target your cat’s needs. But do cats who live inside really need different food than those who live outdoors?

Think about humans who spend most of their time outdoors versus those who are usually inside.

How do their dietary needs differ?

Individuals who spend a lot of time outdoors typically get more exercise than the average desk jockey. Like human outdoor enthusiasts, outdoor cats tend to spend more time working out – climbing trees, hunting, and exploring.

Decreased activity means decreased calorie needs.

Your indoor cat may be inactive or tirelessly energetic, but in general, cats who live indoors don’t get as much exercise as those who live outside. This, in combination with an inappropriate diet, puts them at risk of becoming overweight or obese.

Indoor cats may suffer more from hairballs.

Because indoor cats have more free time to spend grooming themselves, they tend to suffer more from hairballs compared to cats who live outside. Hairball issues are directly linked to poor digestive health – something that can be improved through a biologically-appropriate diet. Some indoor cat foods incorporate additional fiber to help hairballs pass through smoothly.

Choosing a Great Food for Your Indoor Cat

Your indoor cat may not catch mice, but it is a dedicated carnivore nevertheless.

According to much evidence, cats’ dietary needs haven’t changed much since they first wandered into human settlements and started killing and eating rodents around 9,500 years ago. Their propensity for eliminating grain-eating mice earned cats their place in human society back then – why are so many people now feeding them mouse food?

The ideal diet for your cat is a balanced raw diet made from raw muscle meat, organs, and bones. If you don’t want to feed your cat this type of diet, there are plenty of good alternatives out there, and fortunately, identifying them is simple. Look for ingredient lists that start with meat. Any food that uses corn or rice as the first ingredient is better off in the trash than your cat’s food bowl.

Avoid byproducts and fillers.

The inclusion of byproducts puts you at a risk of feeding your cat low-value meat from low quality animal parts, unidentified animals that could trigger allergic reactions, and low-quality cuts of meat that aren’t easily digestible or highly nutritious.

Always look for high quality meat ingredients like “turkey”, “lamb”, “beef”, and “chicken liver”. Avoid labels including vague ingredients like “poultry”, “meat byproducts”,  and “rendered meals”.

Ingredients like corn, soy, and wheat are fillers that don’t offer any nutritional value for your cat. They’re cheap binders and should always be avoided.

Look for food that won’t contribute to weight gain.

This is the number one thing that cat food manufacturers are targeting when they make foods for indoor cats: accommodating the reduced calorie needs of a less active cat. What they so often get wrong is cutting higher calorie protein and replacing it with lower calorie containing fillers, so as to appear containing a lower total amount of calories.

Good foods for indoor cats keep them satisfied for extended periods of time. While they often have lower calorie counts, carb – rich foods won’t keep your cat full and can lead to blood sugar spikes and fat accumulation. Instead of picking the first low-calorie food designed for indoor cats, the best approach is to seek out a high quality protein (even if it seems to be higher in calorie content compared to other fillers), nutritionally-dense food and serve it in controlled portions.

Is dry or wet food better?

Whether your cat lives indoors, outdoors, or somewhere in between, the answer is always the same: choose wet food.

Cats have naturally low thirst drives and don’t typically drink enough water to compensate for the lack of moisture in dry food. Those who consume dry diets often become chronically dehydrated, leading to urinary tract disease and renal failure.

Only wet or raw food, with its approximate 70% water content, can deliver the moisture that your cat needs to stay healthy.

High-moisture foods are also more satiating and help your indoor cat to stay slim and feel less hungry.

Top 5 Best Foods for Indoor Cats

Now that we’ve established a criteria for what makes a great indoor cat food, here’s a quick list of some of the best foods for your indoor kitty.

Wellness CORE Grain-Free Indoor Chicken & Chicken Liver Recipe Canned Cat Food

This grain-free chicken pate was designed specifically with indoor kitties in mind.

This is a moderately low-calorie choice that can help keep your indoor cat slim – reviewers comment that after switching to this food, their overweight cats started to effortlessly slim down. Unlike many other lower-calorie foods, this formula isn’t packed with carbohydrates that can lead to weight problems.

Like all Wellness CORE foods, this indoor cat food aims to satisfy your feline’s natural dietary needs by focusing on high quality protein meat and organs and cutting out grains. Besides high-quality named meats like chicken, chicken liver, and turkey, this recipe contains nutrient-dense plant ingredients like dried kelp and cranberries.

Pros

  • Lower-calorie, high-protein formula is perfect for indoor cats.
  • Primarily made from high-quality meats.
  • Grain-free, made without corn, wheat, or soy.
  • Low in carbohydrates to keep your cat slim and healthy.
  • Filler-free.

Cons

  • Contains pea protein – cats would be better off with more animal protein and not plant based protein.

Hound & Gatos Chicken & Chicken Liver Formula Grain-Free Canned Cat Food


The Hound & Gatos Pet Food Company offers what they call a “paleolithic pet diet” – one inspired by your cat’s ancestry and natural biological needs.

This recipe is made with 100% meat protein – ideal for your savage carnivore.

Besides chicken and chicken liver, this food contains added vitamins and minerals to make it a complete and balanced diet. It’s one of the simplest foods that you can buy for your cat, making it ideal for cats with food sensitivities and allergies.

Pros

  • Free from artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.
  • Grain-free with no corn, wheat, or soy.
  • Made in the USA meaning good quality assurance.
  • A single source of animal protein – ideal for cats with allergies.

Cons

  • Customer reviews suggest that some cats don’t like the flavor.

Ziwi Peak Venison Grain-Free Canned Cat Food

What makes this food different from most others is its concentration of biologically-appropriate meat ingredients: Ziwi Peak canned food contains 93% venison muscle meat, organs, and bones. This makes it a protein-packed, easily digestible food that will fuel your cat’s indoor dwelling without encouraging weight gain.

Cats with food sensitivities and allergies will appreciate the limited ingredient list.

Reviewers mention another unexpected perk of such a clean food – less odor in the litter box.

Pros

  • Grain-free with no corn, soy, or wheat.
  • Made with 93% meat, organs, and bones – respects your cat’s natural dietary needs.
  • Made exclusively from high-quality ingredients – no fillers, byproducts, rendered meals, or preservatives.
  • Low in carbohydrates.
  • Limited ingredient list is ideal for cats with allergies and food sensitivities.

Cons

  • Somewhat high-priced.

Blue Buffalo Freedom Indoor Adult Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Canned Cat Food

This food aims to help manage common indoor cat health issues like weight management and hairballs by offering a high-protein diet with natural fiber for smooth digestion. The ingredient list starts with chicken, chicken broth, and chicken liver – all good choices for an obligate carnivore.

While the food does include some carb content coming from sweet potatoes, that don’t fit into a truly carnivorous diet, the ingredient does serve a purpose – it’s thought that dietary fiber can aid digestion and reduce hairballs.

Pros

  • Lower-calorie, high-protein formula is perfect for indoor cats.
  • Grain-free, made without corn, wheat, or soy.
  • Filler-free.

Cons

  • Contains some carbs that come from sweet potatoes. Could cause your not – that – active indoor feline some weight control.

The Honest Kitchen Grace Grain-Free Turkey Cat Food

One of the best things about having an indoor cat is spending more time with them. The Honest Kitchen foods allow you to make the most out of mealtime. This is a dehydrated food, so you’ll need to mix in warm water and let it sit for a few minutes before serving it to your cat.

Grace by The Honest Kitchen contains 70% cage-free turkey, making it a nourishing high quality protein choice for your meat-loving cat. The recipe contains pumpkin, which is a good fiber containing food often used as a home remedy for hairballs.

This food wasn’t made specifically with indoor cats in mind and is high in calories, so make sure to watch the portion sizes when feeding it to a less-active cat.

All of the ingredients are human-grade and minimally processed.

Pros

  • 70% meat is a great source of protein,  great reason to consider this product, even though it is not the leanest of products.
  • Made from human-grade ingredients.
  • Free from GMOs, chemicals, and preservatives.
  • Grain-free with no corn, wheat, or soy.

Cons

  • A high-calorie food.
  • Contains potatoes, which offer minimal value for your cat (remember the benefits of your cat’s original natural raw diet).

About the author


Mallory Crusta is a writer and adventurecat enthusiast on a mission to make cats’ lives extraordinary. She’s one of the founders of Wildernesscat – a site for happy, healthy, and adventurous cats who are fueled by nature. Visit Wildernesscat for radically natural cat nutrition, home remedies, and lifestyle inspiration.