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What is the Best Food for Outdoor Cats in 2020?

What is the Best Food For Outdoor Cats Graphic

Today we’re going to be talking about what is the best food for outdoor cats. It was brought up in one of my comments from a reader, and it’s definitely important if you’ve never had a cat before.

If you’ve had cats your entire life, you probably have this covered. But just in case, read on!

This article is going to cover: What is the best food for outdoor cats? Plus other basic feeding information like:

Before you feed that poor kitty you feel sorry for, make absolutely sure that you’re committed to being this cat’s caretaker. By feeding this cat, you will be teaching him to depend on you and if you aren’t committed to his welfare, don’t start to feed him. He will move on to keep searching for a place with adequate food and shelter and a caretaker willing to care for his needs.

Important Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian or a nutritionist of any kind. This is not a substitute for veterinary advice on the nutritional needs of your pet.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.  I may earn a small commission from qualifying purchases, at no cost to you.  Read the Affiliate Disclosure for full details.

What IS the Best Food for Outdoor Cats?

This answer is going to get me in trouble, but…

The best cat food for outdoor cats is the best food that you can afford to feed them.

Outdoor cat food is exactly the same as indoor cat food, although some companies use the distinction to market their products.  It’s simply marketing if it is labeled for indoor or outdoor cats.  That said, there is a wide array of quality and prices in cat food brands.

Feeding a colony of feral or community or barn cats can be seriously pricey if you’re not rolling in dough, which is most of us caretakers. We’re all broke because we spend a lot of money on cats we don’t own. We all do the best we can by our cats. If you can only afford 9-Lives dry food, then that’s what you can afford and it is better than no food.

If the price is a problem, then here’s a quick list of cheap cat food brands my outdoor cats like:

Other cheap options that I don’t use (cats preference, maybe yours will like it?):

If the price is not a consideration, however, then read on!

Cat Biology Lesson

Let’s get into a little biology, here. Cats are obligate carnivores. This means they absolutely must eat meat. They do not digest a lot of plants properly. This DOES include plant protein, so no, you can’t make a cat vegan. You’d kill him in a horrible manner.

They need higher levels of protein than most animals. They also need to get taurine from their food and that only comes from animal products like meat and milk. Cats do not make their own taurine as a dog would.

This means the best outdoor cat food is going to be high in protein and have a meat protein source as the first ingredient.

Cats likely have no need for carbohydrates at all. These are even considered possibly harmful to your cat in the long-term as carbohydrates often turn to sugar once ingested. This means you might wish to stay away from the gravy varieties, except as a treat.

Another amazing fact about cats is they are designed to get most of their water intake from the meat of their prey. Because of this, they often have a low thirst drive and won’t drink as often as they need to.

Cats naturally have highly concentrated urine, normally.  Cats that are often dehydrated have EXTRA-concentrated urine and that can cause blockages and stones, which can be dangerous and life-threatening.

Related:  What to Cats Hunt For in the Wild?

High-Quality Cat Food Lesson

Okay, so you might be asking yourself why I told you all this?

If you truly want the best for your outdoor feline friends, take a look at the cat food aisle in your local grocery store. Stay away from food that has a high number of plant-based fillers like rice, potato, or wheat. Grain-free does not equal pure meat. They add things like sweet potatoes and such for filler to keep the price down.

Stick to poultry type meat, like chicken and turkey, if possible, as it is more natural to a cat’s diet than say fish or beef. Look for ingredients like peas and carrots for the vegetables, not a lot of fillers like corn, wheat, or rice.  A little is okay.  A lot is bad.

A White Cat Shaped Bowl of Dry Cat Food

Wet food is also super beneficial as it provides the water cats need in their diets.

Don’t be fooled by the ‘natural’ labels on cat food. A lot of those will add things like rice and other ‘natural’ ingredients that cats truly have no need for. And natural cat food doesn’t mean they did not add synthetic nutrients to that cat food.  In order for cat food to be nutritionally complete to help your cat thrive, they have to have certain vitamins and minerals, some of which are lost to processing.  So they add it to the food later.

So look for a protein source from animals as the FIRST ingredient.  Rabbit is probably the best protein source for cats, chicken is pretty good, but I wouldn’t go for the beef or lamb varieties.

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A Warning About Food Allergies and Intolerances

Cats often have a sensitivity to certain food ingredients.  The top three food allergies/intolerances cats have are to fish, dairy, and beef. But chicken, wheat gluten, and a ton of other ingredients are also possible culprits.

Cats are opportunistic eaters in the wild. Feral cats in nature can be carrion eaters and there has been evidence of feral cats eating an entire dead kangaroo and other wildlife that they obviously didn’t kill.  So there isn’t a lot of food that isn’t natural for cats to consume, but their main prey are rodents such as mice and rabbits.  But as they will also kill and eat birds, feeding poultry-based cat food is great too.

Fish, beef, and wheat are more unnatural food sources and I’ve actually come across a lot of cats that dislike fish.  Just pay attention to your cat colony. If you notice any signs of food intolerance such as vomiting or diarrhea, switch to a different cat food with a different protein source.  Give it a few months to see if it improves. It’s difficult to diagnose food allergies in feral cats so this is the best most of us can do.

Food allergies and intolerances can lead to itching, fur loss, vomiting, diarrhea, and a host of other symptoms.  Cats with food allergies also tend to have other allergies, such as to fleas or pollen.

So if money is not an issue with the cat food you buy for your feral cats, then I highly recommend buying and feeding limited-ingredient foods as it will reduce the number of ingredients that could cause issues in your colony.

Or the BEST idea for feeding cats is a freeze-dried raw diet. Not a home prepared raw diet as you can’t adequately get the nutrients cats need without becoming a cat food nutritionist with a lot of research.  But the freeze-dried raw diets available for cats have all the necessary nutrients a cat needs to thrive.

High-Quality Cat Food Brands

If you want the best cat food money can buy, here’s a list of some premium cat food brands I’ve tried or want to try:

I’m not an expert on the zillions of different cat food brands out there as I’m more concerned with the lives of outdoor cats rather than what they’re eating. If you have a favorite outdoor cat food brand, please tell me!  I’m always interested in trying different brands.

Recommendations & Warnings

My recommendation (if you can afford it) is to feed both wet and dry food. I can’t get super fancy myself, but I do feed them both.

Related:  Wet Cat Food: Yay or Nay?

I don’t recommend you cook food for your cats or colony unless you know the exact nutritional requirements that are needed for the species, exactly what’s in what you’re cooking, and have consulted with a feline nutrition specialist veterinarian.

Also, I don’t recommend that you feed raw food unless you know how to make sure it’s free of bacteria or use commercially available raw diets. Cats can digest raw food better than people, but they’re just as susceptible to things like Salmonella as we are.

If you’re interested in the nitty-gritty details of feline nutrition, there is a great site about it at Catinfo.org. The Cat Info site advocates an all home-made diet, or at the very least, all wet-food diet, and is written by a veterinarian.

Emergency Food Ideas

If you come across a homeless cat and don’t have cat food immediately available, you can choose a few of these options. These are NOT for long term food ideas and could cause harm to the cat if used as a primary source of food as they aren’t properly balanced for a feline. This is just until you can pick up some cat food as soon as possible.

Again, do NOT feed this long-term.

If you own a dog, softened dog food is acceptable for one feeding. This is NOT a substitute for real cat food and a cat cannot thrive off of it, but just to get food to the cat before it runs off, this is acceptable, though not everyone will agree. However, do not do this more than once or twice. Dog food is not good for cats and cat food is not great for dogs. It can cause digestion issues. But it won’t harm a cat just once that is starving.

A monthly box of fun toys, healthy treats, and other goodies for your cat!

Another idea is cooked chicken, without bones. Never let any animal have access to cooked bird bones as is believed that they splinter easily. This could cause them actual harm digesting sharp bone splinters. Turkey or duck would also be acceptable. If no poultry is available, any cooked meat is okay.

Cooked is better than raw. Even though cats can digest raw foods better than humans do, they can still get sick from bacteria, as I stated in the previous section.

Another alternative is tuna. Fish isn’t the best for cats because it’s not usually a natural food source and more often causes food allergies than say chicken is some cats. Plus tuna fish is high in mercury which could be toxic if fed to a cat on a daily basis. But for one meal, it would be fine. As a treat, it’s okay as well.

If nothing else, table scraps should work too, and/or a saucer of milk (not too much, cat’s don’t actually handle lactose well), but be careful of the following:

Never Feed These Foods to a Cat:

  • Garlic, onions and related foods
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol
  • Coffee, tea, energy drinks

If you suspect your colony cats or your pets have eaten something toxic, please call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426- 4435.

How Often Should You Feed Outdoor Cats?Four White Clocks Showing Different Times

Outdoor cats should be fed daily, at least, but twice a day is best. If at all possible, it is best to do it at the same time every day. Morning and Evening.

Adult cats eat around 5.5 ounces of wet food per day or about 1/2 a cup of dry food per day according to Alley Cat Allies. Some cats eat more and some eat less.

If after 30 minutes there is still a lot of food left, you’re feeding more than you should. If they eat it all within 15 minutes, you’re likely feeding too little.

Do not listen to anyone who suggests feeding every other day or not at all for working cats or ferals. Would you eat every other day? There’s no guarantee the cats will be able to catch other food. It’s cruel.

As for working cats like barn cats, even the most well-fed pampered ones will hunt mice and other rodents, so depriving them of food does nothing more than cause them to go hungry. It does not help them be better hunters.

Cats are excellent hunters and will kill mice on a full stomach. Plus no cat would stick around a place that isn’t offering food, even if there are plenty of mice. Feeding keeps them healthy and in once place.

The Importance of Scheduled Feeding

So you might be wondering WHY I gave you the above suggestions about feeding outdoor cats at the same time(s) each day.

  • Your colony cats will all show up for feed times, enabling you to access them for injury or illness, or if one is missing. Although missing a couple of feed times is not uncommon in outdoor cats.
  • You will become familiar with their eating habits and will notice when one of them has lost his appetite, which is a sign of illness.
  • It is much easier to trap your colony cats to be fixed as a part of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) if they all show up for food at the same time.
  • You will notice immediately any new additions to your colony that need fixed or veterinary care.
  • There is no food left out to attract pest animals like raccoons and opossums or neighborhood dogs. It also lessens the number of ants, roaches, and other insects in the feed area if there isn’t food sitting out all the time.

What about Water?

A barn cat lapping water out of a metal bucket

Fresh, clean water should be available at all times. If there is a creek or river near the colony, you likely don’t need to worry about providing water.

Even if nothing else, a couple of buckets filled with water will do the trick. Cat bowls made for water are often dumped very easily. Just make sure to change it daily!

The Cats are Fighting Over Food! Help!!

It is a well-known fact that cats are territorial. While domestic cats are social creatures that prefer to gather in colonies of other cats, they do NOT share food bowls well. The more dominant cats will swat other cats out of their way and eat first. The cats lower on the social hierarchy will eat last.

To reduce hissing and spitting at feeding times, be absolutely sure to make food available in multiple bowls at one time. If you don’t have a colony of 50 cats, I recommend one bowl per cat. However, that might not be feasible in some areas with dozens of cats. Use wide plates and platters or serving trays to ensure they can coexist eating and use a few of those plates or bowls to spread out the cats.

They will move around and change feeding areas and might bully a cat out of the way, but this ensures there is less competition.

This behavior is observed in fixed cats as well as unaltered cats, but it is often more violent if you have intact cats in your colony. Altered cats are just plain less aggressive than intact cats, but if it’s a personality thing, fixing doesn’t stop it. I have a bully cat who is fixed and has been forever. He’s a big jerk.

Cats With Eating Problems

(A reader reminded me of this, so I’d like to give a shout out to the rescue she volunteers for in Rhode Island, PawsWatch!)

It’s an unfortunate fact of feral or homeless cat care that many of them have teeth problems or pain.  Sometimes, especially in outdoor cats that have been lucky enough to survive past five years old, they start having problems eating.  If you have cats in your colony or barn that cannot eat regular dry food well, you might have to switch to complete wet food for that cat or consider purchasing kitten food with smaller kibble bits.

Signs of trouble eating in an outdoor cat, including but not limited to:

  • Not eating much
  • Gulping food, not biting it.
  • Awkward-looking eating.
  • Drooling
  • Tongue often poking out
  • They may be pawing, rubbing, or scratching at the side of their face and ears if it really hurts them.

If at all possible, it’s best to get that cat into a veterinarian or rescue to get their teeth extracted if necessary.

Barn Cat vs. Feral Cat Feeding

I feed the barn cats a little differently than I outlined previously in this article.

Because I feed both wet and dry food, I free-feed dry food throughout the day and have scheduled times for feeding wet food. This is also feasible because they are being fed inside the shelter of a barn, protected from bad weather.

Before dark, I take the cat food that’s left inside with me. Feeding cats inside a barn at night carry the same problems feeding feral cats at night do. (Raccoons and other wildlife become a nuisance and possibly a health risk!)

Whatever your cat colony needs, a schedule is important. So is making sure to protect your cats from the dangers that food attracts by being sure they consume it all in a reasonable amount of time.

Young Barn Kitten Standing on Hay

Pregnant and Nursing Cats Feeding Tips

Pregnant and nursing cats, if found before being fixed, could benefit from being fed more wet food than normal and more nutritious food like kitten dry food.  Another excellent trick is to mix kitten milk replacement (KMR) in with wet food, as pregnant and nursing queens are eating for many little bodies.

Please don’t feed feral cats without practicing Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)! Get those nursing cats fixed before their next litter. You are causing a LOT more harm than good and you are causing cat and kitten deaths by doing so.  Fix them or don’t feed them.

If you’re in an area with a high feral cat population and shelters forced to euthanize too many animals, you may consider getting the pregnant cat fixed before birth.


Let’s go over this again, in short form this time!

If you’re determined and committed to caring for a community cat colony, any cat food within your budget is perfectly acceptable. If funds are available, try to feed both wet and dry food with more meat protein, less corn fillers. Keep fresh, clean water available for the cats at all times.

If you have no cat food in your home, a one-time feeding of softened dog food or cooked chicken (no bones) or tuna will not harm a cat. Do not do this regularly as dog food and tuna are not good for them long term. Cooked chicken is just fine.

Schedule their feeding to one or two times a day, once in the morning and once in the evening at the same time. Do not leave food out all day or night to attract nuisance or dangerous animals to your colonies feed area. This ensures you can keep your pulse on the health and activity of your colony and makes it easier to trap and fix any unaltered cats.

Try to put a lot of bowls or trays or plates out to avoid cats fighting over their food.

If a cat has tooth problems, consider an all wet food diet or a diet of kitten food with small kibbles that are easier to eat.

If your cats are barn cats with a shelter, you can free-feed dry food from dawn until dusk and schedule your wet food feedings, just be sure to remove all food before dark to avoid nuisance and dangerous animals.

Pregnant and nursing cats can benefit from more wet food and more nutritious food like kitten food or kitten formula mixed into their food.

Have any questions or concerns I haven’t addressed here that you want to be answered? Please leave me a comment below and I’ll be happy to answer! I love hearing from fellow cat lovers!


27 thoughts on “What is the Best Food for Outdoor Cats in 2020?”

  1. Wow, I love this post so much because I actually have a cat for a pet. She eats a lot and I just love watching her eat nonstop sometimes. Ivy sometimes jumps to take chocolate from my daughter who will gladly give it to her. I actually am not doing well with feeding my cat because I give her some of these foods she shouldn’t eat. I’m glad to have come across this post. I’ll make a schedule for her feeding and stop giving her chocolates. I hope it doesn’t cause health problems for her? 

    1. Hi, Dane!

      I’m happy my post was useful for your cat.  As long as your cat isn’t overweight, an indoor cat that eats often throughout the day is okay.  Schedules are useful because cats, and other animals, are creatures of habit, just like humans.  They quickly realize when it’s breakfast or dinner time.

      I personally let my cats have dry food through the entire day to nibble on as they see fit.  I then feed them wet food twice a day at a scheduled time.  None of them are overweight.  But I would have to change to a different food if they were.

      Disclaimer:  I’m not a vet and this is not medical advice.

      As for the chocolate, here’s the lowdown.  Dogs are more prone to getting into chocolate and eating a toxic amount, which is why most people know it’s bad for dogs.  Cats are usually pickier and can’t even taste sweets so don’t often ingest it on their own.  That said, there are some cats that do.

      Before I get into the scary information, a small amount of chocolate is not likely to hurt or poison your cat. Ivy probably hasn’t ingested enough of it from your daughter to cause problems. Otherwise, you would have noticed shortly after she ingested it.

      The reason chocolate is dangerous is because of the caffeine and the theobromine in it.  Dogs and cats don’t break down theobromine very well and it causes toxic levels that could lead to cardiac problems.  I’m not a vet, but my understanding is it’s like a human overdosing on crack or amphetamines.  It amps them up too much for their body to handle.  Kind of like drinking twelve pots of coffee in one day would leave you shaky, sweating, etc?  That’s what it’s like for pets.

      Different kinds of chocolate have different levels of theobromine, which is the most dangerous substance in chocolate.  Baking chocolate can be lethal in small doses.  Dark chocolate is next in line.  Then milk chocolate.  Then white chocolate has the least amount of theobromine in it.  

      A little bit of chocolate that your cat ate from your daughter likely will not cause any harm.  I would seriously discourage this behavior, of course, as feeding something toxic to a cat even at small doses isn’t healthy, but from my research, I don’t believe there are any lingering health issues from chocolate ingestion.  If your cat, Ivy, was fine that night, she’s okay now.  It would have to be quite a few squares of milk chocolate to actually poison your cat. But only 1 tablespoon of baking chocolate can send a cat to the emergency vet.  

      It depends on the type of chocolate, the size of your cat, and the amount ingested.

      However, just in case, contact your vet if you witness any of these symptoms:

      Excessive thirst or urination
      Abnormal heart rhythm
      Muscle twitches
      Excessive panting
      Nausea (which usually looks like frequent swallowing or excessive salivation in cats)
      Hyperactivity or Restlessness

      It can cause death, so please seek out your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your daughter has given her too much.  

      But please stop letting her eat chocolate for her safety! 

      I hope that helps.  Thanks for the excellent question!

  2. Wow! The information up here is actually useful to know of and it comes very handily just at the right time. A cat has been moving about my home for the past few days and I’m feeling very sorry for him because he looks skinny and sick. I guess maybe he is hungry but since I do not know what to feed him, I decided to have a quick look online and I came across this post. I will try to visit my pet store to get some foods for him going by the suggestions made up here. I guess I can do well by feeding him well till his owner possibly show up or I might end up adopting him. Thanks

  3. That’s good advice not to feed the cat unless you are ready to commit to being their caretaker. It does teach them to depend on you and it’s not fair to do that unless you actually mean to be there for them. That’s interesting about how the cats derive water from the meat they eat. If I had the money and I lived somewhere with a lot of outdoor cats, I would definitely want to feed them. Right now I don’t live somewhere with a lot of outdoor cats so I guess there’s not a need to. But your website is always a good reminder to help take care of cats who need help.

  4. Hello, this is a really good tip. We have some area cats come over to our house only in the evening to get some food. They’ve been coming for a while now and we just have them some chicken without the bone but we thought we should get some more ideas. This is a really lengthy one and the ideas are numerous. Having said this, I think I should try out the idea on dry and wet foods and some snacks too. How would one know if the cat is pregnant or have tooth issues?

    1. Hi!  Glad this post was useful!

      A cat displaying tooth problems will have problems chewing food, might be chewing on one side of his mouth more than the other, or stick out his tongue or drool a bit.  They could also be shaking their head as if their ears are bothering them as sometimes back molar pain will feel like ear pain.

      A pregnant cat will obviously be an unfixed female and the first sign is that she’s round in the middle, but that usually means she’s almost ready to give birth. She will also likely be eating a lot more than normal.  She may also be acting different, either more affectionate or more aggressive.  If you saw her go into heat, and she’s not anymore, then she’s pregnant, too.

      If she’s round in the middle, and you can touch her, you can sometimes feel lumps where the kittens are when she’s closer to giving birth.

      Hope that helps!

  5. A special feeding routine? My last experience with outdoor cats was in my youth, there was no particular routine, we lived in the country surrounded by birds, animals, etc and the cats provided a  substantial amount of, its own food; we never bought cat food, we would feed them leftovers sometimes.

    Things have changed, during my youth, I would never have dreamt of having an indoor cat. Today, Wiggles sleep in our bed and feeding her can be expensive; thanks to my wife, they both have changed my attitude. We have friends that feed stray cats and spends quite a lot of money doing so, they are Americans. Cats are not always treated that special in our culture. Interesting reading, even for one who has indoor cats.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for your comment!  You’re right that not all cultures concern themselves with stray and feral cats.  Sometimes in those places, even having an indoor cat is strange!  But thanks for owning a cat!  Even one person adopting a cat saves that cat from a lifetime in the wild!

  6. Hi Rochelle,
    I am so glad you mentioned a few points here that are important. You reinforced some points I was aware of and also enhanced my understanding of a few others.

    Raw food diets are great but only if you know what you are doing. Preventing bacteria and parasites is a major concern if feeding raw. Also, if you cook food for your cats you need to understand their nutritional needs as supplements like taurine need to be added. In the wild cats eat whole animals. They cannot live on just muscle meat like we are used to cooking and eating. They would be eating a large quantity of fur, skin, fat, organs, bones etc. There are many components in these other parts such as vitamins, minerals and fiber that are not found in sufficient quantities in muscle meat. That is one of the reasons additional supplements are usually needed when cooking food for cats.

    I have unfortunately run into the problem with feeding a fish based food diet with my own cats. The variety of food I fed them for a long time was found to have high levels of heavy metals. I have not yet determined if there was a specific problem in the manufacturing of this food or if it is simply because fish can contain high levels of mercury and other heavy metal naturally. In any case I no longer food them that food. My orange, tabby boy is also sensitive to tuna so I don’t feed him any food with tuna or unknown fish.

    Thank you so much for being such a great advocate for cats and taking care of so many feral, barn and rescued kitties!!

    1. Hi, Jessica! Thanks so much for your compliments!

      You’re absolutely right about the raw diet and having it need supplements added. From my understanding, you can buy a raw diet from some pet stores and the like that already adds those specific nutritional needs met. Plus is safe from bacteria and the like. It’s definitely true that cats eat a lot of meat by-products we wouldn’t think to feed a cat, even in a raw food diet, and I think some people assume simply because they can digest raw meat that it’s completely safe. Or has everything it needs. I read a study somewhere that more than half the people choosing a raw diet or to cook their own cat’s food aren’t meeting the nutritional requirements of the cat. Not in an extremely unhealthy way, like if you tried to make your cat vegan or something, but yeah.

      Regarding the mercury in fish, I was aware it is present in high concentrations in tuna, but I didn’t think about other types of fish having higher mercury levels! I do know that fish isn’t exactly the chosen diet of our feline’s ancestors, even if some LOVE it. Some cats have a fish allergy or intolerance, more so than something like beef. Tuna can be safely given as a ‘treat’ but never as a full meal because of the mercury levels and fish alone won’t achieve the nutritional requirements.

      I find it really odd that cat food, even wet cat food, will have things like peas and carrots and rice on the label. It’s COMPLETELY so the HUMAN thinks their cat will like it because it sounds appetizing to them. Total marketing ploy. Cats don’t need them at all. LOL! I believe cats have no carbohydrate requirements at all either, so when they add those vegetables high in carbs, like potatoes and the like, it’s actually not that great. That said, at least the brand name cat foods found everywhere have the right nutritional requirements, even if they add stuff that isn’t necessary to get people to buy it.

      It’s a crazy amount of information if you have a cat with issues and need to adjust his diet and such. Fish is a common sensitivity or allergy in cats because it’s not actually a natural food source. Of course, cats in nature are scavengers as much as they are hunters, and will eat anything they can get. Small mammals are the real favorite food, like mice and other burrowing mice. Birds are mostly secondary and caught if available and they see an easy mark. Fish… you know, I’ve never seen a house cat catch a fish. Except by knocking over a goldfish bowl. ^_^

      Thanks again for visiting! Love your site! ^_^;

      1. Hi again Rochelle,

        The food I was feeding my cats was based on Pollock. It was Alaskan pollock and I thought it was healthy but the food has been found to have high levels of mercury.

        As I said I am not sure if it is all varieties of the food or just certain varieties. I am really not sure yet so it is a bit of a quandry. My cat was throwing it up constantly however so we stopped feeding it.

        I want to find a good freeze dried raw brand where you buy it dry and add water. I have not found one yet that is affordable. In the meantime we are feeding a Purina Beyond Wild variety. I am generally skeptical of anything by Purina but the Purina Beyond is one food that my boy didn’t throw up. It is much higher quality than regular Purina foods, Purina One etc. I am feeding them the Salmon one now but don’t know if I have to worry about long term effects of mercury with that too.

        My boy is very sensitive and at one point I thought he was allergic to chicken. It was probably other ingredients in the food however. He also reacted badly to rabbit food. He LOVES turkey however.

        I would clarify one thing you said. You mentioned cats being scavengers. Are you referring to their ability to eat many different kinds of foods like insects, birds, mammals etc? They are amazingly diverse hunters, but are not truly scavengers because they don’t choose to eat already dead animals. This is one one thing that differentiates them from dogs. Dogs love old, dead, stinky things. Cats don’t. They like fresh, fresh, fresh. That is one reason cats can be picky eaters and you need to wash out their wet food bowls on a regular basis.

        I am in a quandry over how to update all the posts on cat food on my site. I can’t recommend the brand that has heavy metals anymore unless it is just due to the naturally occuring metals in wild fish in which case this brand won’t be different than any other brand. There isn’t much information available so far. I took my cats off of it however. My boy who threw up that food was also pulling out his fur. Now he is fine.

        We gave him the Jackson Galaxy calming drops which were great but even without the drops he is not doing it anymore. It made me wonder if the heavy metals in the food were irritating him!

        As you mentioned it is very confusing wading through all the cat food brands so I don’t have a great recommendation on food to replace all my posts yet. I will look into the Instinct food you recommended here. I have seen it in the stores but have not tried it.

        It is wonderful to have another cat site to interact with!


        1. Hi, Jessica!

          It’s definitely a minefield navigating through the various foods available for cats. I’ve honestly had the best luck with Purina brands, usually. I know that some people seem to think they’re so horrible, but they have never actually disagreed with my cats. Plus… I feed a LOT of cats, so I can’t go too terribly fancy there, unfortunately! I have come across a site about cat nutrition that might interest you, it’s written by a veterinarian and you can find it at catinfo.org. I found it pretty reliable. She’s against dry food altogether, would rather see people feed 9 lives wet food over prescription dry foods even, but she mostly advocates for fixing your cats own food. That said, she has a lot of biological facts about a cat’s digestion, evolution, biology and nutritional needs on there and the various ingredients in cat food. Plus, a veterinarian. Actually, a different veterinarian who commented on my site gave me the suggestion to check it out, as the CatInfo page has a section on Trap-Neuter-Return of community cats on it.

          As for my scavenger comment, I should have been more specific. They aren’t carrion eaters, definitely not. But they will eat bugs, worms, snakes, everything, including trash. No rotten meat though, you’re right there. They will steal the kill of another cat though and eat it. They’re primarily hunters and opportunist ones at that, but they scavenge very well. They just aren’t going to eat carrion. But they definitely will raid the trash after something that smells good to them, such as for fried chicken. I’ve also seen my cat Buddy eating horse feed off the ground, which was yuck because it was off the ground, and two, I have NO clue why he liked it as from my understanding, cats can’t taste sweet stuff and it’s sweet feed…. with molasses. He’s not the only cat that likes chewing on it either. I don’t actually understand that one yet. But he really does like it. He’s once left his food and went over to chew on the stuff someone dumped. Like my barn cats have fresh clean water in a bucket I change daily right? They go and drink out of the barn drainage ditch, which is NASTY. Horse poo, horse feed, soap, sand, and other stuff gets in that! Yet, hey, they like it more than freshwater. Maybe the chlorine in the tap water? And nasty water masks the smell of that?

          Anyway, yeah, I didn’t mean they ate rotting meat or dead things. They do steal each other’s kills though, and if it’s freshly dead, they will eat it. Bleh. But they will literally eat anything alive or fresh meat of any kind. That’s why when I read the studies anti-TNR people who want to save the birds from the cats quote, and all the numbers of the birds cat kills are ‘estimated to be in the millions’, I’m really skeptical. First of all, they’re ESTIMATING. Secondly, they conveniently don’t mention how many birds die from human causes, like ecosystem destruction and pollution that we cause. Unless you’re in New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii or other island ecosystems where the invasive species that cats are kills a bunch of animals that have no defense, like their endangered ground-dwelling kiwi birds and moles and the like, yeah, I totally believe that. But birds in the US? Hmmm, not unless the cat colony is inside a rare nesting place for an endangered species of bird, because cats aren’t really that good of bird hunters. I’ve only seen cats go for birds out of play, more than hunger. They’re more ambush predators and they’re much more suited to waiting for their prey to come out of a burrow then jump or chase a bird and catch it before it flies off. My cat Buddy will catch birds. He brings me a lot of his kills. He can decimate a mouse hole in one day. But he catches like one bird every couple of months. The barn cats mostly ignore the birds in the barns. Seriously, we have birds nesting everywhere in the roof. No bird bodies anywhere. Mouse and rats? Yes. We find them dead a lot. One guy, who is obviously not so smart, thought the cat food was killing the mice and rats. LOL! He assumed since I feed the barn cats, they aren’t hunting. So of course, dead mice lying around must be caused by something else. I about died laughing. I hadn’t heard that one before!

          Oops, I’m off on a tangent about the anti-TNR stuff again.

          As for the Instinct food, I haven’t yet tried it, but I was going through the list of ingredients on a lot of them for more natural meat and no grains or vegetables for cats, because I’m hoping to find a decently priced one. Everything I’ve learned about commercial cat food, especially when they add greens to it like the “Indoor” type of Friskies including greens for whatever reason, I KNOW they’re trying to market that crap to humans as it’s NOT needed by cats. Cat grass, sure, but it actually has to be grass and it helps their digestion system because they don’t actually digest the grass. Cats lack the enzyme that allows the breakdown of plant matter. They can’t get any benefit from plant matter, including plant protein. So I’ve been on a quest to actually find one that doesn’t have much plant matter in it! Or carbs, as cats have no need for any carbohydrates. Instinct and Crave seem the closest, but I haven’t done an extensive search.

          It’s definitely great to have another cat expert to interact with, thank you!

          1. Hello again,

            The Purina Beyond Wild salmon food we are giving to all the cats now has yam in it and also whole cranberries. I am glad it has cranberries for their UTI prevention and general urinary health benefits (I am not sure it works the same way in cats as people but I have read it is supposed to). I am also ok with the yams because I think they would add a natural fiber and act similarly to pumpkin which is a natural treatment for cats who are constipated. My orange, tabby boy is chronically constipated without some medication. He has been on Miralax for years now so if we could find a food that can fix that naturally and get him off the Miralax that would be amazing! He seems to be throwing up much less since we switched foods, he stopped pulling out his fur so if we can just fix the constipation issue he will be “normal”!

            The poor baby is the sweetest boy. He is such a baby. He just loves to snuggle us and his sister (when he isn’t being a jerk to her and biting her on the back of the neck). He has all the health problems however.

            Generally speaking I agree with you however. Cats don’t need veggies or grains/carbs in their food!

            For now, I am thrilled with the Purina Beyond Wild Salmon food. The Chicken one has oats however…not sure why…cats don’t need oats.

            I hope someone will read all of our ramblings here and get some useful info!


          2. Hi, back!

            You’re absolutely right about pumpkin being useful for constipation. It’s also extremely useful to regulate diarrhea too! It has both soluble and insoluble fiber which enables it to help with both of those things. That said, I do not think cats get anything else out of it, nutrision-wise, because they do lack enzymes to digest plant matter. I haven’t done extensive study, but I believe the soluble and insoluble fiber don’t need to be digested, they both absorb and don’t absorb water, which is why it regulates the poos!

            That being said, I have no idea if yams are very close to pumpkin or not, so I’m going to take your word for that one for now! ^_^;

            As for cranberries and UTIs, they are useful to people. Not sure about cats, either. It might be a little different because they don’t digest plant matter properly but if it can work without being digested, then it’s likely just fine.

            Interesting evolutionary fact. Cats cannot taste sweet things, like fruits. This is also why hiding medicine in syrups don’t work on cats, they don’t taste the sweet taste and only taste the bitter medicine. I found that interesting fact giving my cat children’s Benedryl. Apparently, sweet cherry-flavored or not, it’s bitter as heck to them! I had to Google why my kitty acted like I was poisoning her and foaming at the mouth and freaking out. This is because cats are obligate carnivores while dogs can eat and get value out of fruit, so they can taste sweet stuff. The things I learn. LOL!

            I’ll have to check out Purina Beyond. Though my cats all prefer chicken-based wet food, I’m not sure about the whole oat thing either. They definitely don’t need oats. Carbs might actually be bad for cats because carbs turn into sugars which can lead to diabetes and other issues in cats. Supposedly. I’ve been trying to stay away from the gravier varieties because of this. But I hadn’t even heard of oats in cat food before. Weird things like peas and stuff, yes. Rice, yes. Which I’m still confused about, too! They’re totally marketing to humans, I swear!

            Hey it would be neat if people read our rambling and long conversation here and learned something!

  7. Your observation about the water is interesting. I always thought cats insisted on clean water…I guess that is not always true. I wonder if you are correct and it is just that the gunk in the water hides the chlorine taste.

    We only give our cats filtered water (when we had city water) or clean well water now so they don’t have that problem. I know that isn’t always an option for people however unless they have just indoor cats with a cat fountain that is filtered or use human filtered water.

    1. I thought most cats insisted on clean water too! I do know they definitely don’t like stale water, supposedly. My mother’s indoor cat wouldn’t drink her water if it was over six hours old. LOL!

      Weirdly, living and caring for a variety of barn rescues and barn cats outside has lead me to some interesting observations. They definitely prefer a metal bowl to a plastic bowl. I’m still not sure why they prefer nasty puddles over city water. I’ve been using city water because our well-water doesn’t look great here, but I can try that one next time too!

      All this doesn’t explain why one cat will actually drink out of a nasty barn toilet instead of a clean bowl of water. He will put his two front paws INSIDE the bowl and IN the water and drink. Nasty.

      I honestly couldn’t tell you why some of them prefer the weird water in various places. Despite fresh, clean water inside and outside. Bizarre kitties.

  8. Love the wonderful information here, but have to disagree on one point:

    While it may be acceptable short-term (very short-term!), I don’t think the cheaper cat foods, like meow mix, are good, for any cat, and especially feral cats.

    Reason being, I had this experience: I had several cats (domestic) that were all indoor-outdoor cats. I fed them a quality cat food (dry cat food: Nutro Natural choice) and they all thrived on it.

    a short distance from me, there was a lady who fed a colony of feral cats, and meow mix was the food she put out. One of my male cats would wander off to her place and avail himself of that meow mix food. And it turns out that every time he did that, a short time later he would develop urinary crystals… which led to a vet visit.

    It took me some time to figure out why he kept getting crystals, but that was the source. Now, I could take care of my own cat, but it just made me wonder how many of the feral cats that she was feeding also ended up with urinary crystals, due to the cheap food?

    So, my opinion is that a cheap food may suffice temporarily, I don’t think it’s good long-term. I also think it’s sad that some cat food brands/manufacturers don’t care enough to put out quality food that won’t end up harming cats.

    Well, enough said about that. Your site is truly wonderful, and so are you for educating people about the plight and needs of feral cats.

    I would tell you to keep up the good work, but I know that you will… thanks so much for all that you do!

    I have bookmarked your site, btw, to refer back to.

    1. Hi! While in general, I don’t prefer MeowMix or 9 Lives at all as if any of the cats have sensitive stomachs or issues, you’re right that it is not the best. That said, when you feed over 20 cats, there IS no other option unless you’re wealthy and can afford over $200 a week on cat food. McDonald’s crap cat food is better than NO food, though. So I have to disagree on that one. Of course, if a cat has health issues, a diet change needs to be made. Not all people can tolerate McDonald’s either.

      Male cats are, unfortunately, prone to urinary crystals and blockages. Some more than others, of course. A HUGE difference for cats with this issue is including wet food and encouraging him to drink more, with water fountains, or whatever. Most cats naturally have a low thirst drive, some more than others, and should derive a huge chunk of their moisture from their food (in nature, this means most of their moisture is from their prey). Because humans screw things up, dry food doesn’t have enough moisture, of course. It’s only 10% maximum moisture content. It’s why I always add wet food twice a day. Because of the lack of moisture in their food, some cats are prone to low-level dehydration if they aren’t one of the cats who drink a lot. Thus, urine is super concentrated and forms crystals, which cause blockages. Some cats are also very prone to it because their urinary tracts can be very tiny or because they always form crystals, or because certain foods cause them to, etc. I know that some people form kidney stones from drinking too much soda, or having a high calcium diet.

      That said, because I spend over $60 a week on cat food and that’s not great stuff meaning I’m buying a LOT of food each week, but I do prefer to use Friskies, simply because cats tolerate it better in my experience and that is why I don’t personally prefer meow mix brands. Unfortunately, with the state of cat overpopulation, people can’t afford to give the feral and stray cats better in most cases. Is it better to give them cat food like McDonald’s in crap quality than no food? I think so. Starvation is a very bad way to go. Plus, more cats will starve without food then will have a food issue with cheap food.

      Thus, I do stand by my answer in whatever they can afford to feed them.

      I do agree that cat food companies can do better. I prefer Purina brands because Nestle (the company behind Purina) do try to have quality food for the price they have and not actually harm the animals. But money will always influence people’s cat food choices, unfortunately, and cheap food has more filler than expensive food. But some of the ‘prescription foods’ are total crap for a cat too, containing corn, etc. So, until cat food brands can get better, that’s what you have, unfortunately.

      Thanks so much for visiting and you’re amazing comment! Hope to see you again, even if I disagree with Meowmix feeding. ^_^;

  9. My feral cat loves Friskies Party Mix. My sister feeds a lot to her. Is this bad for her. I notice she is starting to lick her paws a lot. Is this an allergy reaction to the mix?

    1. Hi, Katrina,

      Friskies Party Mix is fine if fed as a treat, not any more unhealthy than anything else on the market for treats.

      She may have a food sensitivity to one of the ingredients, of course. Skin rashes and irritation are often a sign of food allergies, so you may want to switch to a completely different brand of treats for a few weeks to see if she stops licking her paws all the time.

      Another issue might be that your sister is feeding too many treats. This could have two consequences. Either the cat starts getting overweight – not good. Or the cat stops eating their regular food, which would NOT be good. Treats are not a balanced meal for a cat. If she’s not eating her normal food, she could be getting nutritional deficiencies. Cats, as obligate carnivores, must obtain certain amino acids and other minerals directly from their food, such as taurine or arginine, plus cats must get a lot of meat protein from their food. If she stops eating regular food, she may end up becoming deficient in important nutrients. This can ALSO lead to skin irritation or the like. That could also explain her licking her paws. As a feral, she likely probably hunts and consumes rodents, as well as eats cat food, but that doesn’t mean she’ll hunt enough to feed herself the nutrients she needs.

      The treats could also be too high in carbohydrates or sugars or something else that is affecting her skin or making her more nervous or something too, so if she’s eating too many, it could be a side effect of that.

      I would try switching treats to something else and make sure your sister isn’t overfeeding treats instead of food, and see if the paw licking improves.

      Instead of treats, wet food could be a better alternative if your sister doesn’t want to hold treats back from the cat. Some cats will eat wet food over treats, as well, and at least wet food should be a completely balanced meal with all the necessary nutrients for a cat to thrive.

      Hope that helps!

  10. This is a great blog. And thank you for being so interactive with posters also. I have three cats, two older, one fairly young, and feed them Blue Buffalo and Science Diet wet and dry exclusively. I also feed outdoor cats, especially in the winter. I’m a little cautious about bringing outdoor cats inside as it seems to cause conflicts with my other cats.

    My youngest cat is one I did bring in, and she was young and pregnant. I took care of her, and found homes for her two surviving kittens (2 others had faded in the first week), and had her fixed by my vet. She really loves me, and I have no idea why, unless she just bonded to me when I brought her in. I just don’t know.

    I found your website because I was looking for good outdoor wet cat food for the outdoor cat(s). I really didn’t understand the difference between indoor and outdoor cat food, but now generally see that outdoor cat food may have more protein, and I suspect higher fat levels also. That’s good to know. Because I live in a mountainous 5,000+ foot altitude area, providing water in the winter can be a challenge (water freezes fairly quickly).

    I once asked a vet which were smarter, dogs or cats. Her immediate answer was ‘cats.’ I suggested that we can train dogs, but not cats, and her response was ‘we train dogs, cats train us.’ That view changed my whole attitude toward cats, and I now watch my own and the outdoor cats for their actions that help train me as I try to train them. I suspect the training actually goes both ways. Boy, are we complicated animals…

    1. BTW, while we are on the general subject of nutrition, I’m wondering if you are familiar with Joel Wallach’s views. He’s a DVM and ND and gave a talk in St. Louis in about 1993 called ‘Dead Doctors Don’t Lie.’ His understanding and opinion is that about 90% of all human and other animal’s illness comes from some sort of nutritional deficiency. He developed his views after having done a huge number of animal autopsies in an effort to learn what killed the animals. While Wallach promotes the consumption of colloidal minerals, he also discusses chelated and raw minerals. I suspect in his world, everything counts, especially nutritionally deficient diets.

      1. Hi, John,

        That’s certainly possible! Nutrition affects the health and even the state of mind of all living beings. But a starving animal will eat anything, even if it’s not a complete nutritional meal, because it’s better to be alive (if ill) than dead of starvation. I mean, hamburger meat from McDonald’s may be saving many feral lives that won’t live long enough to develop nutritional health issues from that diet anyway, as feral cats fending for themselves don’t live very long, just as most mammals in captivity live longer than they do in the wild.

        Humans are focused on ‘perfect nutrition’ when they’re trying to pick cat or dog food, when usually, feral cats who are surviving by hunting and scavaging don’t have great nutrition anyway! Nature isn’t perfect, what they eat in the wild is not always the best foods for their health, etc. So anything is definitely better than nothing! Even if it’s crap food that lacks great nutrition, the cats already have crappy nutrition anyway!

    2. Hi, John!

      To be honest, I think that many of the cat food labeled as outdoor cat food tends to be store-brands that are just doing it for marketing. I don’t really like ANY of those brands that I have seen use “Outdoor Cats” on their labels and I’ve only seen it in dry food bags. But I also haven’t found any of my favorite brands who actually market for outdoor cat food, so maybe I’m a little biased.

      It honestly doesn’t matter if you feed wet food for just regular house cats to the outdoor crew. But outdoor cats need more calories, ESPECIALLY in winter. So I would feed them more than the indoor crew, heat up the wet food some to make it smell better and stay warm longer, etc.

      Thanks for adopting a cat from outside! As for doing it again, just be careful to introduce the cats fairly carefully by keeping them separate before introducing them. And NEVER, EVER bring in an adult MALE cat with testicles still. That ALWAYS ends VERY badly. If you want to adopt one of the other outdoor cats indoors, make sure everyone (in the house and outside of it) are fixed first. Trust me, makes it SO much easier. Tomcats can get especially violent during cat fights, the other cats smell them and immediately feel territorial and aggressive as they don’t want a smelly tomcat in their home either, and all-out war occurs. While neutered cats may feel territorial, it’s usually much easier and less violent if done correctly.

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