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Indoor vs Outdoor Cat Food: Main Differences Explained

You’ve probably stood in the cat food aisle of your local grocery or pet store and marveled at the sheer number of options available. There is seemingly a special type of cat food for every cat out there. There are grain-free, raw, freeze-dried, kitten, senior, and many more options. Two types that can be very puzzling to cat owners are indoor and outdoor cat food. What is the difference between the two and which one does your cat need?

In this short guide, we explain the differences between indoor and outdoor cat foods. We also give you some tips about how to choose the best food for your cat’s needs.

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Overview of Indoor Cat Food

cat eating beef
Image Credit: liudmila_selyaninova, Shutterstock,


Food formulated for indoor cats typically has fewer calories per serving than food designated for outdoor cats. This is because cats who live only indoors get less exercise than cats who roam outside in search of food. You can read the back of the package to see the total calorie content per serving or per container to give you an idea of how many calories a serving provides your cat with.

Is Indoor Food Healthy?

Some indoor foods are perfectly healthy for your cats, while others should be avoided. It’s important to read the ingredients before purchasing a new kind of cat food. The main ingredients should be real meat from poultry, fish, beef, or another source. There shouldn’t be any artificial dyes or other fillers in the food. If you notice a bunch of odd-sounding ingredients that make you ask yourself “Should this be in here?” you probably need to select a different food.

Indoor foods typically have lower protein content, instead, they rely on high-fiber vegetable fillings. While it’s fine for cats to have some vegetable matter in their food, they still need a significant amount of protein. Taking away protein from their food doesn’t make a cat healthier. Instead, veterinarians suggest encouraging your cat to get more exercise.

One benefit, however, of the higher fiber levels in indoor foods is they help move things through the digestive tract more easily. This can be helpful if your cat is prone to hairballs as the fiber will help clear the hair from the digestive tract.

NomNom Grey Cat Bowl white cat eating

Feeding your cat a high-quality diet is important for keeping them healthy and happy. But it goes beyond the food you choose; the dishes they use also matter. The Hepper NomNom Cat Bowl is our favorite for its unique, five-star design that protects from whisker fatigue and promotes good posture which also aids in better digestion. As an added bonus, it’s beautifully crafted and offers a modern take on the traditional cat bowl that fits seamlessly with all home stylings. Learn more about the NomNom by clicking here.

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What Types of Indoor Foods Are Available?

Indoor formula cat food comes in many different varieties from canned, to freeze-dried, to raw, to dry kibble. The one that is best for your cat is the one they will eat! Cats can be choosy eaters, just like humans. You should also discuss your options with your veterinarian to determine your cat’s specific nutritional needs.

  • Lower in calories
  • Some high-protein options are available
  • Come in a wide variety of types
  • Can help with hairball control
  • Might be a good choice for a very sedentary cat due to lower calorie counts
  • Some brands replace protein with filler ingredients
  • Can create a protein deficit in your cat’s diet if they’re active

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Overview of Outdoor Cat Food

Cat eating from a bowl
Image Credit: meineresterampe, Pixabay

The only real difference between indoor cat food and outdoor cat food is the calorie count. Most cat foods designated as outdoor cat foods are just regular cat food without calorie cutbacks.

Is Outdoor Cat Food Healthy?

Outdoor, or regular, cat food is healthy if it has high-quality ingredients. Just like with indoor formulas, you should look for food that lists real meat as the first ingredient. The best way to find food that is healthy for your cat is to look at the ingredient list. If you notice many fillers and additives, it’s not a good choice for your cat.

If you find a food your cat enjoys and it has minimal ingredients, you’re probably off to a great start. If you have a very active indoor cat or one that doesn’t have a problem with hairballs, you don’t need to feed them an indoor cat formula.

One other key component to remember is that indoor cats, regardless of the type of food they eat, are often healthier and live longer than outdoor cats. Keeping your cat indoors protects them from parasites, predators, and accidents. There are plenty of ways to keep your cat active indoors, too, so you don’t have to worry about them gaining unhealthy excess weight.

What Types of Outdoor Foods Are Available?

eat eating outdoors
Image Credit: MaraZe, Shutterstock

Like indoor formulas, outdoor foods are available in wet, raw, freeze-dried, and kibble styles.

  • Higher in protein than indoor formulas
  • Great for active cats
  • Available in many types for all cat palettes
  • Higher in calories and can cause weight gain in inactive cats
  • Many brands use unhealthy fillers and preservatives

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When to Feed Your Cat Indoor Food When to Feed Your Cat Outdoor Food
If they are sedentary Your cat is very active
Your cat has frequent hairballs Your cat is young and still growing
Your vet recommends weight loss for your cat Your vet recommends a high-protein food
Your cat prefers an indoor food Your cat spends time outdoors

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Next time you shop for cat food, you don’t have to stress about the many different options on the shelves. The best food for your cat is one that contains high-quality ingredients and suits their caloric needs. The biggest difference between indoor and outdoor cat food is the calorie content and the additional hairball control indoor foods offer. If you’re still uncertain about what your cat needs, ask your veterinarian for guidance.

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Featured Image Credit: Capri23auto, Pixabay, Seattle Cat Photo, Shutterstock