What is the Best Food for Feeding Feral Cats?

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Every cat deserves a healthy and nutritious diet. Unfortunately, feral cats don’t have access to the same food resources that house cats have, which means that their diet is often less than perfect.

Just because a cat is feral doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still depend on humans for help. If you are the caregiver of a feral cat colony, you know how important your work is. Each and every day you provide food and care for cats who might otherwise have nothing. As noble as your calling is, you still have to be practical about it.

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Caring for one cat can be expensive, let alone a whole colony. So, how do you provide your colony with healthy food without breaking the bank?

Keep reading to learn the basics about feeding a feral cat colony and choosing the best cat food that provides the right balance of quality and price.

Understanding the Nutritional Needs of Feral Cats

All cats have the same nutritional needs whether they live on the streets or in a cushy condo.

Cats are obligate carnivores, which means that their bodies are designed to derive nutrition more efficiently from animal than from plant sources.

What does this mean? All cats need meat in their diet! Protein is the most important nutrient for a cat and should make up at least 26% of its diet (30% for kittens). That protein should come from quality animal sources like meat, poultry, fish, and eggs.

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In addition to protein, cats need healthy fats in their diet for energy and for skin and coat support. Again, this nutrient is best from animal sources, and it should comprise at least 9% of a cat’s diet.

Having a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is particularly important for healthy skin and coat.

But what about the needs of feral cats?

Feral cats have the same basic nutritional needs as house cats, but there are some practical considerations to be made.

Protein is essential for all cats to maintain lean muscle mass, but feral cats tend to need extra fat in their diet to provide calories.

When every meal is a struggle, it is important to maximize the calorie and nutrition content of each meal. Balanced nutrition is also important for feral cats because they often feed on scraps between meals, which may not provide essential nutrients.

Also Read: Best Cat Food

How to Balance Quality and Price

People who care for feral cats often think of the cats as their own, even if they aren’t. Just because a feral cat doesn’t live in your home doesn’t make it any less deserving of your attention – or of a healthy and well-balanced meal. But how do you balance the cost of caring for an entire colony of cats, while still providing quality nutrition?

Shopping for cat food to feed a feral cat colony can be a challenge because there are many factors to consider.

First and foremost, you want to choose a product that contains high-quality ingredients and is nutritionally balanced.

This means finding a product that lists a quality animal protein as the first ingredient, and contains other sources of healthy nutrition such as supplemental proteins, animal-based fats (like chicken fat and salmon oil), vitamin and minerals, and other beneficial supplements.

To find a cat food that provides decent nutrition at an affordable price point, stick with simple recipes made with nutritious but affordable ingredients.

Chicken is one of the most affordable proteins for cat food. For the sake of price, you may need to choose a cat food that contains grains, though it is best to stick with digestible options like brown rice and oatmeal.

Make sure the recipe is complete and balanced in terms of nutrition, but you might need to forgo pricey supplements like chelated minerals and probiotics. It’s all about balance – choose the highest quality product you can consistently afford.

Another way to maximize your quality-to-price ratio is to buy in bulk. Online pet food retailers like Chewy, offer competitive prices with additional savings for automatic shipments. You can also find decent quality cat food in bulk at big box stores like Costco and Sam’s Club. You may also be able to find quality cat food brands for less at stores like Tractor Supply Co.

The Top 5 Cat Foods to Feed Feral Cats

The best food for feral cats is one that is nutritionally balanced but still affordable. Animal-based proteins and healthy fats should be a priority, and the recipe should be highly digestible as well, to ensure that the cats absorb as much nutrition as possible. Beneficial supplements like chelated minerals and probiotics are a bonus, but if you’re shopping by price, you may need to set them aside.

Here are five excellent cat food options, that offer an ideal combination of quality and price:

#1 Kirkland Signature Maintenance Cat Chicken & Rice Formula

EVAXO Kirkland Signature Chicken and Rice Cat Food

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Though you’ll need a Costco membership to buy it, this Kirkland Signature Maintenance Cat Chicken & Rice Formula is an affordable option that comes in a 25-pound bag. This recipe contains real chicken as the main ingredient, for a total of 30% protein and 20% fat. It contains digestible whole grains and is supplemented with vitamins. A 25-pound bag costs $19.99.

#2 Rachael Ray Nutrish Natural Dry Cat Food

Rachael Ray Nutrish Natural Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe Dry Cat Food

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Available through both Chewy and Amazon, Rachael Ray Nutrish Natural Dry Cat Food offers decent quality at an affordable price point. In addition to this natural recipe, Rachael Ray also offers grain-free formula, peak performance recipes, and specialty diets for longevity and indoor health. Each recipe is made with real animal protein and digestible carbohydrates, plus it is free from corn, wheat, soy, by-products, and fillers. A 14-pound bag runs about $18.99 on Chewy.

#3 Diamond Naturals Activate Cat Chicken Meal & Rice Formula

diamond naturals cat food

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If you’re looking for a natural cat food that will provide the protein and energy feral cats need, try this Diamond Naturals Activate Cat Chicken Meal & Rice Formula. This recipe is made with real chicken as the main ingredient and contains fresh fruits and vegetables for nutritional support. It is free from by-products and artificial additives but does contain beneficial vitamin and mineral supplements. Plus, it contains a whopping 40% protein and 20% fat. An 18-pound bag costs around $25.99.

#4 SportMix Wholesomes Chicken Meal & Rice Formula

SportMix Wholesomes Chicken Meal & Rice Formula

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This product is available on Chewy, and it is formulated for both adult cats and kittens, which could be a benefit for feral cat colonies. It features high-quality chicken meal as the main ingredient with no by-products or artificial additives, plus it contains vitamin and chelated mineral supplements for nutritional balance, but still manages to stay affordable. Overall, it provides 32% protein and 14% fat. A 15-pound bag costs around $16.99.

Caring for a colony of feral cats is no easy task, especially during the winter. By finding the right balance between quality and price, you can provide your colony with a nutritious diet that will sustain them through the cold months, without breaking your budget. Keep up the good work!

#5 4Health All Life Stages Dry Cat Food

4health cat food

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If you’re looking for a decent quality cat food you can buy in bulk, try 4Health All Life Stages from Tractor Supply Co. This particular recipe contains animal proteins like chicken, salmon, and eggs with fruits and vegetables for nutritional support. It provides 34% protein and 18% fat, plus it’s supplemented with vitamins, chelated minerals, and probiotics, but manages to be affordable. You can buy an 18-pound bag for around $21.99.

About the author:

Kate Barrington holds a Bachelor’s degree in English and is the published author of several self-help books and nutrition guides. Also an avid dog lover and adoring owner of three cats, Kate’s love for animals has led her to a successful career as a freelance writer specializing in pet care and nutrition. Kate holds a certificate in fitness nutrition and enjoys writing about health and wellness trends — she also enjoys crafting original recipes. In addition to her work as a ghostwriter and author, Kate is also a blogger for a number of organic and natural food companies as well as a columnist for several pet magazines.

48 thoughts on “What is the Best Food for Feeding Feral Cats?

    1. AvatarZelda

      Lol! Totally hilarious that some wackos on this site are actually accusing those of us who feed ferals high quality dry food with plenty of fresh water of animal abuse.🙄🙄🙄

    2. AvatarL.

      Although the Kirkland cat is a good deal …
      “Be carful “- I have found pieces of glass, wood and a penny in my food bag. I did notice Kirkland about this.
      For me—I’ll “never” buy that food again!

  1. AvatarJohn M. Schiavone

    Dear Ms. Barrington,
    I must disagree with some of the information in this article. As you state, cat are obligatory carnivores and lack certain enzymes needed to process carbohydrates. A healthy cat should ingest less than 10% of its calories from carbohydrates, with protein accounting for 50% of its calories (not the 26% you cite) and fat accounting for about 40% of its calories.

    You also do not mention that cats get 90% of their water from their food, and that dry food contributes to dehydration. Although feeding ferals wet food is more expensive and problematical when the temperature is below freezing. Even so, my ferals get Triumph wet food, it has slightly higher fat content which as you state is good for an outdoor cat. When they must get dry food, I use Wysong Epigen (not Epigen 90) which is 60% protien and less than 15% carbohydrates although it is low in fat. It is however about 3 times the cost of other dry foods you list. But I find that a healthier diet means healthier colony so less vet bills.

    The numbers I cite come from articles various veterinary journals. Some of which were authored by Dr. Jacquie Rand of the University of Queensland School of Veterinary Science and an expert in feline diabetes.

    Would you consider sharing where you obtained the information in you article because if there is new research I would love to know as I am always looking to improve the health of my cats, indoors (I have 5) and outdoors.

    Thank you for your time and I appreciate your efforts ot help others learn about cat nutrition.

  2. AvatarDonna Simms

    Dear Ms. Barrington,
    As a “Kitty Rescuer” I Feed and TNR (Trap, Neuter, & Return) Feral Cats. I appreciated your article, “What is the Best Food for Feeding Feral Cats?” and I feed Costco/Kirkland Dry Food. I’d like to inform/correct you, that you listed the “Online” Price for 25 lb. Bag – of $29.99, however, the SAME BAG can be purchased AT Costco Stores for ONLY $19.99!
    You might wish to inform your readers of this.
    Thank You!

  3. AvatarKathleen O'Malley

    These are all good options as far as dry food, but unfortunately, dry food is by definition high in carbohydrates and water-depleted, neither of which is ideal for cats. Wet food does the best job of mimicking cats’ natural prey and therefore provides the best nutrition. We’d love to see an article about choosing the best affordable wet food for community cats — brands that contain about 70% water (like the body of a mouse) and with animal protein making up the largest percentage of calories, followed by fat, and with carbs making up 10% or less of calories. Dry food is great for supplemental feeding, especially in freezing temperatures, but we encourage community cat caretakers to include wet food in their colonies’ diets.

    1. AvatarJan

      Thank you so much for advocating for wet food for all cats, and pointing out the dangers of dry feeding. Ferals are as deserving, if not more so, of being given food that is not going to harm them. Even with a water source, indoor cats will sooner than later have significant serious health issues fed dry, because no amount of water drinking makes up for the dehydration. Plus, the nutritional content of dry is abysmal. For ferals, with little access to water, giving dry food is abuse.

  4. AvatarC Borcsik

    I HOPE if the author has house cats she is not feeding them this stuff that she is recommending for ferals! NO cat should have to eat dry food but I understand if that has to be resorted to to feed ferals since they are outside. All commercial cat food is pretty much crap, since the idea behind it is profit for the manufacturer and not the good health of your cat. I have never fed dry food to my cats but I intend now to go over towards feeding them a homemade diet which actually works out to be cheaper and of course better because then you give them only good ingredients that they need and not extra filler crap.
    I do not have feral cats, I have more than my fair share of house cats, but I think I would do a homemade diet for ferals also, because you make up a batch of it and freeze it in portions, and I think it could be used as a high quality supplement to dry food for ferals.

    1. AvatarLina

      Be careful with your homemade recipe and make sure that you are providing proper nutrients. Many people think homemade is better, but they don’t research nutritional needs for cats. They need taurine to survive. A good place to find out information on nutritional needs is https://catinfo.org

    2. AvatarMaurice Hogue

      Commercial cat foods have been researched for years and years to make sure they contain all the nutrients a cat needs for good health. Having said that, I feed ferals a mixed diet of dry and canned. That way they get the needed nutrients along with a healthy supply of water from the canned. More than one of my cats that I’ve had lifelong have lived on a sole diet of dry cat food and lived long, healthy lives. So have my dogs. In all my years of owning dogs and cats, I’ve only had one dog that died an early death due to diabetes and a stroke and she was a poorly bred puppy mill dog. All of my cats have lived to at least 15 years of age, and most longer than that. Most of them have never been sick at all until the very end of life, so I think their dry food diet has served them well.

    3. AvatarAngie

      This is unrealistic. I feed 4 different colonies of cats, each colony has at least 8 cats and I pay for it out of my own pocket, plus I have 3 dogs at home. How do you think I can afford to make food for each colony? Money does not grow on trees.

      1. AvatarL.Dobson

        Well, I think what they are saying here is that if you’re going to do something do it to the best of your ability. That’s not a direct attack on you as your hands are full and we can appreciate that. But, at the end of the day these babies need what they need and if it’s too much for your pocket you can CHOOSE NOT to do or just do what you can. That simple!

  5. AvatarBonny

    I am feeding a feral cat who lives on my porch. Unfortunately he got used to the quality wet foods my indoor cat eats, like Fussie Cat and Health Extensions. Now, for some reason, he eats nothing but still comes to the door to complain. I open can after can for him, and it is costing me dollars a day. I wish he’d go back to dry foods. I don’t know what to give him any more and I know he is unhappy.

  6. AvatarJohn

    Unfortunately if you feed many colonies, and tens of cats every day, the prices of the recommended dry food, except Costco, is to high. Other brands make the dru food with a lit if grain which cats don’t have and enzyme to digest it, and over time get sick. Why is the FDA letting produce trash like this? Also, to make the cats easier to eat, I mix dry food with can food.

  7. AvatarChristine Patalano

    I feed 22 feral cats. I buy 35 lb. Bags of special kitty dry food at Walmart. They love it. It cost 14.95 for 35 lbs.

    1. AvatarStacey

      You can’t go by how much they love it. Manufacturers spray flavoring on food that other wise doesn’t taste like much to make it palitable to our pets. People love the taste of McDonalds too but shouldn’t eat it everyday. The first two ingredients are corn. And it has a low quality meat source. What is the percent of protein? It’s not listed on the item info page on Walmart’s website.

    2. AvatarCarol

      Christine… I just wrote about that same food. And I could not think of the word but that food caused one of my ferals to not be able to pee. I read online that the WalMart food causes male cats’ penises to become calcified. It cost me $950 for a feral cat and that was cheapest surgery I could find. Other vets wanted thousands.

  8. AvatarCarol

    Hi, I do not “own” a cat but daily feed 13. Funny considering most are black. 13 and black and I wonder my bad luck? JUST KIDDING. I learned the hard way about cheap food. I was feeding WalMart brand for cost factor and spent $950 for a male cat with a c penis. He was rewired and now pees like a girl.
    Anyway… I tried raw and too much work and worried about balance. I read that you can supplement a cheaper dry food with a freshly ground, raw, chuck steak. I have also started on daily diatamaetious earth (human grade) to deworm them all. My question, before I get my calculator out, might anyone know how much D.E. per pound of dry food? And raw pumpkin seeds ground up too. But that is going into the beef.

    1. AvatarStacey Barton

      Per scientific studies – DE has not been proven to be an effective dewormer. It works to kill fleas for example, by getting into the exoskeleton of a parasite and causing dehydration. A lot of the DE must get on the insect for this to happen. When the DE is wet, it looses it’s effectiveness. In addition, when ingested it is highly unlikely enough would make it through the intestines to attached to the microscopic larvae. And if you did feed enough, you would potentially cause irritation/lesions to the cat’s digestive tract.

    2. AvatarRadar

      All of this information somehow dismissed the fact that nature is much more intelligent and cats themselves are guided to by it to appropriate nutrition they need. Feral cats hunt. So no we dont need to think them helpless . I feed ferals who visit my property but i also trust they can hunt and provide what they need for themselves as they are built to do. Humans have the arrogance to think if dont interfer other animals are ‘abandoned’ , what a silly way to project inner abnadonment issues on other animals who absolutely know what they are doing. They are intelligent sentient beings too who are connected to mother nature and other animals much better than we do. I say feed them what you can. Also trust they are fine. They will be provided for since they can hunt. If a cat is old cannot hunt or injured its another issue. You cannot assume they are all helpless. That does not make sense. We need to learn to trust the way nature functions.

  9. AvatarLesleigh Walsh

    I too feed a feral cat colony, wet & dry , plenty of water , I have 3 generations, even TNR , although it’s said not supposed to be, some renegade cats slip in . I swear by diatomaceous earth , also sprinkle it where my cats gather as well as on coats of the ferals that allow me to , kills fleas & ticks on coat as well as internal parasites when ingested, be sure to provide plenty fresh h2o , always mix throughly with moist food , never feed D.E to any animal dry

    1. AvatarL. Dobson

      Wow! Awesome! Hell, I’ve been swearing by D.E. also for pest control but now I have a new use for it! Great! I. Just starting out as a care giver to free roamers my one house baby was once a free roamer as well! We ha e cared for her for little over 10 yrs now! Thank you all for such wonderful information. Unfortunately, I’m disabled so financially strapped but doing what I can with what I have! Thanks to everyone!


  10. AvatarNicole Tolmie

    This is so helpful! I’ve helped to feed feral cats in the past and always wondered about the best food to get for the price. Thanks for going into their nutritional needs too, makes perfect sense!

  11. AvatarWendi

    Can you mix the dry with wet? If so, what wet food? I don’t have a lot of money so less expensive would be better. Also, what type of housing do you have for your feral’s? I live in Wisconsin so the winters are brutal.

  12. AvatarMelody Carnell

    It would be really nice if someone, who knows all the facts and nutritional requirements hands down, trustworthy ya know, reputable…could put together a few “how to” and step by step recipes for making raw for specifically for outdoor cats. Maybe it’s the same recipe for indoor but I thought maybe they could figure out if there’s additional things you could add to it that would help outdoor ferals AND most importantly how to make a recipe in large batches, the healthiest you can make but save a lot of money. I would love to feed my ferals raw food but think in that quantity it would really break me. Any ideas anyone? Thanks!

    1. AvatarAll About Cats Post author

      Hi Melody,

      This is a great idea.

      We’ll get to work on creating a recipe book for this.


  13. AvatarRoss & lori l Bryant

    We love on a hotel and there are at least ,,4 or 5 strays we feed. They are also our resident bug catchers. Is a dry cat food called kit and kibble ok for them?

    1. AvatarZelda

      Hello Ross and Lori,
      I think you’re referring to “Kit and Kaboodle.” If you are, in my opinion, it’s a really low quality food with very problematical ingredients. Hope you’re able to find something better that’s still affordable for your.
      Thank you so much for taking care of the strays❤️

    2. AvatarStacey Barton

      Kit & Kaboodle is one the lowest quality foods you can buy and it’s unfortunate it’s allowed to be sold at all 🙁 A ton of by products, fillers, coloring, low quality protein source, etc. Even Purina Cat Chow is a step up if you can afford it.

  14. AvatarNelly

    Good info. True i feed my ferals cause i real y care, it does get expensive. Love to know what can i add to the food to make it more nutritional. They live outside and i know they need supplements but dont know do give. I mix dry and wet. Some are picky! I do a can of friskies with a little bit of kibble meao mix.

  15. AvatarNelly

    Ok, i wanted to ask something. A new stray showed Up today, very skinny and friendly. Looks very hungry but just nibbled a bit. Gave it some warm chicken, only took one little piece. Then tuna, nothing, then Warmed Up some shredded can food…nothing. She sounds congested, but i really cant afford taking her to a vet. 😔

    1. AvatarAmanda

      She has a URI and once cats cannot smell they will not eat she will end up starving herself she needs a humidifier, antibiotic and lysine

  16. AvatarC McC

    I feed ferals and have for years, in western NY. I have a heated water dish and bought a two-dish heated unit with rmovable stainless bowls and I put canned food in there in winter and it stays thawed enough on the bottom to be able to eaten if it’s not 0 degrees out. I also leave dry food out. The rest of the year I put a plate of canned out with a bowl of dry and water and that’s what they get. I also mix brands of dry food in a bin so there’s not just one source. I rotate things. I use a less expensive (but good quality dry) mixed with a high quality (more expensive) dry. Sometimes three or four different dry foods mixed. Canned I buy several varieties and each meal includes at least two or three different foods. Summer is problematic with wet food as flies lay eggs in it if it’s not eaten quickly and it goes to waste.

    Someone mentioned raw food. I feed my indoor and occasionally the outdoor cats a mix of canned and raw. TC Feline (google) is a good place to start, as a mix with raw boneless chicken, using a food processor, if you dn’t want to be grinding bones and meat and adding the vitamins, minerals and taurine, etc. yourself.

    1. AvatarBonnie Swanson

      Am happy to have found your comment I too have feral colony and always wondered how well the heated dishes hold up. Would you mind telling me which brand you use? Winter is brutal as you know.
      Also, I feed several brands of dry, less expensive.
      Which of the more expensive dry foods do you use?
      And besides Friskies, what other canned foods do you suggest?
      Appreciate your time and help,

  17. AvatarElaine

    Someone dumped 3 cats. Mommy and 2 kittens. I make my own chicken broth every Sunday. Can I take a dry food and mix the chicken broth to make a consistency like can food and I give them the skin

  18. AvatarSally

    I feed my feral, Dumbledore, mostly wet (PetGuard brand) daily, with some blue buffalo dry every few days. I often add some PetGuard yeast & garlic powder to the wet ( it has vitamins, minerals, etc). I’ll throw in some fish or meat scraps when I have them. Sometimes I think he eats better than my once feral kittens, now very comfortable house cats, Hansel & Gretel!

  19. AvatarIra Karet

    Enjoyed reading your article. i learned a lot about how to feed my feral cats. Thank you for sharing your expertise.

  20. AvatarBob Schmitt

    Our kitty community has flourished on Friskies cans and dry for a long time (5+). Being a purist for my in house cats I wouldn’t make it their diet, but the “proof is in the pudding”. These fur babies look good and seem quite fit.


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