Best Cat Food for Outdoor Cats

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The best cat food for outdoor cats is picking a meal matching your cats’ dietary needs and budget. It is possible to spend hundreds of dollars on outdoor cat food. But spending your money wisely is challenging when working on a budget (as most cat parents shopping for food for outdoor cats are).

Regardless of your spending, the best cat food for strays and ferals should be high in protein and fats and less in fillers.

In my 10 years of cat parenting, I have tried many cat food for outdoor cats. And I know what’s worth spending the money on in cat food and where to make a compromise. Even if you are not on a budget, you want to know your money is being spent wisely. 

And one cat food that strikes the right balance between quality and value for money is the Cat Chow Complete Dry Cat Food. I’ve seen many outdoor cats rejecting some cat foods, but I have never seen one refusing this one.

But since every cat parent has a different budget for strays, I’ve examined other alternatives you should expect at any given price point.

And now, it’s time to share what I found out.

The Best Cat Food For Outdoor Cats Overview

Product NameRatingsProduct Form Lifestage5 Main Ingredients
1. Cat Chow Complete Dry Cat Food
The Best Overall

Dry Cat Food

Chicken By-Product MealGround Yellow CornCorn Gluten MealWhole Grain WheatRice

2. Friskies Surfin’ & Turfin’ Favorites Dry Cat Food

The Best Budget

Dry Cat Food

Ground Yellow CornChicken By-Product MealSoybean Meal Corn Gluten MealBeef Fat Preserved With Mixed-Tocopherols
3. Purina Cat Chow Naturals Original with Added Vitamins, Minerals & Nutrients Dry Cat Food

Best for All Lifestages

Dry Cat Food

ChickenCorn Gluten MealChicken By-product MealRiceSoybean Meal
4. Purina Cat Chow Naturals Original with Added Vitamins, Minerals & Nutrients Dry Cat Food

The Most Popular Among Cat Parent

Dry Cat Food

ChickenRice FlourCorn Gluten MealChicken By-Product Meal (Source Of Glucosamine)Beef Fat Naturally Preserved With Mixed-Tocopherols

5. Meow Mix Original Choice Dry Cat Food

The Best Bargain

Dry Cat Food

Whole Ground CornSoybean MealChicken By-product MealCorn Gluten MealBeef Tallow (preserved With Mixed Tocopherols)

The 5 Best Cat Food for Outdoor Cats

1. Cat Chow Complete Dry Cat Food: The Best Overall

Main ingredients:Chicken By-Product Meal, Ground Yellow Corn, Corn Gluten Meal, Whole Grain Wheat, Rice
Crude Protein32.0% min
Crude Fat12.0% min
Calories405 kcal/cup
Crude fiber3.0% max
Moisture content12.0% max

Cat Chow Complete Dry Cat Food’s primary ingredient is real farm-raised chicken. The ingredient is an excellent protein source that helps cats maintain healthy body weight while delivering the energy necessary for outdoor activities.

Why it ranks 1st: Besides excellent nutrient proportions that fit the activity levels of an outdoor cat, Cat Chow Complete provides 25 essential vitamins and mineral salt at a reasonable price. Expect your cat to get all vitamins and minerals necessary for overall health.

The recipe also supplies omega-6 fatty acids that promote skin and coat health, improve inflammatory response, and boost immune functions. While cats don’t require carbohydrates in their diets, small amounts in this formula provide extra energy to power the activities of your stray kitties.

The only problem?

Cat Chow Complete Dry Cat Food contains artificial colors that might trigger allergic reactions in cats with sensitive digestive systems.


  • Chicken’s primary ingredient improves the taste and palatability of the food.
  • Beef fat instead of plant-derived oils makes the recipe more biologically appropriate for your outdoor cat.
  • Slightly higher carbohydrate content provides extra energy to sustain your cat’s outdoor activities.
  • Chicory root content provides fiber for a healthy gut
  • Live probiotics improve digestive health, support the immune, and reduce gastrointestinal issues.


  • Contain allergens that can trigger adverse reactions

2. Friskies Surfin’ & Turfin’ Favorites Dry Cat Food: The Best Budget Food For Outdoor Cats

Main ingredients:Ground Yellow Corn, Chicken By-Product Meal, Soybean Meal, Corn Gluten Meal, Beef Fat Preserved With Mixed-Tocopherols
Crude Protein30.0% min
Crude Fat11.0% min
Calories392 kcal/cup
Crude fiber3.0% max
Moisture content12.0% max

Give your feline friend a delectable flavor combination with Friskies Surfin’ & Turfin’ Favorites Dry Cat Food. The recipe combines naturally appealing cat flavors like chicken, ocean whitefish, filet mignon, salmon, and liver. You’re almost sure that the aroma will entice your outdoor cat.

Why it ranks 2nd: While most cats will reject new types of food, your outdoor kitty will likely try Friskies Surfin’ & Turfin’ Favorites Dry Cat Food. The assortment of flavors the manufacturer uses in this food formula will tempt your cat’s taste buds without costing much. The nutritional value of this recipe doesn’t match our top recommendation, but its taste can make your cat’s wildest food dream come true.

Taste isn’t all your outdoor cat will get. The Friskies Surfin’ & Turfin’ Favorites Dry Cat Food is protein-dense and will support your cat’s lean muscle development with every crunchy bite. As if that isn’t enough, the formula contains antioxidants to boost your kitty’s immune system and essential vitamins and mineral salts for overall well-being.

However, almost all meat ingredients in Friskies Surfin’ & Turfin’ Favorites Dry Cat Food are vaguely named by-products. The product is mainly plant-based, which might not be biologically perfect for your cat.


  • Affordable, excellent for cat parents on a budget but feeding a colony of outdoor cats
  • Almost all cats accept the flavor of this formula
  • Loads of antioxidant supports a healthy immune system, skin, and coat
  • Essential vitamins and minerals ensure overall well-being
  • Crunchy texture can help clean your cat’s teeth


  • Has artificial color that may compromise its quality

3. Purina Cat Chow Naturals Original with Added Vitamins, Minerals & Nutrients Dry Cat Food: Best for All Lifestages

Main ingredients:Chicken, Corn Gluten Meal, Chicken By-product Meal, Rice, Soybean Meal
Crude Protein34.0% min
Crude Fat13.0% min
Calories398 kcal/cup
Crude fiber3.0% max
Moisture content12.0% max

The difference between Purina Cat Chow Naturals and the first two products is the lack of artificial colors. The second huge difference is the main ingredient.

Why it ranks 3rd: Purina Cat Chow Naturals features chicken as its first ingredient instead of using plant-based by-products. Chicken is a more bioavailable and digestible protein source for cats. However, the chicken in the recipe is moisture-rich, making it the top ingredient. In reality, the dry chicken mass doesn’t make a significant difference in the diet.

However, the recipe is high in protein to provide energy for intense outdoor activities, maintain and grow muscles, and support overall well-being. Besides proteins, your cat will get omega-6 fatty acids to keep healthy skin and coat.

But a closer look at the ingredient list shows that grain-based ingredients take the most room in the formula, increasing the carbohydrate content. While this cat food earns some points with its lack of artificial colors, the high-carb and plant-based content fails to deliver the moisture an outdoor cat needs.


  • Provide animal-based fat that’s more biologically appropriate for cats
  • Lack of artificial coloring, making it safer for outdoor cats
  • Loaded with 25 essential vitamins and mineral salts to support your cat’s overall health
  • Offers omega-6 fatty acids to promote skin and coat health
  • Real-chicken ingredient improves the food’s palatability


  • High carbohydrates may be difficult for cats with a sensitive stomachs to process

4. Purina ONE Tender Selects Blend with Real Chicken Dry Cat Food: The Most Popular Option Among Cat Parents

Main ingredients:Chicken, Rice Flour, Corn Gluten Meal, Chicken By-Product Meal (Source Of Glucosamine), Beef Fat Naturally Preserved With Mixed-Tocopherols
Crude Protein34.0% min
Crude Fat15.0% min
Calories366 kcal/cup
Crude fiber2.0% max
Moisture content12.0% max

Purina ONE Tender Selects is the most popular food blend for outdoor cats. The recipe has Chicken as the primary protein source. With a minimum of 34% crude protein, 13% crude fat, and 2% fiber, expect the formula to fit an outdoor cat’s nutrient needs.

Why it ranks 4th: While chicken is the top ingredient for Purina ONE Tender Selects, content like rice flour, corn gluten meal, and others are controversial. In fact, carbohydrates collectively make up the largest portion of this formula, which experts advise against.

However, at a starting point of $25.78, your strays get tasty cat food with 25 essential vitamins and minerals to support their overall health. Expect to supply your kitty with omega-6 fatty acids to enhance the skin and coat health. The best part is that the recipe is suitable for all life stages of a cat.

While Purina ONE Tender Selects is marketed as a natural, some experts raise concerns about carbohydrate-heavy plant ingredients. The low-animal-protein, low-fat, high-carb content makes it less appropriate than our top recommendation.


  • Well-balanced proportions of crude protein and fat
  • Beef fat makes the food more biologically appropriate for cats
  • The chicken taste is enticing, and cats don’t have problems eating the food


  • While most cats love the taste, and many people report that their kitties thrive on Purina ONE Tender Selects, it isn’t a nutritionally excellent choice

5. Meow Mix Original Choice Dry Cat Food: The Best Bargain

Main ingredients:Whole Ground Corn, Soybean Meal, Chicken By-product Meal, Corn Gluten Meal, Beef Tallow (preserved With Mixed Tocopherols)
Crude Protein30.0% min
Crude Fat11.0% min
Calories310 kcal/cup
Crude fiber4.0% max
Moisture content12.0% max

If you’re on a tight budget and have several strays you want to feed, Meow Mix Original Choice Dry Cat Food might be an option. The product features a price cut compared to its competitor but comes with some quality compromises.

Why it ranks 5th: I’ve seen piles of Meow Mix Original Choice Dry Cat Food goes uneaten. The formula has limited nutritional value or substance. However, most outdoor cats are less picky and eat it when hungry. While you might choose Meow Mix Original Choice Dry Cat Food because of budget constraints, you should see it as a temporary option.

That said, corn gluten meal is the primary protein source for this recipe. The company doesn’t mention other protein sources but says, “delicious flavors of four meats.” It is safe to assume that the formula protein source differs from a natural cat’s fresh, raw prey diet.

While the protein sources for this food are controversial, its fat source is primarily beef tallow. The animal-base fat has an excellent amino acid profile that cats require to maintain muscle mass, boost the immune system, and ensure proper growth and development.


  • Animal-source fat plays a vital role in maintaining healthy heart function, vision, and reproductive health in cats.
  • Very affordable and suitable if you have several strays creeping around your yard and garden.
  • The kibbles might be delicious and enticing for outdoor cats, but you’ll have many leftovers.
  • While cats don’t need high carbs and calories in their food, the ingredients can provide needed energy to support the activities of outdoor cats.


  • The primary ingredients are plant-based, which is inappropriate for a cat’s diet.
  • High levels of carbohydrates might induce digestive problems 

Nutritional Needs For Outdoor Cats

If you’re like many new cat parents, it’s easy to wonder about the difference in nutritional needs of indoor and outdoor cats. 

However, an indoor and an outdoor cat has similar dietary requirements. The only difference is that outdoor cats are more active and will demand more calories than outdoor cats. 

Consequently, the best cat food for outdoor cats should have the right balance of macronutrients as follows:

Crude Proteins

The amount of proteins in cat food is critical for survival and well-being. Cats are obligate carnivores, and their diet should mainly consist of animal-based protein. 

In fact, felines are well adapted to diets low in carbs and high in protein and rely more on protein as an energy source than carbs. An outdoor cat has slightly higher protein needs than an indoor kitty.

According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), recommended minimum protein level for outdoor cat food is 26g/100g dry matter.

However, a kitten’s diet’s ideal amount of protein differs from a senior cat or a nursing cat.

  • Adult cats (9lbs and over) requires a minimum of 26-33g/100g dry matter (there is no known risk if your cat has dietary protein levels exceeding these minimum values).
  • Kittens require a minimum of 28g/100g dry matter to support their rapid growth.
  • Senior kitties need a minimum of 25-28g/100g to prevent weight and muscle loss. However, the protein quality should be high to prevent conditions like kidney disease.
  • Pregnant and nursing cats demand a minimum of 30g/100g dry matter to fuel the growth and nutrition of their offspring.


Cats need fat as an energy source because their digestive tract is poor at processing carbohydrates. Plus, fats are critical in maintaining healthy skin and coat, forming essential components, and absorbing Vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Studies also show that fats improve cat food palatability, which is helpful for fussy felines.

An outdoor cat expends more energy and may benefit from a slightly higher fat content in their diet to provide extra calories needed for their activity level.

Most experts agree that a cat’s diet should contain 20-40% fat. However, the fat demand can vary slightly, depending on the cat’s life stage.

  • Adult cats (9 lbs and over) diets should be 20-25% of the total caloric intake.
  • Kittens’ ideal fat content is 30-40% to sustain their higher energy need due to their rapid growth and development.
  • Senior kitties’ diet should be 20% fat to cater to the low activity levels and reduce the chances of weight gain.
  • Pregnant and nursing cats’ food needs a fat content range of 25-35% to provide energy and nutrients to support their maintenance and the growth and development of kittens.


Like humans, cats require essential vitamins and minerals to grow and develop. Vitamins help produce enzymes that help the body digest food and absorb energy.

Your outdoor cat’s vitamin needs are similar to any other cat. Some of the vitamins your cat needs include:

  • Vitamin A (Helps maintain healthy vision, skin, and bones)
  • Vitamins B (Essential for making red blood cells, maintaining a healthy nervous system, and producing antibodies that fight infections)
  • Vitamin C (Boost body’s immune and helps in the formation of collagen)
  • Vitamin D (Important for strong bones and teeth and regulate your cat’s immune system, muscle function, and nerve support)
  • Vitamin E (An antioxidant that is necessary for immune support)
  • Vitamin K (Your cat produces it in the intestine and doesn’t need it in a diet)


An outdoor cat demands more water than an indoor cat because of its increased activity and exposure to different weather conditions. Adequate hydration helps:

  • Maintain proper bodily functions
  • Regulate body temperature
  • Improve digestion
  • Eliminate waste products

Your outdoor cat should always have constant access to clean, fresh water. You can place multiple water bowls in different locations to prevent competition and ensure easy access.

Place the water bowl in a shaded area to prevent heating up because cats are more likely to drink at a comfortable temperature.

Higher Caloric Intake

Outdoor cats are more active than indoor cats due to activities such as:

  • Hunting
  • Exploring
  • Defending territory

The increased physical activity will demand high caloric intake to support energy expenditure.

Besides, outdoor cats are exposed to varying weather conditions, and their bodies need to work harder to maintain a stable body temperature. The thermal regulation process demands energy, especially during colder months when cats need to generate heat to keep warm.

Plus, staying outdoors for longer exposes a cat to more environmental factors, such as wing and cold, which induces energy loss. Your cat might need to burn more calories to maintain their temperature.

As a result, the best cat food for outdoor cats should cater to the increased energy needs with proper proportions of protein, fats, and essential nutrients.

When To Feed Outdoor Cats

Feeding a feral cat comes from compassion and concern for the cat’s well-being. There isn’t a specific time to feed the cats. 

However, feed the kitties at the same time every day to indulge their sense of habit. That way, you can monitor them and know their exact number.

Guide To Buying Cat Food For Outdoor Cats

Outdoor cats have unique needs that their diet should meet. However, when feeding many strays, budget becomes a limiting factor.

You need to crash the right balance between providing food and staying on budget. Here are some factors to consider when buying food for outdoor cats.

Food Cost 

Everyone has a budget to consider, no matter how much you want to help stray kitties. Some premium food quality can be pricier if you’re buying food to feed an entire colony.

That’s why many cat parents consider cheaper cat foods when feeding strays and ferals. 

However, your option should still include enough protein, fats, and essential vitamins and minerals.

Most of the above-recommended products strike the right balance of nutrition and affordability.

Alternatively, you can buy the product in bulk to help you save some extra money too. But you should choose long-lasting options, which begs the second consideration.

The Food Lifespan or Expiry Date

The food lifespan is critical when shopping for outdoor cats because exposure to outdoor elements accelerates how quickly they spoil. As a cat’s food ages and get exposed to an outdoor environment, its nutritional content might degrade, leading to a decrease in the quality and quantity of essential nutrients.

You can limit the degradation by choosing food with a longer shelf life. Food with a shorter lifespan can also be a breeding ground for bacteria, mold, and other contaminants that may cause digestive upset and compromise the health of the cats.

If a cat eats expired food, it can show the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhearing
  • Other gastrointestinal problems

Expired food may not smell or taste appealing, even for stray cats, leading to wasted food and hungry animals.

Moisture Content

Cats have a low thirst drive and rarely drink water. However, staying hydrated is critical to maintain overall health. If you can feed your cats food with adequate moisture content, you can help prevent dehydration and support their well-being. 

You’ve options for wet and dry foods. Wet food typically has much high moisture content of around 70-80%. A wet diet can provide the necessary hydration to stray cats that have not easy access to fresh water and reduce the risk of:

  • Dehydration
  • Urinary tract issues
  • Kidney problems

The problem, however, is that wet food is pricier, especially if you’re feeding a colony of feral cats. As a result, dry food with a water content of around 12% can be a better bargain. However, serve water to help hydration further.

Nutrient Suitability for An Outdoor Cat

Outdoor cats have slightly different nutritional needs than indoor cats because of increased physical activity and exposure to varying environmental conditions. 

Generally, outdoor cats require a protein-rich diet to help maintain muscle mass, energy levels, and overall virality. Look for cat food with a higher protein content — a minimum of 30%.

Besides, the food should have moderate to higher animal-fat content to support the cats’ energy needs and maintain body temperature. Ensure the formula has essential amino acids such as taurine, vitamins, and minerals for overall well-being.

Fiber content is also critical in supporting digestive health. Check for a formula with moderate fiber to aid digestion and prevent constipation. 


Do outdoor cats need special foods compared to indoor cats?

Outdoor and indoor cats have similar nutritional requirements. However, outdoor cats are more active and will demand more calories than indoor cats. A cat food specific to indoor cats has lower calories per cup than an outdoor cat requires.

Dry food vs. wet food for outdoor cats, which is better?

The huge difference between dry and wet food is water content. Wet food has a high moisture content, giving it many advantages over dry cat food, such as:

  • Better hydration
  • Superior urinary health
  • Better weight management

However, wet food can be costly when feeding a colony of stray cats.

What not to feed the outdoor cats?

Some foods can be harmful or even toxic when you give them to your cat. Some of the most common ones to avoid feeding outdoor cats include:

  • Chocolate
  • Onion and garlic
  • Grape and raisins
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Cooked bones
  • High-salt food
  • Artificial sweeteners 

What do wild cats eat?

Wild cats typically eat small birds, mice, squirrels, rabbits, insects, and larger animals like raccoons. Stray cats eat the same food type as wild cats do.

Will an outdoor cat starve if I stop feeding it?

No, an outdoor cat will unlikely starve if you stop feeding it. Instead, it will be forced to expand its food search.

What’s the difference between stray and feral cats?

The main difference is that stray cats are unowned, semi-owned, or were almost certainly owned at some point. Stray cats are typically approachable and friendly because they have had much human contact.

Ferals, conversely, are cats that have never lived with humans or been part of a household. These kitties won’t be friendly if you approach them because they have never been socialized and have adapted to living outdoors and surviving by themselves.

What cat food should I feed a stay cat?

Commercial cat food in pet stores is the safest way to feed stray cats. While you can feed stray cats wet food, dry kibbles are the least expensive and most convenient to store and distribute efficiently.

Best Cat Food For Outdoor Cats: Final Verdict

When shopping for the best cat food for outdoor cats, consider food with the right proportions of protein, fat, carbs, and added nutrient suitable for an outdoor cat.

I’ve used the above five cat foods for outdoor cats since 2012 for several stray cats in my neighborhood. I think you can’t go wrong with any. 

But if you had to make me pick ONE cat food for strays and ferals, I’d have to go with Cat Chow Complete Dry Cat Food. The food strikes the delicate balance between nutritional value and lower price.

About Laura Martin

I'm Laura Martin. I get excited about all things cat related. I love my two cats - Dom and Kitty. When I'm not playing with my two feline friends, you can probably find me hiking. And yes, I have a 9 to 5 job. Although if you asked me I'd rather spend my time blogging and educating other cat moms and dads about what it takes to raise a healthy cat.

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