What would a cat eat in the wild?

The best way to determine the proper nutrition for a domestic cat is to take a look at what cats normally eat in the wild.

a cat and a mouse
As you might know, mice are not the only food choice for cats living in the wild. Photo by Michael Himbeault, CC.

After all, this is what cats traditionally have consumed for tens of thousands of years before any commercial cat food appeared, and cats appear to have thrived on this “wild” diet.

In this article, you are going to learn what sort of animals cats eat out in nature, and what these habits tell us about the diet of domesticated cats.

A wild cat’s diet consists of…

The most common foods for wild cats are:

  • small rodents, such as mice, shrews, rats, and even rabbits or hares;
  • small birds, such as sparrows or robins;
  • insects and reptiles, such as spiders, grasshoppers, lizards, and snakes.

The last may seem somewhat insignificant at first glance, but cats can easily hunt large quantities of these insects and reptiles, and most of them provide nutrients not available elsewhere.

In addition, cats are also reported to feed on squirrels, weasels, bats, moles, and other animals, including those that are larger than the cat itself. However, this happens so infrequently that it does not grant us a general idea of what cats eat in the wild.

Please note that not all cats eat the same things, as the diet of a wild cat depends on a variety of factors, such as, prey availability, seasonal changes, skills and preferences of and individual cats, social structure in which cast live and even sex of a cat.

In general, however, cats prey on animals that are smaller than themselves and, in certain situations, some that are only slightly larger.

Cats rarely hunt animals that are significantly larger than themselves. Studies show that hunting success gradually decreases as the size of the prey increases. Seems only logical to us: larger animals are harder to tackle; larger animals tend to be more intelligent in avoiding cats; larger animals pose more danger to cats, leading them to retreat when their plan of attack does not work out.

Here are some additional things to note:

  • Wild cats do not eat plants of any kind. There are no grains (they were, in fact, domesticated to protect grain storage), no vegetables, no fruit and no salad in a wild cat’s diet. What does this mean for you? Your cat’s food should also contain no (or at least a minimal amount of) plant materials such as rice, corn, peas, potato and other plant-based substances. See a list of other properties of a good cat food here.
  • Cats consume the whole prey, including the muscle meat, organs, bones, skin and feathers. Therefore, as luxurious as it may sound, feeding a cat pure meat only may be as harmful as not providing any meat at all.

Here’s a task for you: go to the nearest pet store and take a look at the ingredients listed on the labels of various brands of cat food. How many of them contain grain? Why do you think this is, even though the diet of a wild cat includes no grain? Hint: Check our article “Why do they add grain to cat food