I am studying on the Internet how to raise and take care of cats. It seems so every guide advises to give only cat food to cats as their nutritional requirements are very different to that of a human's.

But this defies all common sense to me because I have witnessed in the neighborhoods around me a stable street cat population. As far as I can see these cats eat food out of garbage, so it should be that they die out very fast yet I've seen adult street cats as well.

So, how do I reconcile the information and observation?

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    Welcome to pets.SE! Do you outrule that they hunt? Mice, rats and other rodents that live from garbage are great food for cats. Usually humans do not eat bones, fur and (all) inner organs of their meals. But cats need to to get sufficient nutrition. Eating prey in whole gives it, or getting cat food. Sep 19, 2022 at 18:07
  • I haven't observed any mouse or rat nearby but maybe there are
    – Babu
    Sep 19, 2022 at 18:09
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    If there is garbage accessible for cats, than you can nearly be sure the garbage attracts also mice :) Sep 19, 2022 at 18:10
  • Where I live there is NGO providing neutering and warm cat houses for the cats of the city. The aim is to have a stable territory for the cats, they should not overpopulate and (I am not sure about if it is intention) the cat houses I saw (wooden huts with curtain behind a hole and insulation, -20°C last winter)are placed near the garbage containers... Sep 19, 2022 at 18:13
  • There is remotely such thing where AFAIK yet cats are alive @Allerleirauh
    – Babu
    Sep 19, 2022 at 19:35

1 Answer 1


Short answer: Street cats have a stable population because they grow up quickly and can reproduce early in life (within their first year). That does not mean that street cats are healthy or live long lives - in fact, multiple studies have found that 75% of kittens born outdoors don't survive past 6 months.

Long answer:

Street cats usually find enough food not to starve, but usually the food they find is not healthy for them. In a natural environment they would hunt rodents, birds and other small animals, which provide them with all the nutrients they need to live a healthy life. But in an environment shaped by humans, cats prefer pilfering garbage containers because hunting rats poses the risk of injury to them.

What they mostly find in the garbage is starch-based food waste like stale bread, old rice, potatoes or pasta and probably also some meat-based food waste and fat or oil. This diet does provide enough calories to survive, but it lacks vital nutrients that are only found in the raw inner organs of fresh animals.

The result of such a diet is a high risk of malnutrition or illness. Young cats have a risk of not reaching their natural body height because of malnutrition. Periods of starvation followed by an overabundance of food greatly increases the risk of feline pancreatitis, a very painful and often deadly inflammation of the pancreas that is not visible but can kill many feral cats. When the cats get older they might not be able to defend their territory or food source due to joint pain, which is also a common result of malnutrition. And urinary tract infections or stones (commonly caused by consuming high grain content) can weaken street cats as well.

All that is to say: street cats have a shorter life than our pet cats. They have many risks to their lives and people in general don't care if they die young. What keeps populations stable is the fact that a cat can have kittens less than 1 year after her birth and many street cats survive at least 2 - 4 years (if they survive until adulthood).

  • Even with a species-appropriate food and shelter, outdoor cats will always have a shorter lifespan than indoor ones due to environmental hazards. Malnourished ones will of course have even shorter lives, but our barn cats (who were well fed and sheltered) rarely made it to or past ten years old.
    – Allison C
    Sep 20, 2022 at 13:59

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