Top 10 Best Cat Foods [2017 Ultimate Buyer’s Guide]
Like humans, cats require good nutrition to stay healthy and avoid getting sick. But choosing a good diet isn’t always easy. You only need to make a quick trip to the pet store to see the problem:
Too. Many. Choices.
With all the different types and brands of cat food, how do you know which one is best for your feline companion?
To help make your purchasing decisions easier, we’ve compiled a list of the best cat food around. We’ve rated these products based on three key factors:
- Quality of ingredients
- Customer reviews
- Brand reputations
Based on our research, the best dry cat food brands cover a wide range of price, flavor, and nutrition profile.
Plus, cats love them. That’s sort of important, right?
Nulo Cat Food: The Cat’s Meow
So, what is the best cat food brand? Coming in at the top of our feline
food ratings is Nulo. This American-based, independently-owned dog and cat food company offers the best of what pet nutrition has to offer, including dry food and wet food.
Here are some of the brand highlights:
- It’s grain-free.
- It’s also free of synthetic ingredients, fillers, preservatives, and artificial flavors or chemicals.
- It offers a high concentration of healthy animal-based protein.
- Instead of rice and wheat, it contains carbohydrates like peas, chickpeas, and sweet potatoes, making it a great low carb dry cat food.
- It’s low on the glycemic index.
- Nulo has patented probiotics that help regulate your cat’s digestion and immune system.
- The company has pledged to work with family farmers and ranchers who use sustainable practices. They emphasize the use of free-range beef, chicken, and turkey, and wild caught fish.
- Nulo facilities (in Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota) are approved by the USDA, FDA, and AAFCO, undergo annual inspections, and consistently receive superior ratings.
(Wondering why grain-free, animal-based protein, low carb, low glycemic, and probiotics are important? Skip on down to the Definitive Guide section for more information.)
Nulo also offers the best cat food for indoor cats. Their Indoor Cat Duck & Cod recipe is specially formulated to help keep indoor felines lean, even though they get less physical activity compared to their outdoor counterparts.
Very Honorable Mentions: Five Other Good Cat Food Brands
In addition to Nulo, we found five other products in our research that met our criteria for best cat food brands. These are easy to find online and are sold in most major pet supply stores.
This company pledges to help your pet “get the most out of life.”
Their food is free of additives, preservatives, by-products, and fillers. Samples of their food are tested following a quality control protocol. They use a combination of fresh and frozen meat from suppliers who meet strict quality standards.
Potential drawbacks? Some customers have found that Wellness canned products appear to have less food in it than advertised. This could be explained by settling of the product, however. It’s also due to the fact they don’t use artificial gels, stabilizers, and emulsifiers. This means the consistency of their grain-free food will naturally vary.
The Fromm Family Pet Food company is a Wisconsin-based and family-run organization, now five generations in the making. Their founders maintain close regulations over the sourcing, production, and packaging of their pet food.
They use an outside lab to test all their products for bacteria, and employ strict quality assurance guidelines throughout every step of development.
None of their ingredients come from China or other Asian countries. Like the other top five cat food brands, Fromm products contain no artificial ingredients or preservatives, either.
They offer a variety of custom food blends, including dry kibble and canned pâtés.
“Biologically Appropriate” pet food is Orijen’s trademark promise. Their whole and natural ingredients are sourced from regions throughout North America.
Their unique pledge? “From farm to kitchen in 3 days. And from kitchen to food in 2.”
Based in Kentucky and Canada, they never outsource production to other companies or manufacturing facilities. This gives them the ability to carefully supervise and regulate their cat food products.
Their dry and wet cat foods, as well as freeze-dried treats, have won dozens of awards and are recognized for their quality and taste.
Castor & Pollux’s Organix brand was founded by pet owners who wanted to provide natural and organic food to
animals around the country. They consult with animal nutrition experts to develop wholesome and balanced food products for dogs and cats.
In addition to using high quality ingredients (and none of the bad), this company also gives back to the community.
To date, they’ve fed over 6 million meals to pets in shelters and foster homes. They also work with non-profit rescue organizations through their PetWorks Partner program to help at-risk animals receive healthy diets.
“Derived from nature, not chemistry.”
Nature’s Logic claim to fame is the first company to offer completely chemical-free dry, wet, and frozen cat food.
The US-based and family-owned company offers a range of animal proteins in their products for easy rotation to prevent allergies. These foods are easily digestible and full of natural antioxidants, enzymes, and probiotics.
Nature’s Logic food is highly nutrient dense. For many cat owners, this means they can feed their animals less, saving money over time.
Looking for other natural cat products? In addition to dry kibble and canned wet food, Nature’s Logic also offers a line of natural kitty litter, treats, and supplements.
Though this company is based in New Zealand, ZiwiPeak makes sure that its ingredients are sustainably derived from the highest quality sources. They naturally air-dry their products to increase the foods’ digestibility and nutritive quality.
Their proteins come from sources including meat, organ, raw bone, and regional-specific green-lipped mussels. More than 90% of their food are animal-based, making this as close as possible to a cat’s evolutionary diet. The rest of the cat food is supplemented with vitamin-rich, low glycemic carbohydrates including herbs and kelp.
Of over 200 pet foods, ZiwiPeak brand has come in first on independent pet nutrition research. They pledge to work with suppliers who maintain ethical and humane practices.
Are you an environmentally-conscious cat owner? Then you’ll like ZiwiPeak, since they also have a lower carbon footprint compared many North American and European competitors.
The Five Best Dry Food For Cats
Dry food is a convenient choice for most cat owners. The best dry cat foods should be nutritious, delicious, and affordable. Here are the five products we found:
Wellness CORE Natural Grain Free Dry Cat Food is intended for adult cats.
It contains five key indicators of healthy nutrition: essential vitamins and minerals; probiotics and prebiotics; fiber; fatty acids; and healthy proteins and carbohydrates.
Just take a look at the first two ingredients: de-boned chicken and turkey. Readable, real, and healthy, right off the bat.
It’s pricey, but comes in a big bag, so it lasts a long time for most cat owners.
- Premium animal proteins
- Safe for animals with health problems (like diabetes)
- Strong fishy smell
- Big heavy bag
Fromm’s FourStar CatFood Gamebird is a unique dry food option. In addition to duck and turkey, the product also offers quail and pheasant meat, which is tough to find in other brands.
Customers have noted that their cats’ skin and coats became shinier and fuller when they switched to this food. Some cat owners have even noticed that their pets shed less, which could be due to an increase in the health of skin and hair follicles.
You may notice that your cat’s digestion improves while eating this food, too.
It comes in a small 5 lb bag, for a single-cat family this can typically last around a month. A few customers have noted that the seal on the bag doesn’t close properly. For freshness, you may need to use a sturdy kitchen clip or something similar.
- Contains unique and novel animal protein (including quail and pheasant) to help reduce risk of allergy development
- Promotes shiny coat
- Regulates digestion
- May promote weight gain
- Seal on bag doesn’t close properly
Orijen’s Grain-Free Dry Cat Food comes in a 15 lb bag, making it more cost effective compared to some of the other brands listed here. It contains the right blend of proteins, carbohydrates, and micronutrients that can help your cat maintain a lean and healthy weight.
It’s also more nutrient-dense compared to other dry cat food brands. Just be sure to check the feeding recommendations, as they may be slightly different.
Some reviewers note that their cats don’t seem to lose interest in the dry food, which is common with many kibble brands. However, other customers have noted that their cats don’t enjoy the taste. For these people, the high price doesn’t seem to be as worthwhile.
- Promotes clean healthy coat
- Good for sensitive stomach
- Made with fresh, never frozen, ingredients
- More expensive than similar brands
- Food is smelly
- May cause foul-smelling feces
Castor & Pollux’s Organix Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe Dry Cat Food comes in a 4 lb bag or a 12 lb bag variety. Made in the USA, this kibble also contains flaxseed which promotes a healthy skin and coat.
Customers have noted that irregularities with their cats’ digestion (including vomiting and diarrhea) go away when using this food.
This product does have a slightly higher carbohydrate content since it contains brown rice. So, it may be less ideal for cats who are overweight or mostly sedentary.
- Helps regulate digestion
- Felines have less hairballs
- Higher carb content
- Some animals don’t like the taste
From the cat food brand that came in at the top of our review, Nulo’s Dry Cat Food contains the finest all natural ingredients, sourced from the US. It’s been recommended by veterinarians and an excellent choice for active adult cats.
As far the taste goes, it seems to be hit or miss. Some owners note that their cats don’t love the food, while others say even their older pickier felines can’t get enough of it.
- Small kibble size so easier to chew
- 100% US-based company
- Helps increase energy
- Cats may not like the taste
The Four Best Wet Cat Foods
Wet canned cat food generally costs more than dry food options. Even so, it’s worth it to pay a little extra in order to get a high quality product. Here are the top four wet cat foods that promote optimal wellness for your cat at every stage of life:
The Wellness brand Divine Duos With Beef Pâté & Diced Chicken Liver sounds pretty decadent. It has an easy-to-open peel-off lid, giving you easy access to the nutrient-dense and moisture-rich food inside.
Of course, if your cat doesn’t require the entire package, this removable lid can make it a little trickier to seal and store. Fortunately, most reviewers seem to note that their cats love the taste.
People with older and chronically ill cats have also used this food successfully. It’s low in phosphorous, which is critical for animals with kidney issues.
- Safe for cats with chronic kidney disease
- Good for adults and kittens
This selection of Nature’s Logic Feline Beef Feast Canned Cat Food comes in a case of 24, making a bit more cost-effective and convenient. The wet food is moisture-rich, easily digestible, and mostly animal-based. Carbohydrates come from vegetables and fruits, keeping the calorie content low.
This wet food also contains eggshell calcium and animal plasma, unique and potent sources of vitamins and minerals.
- Over 90% animal ingredients
- Relatively low in calories
- Have to introduce slowly to avoid gastrointestinal upset
Halo Spot’s Stew For Cats Wholesome Chicken Recipe works well for cats of all ages. For kittens, the company recommends feeding up to twice the adult amount to ensure your young cat gets enough calories and protein.
It’s full of chicken meat, broth, and liver, along with healthy veggies including carrots, sweet potatoes, zucchini.
One downside: this product contains garlic powder. Garlic is known to be harmful to cats and dogs in large amounts. If you give your cat this product, be sure to monitor its reaction. You also may want to consider switching out this food every few months to avoid too much garlic intake.
- Smells good
- Most cats love it
- Contains garlic powder (potentially toxic)
ZiwiPeak Canned Cat Cuisine New Zealand Beef Recipe is among the highest quality cat food products available. The beef comes from free-range and grass-fed cattle. Cows used for this product are never given antibiotics or hormones, which can be harmful to animals and humans.
This product also contains green lipped New Zealand mussels. These marine animals are a natural source of chondroitin and glucosamine, which are great for your cat’s joints.
Reviews are highly positive, and overall cats seem to love the taste. Some customers note that their cat experiences stomach upset if they switch out the flavors from beef to another variety too quickly. Fortunately, this can be avoided by gradually introducing new foods over the course of a few days.
- Picky cats love it
- Made from free-range and grass-fed New Zealand cows
- Higher amount of phosphorous makes it less ideal for animals with kidney problems
The Best Cat Food For Kittens
It’s worth remembering that not all felines need the same thing. Individual factors, including age, lifestyle, and the presence of chronic health disease will have a big influence on the cat food that’s best for your animal.
Consider this, for instance: kitten nutrition.
Like babies and young children, young cats go through fast growth spurts, as much as tripling their weight in the first couple weeks of life.
Now, imagine just how much calories your little kitty cat is expending just to simply grow and play. With such a high energy expenditure, it can be tough for kittens to get in enough calories that will support normal growth.
To get your kitten started off in life on the right paw, you should feed your kitty three to four times per day. Like adults, kittens also need fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients.
But protein is where a kitten’s nutritional needs differ from adult cats. As much as 30% of a kitten’s calories should come from healthy animal-based protein.
So, how old is a “kitten” anyway? Consider your feline a kitten until it’s at least 1-year-old. Veterinarians recommend giving your cat a specially formulated kitten food until your feline friend is at least that age.
Wondering what the best cat food for kittens actually is? Our research points to Wellness Core Natural Grain-Free Wet Canned Kitten Food. Compared to other kitten food brands, this formula has a higher concentration of protein and amino acids. Both protein and amino acids are important for healthy organ, bone, and muscle development.
The Wellness kitten formula also offers high amounts of essential omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA. This is critical for brain and eye development, both of which grow and change rapidly as your kitten ages.
Customers like it, too. People note that their kittens have high energy, healthy skin and coat, and regular digestion while on this food. Some of noted that the cans are in better shape when bought in-store vs. online. Overall though, feedback is positive.
A Quick Go-To Checklist For Selecting The Healthiest Cat Food
For a Too Long; Didn’t Read version of healthiest cat foods, keep these three factors in mind:
- High protein.
- Low carbohydrates.
- High water content.
The first ingredient should be an animal-based protein. It should be a type of meat you can read, never a “by-product.”
Grains and high carbohydrates like rice and soy can spike your cat’s blood sugar and cause your cat to gain weight. Cats don’t digest carbohydrates as well, so they don’t need as many, anyway.
Look for carbohydrates like chickpeas and sweet potatoes. These have fewer calories, are more easily digested, and have more nutrition compared to wheat, soy, rice, and corn.
Whenever possible, go with US-based cat food companies. These companies tend to be better regulated and source higher quality ingredients.
Choosing The Best Food For Cats: A Definitive Guide
As a consumer, it’s your job to ensure you’re purchasing the best quality cat food that fits your budget. To do this, it’s important to get comfortable reading the ingredients list on any product you buy.
Because it’s not just what’s in the ingredients that matter.
What’s not in the ingredients is critical, too.
How To Read A Cat Food Label
Reading a nutrition label should give you answers to a few important questions:
- What’s the purpose of the food? Is it intended for adult cats, kittens, or cats with certain health conditions? You need to be sure that your pet is getting the right nutrients for its needs.
- What’s the net weight? Food labels should list the recommended serving sizes based on your cat’s needs. Knowing the net weight will give you an idea of how many servings you can get out of each product. Knowing this can help you determine which brand of food is most cost-effective.
- What are the first few ingredients? Ingredients are listed in order of weight, from highest to lowest. Animal meat, boneless meat, or organs should always be the first few ingredients. Avoid anything that mentions by-product. These are poor in quality. Good ingredients include things you can read, and things you may even find in your own fridge.
- Where do these ingredients come from? You should choose companies that source their ingredients from sustainable farmers and suppliers. Food that comes from Asia tends to be low in quality. Plus, their animals tend to be treated inhumanely.
- Are there any grains, soy, or corn? You should avoid these types of carbohydrates. They can promote weight gain, inflammation, and poor blood sugar control.
- What is the Guaranteed Analysis? This chart details the percentage of different ingredients, including protein, fat, fiber, phosphorous, and other nutrients. Your vet can help you determine what’s the ideal percentage of each for your pet. For instance, most cats need around 30% crude protein and low amounts of phosphorous (to promote healthy kidneys).
The Good Ingredients To Look For On A Nutrition Label
Premium brands use sustainable manufacturing processes. They source their ingredients from parts of the world known to use ethical and humane raising and farming practices.
Premium brands also use premium ingredients. The next time you’re at a pet store (or shopping online), be on the lookout for the following ingredients. They’re a good sign that the food you’re about to purchase is ideal for your pet’s health:
- Real animal protein. These should be clearly listed so you know exactly where it comes from. This includes chicken, beef, eggs, venison, lamb, salmon, sardines, mussels, and duck. Organ meat (e.g., chicken or beef liver) is a bonus.
- Vegetables and fruits. Most of the carbohydrates should be veggies and fruit you might have in your fridge. Look for things like sweet potatoes, carrots, zucchini, apples, and berries.
- Good fats. These are naturally present in animal proteins but can also be supplemented. This includes omega-3 fatty acids, also known as EPA, DHA, and ALA.
- Herbs and marine plants. This may include basil, dill, thyme, rosemary, sage, and kelp.
So, What Are Bad Cat Food Ingredients?
Feeding your pet high quality nutrition helps prevent disease, increase its lifespan, and improve its energy levels. Who wouldn’t want that for their cat?
But quality nutrition isn’t just about what goes into the products. It’s also about what stays out, too.
Bad cat food ingredients are basically anything that is cheap and sourced from China and other Asian countries.
At best, they’re unhealthy and not great for the environment either.
At worst, they’re potentially toxic to your feline.
Low quality ingredients can worsen or cause health problems in cats. This includes diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, and obesity. Like humans, cats really are what they eat. If they’re eating poor quality foods, then health will suffer.
Avoid products with any of the following:
- Artificial colors and flavors, including Blue 2, Red 40, Yellow 5, or caramel coloring
- Artificial or synthetic preservatives, including BHA, BHT, and ethoxyquin
- Anything labeled as a “by-product” (after all, a by-product of what exactly?)
- Any vague or nondescript “meat” (if the animal source is not identified, there’s no way to know where it came from or what’s in it)
- Rendered fat (this can promote bacteria and mold growth)
- Vitamin 3K
- Sodium Nitrate
- Sodium Nitrite
Here’s a basic rule: if you can’t pronounce it, it’s probably not a good ingredient. Avoid products that are packed with strange words.
Another good rule: the shorter the better. Top-of-the-line cat food products contain fewer ingredients. But, their ingredients are much higher quality, so they offer plenty of what your cat needs and none of what it doesn’t.
Be Wary Of Trendy Hype Words
Foods like “natural” and “premium” aren’t regulated by the FDA. This means that a food label can claim to have “natural” ingredients but may still contain artificial preservatives and other junk.
Look for legally regulated words, like “grass-fed,” “free-range,” and “organic.” “Human-grade” (as in, if it’s good enough for you, it’s good enough for your pet) can only legally be used by certain companies.
Know Where Your Cat’s Food Comes From
If a pet food recall happens, it’s often due to a problem at the facility that made the food. Recalls aren’t necessarily due to the specific ingredients themselves.
For instance, “rendering facilities” often use vague “meat meal” ingredients. These are mysterious animal products that may come from factory-farms, slaughterhouses, or even animal shelters.
Good pet food companies closely regulate their manufacturing facilities. They assess their employees, equipment, and production for quality control. Your best option is to stick to companies that are US-based, like most of the companies listed previously.
The Importance of Digestibility
Food is tricky. Just because your cat can eat it doesn’t guarantee that your cat’s body will be able to digest it properly. Digestibility refers to the amount of food and nutrients actually absorbed.
Low quality ingredients like fillers, artificial preservatives, and animal by-products, aren’t well-absorbed. In some cases, these poor ingredients can even block the digestion of whatever good ingredients are left in the product.
How can you tell if a food isn’t very digestible? Think of it this way:
Whatever isn’t absorbed is excreted.
This means that the food you give your cat probably isn’t getting properly absorbed if your animal’s feces is:
One factor that influences digestibility is moisture level. Higher quality, moisture-rich foods help improve the amount of food that is digested by your cat. This brings more vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to the tissues throughout your cat’s body.
Companies that produce cat food don’t have to report the digestibility of their products. Some do, but there is no requirement for third-party testing to confirm these amounts.
Dry vs. Wet vs. Raw: Which Is The Best Food For Cats?
Ask three different people about the best cat foods out there, and you’ll probably get three different answers. The main options (dry food, wet food, and raw food diets) all have their own benefits and drawbacks.
Making the choice between the three options really comes down to what you find to work best for your cat.
Choosing Dry Food
As mentioned, dry cat food is convenient. Many cat owners prefer this type because they can leave food out, allowing their cat to eat as they please.
Dry food (called kibble) also has a long shelf life, and is usually the least expensive option.
Choosing the healthiest dry cat food (from one of the five listed above) will help ensure that your cat gets all the nutrients it needs. Though companies claim that dry food is better for dental health (compared to wet food), there’s not much evidence to actually support this.
Choosing Wet Food
Some veterinarians and animal experts recommend wet food over dry food. In general, canned wet food has a much higher water content. This can help your cat stay well-hydrated. For felines with certain chronic health conditions, such as kidney disease, canned wet food may be a better option.
A potential drawback is that compared to dry food, canned wet food for cats is a bit more expensive. Plus, it’s less convenient to open, serve, and store.
Choosing Raw Food
The raw food diet movement has exploded in popularity in recent years. It’s easy to imagine why some health-conscious cat owners love it:
A raw food diet is completely natural and mimics a “wild” diet.
This means that cats eating raw food receive mostly fresh and unprocessed meat and organs. A raw cat food diet is generally free from things like BHA and BHT. These are chemical preservatives and are potentially harmful to animals (and humans, for that matter).
A limiting factor for many people is the increased amount of money and work that goes into providing this kind of diet for their cats. Food must be prepared daily and stored properly to prevent spoiling. Finding and purchasing raw food takes some effort and costs even more than wet food.
Some companies offer pre-made raw food blends, complete with proteins, vitamins, and minerals. With a little research and trial and error, it is possible to find and prepare raw cat food yourself.
Ideally, most experts agree that blending all three types of foods together is optimal for kitty health. For you, try giving your feline friend kibble and occasionally top with wet food. Supplement the diet with raw food every now and then.
Finding Good Cat Food Is Important – Knowing The Best Brands Is Key
You care about the health, well-being, and longevity of your feline companion. But you care about how you spend your money, too. These reviews are meant to help you navigate the pet store with confidence. Understanding the healthiest cat food brands will give you peace of mind, knowing that your money is well spent.
The bottom line: Pay attention to labels, and pay attention to how your cat responds to the food you give it.
Is your cat’s energy level high?
Is its digestion regular?
Does it have a healthy coat and skin?
Is your cat’s chronic health condition improving?
All of these questions can help you and your vet determine the best type of food to get. Keep in mind this may change over time, too.
If you’ve bought any of these products before, be sure to let us know what you and your cat think about it. Lastly, is there a fellow animal lover in your life? Send this article along. Your friend (and their cat) will thank you.