What is the best cat food? How I narrowed it down to a short(ish) list
Last updated: August 2015
Things I’ve pondered in the cat food aisle:
- How to weed out the best choices from all those impressive claims?
- Which have the best quality-to-cost value?
- Who has the time to sort it all out?
Perhaps I have the time! It took me days to narrow down which qualities were most important, what ingredients to avoid, and what the best foods cost.
I previously published a list and promised a huge update–this is it!
How I selected today’s best cat foods
First, I synthesized the best advice I could find from Jean Hofve, DVM’s work, Dr. Karen Becker’s writings, TruthAboutPetFood.com, PetsumerReport.com, Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins’ leading-edge book, Your Cat, the Feline Nutrition Education Society, and others.
Based on that research, I went through just about every natural cat food I know of (so far) and checked it against the following criteria.
- Free of artificial preservatives, flavors, colors, ingredients
- Truly low-carb/starch – This was the hardest one because starches are sneaky. Even most holistic and so-called grain-free options have too many carbs, which lead to weight gain and diabetes. (For example, Royal Canin Green Peas & Duck dry food has no grains but is 35% carb–too much!)
- Grain-free – Grains are not natural for cats to digest and tend to weaken their immune system over time; some cats develop grain sensitivities that appear as digestion or skin problems. Just as many humans with IBS/IBD do better off grains, many people say their cats with IBD do better off grains too. In fact, I believe grains can lead to IBD in cats, and IBD may lead to intestinal cancer. See this article by Fern Crist, DVM and Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins’ book, Your Cat: Simple New Secrets to a Longer, Stronger Life and this article by Dr. Becker. (Do NOT be hard on yourself if this is the first you’ve heard of this – cat food industry standards, limited feline medical research and awareness, and limited feline nutrition education in veterinary schools are the cause. We are all just doing the best we can with the information and options we’ve been given.)
- Free of potentially risky ingredients like avocado, garlic and others, and more described in this truthaboutpetfood.com article. In addition, I consider the following ingredients too risky for cats: vitamin D2 (as opposed to D3), wheat gluten, soy, carrageenan
- Meat quality. Ideally the meat is sourced from US or other country with reasonably trusted standards. No “meat meal” or “meat and bone meal.” (Not to be confused with chicken meal, or other specific types of meals, which are considered OK. See Dr. Hofve’s article for further explanation.)
Plus “Bonus points” given for:
- Organic or pasture-raised ingredients
- Smaller companies focused on pet health; not owned by large conglomerate
- My cats liking it
- Simple ingredients (easier for cat digestion)
P.S. To assure you my cat food reviews are unbiased, I never use an affiliate (referral) link for a cat food.
So here are the winners!
About those that didn’t make the list…
Some of our favorite natural cat foods did not make the cut. There were so many foods, I had to be brutal in choosing the best. Many foods almost made this list, and I hope to explain more about why later. (Update: more in this post and this FAQ.)
I also may have missed some, so do let me know if you would like to me to take a look at one you like.
We’re all in this together. I welcome your experiences, ideas, opinions, and contributions in the comments below. Let’s talk!
I’ve heard having more than one phosphate in the food is not good. Jackson Galaxy mentions this recently. Is there any evidence that some phosphates are a health risk?
I don’t see any mention of Solid Gold yet I’ve spoken to a manufacturer rep multiple times in person with an explanation why their (canned) ingredients are easy to digest even for IBD cats. They seem to be a harder to find brand. Has anyone done any research on them?
More and more wet foods are full of gums–my cat is allergic to all, but especially guar gum. Any recommendations.
I am wanting to transition my cats to a RAW diet. Looking and reading available info…but it has left me somewhat confused. (Also, I am wondering why PRIMAL frozen raw is not on Liz’s ‘best’ list.) If you feed your cats a raw frozen commercially available food, can you please share which products you choose and which ones your cats have liked? Any additional feeding info on raw foods would be very much appreciated. Thanks!
I feed my cats Tiki (chicken varieties) and Nature’s Variety instinct exclusively. Hefty cat food bill! I’ve just noticed Nulo at PetSmart and was going to try, but noticed there is guar gum in it. Bummed out. Does anyone know of a quality canned food without added crap, besides Tiki? Tiki is too expensive for 4 cats. 🙁
Thank you very much for the information. I have been spending a lot of time looking for the best cat foods for my cats, so your site is very helpful.
I am wondering if you checked against Guar Gum and Xanthan Gum that should be avoided (see this link:
Thank you for all the research, Liz! I just can’t tell you how much your site has helped me and my two IBD babies Stevie Ray and Daisy. Bless you!!
Thoughts on nolu wet cat food?? Seems good but can’t find it here in canada unless I order from amazon.
In your comments about Nulo, you said you don’t feed fish regularly. Can you expound on why?
Do you have any tips on finding canned and dry foods for older cats with kidney deficiency? My cat is 15 and has just been diagnosed. My vet told me to find foods that are not too high in protein and as little as possible phosphates. High fat/low carb and potassium are good.
I would love it if you gave more attention to foods with low phosphates. Or, was my vet off the mark on her recommendations? By the way, my cat has adjusted well to some of the Weruva canned foods, but now I’m thinking that Tiki Cat would be better.
No dry food if you cat is having any kind of urinary problems. I have had the same problem with a couple of kitties. Go to http://www.catinfo.org and see what dry food can do to your buddy.
Try Dave’s restricted diet CKD. I have a CKD cat. She is 13years almost14. I had a prescription for CKD, I was feeding her Hill’s Science Diet which was ok but a friend suggested Dave’s Cat Food restricted diet, I did the research and found it to be of very high quality. She especially loves the Chicken Lickin Good. I know life is good now because she’s lying on her back haha
Great job on this and thanks so much! I didn’t see any mention of Fresh Pet Select refrigerated food. Other reviews commented that it has spinach and carrots, but no other negatives found. Thanks!
about a year ago I decided to put my two kittens on a raw diet. The lady at the pet store recommended Freshpet Vital chicken and brown rice food rolls which my kitties loved instantly. Fast forward to present day where I just discovered that the rolls are not raw and are intended for dogs. Just curious if you think it’s okay to continue feeding this as long as I add a supplement powder to it or is is simply not appropriate for cats?
I found a new cat food company at Pet Food Express in San Francisco. It is Nulo (www.nulo.com). They are out of Austin, TX (where Whole Foods originated).
We feed our high-maintenance companion a mix of wet and dry. She is very susceptible to infections (gingivo stomatitis and had a serious case of feline chin acne!), so we are avoiding raw food.
We have been feeding Tiki Puka Puka Luau (her fav) as well as Nature’s Variety Instinct LID Turkey with a little organic toasted pumpkin (she loves the pumpkin – the turkey is just OK), and then we got her onto a little dry (for when we’re gone a little too long). We feed her several times per day.
She LOVES the kibble almost as much as the Tiki – even though they pulled all her teeth before she told us to adopt her from the shelter.
She’s been eating Wellness CORE Turkey & Duck Formula, which has Canola Oil (GMO?).
She likes the Nulo too. I don’t yet know the source of the food. But wondered if you had yet heard of them.
Thanks for this great website!
I think Nulo looks like a great food, the only issue I find is that I will not feed fish regularly and every product they have contains a fish in the first 5 ingredients.
Have you done any research on the canned cat foods from “by Nature”, specifically the rabbit and duck stew formulas. I can’t seem to find much info on them and wondering if they use rabbit/duck sourced in China.
Why aren’t any of the Wysong products reviewed here? They seem to have a variety of food that are very high quality. Im currently feeding Orijen chicken dry with canned Weruva, Tiki Cat, Addiction, other holistic brands free of carrageenan. Cats eat the food up, but all this food is very expensive and everyone is having large loose stools, plus they all seem to have very dry skin… Im looking at switching to the best I can find and Wysong is actually slightly less than Orijen. What are your thoughts?
I have never heard of any of the wet foods listed. My ragdoll will get sick and toss up wet foods. I feed him dry food by Hill’s Science Diet. Vet says he is perfect weight and extremely healthy.
I wouldn’t feed my cat Hill’s Science diet.
wonder why you don’t like Science Diet.what my vet recommends . It is what my vet recommends. Frankly, mycats (2) don’t like anything much. Thdy was very healthy but just finnicky. The big question is what to feed a cat whoi doesn’t like anything.
In my experience, vets know very little about animal nutrition. I believe they get a couple of hours lecture in nutrition during their entire veterinary education. Science Diet is garbage in my opinion. Jut look at the ingredients. But if a cat is very finicky then obviously your options are limited.
Try Dave’s cat food. I have 2 cats, one is CKD. The restricted formulas ( Chicken Licken’ Good) my cat devours it. She was on Hills Prescription. You don’t need a prescription to buy it and it’s a whole lot less expensive. My other cat loves Soulistic, (sold at Petco,made by Wuruva)…for petco. It’s grain free and has whole chunks of meats that my cat loves tearing apart! It’s high quality proteins and the cost is reasonable. I did the research and both my cats are happy and healthy. They are 13 almost 14 years and are playing again like they are kittens!!
I am also interested in any information on Wellness Signature Selects .
In the meantime, does anyone else have an opinion on this cat food line?
Your site is so helpful! Merci bcp!
Hi Liz – I love this list and this is what I go by, thank you SO much!!!! My cat was doing well on radcat chicken but transitioning to turkey didn’t go well at all – she was fine eating a little and then the first meal that I only gave her radcat turkey, she vomited severely and got diarrhea and stopped eating. Now she won’t touch either of the radcats, even the chicken that she loved so much, and literally gags when I hold it in from of her. I’ve taken her off raw and am feeding her wet tiki puka puka and natures variety canned chicken and weruva, I figured we’ll wait at least a month or even a few months before we even try transitioning very slowly back to raw though I don’t even know if she’ll ever do raw again after that traumatizing experience that took her a whole week to recover. Do you have any recommendations as to how I can transition back to raw? She vomits so easily. Also, for a cat that is so sensitive, should I still do rotation in her food and if do how often? Daily, weekly, monthly? Lastly, want to do you think of lotus’ new line – just juicy, and nutro wet canned food? Thanks again and God bless you!!!
Have you done any research on Wellness’s new recipe line called Signature Selects? I’m looking at giving my 15 year old with renal problems the Healthy Indulgence, but also interested in the Signature Selects. Any information you could give me would be helpful.
we just rescued two cats and this list is so helpful! I was ready to try Natures Variety and noticed that they recently came out with a “Raw Boost” line which includes freeze-dried raw food. any thoughts on this? Is this a better compromise–I’m thinking I’ll give them this 1x/day and the frozen 1x/day…THANK YOU!
Should you give me your honest opinion about the Fromm brand. I am currently feeding the Wild Game dry cat food. I feed Wellness grain-free wet; chicken or turkey.
Re Fromm: I emailed company with these ???:
‘Please advise the percentage of CALORIES derived from non-plant protein. Please advise the percentage of CALORIES derived from carbohydrates.’
The main criteria from catinfo.org seemed [to me] to be 40% protein. Here is their response. It appears to be a to notch food, albeit expensive.
Chicken & Salmon Pate: % of kcals from protein = 43.74%; % of kcals from carbohydrates = 11.20%
Chicken & Duck Pate: % of kcals from protein = 44.41%;% of kcals from carbohydrates = 9.66%
Chicken, Duck and Salmon Pate: % of kcals from protein = 44.82%; % of kcals from carbohydrates = 10.05%
Hope this helps
I’ve been feeding my cat Wellness canned because I thought it was high quality food. Lately I’ve noticed the quality is not always consistent and my cat doesn’t always finish his food, which is very unusual. I’m looking for a new high quality canned food. Thank for your research.
Thank you for all your research!
I’ve just recently looked into feeding our cats healthier food and stopped feeding them the cheap, grain-laden dry food as well as cheap wet food (Friskies) but have to say we’re on a tight budget and many of the recommendations are too expensive! 🙁
Do you have any recommendations for people like me with more than 1 cat (we have 4 in total, 2 older cats, 5 and 3 years, and 2 kittens, 12 weeks)?
Before the addition of our kittens we started to feed the big cats Fancy Feast ‘classic’ [from what I’ve read it’s a good alternative to the bad wet food..] but we go through the cans too quickly now with 4 cats, it’s just too expensive! 🙁 We’ve tried EVO once before (prior to getting the kittens) but our boys hated the chicken flavor and we’re stuck with only feeding them the beef version! (Every other flavor is -again- also too expensive!..)
For snacks inbetween meals we have EVO kitten grain free dry food as well as Blue Wilderness dry food for the big boys. (Now after reading your post I know the latter is also not a desirable choice… :/ )
I’d greatly appreciate your help on this! I want our cats to be healthy but it also needs to be budget friendly for us!
Thanks in advance! =^-^=
I’m wondeing if you have ever looked at Rad Cat frozen raw foods. This is what I have been feeding ours for a couple years and and I am wondering how it stacks up next to the foods you have reviewed. It’s expensive so I’m wondering what else would be comparable.
Thank you so much for doing this! It is so confusing trying to muddle through all the different foods and then figuring what is in them, protein content, percentages, etc etc. Thank you, thank you for taking the time to do this.
Question….what is the carb level used as a cutoff to be considered ok?? I’m feeding raw with good results so far. Two of my three cats were having continual loose (pudding) stools. Vet couldn’t find anything wrong, and they were eating only the grain free foods listed on this site. I grabbed some Nature’s Variety as a starter to see if they would eat it. Two jumped right in, one resisted for 3 days, but gave it up eventually. After three days…..no more runny poop!! They are now eating Bravo Balance and like it even better. It is a more meat-like consistency than the NV, and has very low carb content (3-4%) I tried a sample of Honest Kitchen Prowl today, just to see if they would eat it. My thinking was it would be a good backup if I forgot to thaw, or ran out of the the regular raw stuff. To my surprise, they liked it, and ate it all. When I went to their website to do some reading…..they said the carb content was around 23%.. Isn’t that awfully high?
Diane, yes that’s a bit high, but percentage drops dramatically to about 9% when you add the water per instructions. This is the case with dehydrated options.
PS congrats on the healthy successes!
Hi Liz, have you ever reviewed the new Freshpet Vital raw for cats? I am feeding my cat that now and am not sure where it ranks compared to others. Thanks, Al
Hi Liz, I’m also wondering how you would review Freshpet Vital complete Meals, Chicken, Ocean Whitefish and Egg Recipe with carrots and Spinach. Thank you!
Ditto on Al and Chris’s question… I just bought one bag of “Freshpet Vital Complete Meals for Cats” and the kitties love it. It looks like a pretty pure food but I would also like to know what the experts say. Good or not? Its sure easy to find (Petco) and its actually a little bit cheaper than the Wellness wet food that I buy. I figure its about $7 for 2 days of Wellness wet and about $5.50 for 2 days of Freshpet Vital. If its also a high quality food it would be a nice addition to their diet (I try to mix it up a little bit for them) Wellness dry, Wellness wet and Freshpet Vital… I’d eat that!
I have been doing research on high quality cat foods for 6 months now. I decided raw was the healthiest. I also choose Natures Variety. But recently I discovered an ingredient in it that I was concerned about, montmorillonite clay. I emailed the company and they told me it was safe. I wanted an unbiased opinion so I emailed Susan from petsumers.com. She told me “I think its safe” and went on to explain to me that there is just so much info they allow her to know. I was trusting her website when they said there were no “red flags” for Natures Variety. I myself have done alittle research on this clay and still don’t think it should be in the pet foods. It seems to be from volcanic ash that was deposited in waterways. I really like Rad cat food the best, but way too expensive. Any thoughts on the clay?