Bringing a new cat home is a big responsibility. It’s your job to make sure they stay happy and healthy. Buying the best cat food is the first place to start. Not every cat will have the same dietary needs. This can depend on their size, age, stage of life, activity level and special needs.
But not all cat foods are created equal, which is why I created a buyer’s guide that includes each type of cat food, what ingredients to look for, and which ingredients you’ll want to avoid. I’ve also done extensive research, looking at many of the leading pet foods on the market, narrowing it down to six products that provide a well-balanced formula that’s designed to help your cat thrive. Some are standard foods for adults, while others will address special needs, such as a low-calorie diet, low protein, or a high protein formula. Below, I’ve created a comparison chart that includes each pet food that made it onto my list, important features, and how each pet food rated.
Cat Food Comparison Chart
Best Dry Cat Food-Blue Buffalo Healthy Living Natural Adult Dry Cat Food
This dry cat food by Blue Buffalo contains lifesource bits, real chicken, and brown rice. This is the best cat food for adults and it contains all the important nutrients needed to support and maintain strong muscles and a healthy immune system. It also includes important nutrients, fruits, garden veggies, and whole grains. Blue Buffalo is one of those cat food companies that has a reputation for their quality ingredients and well-balanced dry cat foods that are designed to help pets thrive. This dry cat food features a precise blend of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that have been chosen by pet nutritionists. This kibble is designed to support life stage requirements and promotes a healthy immune system.
- Contains lifesource bits
- Helps to maintain healthy skin and coat
- Lean protein is the first ingredient listed
- Contains essential fatty acids
This dry cat food by Blue Buffalo contains all the essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that cats need to thrive. The high quality meat ingredients, combined with the fresh fruits and veggies will ensure your cat enjoys a complete and balanced nutrition for healthy skin and coat and a healthy weight.
Best Wet Cat Food-ZIWI Peak Provenance Wet Cat Food
This cat food is considered the best wet cat food for an adult, kitten, or senior, according to cat owners who have left positive customer reviews based on their cat’s response to this protein rich food. This should come as no surprise since Ziwi Peak is a popular pet food company that’s known for its limited ingredient wet and dry cat foods. This formula is designed to match a feline’s natural whole-prey diet. It contains five types of meat and fish, including ocean whitefish, goat, and mutton. The pate texture makes the cat food easier to consume, for older cats with dental problems. This is a low-carb grain-free formula that’s free from colors, flavors or preservatives. The inclusion of the Z-Boost superfood is designed to provide a natural nutrition boost that promotes immune health and weight maintenance.
- Grain free cat food
- Complete and balanced nutrition
- High quality protein
- Free from harmful by products
- Strong odor
This cat food supports all breeds and can be used for kittens, adults, and seniors,
so it’s a great choice for multi-cat households. If you’re looking for a wet cat food that’s free of by products, one that contains human grade ingredients, and high quality protein, then this formula by Ziwi Peak should be your top pick.
Best Raw Food Diet-Instinct Raw Boost Grain Free Dry Cat Food
This grain-free cat food contains freeze dried cage-free duck. Considered one of the best cat food raw diet products on the market, it also contains probiotics, which are designed to aid in digestion and can help to improve nutrient absorption and restore healthy gut flora. This cat food mixes freeze dried raw cat food toppers with a high quality protein dry cat food, ensuring your cat enjoys a well-balanced food that’s free of by-products, artificial colors, flavors, and fillers.
- Contains Freeze dried ingredients
- Promotes skin and coat health
- Protein is the first ingredient
- Limited ingredient list
- Not recommended for cats with sensitive stomachs
This dry cat food is made with real ingredients that can support all life stages and contains both kibble and freeze dried ingredients. It’s one of the best cat foods for adults and seniors in need of a dry cat food that provides a protein rich formula that supports muscle growth and development, aids in digestion, and one that can help your cat to maintain a healthy weight and an active lifestyle.
Best Dry Cat Food for Indoor Cats-Blue Buffalo Basics Limited Ingredient Diet Grain-Free
The best dry cat foods start off with protein as the first ingredient. This protein rich formula contains duck as the first ingredient, with a grain free formula that’s perfect for cats with sensitive stomachs and allergies. This limited ingredient dry cat food is free from ground corn, soy, wheat, and provides your cat with complete and balanced nutrition. This cat food brand creates their food with the help of cat nutritionists, so you know it contains all the essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals your cat needs in order to thrive.
- Contains fatty acids
- Promotes skin and coat health
- Helps pets maintain a healthy weight
- Protein rich
- Supports cats of all ages
- Can cause digestive upset in some cats
This limited ingredients formula is perfect for cat lovers who suspect their cat may be suffering from a grain allergy. Additionally, the use of a novel protein also makes this product perfect for cats who may be allergic to more common proteins such as chicken. The human grade protein, combined with the other high quality ingredients makes this formula my top pick for pet owners looking for a grain free formula that contains limited ingredients and one that’s packed with essential nutrients.
Best Grain Free Dry Cat Food-Instinct High Protein Dry Cat Food
If you’re looking for a dry cat food that contains a limited ingredient list for your furry friend, a product that includes human grade high quality protein, and dry cat food that you can feed both your adult and kitten, then this product by Instinct delivers. This nutrient loaded dry cat food features raw foods, and a chicken formula that contains three times more real chicken compared to other pet food brands. It also includes probiotics, which can help aid in digestion. The kibble is coated in freeze dried raw ingredients for balanced nutrition. This is the best cat food for pets of all ages, thanks to the natural cat food formula that includes antioxidants for immune health, omega fatty acids for coat and skin health, and no animal by-products.
- Contains fatty acids
- Perfect for cats of all ages
- Complete and balanced nutrition
- High quality meat ingredients
- Grain free cat food
- Very expensive
This dry cat food is grain free, features a real chicken formula with no byproducts, and includes all of the essential ingredients cat lovers are looking for that will support cats in all life stages. You want the best cat food for your furry friend. One that can support healthy growth, and a product that your cat’s taste buds will definitely appreciate. Whether you have outdoor or indoor cats, seniors, adults, or kittens, this dry cat food contains all the vital ingredients all cats need to grow healthy and strong, fight off weight gain, and maintain energy throughout the day.
Best Budget Canned Cat Food-Purina Pro Plan Entrees Wet Cat Food
Purina is a cat food brand that most cat parents are familiar with. Purina is a company that has a reputation for producing complete and balanced wet and dry cat foods. This top pick is perfect for cat lovers on a tight budget. It contains real ocean whitefish and tuna, essential nutrients that are designed to promote immune health, and features a limited ingredient list that your furry friend will appreciate, if they’re prone to skin and coat issues, or they have a sensitive stomach. The high quality protein content makes this cat food suitable for a kitten, adult or senior, so if you’re looking for an affordable cat food you can use for all life stages, this product by Purina delivers.
- Grain free cat food
- Limited ingredient list
- Loaded with essential nutrients
- Good choice for cats with sensitive stomachs
- Strong odor
If you have a cat that struggles with constipation or dehydration, then this wet food can be a better choice than kibble, due to its high moisture content. While dry cat food usually contains five to ten percent moisture, wet food offers a moisture content of around seventy-five percent. Since a cat will get most of their moisture from their cat food, this high moisture content is vital for cats who don’t drink much water. Additionally, the high quality ingredients, such as the real ocean whitefish, will also ensure your furry friend eats every bite.
Best Cat Food Buyer’s Guide
The best cat food will feature a well-balanced formula that’s designed to provide your cat with the essential vitamins and minerals they need, based on their age and specific nutritional needs. I’ll begin this guide by going over the pros and cons of each type of cat food.
Types of Cat Food
There are three main types of cat foods available:
Each type of cat food will differ in palatability, protein content, and moisture.
In dry cat food, the moisture content is between six to ten percent. The most common ingredients used in dry cat foods includes animal byproducts, grain byproducts, fiber sources, and fish. Most products also have a type of coating on the kibble that’s designed to make it more enticing to cats. This coating usually consists of animal fat. Dry cat food is usually less expensive than wet and must be stored in an airtight container to prevent spoilage.
For most types of wet cat food, the moisture content is very high, coming in at seventy-five percent. A higher moisture content can help to prevent dehydration, since most cats often don’t drink as much water as they should. This type of product can be a great choice for seniors or cats who are prone to constipation or dehydration. Most cats also prefer the texture and flavor that wet food has to offer. Additionally, canned has a much longer shelf life compared to the dry and semi-moist options. Wet usually consists of whole fish or meat, organs such as kidneys and livers, and taurine.
These types of cat foods feature a higher moisture content of thirty to thirty-five percent. In most grain-free semi-moist formulas, you’ll find meat and meat byproducts. Semi-moist can be a better option than dry, due to the higher moisture content.
Other Important Factors
Regardless of the type of food you decide to give your cat, make sure you choose a reputable brand, one that offers a premium formula that doesn’t contain any type of fillers. These foods are available in a variety of flavors, with main protein sources such as chicken, fish, beef, or lamb. In many cases, you’ll find that your cat has a preference for a certain type or flavor of wet or dry cat foods.
Feline Food Basics
Below, I’ve created a list of what types of ingredients you’ll find in most types of cat foods, whether you’re looking at the best dry cat food or canned. These important ingredients are the basis for all cat diets and can have a major impact on their overall health.
Cats are classified as obligate carnivores. This means that they need to consume animal proteins in order to get the essential amino acids and nutrients that are crucial to dietary health. Most vets believe that a cat food’s protein content is the most important factor to pay attention to, whether you’re choosing semi-moist, dry, or wet food. But how much protein is enough? Many vets agree that a food should contain at least eight percent protein.
Cat saliva contains an enzyme called amylase, which is what helps their bodies to digest starches or carbs. With this in mind, it makes sense that carbs also play an important role in their diet. When you’re checking a product label, look for grains that include rice, soy, corn, wheat, or anything that contains starch in the name, in addition to potatoes and lentils. Whether you’re looking for a low-carb formula or a complete, well-balanced formula, it’s important to count carbs and ensure the product isn’t loaded with carb fillers, such as corn.
Cat food that’s grain-free can also be a good option for cats, especially those who have a confirmed grain allergy. These formulas are usually free from soy, corn, and wheat.
If you think your cat may have a grain allergy, you can switch to a grain-free formula to find out for sure. If their symptoms subside on their new diet, then you’ll know to stick to grain-free food in the future.
For some cat allergies can also be caused by artificial ingredients. Symptoms can show up as gas, loose stool, nausea, or vomiting. Since it can be tricky to pinpoint what’s causing these symptoms, some vets suggest switching to a formula that contains a limited number of additives. Basically, the fewer ingredients used will make it easier for you to determine the culprit behind these symptoms. Try to avoid food that contains preservatives, artificial flavors, and artificial colors.
When you’re trying to find the right food for your cat, make sure you take a look at the moisture content. Common sense will tell you that wet food will have a higher level of moisture than dry. Food that contains a higher moisture content is ideal for cats who don’t drink much water, seniors, cats that often struggle with constipation, and cats with a hairball problem.
Aside from choosing from semi-moist, wet, and dry, you’ll also need to take into consideration whether or not your pet needs a special diet, based on their overall health needs and stage of life. You’ll find formulas available that are designed for pets with sensitive stomachs, those prone to hairballs, diets for kittens and seniors, and low-fat diets that can aid in weight loss or help with healthy weight maintenance.
A healthy kitten food formula will contain ingredients that are essential to proper growth and development. When shopping for kitten food, look for the following:
- Fatty acids, which are essential for brain development
- High protein content
- Taurine for heart health and vision
Most kitten formulas will have a protein content that ranges from thirty to fifty percent. The protein should be mostly sourced from fish or meat and shouldn’t contain any byproducts, preservatives, artificial flavors, colors, or fillers.
The amount of kitten food you feed your cat daily will continue to change as they grow. Their size and activity level can also have an impact on serving size.
For seniors, the formula should contain the following ingredients:
Supplements such as probiotics, vitamins, and minerals
- Fruits and veggies
- Healthy fats from animal sources
- Whole digestible carbs
- High quality animal protein
Avoid formulas that contain too much soy, wheat, corn, or any other type of low-quality filler. The protein source should be the first ingredient listed. Often, the first ingredient listed is what makes up the majority of the formula.
Cats at every stage of life will require a diet that’s rich in protein. The majority of the protein content in cat food for seniors should come from an animal source, such as chicken, fish, beef, or lamb. A cat’s body is biologically adapted to deriving nutrients from animal products, more so than plants. However, you’ll find that low-quality pet food often contains protein sources derived from plants, such as soy.
Easy to Digest Carbs
Protein will be the main concern; however, cats do need some carbs in their diet. These carbs should be easy to digest. Good examples include legumes, chickpeas, and sweet potato.
Healthy Fat Source
For cats, healthy fats are the most highly concentrated source of energy. A cat needs a blend of these healthy fats for coat and skin health.
Fruits and Veggies
While most of their diet should come from ingredients that are animal-based, fruits and veggies, when given in moderation, can provide a natural source of essential vitamins and minerals.
For seniors, you’ll find that many formulas contain added vitamins and minerals, in addition to other types of supplements. Chelated minerals are minerals that are bonded chemically to protein molecules. This process makes them easier for the body to absorb. Fermented products can be added, such as probiotics, which can help to aid in digestion.
Choosing a senior pet food that meets these requirements can ensure your cat enjoys a well-balanced diet that’s designed specifically to meet their needs as they age.
Indoor Cat Formulas
Indoor cat formulas often contain the most basic ingredients and are often meant for cats in every stage of life. This formula contains a moderate amount of protein and is available in traditional and grain-free formulas.
This type of food is designed for cats who struggle with constipation, upset stomach, and even hairballs. Stomach sensitivity is common in older cats, especially those with an underlying health condition such as hyperthyroidism or diabetes. These pet foods may contain a lower amount of protein and will have a higher fiber content, which can aid in digestion. Some may also contain probiotics, which can also help to aid in digestion and will work to restore healthy gut flora.
Formula for Hairballs
Many long-haired cats are prone to hairballs. Cats will spend much of their day grooming. As they groom their coat, they swallow a lot of fur. If the fur they swallow isn’t able to pass through their digestive tract, a cat will vomit it back up. Aside from brushing your cat regularly, switching to a hairball prevention wet or dry cat food is one of the best ways to solve this problem.
Hairball formulas contain higher levels of fiber, balanced nutrition, digestible carbs, and healthy fats.
The addition of omega 3 and omega six fatty acids will help the hair to easily move through the digestive tract.
In some cases, a cat that is constantly hacking up hairballs may have a grain allergy. Some cats can digest carbs easier than others. Switching to a grain-free formula can be easier on their stomach.
Cat Food for Overweight Cats
If you have an overweight cat, portion control may not be enough. If you decide to cut back on their portion size, they may not get all of the nutrients their body needs, which can lead to other health problems such as nutrient deficiencies. Switching to a low-calorie or low-fat diet can be a much better approach.
Low-calorie foods should still provide balanced and complete nutrition, should be high in lean animal protein, and should contain both dietary fiber and digestible carbs.
Nutritional Requirements for Cats
Cats require six types of nutrients:
Like humans, water is the most important nutrient for sustaining overall body function and healthy cells. A cat can lose water through their feces, milk, urine, skin, and lungs. The cat has evolved over the centuries to receive most of their water in their diet via food consumption. This is why a good cat food consists of food that’s rich in unprocessed proteins and water. Wet food is typically formulated with a high water content.
Protein and Amino Acids
Protein supports a cat’s tendons, ligaments, bone, and muscles. Each type of protein has its own digestibility profile since some types of proteins are more available for use in the body compared to other types, such as dairy and plant proteins. Protein is made up of essential amino acids, which are synthesized in the liver with the help of nitrogen and carbon. A cat has very unique taste receptors that can taste the amino acids in their food. It’s because of this that many cats are considered finicky eaters, since they will often reject foods that contain low-quality proteins. There are a total of thirty different types of amino acids. Some are dispensable and others are categorized as non-dispensable. Dispensable means these amino acids can be absent from a diet without any adverse effects, while non-dispensable amino acids are considered essential for health, growth, and development.
Simple fats, also known as essential fatty acids are what provides the most concentrated energy source out of all the cat nutrition requirements. Fat provides energy for cats, which is what makes a high carb diet unnecessary. Additionally, healthy fats also contain vitamins that are fat soluble, such as:
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin D
If a cat has a fat deficiency, they may show some of the following symptoms:
- Dry coat
- Stunted growth
Formulas that are high in fat will contain twenty to forty percent fat.
These organic substances are an essential part of cat nutrition since they will help by regulating a variety of body processes, such as:
- Proper organ and cell function
- Immune health
- Growth and development
There are a couple of different types of vitamins: water and fat soluble. The difference between water and fat soluble vitamins is how they’re stored and processed. Vitamins that are fat-soluble can be processed and stored in fat cells, whereas water-soluble vitamins need to be dissolved in water before their body is able to use them. This means that these vitamins cannot be stored in the body and must be replenished more often than vitamins that are fat-soluble.
Water-soluble vitamins include:
- Vitamin C
- Pantothenic acid
Food that’s minimally processed will typically fulfill daily vitamin requirements through the use of whole foods such as fish, meat, and poultry. Dry pet food usually has added synthetic vitamins, which are supposed to make up for the removal of the natural vitamins during the production process.
These inorganic substances are produced in water or soil and are consumed by animals or plants to regulate:
- Tissue structure
- Acid-based balance
Studies have shown that some minerals can help facilitate healthy body functions. These vitamins include:
How to Read a Cat Food Label
If you don’t know what to look for, then looking at a label can be confusing, and a little overwhelming. These labels are full of important information related to a cat food’s ingredients and nutrition. These labels are also regulated under federal and state law. But how can this information help you choose the right pet food and what does all this information mean?
Pet food companies must list all nutritional information on the mable. Balanced foods should include more than forty nutrients that are essential for pet health. The AAFFCO, also known as the Association of American Feed Control Officers, have set standards for the levels of nutrients that are required in pet food and how this information is displayed on the product’s label. If the food is considered complete and balanced, this means that it provides the proper level of essential nutrients.
You’ll come across food that may be labeled as senior, adult, kitten, or all stages. This indicates what age, or life stage the food is designed for. Many foods are labeled as all stages. This means that the formula meets all nutrient requirements for growth, reproduction, and maintenance.
All food labels will contain a nutrition claim which verifies whether a food is formulated to provide balanced nutrition and how this determination has been made. The nutrition claim is usually reviewed by state regulators.
The GA will reflect the maximum or minimum amounts of certain nutrients. This analysis will provide important product information to regulators who will review a label to determine compliance. It can also be important to pet owners since it includes the levels of four nutrients:
- Moisture content
If the product label makes special claims, such as the calcium content of the wet or dry food is designed for bone health, or a higher fiber and healthy fat content if the wet or dry food is formulated to prevent hairballs, the percentages will be clearly listed on the label.
Cat food manufacturers will choose from a wide range of ingredients when creating a recipe with the required nutrients. These ingredients can be used for their flavor, digestibility, and nutritional value. All of the ingredients used in the product must be listed on the label. This includes special ingredients such as probiotics, and vitamins and minerals.
Is Dry Cat Food Best for Your Feline?
Is dry cat food best for indoor and outdoor cats? Will they benefit more from a wet diet? Choosing between these two types of products can be tricky, especially if your cat is a picky eater, they have special dietary requirements, or you’re on a tight budget. Unfortunately, canned products tend to be more expensive compared to wet, but they also offer certain benefits that you won’t get with kibble. Before you hit that buy now button, weigh the pros and cons for each type of product. What type is your cat more likely to eat? What are your cat’s special needs? Have they had mainly kibble all of their life? For many cat owners, the best choice is to feed kibble and add a few tablespoons of wet to the mix. This will provide your cat with the best of both worlds, at a price that you can afford.
Stray and Feral Cat Diets
If you normally feed all the strays or feral cats in your neighborhood, then I recommend sticking with kibble, since wet tends to start spoiling after being left out more than an hour. It can begin to spoil even faster, if you live in a hotter climate, or it can freeze if you live in a part of the country that experiences harsh winter conditions.
You can go with a product that’s designed for indoor pets, since those are the most common, but if you happen to come across a formula that’s specifically designed for outdoor felines, that will be your best bet. While both types of products are very similar, the outdoor kibble may contain extra fatty ingredients and amino acids that can support immune health and can meet other needs that are unique to outdoor felines.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should Cats Eat Dry Food or Wet Food?
This can often depend on your cat’s food preferences. Some cats prefer dry, while others love wet. However, if you have a cat who doesn’t drink enough water or a cat that’s constipated often, making the switch to wet cat food can be more beneficial, due to the higher moisture content.
Do Cats Need Wet Food Every Day?
If you’re switching cat food, you need to stick to one particular type, such as wet or dry, to avoid digestive upset. You can add a spoonful or two of wet food to their dry food daily, if your cat suffers from chronic constipation or you’re concerned they’re not drinking enough water.
Why Do Cats Not Finish Their Food?
A cat will not finish their dry food if you leave food out for them all day. Many cats love to graze. However, some vets believe that creating a food schedule and feeding a cat three times a day can be better for their digestion.
Does Wet Food Cause Diarrhea in Cats?
In most cases, no. Wet cat food is designed to closely mimic a cat’s diet in the wild. The moisture content and nutrient balance is very similar to that of a mouse and is said to be a more natural diet for them compared to dry food. Typically, if a cat has diarrhea after eating wet cat food it’s because the owner switched from dry straight to wet food, without a gradual transition. Switching one food to another without a transition can often cause digestive upset and diarrhea.
Do Cats Get Bored of Food?
Most cats will be perfectly fine eating the same type of food day in and day out. However, if you’ve noticed a change in your cat’s appetite, they may be sick of their current food, in which case, you can try a different flavor.
Do Cats Like a Variety of Food?
Some cats do. There’s nothing wrong with offering a variety of flavors. It can also be a great way to ensure your cat is enjoying a well-balanced diet, since different flavors will have different types of protein sources such as salmon, tuna, chicken, turkey, beef, and lamb.
Is Rice in Cat Food OK?
Rice is not a staple in a cat’s diet, but a small amount of white rice will not be harmful. It can also be a good option if your cat is experiencing digestive issues, such as an upset stomach.
The best cat food offers a formula that will be perfect for your cat, based on their taste preferences, stage of life, and whether or not your cat has special dietary needs, such as a low-calorie, low-fat, or hairball formula. There are many types and formulas of cat food to choose from, which can make selecting the correct one for your pet feel like an overwhelming process. This guide and the products I’ve included on my best-of list will help you on your path to finding a pet food that your cat will love and one that meets their specific dietary requirements.