We All Want a Happy, Healthy Cat.
A few years ago, we found out the true cost of buying cheap cat food the hard way.
Our cats had been eating the same dry food for about four years, until one of my male cats got deathly-sick. He stopped eating, he stopped drinking and he was urinating blood.
We rushed him to the vet to find he was suffering from a urinary blockage, largely due to the low-moisture content of his food, and he wasn’t drinking enough fresh water to make up for it.
Countless tests and $2,000 later, he was home recovering and went on a special moisture-rich diet.
Apparently, this is a common issue with male cats who don’t get enough natural moisture from their foods.
Was buying inexpensive food worth the $2,000 vet bill I’m still stuck paying off? Was it worth watching my cat almost die? Of course not.
From that point on, I’ve made a point to properly educate myself about the specific dietary needs of cats and paid close attention to their food since. All four of my cats are now on a grain-free, protein-filled diet.
Finding the best cat food can be a delicate process, but the most important thing to remember is that cats have a unique diet, and the ingredient list of whatever food you choose should reflect that.
Quick Look : 15 Best Cat Foods
- NomNomNow – Fresh, Human-Grade, Subscription
- Smalls for Smalls – Fresh, Human-Grade, Subscription
- Addiction – Dry, Canned, Dehydrated
- Ziwipeak – Air-Dried, Canned
- Blackwood – Dry, Canned
- Fromm – Dry, Canned
- Lotus – Dry, Canned
- PetCurean – Dry, Wet
- Redbarn – Canned
- Earthborn Holistic – Dry, Wet
- The Honest Kitchen – Dehydrated
- Natural Planet – Dry, Canned
- Wellness – Dry, Canned
- Canidae Under the Sun – Dry, Canned
- Koha – Canned
Quick Look : 5 Cat Food Brands to Avoid
- 9 Lives
- Purina Friskies
- Purina Fancy Feast
- Hill’s Science Diet
- Meow Mix
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What Makes Cat Food Healthy?
Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they need to eat lots of animal-based proteins, rather than plant-based ones. In the wild, a cat’s diet consists of animals high in protein and low in carbohydrates, so the food they eat within your home should mimic this.
At the basic level, cats need high-quality animal-protein, lots of water and added vitamins and minerals. If you want to ensure your cat is eating the best food possible, here’s exactly how to do it.
What to Look For:
- A specific, named protein source like “chicken”, “salmon”, “turkey”, etc. The food may also contain animal organs, like chicken liver or heart — these are fine, too.
- Made with fat sources, such as oils or “chicken fat”.
- Taurine is an essential amino acid cats need to have added in their food.
- Includes added vitamins, minerals and fatty acids. Vitamin E and Vitamin C are important because they act as natural preservatives.
- Contains carbohydrates from vegetable sources, like sweet potato or green peas.
- Includes water as a main ingredient.
What to Avoid:
- Added sugars and chemical preservatives like BHA, BHT, propyl gallate and ethoxyquin.
- Carbohydrates sourced from grains or corn meal.
- Unnamed protein sources, like “meat” or “animal byproducts”.
- Artificial colors and flavoring, like “meat flavor” or dyes.
- Soybean variants, which are often used as a source of protein in place of meat
Types of Cat Food
Different cats have varying dietary needs and restrictions, so it’s hard to say exactly which food is good for your pet.
With that being said, there are a few types of cat food: dry, canned, dehydrated or a raw diet.
Dry food, or kibble, is probably the most cost-effective diet for a cat. However, it can also be the most highly processed kind of food.
It’s OK to feed it to your cat, but they don’t drink enough water to solely eat dry food. You could also mix in some wet food throughout the day to provide necessary moisture.
This goes with any diet, especially dry food, but always provide lots of fresh water for your cat.
Canned food can be better than dry food because it does provide the added moisture, similar to if a cat ate “raw” prey in the wild.
Overall, wet food with a primary meat source is more similar to a cat’s natural diet than dry food is. Plus, cats don’t need to drink as much fresh water if they’re eating canned food.
Personally, I feed my cats dry food in the morning and wet food at night to keep a good balance. If you have male cats, you’ll want to be especially cautious about making sure he gets enough water, or you might end up with a very sick kitty.
It’s said that a raw diet is the most “biologically-appropriate” for cats — it’s rich with moisture and animal protein, and doesn’t contain any carbohydrates or vegetables. It’s impossible to find a wet or dry food completely free of carbs or veggies.
Some people make their own raw cat food at home but there are a few brands that sell it, one of which I mention below.
Dehydrated food is comparable to a raw food diet, except it has to be rehydrated before your cat can eat it.
Dehydrated diets can be better than raw ones since you’re able to store it at room temperature without it going bad. The nutritional content of dehydrated food is also much higher than regular kibble.
The major downside of this diet is the price — it’s super expensive.
Fresh/Human-Grade Cat Food
It’s a bit of a surprise it’s taken so long for a company to get this one right, but there are several great brands making small-batch, human-grade food that is beyond good for your cat.
Fresh cat food is unlike the other types because it is packaged and shipped to order which means it doesn’t have to be doused with preservatives or stripped of its nutrients through harsh cooking methods in order to increase it’s shelf life.
Fresh cat food is gently cooked and made with all natural ingredients. It differs from raw cat food in that it must stay refrigerated or frozen because it will spoil given it’s real meat and vegetable DNA.
What Makes a Great Cat Food Brand?
The best cat food brands stand out due to the following qualities:
Location of Manufacture
Some brands manufacture their food in countries with lax food-quality laws, and others don’t provide any information on where their food is made. The best cat food brands make their food in the United States, Canada or New Zealand.
Ideally, they’ll also own their own manufacturing plant and be transparent about any food-quality testing they do.
Where Ingredients Are Sourced From
The best cat food brands source their ingredients from the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and sometimes France.
Not-so-high-quality brands will typically source ingredients from China or other places in Asia, or they might not even say where their ingredients come from.
It’s a major red flag if a brand doesn’t state where their ingredients come from, or where the food is made.
History of Recalls
It’s one thing for a highly regarded brand to have one recall over the course of 5-10 years, but brands with multiple recalls in the same time period need to be looked at with a bit more scrutiny. The best cat food brands are characterized by having less than two recalls over the course of five years.
Use of High-Quality Ingredients
The most important aspect of a cat’s food is the ingredient list. First, it’s important the food is grain free — cats aren’t made for digesting grains, and they’re completely unnecessary in cat food.
The best cat food brands contain high-quality protein and lots of moisture. They also use natural preservatives, like Vitamin E and Vitamin C, instead of artificial ones like BHA or BHT.
Artificial additives and highly processed ingredients can cause severe health issues for cats — kidney disease, urinary blockage and obesity are common issues seen with low-quality cat food.
Before picking a brand, look at the customer reviews online. Some brands have tons of customers complaints saying their food made their cats sick.
Top 15 Best Cat Food Brands
Knowing the information above, here are the 15 best cat food brands that only produce the highest quality food.
Recently launched using a subscription model, this food made from fresh batches of premium, gently cooked human-grade ingredients is fast becoming the go-to option for discerning cat owners.
The current meal choices are Chicken Chow Meow and Flavorful Fish Feast. We suspect that a wider selection will become available as the company grows. Here’s a sample of the fish recipe…
Smalls for Smalls isn’t all that dissimilar from NomNomNow. Which is a good thing!
Responsibly sourced human-grade ingredients prepared in small batches is arguable the best thing to happen to cat food in a long time.
Although the price does tend to be a little spendier and may be unattainable for some loving cat owners the gap isn’t so big that most households can’t make it work.
Smalls for Smalls offers chicken, turkey and beef recipes specially formulated by a feline nutritionist with natural ingredients. Here’s a sample of the chicken recipe ingredients… Chicken breast, chicken thigh, chicken liver, chicken hearts, chicken gizzards, eggs, kale, peas, green beans, parsley, Smalls blend of nutritional supplements.
Dry, canned, dehydrated
Addiction Pet Food’s founder is a leading holistic veterinary surgeon and clinical nutritionist who noticed regular pet foods weren’t giving animals proper nutrition, and was instead causing them harm.
Noticing this issue, he developed an entirely new range of foods based on the natural diets of cats. The recipes were formulated around premium proteins and high-quality meats. Mainly, meats that were rich in nutrients but also hypoallergenic and easy to digest. Addiction uses Game Meats, like free-range Venison, Salmon and Kangaroo.
This brand owns and operates their own manufacturing plant in New Zealand. They only source from suppliers who use sustainable and ethical practices to stay in line with their eco-friendly philosophy. Their food contains no by-products, fillers or unnatural preservatives.
Addiction Pet Foods has had one recall.
In 2016, the canned dog food was found to have elevated levels of vitamin A, but their cat food was not affected.
- Offers dehydrated food
- No by-products, fillers, preservatives or grains
- Uses only high-quality Game Meats
- Manufactured in New Zealand
- Their cans might be hard to find at certain times — looking online now, all their canned cat food is backordered through the next week.
- The price of this food is a bit expensive, but the high-quality proteins seems to be worth it
ZiwiPeak ensures its cat food is 100% sourced from free-range, ethical farms in New Zealand, and made from 98% fresh meat. Their food includes organs, like hearts and lungs, to mimic a cat’s natural diet.
ZiwiPeak offers canned and air-dried cat food formulas.
This brand offers an “Air-dried” cat food made with a twin stage drying process that eliminates harmful bacteria and preserves essential nutrients. Ziwi claims air-dried food has more protein and calories than both a raw food diet and kibble, meaning you won’t need to buy as much. It’s made from 98% meat, organs and bone.
They even have a helpful food calculator to show the calorie difference between ZiwiPeak and other brands.
ZiwiPeak has never had a product recall.
- Unique air-dried cat food formula
- Sourced from New Zealand farms
- Uses Kelp as a natural vitamin and mineral source
- Guaranteed analysis of proteins, fats and moisture
- High cost for air-dried cat food
- Doesn’t offer traditional kibble
Blackwood Pet Food is handcrafted in small batches at its family-owned facility in Ohio. This brand slow cooks its food, which maintains important nutrients and creates a higher starch conversion. These high levels of starch can give cats more energy and stamina.
This brand offers “everyday recipes” for cats of all life stages and “grain free special diet” formulas in both dry and canned options.
Blackwood’s slow cooked recipe has been perfected for over 20 years. They’re able to offer high quality food because they own and operate their own manufacturing plant within the U.S. They also offer a refund for anyone whose pets refuse to eat their food for any reason.
Blackwood product’s have never been recalled.
- Large variety of cat foods for every stage of life
- Grain free dry food very high in protein
- Manufactures in the U.S.
- Not all formulas are completely grain free
Fromm Family Foods has a long history, with their family story starting in the 1800s. Throughout the 1900s, Fromm laboratories created the first fox distemper vaccine, canine distemper vaccine and feline distemper vaccine — a huge milestone for animal welfare.
In the 1940s, the Fromm family created the first granular pet food. Since then, they’ve continued to research and improve their pet food formulas, marketing Fromm pet food as a “true, four-star canine and feline cuisine.”
This brand offers canned food as well as two lines of dry food: Gold, for kitten, adult and senior cats and Four-Star Nutritionals formulated for all life stages.
Fromm ensures food safety and quality by conducting random inspections from the FDA, USDA and APHIS. They also test all dry and canned pet foods to ensure they contain the proper protein levels and food safety standards.
Fromm recalled canned dog food in 2016 for elevated levels of Vitamin D.
- Family owned and operated facilities
- Offers a large variety of dry food flavors
- Highly established brand
- Rigorous safety standards and testing
- Food isn’t completely grain free
Lotus pet foods started as a pet retail store in Los Angeles. Their store stocked the healthiest and most holistic pet foods out there, but they became disappointed when manufacturers continued selling out to large corporations. Because of this, they created their own cat food using only high-quality ingredients.
Lotus offers oven-baked dry food for kittens and cats, as well as pate and juicy-style canned food.
This brand’s dry food is made in small batches at their family owned Canadian bakery, and the wet food comes from their micro-cannery in California. All ingredients are sourced from the U.S., Canada and New Zealand. The oven baking process used for their dry food formulas allows ingredients to retain 100% of its proteins and vitamins.
Lotus pet foods has never had a recall.
- No artificial fillers used in production
- USDA inspected meat, poultry and fish used in juicy canned food
- Not all foods are grain free
- Dry food tends to be on the expensive side
Petcurean’s NOW FRESH cat food is grain free and made with 100% market-fresh meat or fish. Petcurean is a family owned business committed to sustainability — the NOW FRESH wet food packaging is 100% recyclable. All pet food formulas are created and manufactured in Canada.
NOW FRESH offers grain free dry food for kittens, adults and senior cats. They also have four grain free wet food options.
Petcurean’s senior nutritionist has a PhD in animal nutrition, meaning all pet food formulas are thoroughly researched and tested. All manufacturing plants are held to a high standard of cleanliness and best-practices: audits by the British Retail Consortium are conducted and all ingredients are tested prior to use.
The Go! Brand from Petcurean was recalled in 2003 after reports of liver disease and liver failure.
- Fresh, high-quality ingredients
- Offers four different cat food brands: GATHER, NOW FRESH, GO! and SUMMIT
- Canadian owned and operated
- Wet food is the most expensive on the list
Redbarn was founded by two Canadian friends looking do create a healthy, wholesome dog food from high-quality ingredients. After outgrowing multiple manufacturing facilities in California, the brand moved to a former FDA certified human grade bacon and ham plant in Great Bend, Kansas.
This brand ensures high quality from their three fully equipped in-house testing labs. They operate under HACCP standards and are periodically audited by the FDA and USDA.
Redbarn offers a large variety of grain-free wet food, in pate and stew formulas. All canned cat foods are guaranteed to be grain free, contain high quality meat and be free of artificial preservatives.
This brand has never been recalled.
- All food is grain free
- Made in U.S.
- One of the more affordable options
- No dry food options
Earthborn Holistic offers a wide range of both wet and dry foods. The different types of dry food are formulated for different stages of your cat’s life, and contain highly digestible proteins like salmon and herring meal.
This brand offers three types of dry foods: Feline Vantage, Primitive Feline and Wild Sea Catch. They also have over 10 different flavors of wet cat food, offered both in cans and pouches. All of their cat food formulas are completely grain free.
All products are manufactured in one of their multiple company-owned facilities within the U.S. Each facility is inspected throughout the year, and all ingredients are tested before being being used in pet food.
Earthborn Holistic has never had a recall.
- All products are grain free
- Both dry and wet food options are pretty affordable compared to other brands
- Made in the U.S.
- Plant-based fat is primary fat source for canned cat food
The Honest Kitchen was started over 10 years ago when the company’s owner, Lucy, started making dehydrated foods for her dog. Soon, all her friend’s dogs were eating it and soon enough she was scaling up her business.
This brand offers two different flavors of dehydrated cat food: chicken and turkey.
The Honest Kitchen is a bit different from other brands — they only make dehydrated cat food. Their two flavors of grain free dehydrated cat food both contain 12 lbs of fresh, 100% human grade food. All food is made in the U.S. at FDA certified facilities, and supplied from mainly from the states.
The Honest Kitchen has had one recall. In 2013, the parsley used in 3 brands of its pet food was recalled for potential salmonella contamination. The Honest Kitchen recalled this food and cut ties with the supplier.
- Over 60% of ingredients are sourced from the U.S.
- They also offer special dietary supplements
- Some ingredients are sourced from Asia. Although, it is less than 1% and none of it is from China
- It requires some effort to make the dehydrated food edible for your cat
Natural Planet has over 50 years of experience manufacturing pet foods. Their manufacturing plant in Minnesota only uses high quality, non-GMO ingredients. The protein sources are mainly kangaroo, rabbit and duck, which are sourced from either Australia or France.
This brand provides both dry and canned cat food.
Canned cat foods contain at least 95% organic ingredients, and the wet food has at least 70%. Both dry and wet food is made with free range chicken and organic vegetables.
Natural Planet has never had a recall.
- Trucks carrying the brand’s food are inspected for cleanliness before being stocked
- Only high quality ingredients used for each type of cat food
- Website makes it difficult to figure out if the dry food is made for cats or dogs
- Food not specific to life stages
- Dry cat food isn’t grain free
This brand is probably one of the larger ones on the list. In business since the 1990s, Wellness holds their food to high quality standards. All their suppliers are required to meet strict FDA requirements.
Wellness offers an extensive variety of dry and canned cat foods.
With over 20 flavors of canned cat foods, it’s almost guaranteed you’ll be able to find a flavor your cat likes. They break down the wet food into morsels, sliced, minced, gravies and pate. All their dry recipes are manufactured in Indiana, and their wet food is made in Canada.
Wellness has had four recalls since 2012, for both dog and cat food. The reasons included a possible moisture contamination, potential for foreign material and potential for elevated levels of beef thyroid.
- Provide food for different life stages
- All wet foods are grain free
- Not all dry foods are grain free
- More recalls than other brands on this list
- Couldn’t find information on location of suppliers
Canidae has a few different brands, but I chose Under The Sun because it’s grain free and features single animal proteins. This brand has their own farm in Kansas, and owns and operates a manufacturing facility in Texas. They don’t grow everything themselves yet, but that’s their goal for the future.
Canidae Under The Sun offers a pretty decent variety of both wet and dry food.
Both the wet and dry food is grain free and made without potato or animal by-product.
In 2012, when Canidae was owned by Diamond Pet Foods, there was a voluntary recall of dog food products for potential salmonella contamination. Canidae hasn’t had any recalls after branching off from Diamond.
- Their food is a more affordable option without having to sacrifice quality
- Widely available online and in-store
- Under The Sun doesn’t provide food for specific life stages, but Canidae’s other brands do
- Previously owned by Diamond, who had issues with recalls
Koha means “gift of food” in New Zealand. This brand markets their wet cat food as “clean food” that was created using ingredients for pets with food and skin sensitivities in mind.
Koha only offers canned cat food, and stocks both stew and pate styles.
All the meats used in Koha canned food are sourced from New Zealand, Australia or France. All canned food is made in the U.S., and they promise their food will even please finicky cats.
Koha has never had any recalls.
- Large variety of wet food
- High-quality proteins
- Good for cats with food or skin sensitivities
- No dry food options
- I wasn’t able to find exactly where the food is manufactured, though their site says it’s “in the U.S.”
5 Cat Food Brands To Avoid
Now that we’ve gone over the best cat food brands, you probably have an idea of what to look for. For a quick refresher, we don’t want any grains like corn, animal byproduct or artificial colors or preservatives. It’s also a red flag if a food includes soybean meal, as this means they’re deriving protein from soy, instead of using animal based protein from meats.
Looking at the difference between the high quality brands mentioned above and the low quality brands I’m about to mention, it’s amazing to me that people continue buying this food for their cats.
When choosing a great cat food, a little bit of research can go a long way. You might pay a higher price for the better food, but the health issues that can stem from feeding your kitty cheap kibble will cost you more in the long run. Trust me.
Here’s exactly which brands you should avoid.
9Lives came to be in 1959, and their website states it’s “among the best-selling brands of cat food in the United States”. They market their brand has having all the protein and vitamins cats need but one look at their ingredient list says otherwise. Their cat food is filled with grains, animal by-product and artificial colors and preservatives.
This brand offers both wet and dry food options. The dry food is full of grains — whole ground corn is the first ingredient — and the wet food is comprised of mysterious “meat by-product” and the dangerous cancer-causing preservative BHA/BHT. It also contains menadione, a controversial synthetic version of vitamin K that’s been linked to liver problems.
Recall Info: 9Lives was recalled in early 2017 for low levels of thiamine, an essential vitamin for cats. This recall affected 17 of their cat food products.
Problem Ingredients: whole ground corn, meat by-product, soybean meal, corn gluten meal, whole wheat, artificial colors, artificial preservatives, menadione, unnamed protein sources like animal fat and animal digest.
Purina has been a pet food brand for over 80 years, establishing them as a authority figure in their market. Purina offers a variety of different lines for cars, including Friskies. You’ve probably seen their treats all over the grocery stores. They also offer a wide variety of dry and canned cat food, none of which are healthy for your kitty.
Their dry food is filled with corn, artificial flavor, colors and preservatives. Friskies is another brand that adds the controversial ingredient menadione. A lot of reviews for Friskies on the Consumer Affairs site talk about how their cats refuse to eat the canned food, and how it even made some of them sick.
Recall Info: Purina has been subjected to numerous recalls since 2011, with one of them affecting the Friskies brand. In 2011, Friskies dry food was recalled for the potential of salmonella contamination.
Problem Ingredients: ground yellow corn, corn gluten meal, meat by-products, soybean meal wheat gluten, corn starch, meat and bone meal, animal liver flavor, natural flavor, menadione, artificial colors
Purina Fancy Feast
Fancy Feast has over 100 cat food recipes and was dubbed the “#1 wet cat food brand in the USA.” While their wet food isn’t the worst on the market, it still isn’t great. Their dry food is what I’m more concerned about. It’s filled with grains and unnamed protein sources as well as artificial flavors, dyes and preservatives. When you see any type of grain as the first ingredient in cat food, you should avoid it. Fancy Feast dry food also contains soybean meal as a source of protein, instead of using more naturally meat-derived proteins.
The most concerning thing about Fancy Feast to me is the multitude of reviews claiming Fancy Feast made their cats sick.
Recall Info: Fancy Feast has never been recalled, but Purina has had multiple recalls since 2011.
Problem Ingredients: ground rice, meat by-products, soybean meal, natural filet mignon flavor, menadione, artificial dyes and preservatives
Hill’s Science Diet
This brand is what many might call a marketing miracle — it’s marketed as “the No. 1 pet food recommended by veterinarians to promote good health.” Hill’s Science Diet is highly regarded as one of the best foods to feed your pet, and it’s stocked in most vet offices. They offer a large variety of wet and dry foods, with specific foods depending on the health needs of your pet. They offer food for hairball control, sensitive stomach and urinary health to name a few.
Although this brand is touted as healthy and filled with high quality protein and it actually does have a protein as a first ingredient for most foods, it’s also filled with low-quality grains and artificial ingredients. This isn’t the absolute worst brand you could feed your cat, but it’s worth mentioning because of how healthy it appears to be.
Recall Info: Hill’s Science Diet has been recalled three times over the last 11 years. The most recent issue was a market withdrawal in 2015 due to labeling issues. The food was recalled in 2014 for salmonella contamination, and twice in 2007 for melamine issues.
Problem Ingredients: whole grain wheat, corn gluten meal, soybean oil, corn starch, wheat flour, soybean meal, chicken liver flavor, natural flavor.
Easily one of the most recognizable cat food brands, Meow Mix claims to give cats “the irresistible tastes they love and the wholesome nutrition they need”, while also being the only cat food brand brand asked for by name. This is probably due to their large marketing campaigns and recognizable commercials rather than high quality food.
With the Meow Mix dry foods, meat is the second or third ingredient when it should come first. Both the wet and dry food is also filled with soybean variants, grains and artificial colors. Even the meow mix treats contain multiple controversial preservatives, including BHA and ethoxyquin.
Recall Info: Meow Mix has never had a recall at this point in time.
Problem Ingredients: whole ground corn, corn gluten meal, soybean meal, soybean hulls, brewers rice, animal digest, menadione, wheat gluten, modified tapioca starch, poultry by-products, BHA, ethoxyquin artificial colors.
Now that we’ve gone over the best and worst cat food brands, I hope you feel educated enough to make the best decision for your cat.
Just remember to look at the ingredient list, and do a little research online before committing. If you plan on switching your cat to a new diet, make sure you do it slowly.