- What are the Best (Healthiest) Cat Food Brands in 2021?
- What Makes a Good Cat Food?
- What Are the Different Types of Cat Food?
- Tips for Balancing Budget and Quality
- The Top 11 Best Cat Foods
- 4 More Top-Rated Cat Foods
- Frequently Asked Questions
When your cat is hungry, he lets you know by meowing incessantly or by inserting himself into whatever activity you’re trying to do that doesn’t involve feeding your cat.
When you’ve finally had enough, you head to the cupboard or the pantry to pour your cat a bowl of food. It’s something you’ve done hundreds of times, so you don’t really think about it. You don’t really think about what you’re actually feeding your cat.
The truth of the matter is that all cat foods are not created equal.
Cat food manufacturers are businesses just like any other, and their number-1 goal will always be to make a profit. This isn’t to say that all cat food companies are bad, but there are certainly more than a few of them out there that don’t deserve a second glance.
But how do you know which cat food companies you can trust and which ones you can’t?
Unfortunately, it’s not easy. If you want to be confident that you’re feeding your cat a high-quality product that will meet his nutritional needs in the healthiest way possible, you’re going to have to do a little bit of homework. You’re going to have to take matters into your own hands and learn how to identify the best cat food brands on the market.
Lucky for you, we’re here to help!
We’ve been doing this for a long time, so we know what’s what when it comes to cat food. Does that mean you should trust us implicitly? Not necessarily. You should always do your own research. But it’s our goal to provide you with honest, accurate information so you can make well-informed decisions when it comes to your cat’s food.
In this article, we’ll give you the background information you need to pick the best cat food for your cat, AND we’ll throw in some of our own personal recommendations to get you started.
Let’s get to it!
What are the Best (Healthiest) Cat Food Brands in 2021?
- JustCats Fish & Chicken
- NomNomNow Fresh Food Delivery
- American Journey Turkey & Chicken Recipe Dry Food – Most Affordable
- Taste of the Wild Rocky Mountain Grain-Free Cat Food – Most Popular
- Ziwi Peak Lamb Recipe Canned Cat Food
- Wellness CORE Grain-Free Indoor Formula
- Nature’s Variety Instinct LID Rabbit Recipe
- The Honest Kitchen Grain-Free Chicken Recipe Dehydrated Cat Food
- Blue Buffalo Wilderness Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Cat Food
What Makes a Good Cat Food?
Cat food brands are a dime a dozen, so how do you know if one brand is better than another?
To be able to tell the good from the bad, you’ll need to learn the basics about reading a cat food label. All the information you need to determine the quality of a cat food product is there for you to see.
Here are some of the most important things to look for in a good cat food:
- Nutritionally complete and balanced
- High-quality, animal-based proteins
- Healthy fats (omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids)
- Digestible carbohydrates and dietary fiber
- No by-products or artificial additives
- Beneficial supplements
Now, let’s take a closer look at each of these things and how they contribute to making a cat food worthy of your consideration.
When it comes to evaluating cat food, you should start by looking for an AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy, then check the guaranteed analysis and list of ingredients. The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has created nutrient profiles for cats in different life stages – growth & reproduction (kittens and pregnant or lactating females) and adult maintenance.
If a cat food meets these minimum nutritional requirements, it will carry a label somewhere on the package that looks something like this:
Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that [Insert Product Name] provides complete and balanced nutrition for maintenance of adult cats.
Once you’ve determined that the product is nutritionally complete and balanced, then you can take a closer look at the ingredients themselves and their percentages.
All animals have specific nutritional requirements, and your cat’s nutritional needs are much different from your own. Cats are obligate carnivores by nature which means that they have a biological need for meat in their diet. They have a limited ability to digest plant products, but meat should provide the basis of their nutrition.
In terms of specific requirements, the Merck Veterinary Manual lists the following:
|Nutrient (Minimum)||Growth & Reproduction||Adult Maintenance|
As you can see, cats have no minimum requirement for carbohydrate in their diet. Keep in mind, however, that digestible carbohydrates provide a source of usable energy as well as dietary fiber and essential vitamins and minerals. All you need to worry about is making sure that protein is the foundation of your cat’s diet with adequate fat content.
In addition to making sure that your cat’s food does contain high-quality ingredients, you also need to make sure it doesn’t contain by-products and artificial additives. Low-quality ingredients like these can upset your cat’s digestion at best and do serious harm to his health at worst. On the opposite side of things, however, there are additives that can be considered beneficial like vitamin supplements, chelated minerals, and probiotics.
Now that you have a better idea what you should be looking for in the best cat food, you may be wondering what kind of options are out there. Keep reading to find out!
What Are the Different Types of Cat Food?
As a cat owner, it is your job to provide for your cat’s needs, and that includes a healthy and nutritious diet. Before you stroll into the nearest pet store and grab something off the shelf, however, you should take the time to learn about your options – this includes familiarizing yourself with the different types of cat food you’re likely to encounter.
Here is a quick overview of some of the most popular types of cat food:
- Dry Cat Food
- Canned Cat Food
- Semi-Moist Cat Food
- Freeze-Dried Cat Food
- Dehydrated Cat Food
- Fresh Cat Food
- Raw Cat Food
Within each of these categories, there are a variety of other types of cat food as well.
For example, both dry cat food and canned cat food brands offer options for grain-free and limited ingredient cat foods. These options are great for cats with food allergies or sensitivities. Limited ingredient diets are simply cat foods made with a lower number of main ingredients (often with novel sources of protein and carbohydrate) to limit the risk of triggering food allergies.
A quick word about grain-free cat food….
There has always been a great deal of controversy surrounding the inclusion of carbohydrates in cat food. The fact remains that cats are obligate carnivores which means that the majority of their nutrition needs to come from animal sources. Unfortunately, meat-based diets are expensive, and most cat owners don’t have the knowledge or ability to create a homemade cat food diet that is nutritionally complete and balanced.
The task falls then to commercial cat food manufacturers who must strike a balance between creating a product that meets AAFCO standards but also makes them a profit.
It is our belief that while fresh cat food made primarily with meat-based ingredients is certainly the best option for cats, that high-quality commercial diets made with digestible carbohydrates are acceptable. Again, it falls on the cat owner’s shoulders to choose the best cat food for their cat and to purchase the highest-quality cat food you can consistently afford.
So, how do you choose the healthiest cat food for your cat without emptying your bank account every month? Keep reading to learn some helpful tips for balancing quality and affordability.
Tips for Balancing Budget and Quality
As a cat owner, you want what’s best for your feline friend – we all do. Unfortunately, the best cat foods on the market are very expensive, and it simply isn’t in the average cat owner’s budget to feed top-shelf cat food all the time.
The best thing you can do for your cat is to feed him the highest quality cat food you can consistently afford. But how do you strike the right balance between quality and affordability?
If you’re concerned about your budget, you may be tempted to shop for cat food by price, but that would be a mistake. It is, unfortunately, true for most cheap cat food brands that they use low-quality ingredients like grains and fillers. If you start with price rather than quality when shopping for cat food, you are likely to end up with a product that isn’t any good.
So, where do you start?
First, you’ll want to decide between feeding your cat a good dry cat food or wet food. Generally speaking, dry food is more affordable than wet food, and it has the added benefit of a longer shelf-life. Wet food tends to be higher in protein and moisture, but the best canned cat food on the market is very expensive – especially if you use it as your cat’s staple diet.
Once you’ve decided between wet and dry cat food, think about the main ingredients.
Protein is always the most important nutrient for cats, but it can come from different sources. Chicken is an excellent source of complete protein for cats, and it tends to be very affordable as well. Proteins like beef and pork are also at the lower end of the pricing spectrum, but these ingredients come with a higher risk of triggering food allergies and sensitivities.
As long as the cat food lists a quality source of animal-based protein as the first ingredient, you’re off to a good start. Next, check out the fats and carbohydrates. Remember, fats provide energy as well as support for healthy skin and coat while carbohydrates provide energy and fiber.
Many good cat food manufacturers add bulk to their products with grains and fillers. These ingredients add calories and substance to the product without significantly adding to the cost. You’ll also see some cat food manufacturers using plant-based proteins like pea protein or potato protein to beef up the protein content of their cat foods without adding expensive meat ingredients.
Affordable cat food tends to contain grains, but you should look for the more digestible options like brown rice and oatmeal rather than things like wheat and corn.
There are certainly affordable grain-free cat foods on the market, but some of them are made with legumes like lentils and peas which, in large quantities, can cause digestive issues of their own. The best grain-free carbohydrates for cats are nutrient-rich vegetables like spinach and carrots which provide a balance of carbohydrate energy, dietary fiber, and essential nutrients.
As long as the cat food you’re considering has plenty of animal-based protein, healthy fats, and digestible carbohydrates, it should be fine. If you’re concerned about price, you may have to make some compromises about the percentages of these ingredients, but as long as your cat’s minimum nutritional requirements are met, you should be fine.
Before you head to the register, however, there is one more thing to look for – artificial additives.
Though this is not universally true, it is often the case that as the quality of a cat food product goes down, the length of the ingredients list goes up. At the end of that list, you’re likely to find all kinds of artificial additives like colors, flavors, and preservatives.
Depending how low your budget is, you may have to make some concessions about things like artificial flavors and by-products but avoid any cat food made with harmful preservatives like BHA, BHT, and ethoxyquin.
If you’re not sure whether an affordable cat food is any good, you can always check online cat food ratings for the brand or for the specific recipe you’re considering. Speaking of cat food ratings, keep reading to see our top 10 picks for the best cat foods for cats.
The Top 11 Best Cat Foods
With so many different options out there, it is difficult to say what is truly the best cat food. As a cat owner, the best thing you can do is consider your cat’s nutritional requirements, and individual preferences then choose the highest quality product you can that fits your budget.
If you’re not sure where to start looking, here are our top 10 picks for the best cat food in several different categories:
|Our 2021 Picks: Best Cat Food (Healthiest Picks)|
|JustCats Fish & Chicken
|NomNomNow Fresh Food Delivery Service
|American Journey Turkey & Chicken Recipe Dry Food
|Taste Of The Wild Rocky Mountain Grain-Free Cat Food
|Ziwi Peak Lamb Recipe Canned Cat Food
|Wellness CORE Grain-Free Indoor Formula
|Nature’s Variety Instinct LID Rabbit Recipe
|Honest Kitchen Grain-Free Chicken Recipe Dehydrated Cat Food
|Blue Buffalo Wilderness Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Cat Food
|Nutro Wholesome Essentials Indoor Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe
|Solid Gold Indigo Moon With Chicken & Eggs Grain-Free Dry Food
Our Top Pick for the Best Cat Food: JustCats Fish & Chicken recipe is a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that’s perfect for adult cats of all breeds. It is nutritionally balanced and it contains yuca root to absorb and retain moisture, to help ensure your cat is always fully hydrated. It is made with human-grade ingredients and delivered conveniently to your doorstep. The main source of protein is Alaskan Pacific wild-caught cod which is low-calorie and a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, niacin, vitamin B12 & B6, potassium, phosphorus, and selenium. This is also our top pick because cat food that contains easily digestible EFAs, like those in fish, help contribute to a healthy, shiny coat. Chicken thigh meat is another excellent source of protein in this food. It delivers more vitamin B, iron, antioxidants, and overall nutritional value than other protein choices and it is high in taurine, an essential nutrient only found in meat. For this reason, you will not see taurine listed as an added ingredient on our label. It’s in the meat!If you choose this food for your cat, you can have peace of mind knowing that it is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles for maintenance.
- Pros: Fresh, human-grade food, great for allergies or sensitive stomachs
- Cons: More expensive than dry food options
If you want to feed your cat the best of the best, try NomNomNow’s fresh food delivery service. Similar to a food delivery service for humans, NomNomNow prepares your cat’s meals and delivers them fresh to your door. All you have to do is create a profile for your pet online and choose between two chicken or fish recipes to receive monthly orders of fresh food perfectly portioned for your pet. These meals are packed with premium protein as well as fresh fruits and vegetables to ensure balanced nutrition and maximum digestibility. Both recipes provide a minimum of 50% protein and maximum of 10% carbs.
- Pros: Food delivered fresh to your door, high in protein low in carbs, no grains or fillers, choose from two protein options, balanced nutrition, easy to digest
- Cons: Expensive to feed compared to dry food, only two recipes to choose from
Our Top Pick for the Best Affordable Cat Food: For a cat food brand that offers the ideal combination of quality and affordability, try this American Journey Turkey & Chicken Recipe Cat Food. This formula features real, deboned turkey as the main ingredient with fresh chicken for supplemental protein. It is grain-free for digestibility and supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables as natural sources for key nutrients. This formula provides a minimum of 40% protein and 15% fat, so you can rest assured knowing it more than meets your cat’s nutritional needs. Plus, with chelated minerals and dried fermentation products for digestive support, your cat will be enjoying balanced nutrition with optimal digestibility.
- Pros: Premium animal proteins, grain-free carbohydrates, fresh fruits, and vegetables, rich in omega fatty acids, chelated minerals, probiotics for healthy digestion
- Cons: Contains some plant protein (pea protein), peas may cause digestive upset in some cats
Our Top Pick for the Most Popular Cat Food: If you’re not sure what the healthiest dry cat food might be, you can’t go wrong with a popular option like this Taste of the Wild Rocky Mountain Grain-Free Cat Food recipe. This formula features real roasted venison and smoked salmon along with other whole-food ingredients to ensure balanced nutrition and maximum flavor. This recipe is naturally grain-free, so it doesn’t contain any corn or wheat ingredients, and it is free from artificial additives as well. With a minimum of 42% protein and 18% fat, this formula is just what your cat needs and the fact that it is loaded with fresh meat means that it is full of delicious flavor as well. You’ll also be glad to know that it is supplemented with chelated minerals and probiotics.
- Pros: Several sources of premium protein, grain-free carbohydrates, high in protein and fat, fresh fruits and vegetables, chelated minerals, supplemented with enzymes and probiotics
- Cons: Contains some plant proteins (pea and potato protein)
Our Top Pick for the Best Canned Cat Food: If you’re looking for the best canned cat food, we recommend Ziwi Peak Lamb Recipe Canned Cat Food. This brand is based in New Zealand so, while it may not be made in the USA, Ziwi Peak is one of the top cat food manufacturers and known for the quality of their ingredients and manufacturing processes. This lamb recipe features fresh New Zealand lamb as the primary ingredient with green-lipped mussels as a natural source of glucosamine and chondroitin. It is a grain-free recipe made with a limited number of main ingredients and supplemented with chelated minerals for maximum nutrient absorption. As a premium source of protein and balanced nutrition, this is a great option for the best canned cat food for indoor cats.
- Pros: Single source of premium animal protein, grain-free and low in carbohydrates, contains fresh organ meats, natural source of glucosamine and chondroitin, chelated minerals
- Cons: Not made in the USA, expensive to feed as a staple diet
Our Top Pick for the Best Grain-Free Cat Food: If you’re concerned about digestibility, a grain-free cat food like this Wellness CORE Grain-Free Indoor Formula could be a good option for your cat. Not only is this a wonderful grain-free option, but it is one of the best indoor cat foods as well. Loaded with 38% protein and 12%, this recipe provides ideal nutrition to help your cat maintain lean muscle mass and a healthy body weight. With supplemental fiber, it also reduces hairballs and boosts digestion. This formula contains a blend of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for healthy skin and coat, plus other beneficial supplements such as chelated minerals, vitamins, and probiotics.
- Pros: Formulated for indoor cats, designed to support lean muscle mass, rich in protein with moderate fat, no by-products or fillers, blend of omega fatty acids
- Cons: May be too high in fiber for some cats, contains some plant proteins (potato protein)
Our Top Pick for the Best Cat Food for Allergies: If your cat suffers from sensitive stomach or food allergies, you may want to avoid common proteins like chicken and beef. This Nature’s Variety Instinct LID Rabbit Recipe is a great choice because it is made with a limited number of main ingredients including a novel source of protein. This formula is protein-rich and highly digestible, but still fortified with essential nutrients. It is completely free from corn, wheat, and soy as well as other low-quality ingredients and it has guaranteed levels of antioxidants and omega fatty acids. Your cat is sure to love it.
- Pros: Made with a limited number of main ingredients, novel source of animal protein, no grains or low-quality ingredients, blend of omega fatty acids, beneficial supplements
- Cons: Expensive to feed as a staple diet, main source of fat is plant-based
4 More Top-Rated Cat Foods
If the cat food recipes reviewed above don’t seem like a good fit for your cat, don’t worry – there are plenty more options! Here are four more top-rated cat foods we recommend:
If you love the idea of feeding your cat fresh or raw food, but you don’t want to deal with the hassle, consider The Honest Kitchen Grain-Free Chicken Recipe Dehydrated Cat Food. This brand uses human-grade ingredients and a gentle drying process to preserve the nutritional integrity high-quality ingredients for maximum nutrition and flavor. This recipe is loaded with premium animal protein and fresh fruits and vegetables for optimal nutrition – all you have to do is rehydrate it before feeding.
- Pros: Made with human-grade ingredients, loaded with premium protein, grain-free, whole-food ingredients, dehydrated to preserve nutritional integrity
- Cons: Needs to be rehydrated before feeding, some cats dislike the texture
The Blue Buffalo brand is a wonderful option because they offer a wide variety of product choices. This Blue Buffalo Wilderness Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Cat Food is a high-protein recipe made with chicken as the main ingredient, and it is free from grains and fillers. Like all Blue Buffalo recipes, it is supplemented with LifeSource Bits which contain a proprietary blend of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to ensure complete and balanced nutrition.
- Pros: Loaded with premium protein, grain-free recipe, supplemented with LifeSource Bits, prebiotics, and probiotics for digestion, no artificial additives
- Cons: Contains some plant protein (pea protein), not a single-source protein recipe
If you’re looking for the healthiest cat food for indoor cats, consider this Nutro Wholesome Essentials Indoor Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe. This cat food features farm-raised chicken as the primary source of protein with digestible brown rice for carbohydrate energy and fiber. This recipe is packed with nutrients and flavor, optimized to help your indoor cat maintain a healthy body weight and avoid hairballs. It contains no artificial additives but is supplemented with chelated minerals and probiotics.
- Pros: Optimized for indoor cats, farm-raised chicken as first ingredient, supplemented for balanced nutrition, helps maintain lean muscle mass, reduced hairballs
- Cons: May be too high in fiber for some cats, not a grain-free recipe
This Solid Gold Indigo Moon with Chicken & Eggs Grain-Free Dry Food is a great option for cats because it is holistic and grain-free. This recipe features chicken meal as a concentrated source of protein with ocean fish meal and eggs for supplemental protein. It is a grain-free recipe made with fresh fruits and vegetables, loaded with protein and fat for nutritional balance. You’ll also be glad to know that it contains beneficial supplements like vitamins, chelated minerals, and probiotics.
- Pros: Concentrated source of animal protein, rich in protein and fat, grain-free carbohydrates, fresh fruits and vegetables, chelated minerals, probiotics
- Cons: Main source of fat is plant-based (canola oil), contains some plant protein (pea protein)
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is wet food or dry food better for cats? – There is no hard and fast answer to this question because the best cat food for your cat might not be the best option for another cat. Generally speaking, wet food is higher in protein and moisture content and lower in carbohydrates. The best canned cat food often has a shorter list of ingredients compared to dry cat foods as well. The downside is that canned cat food has a shorter shelf-life once opened and it is generally more expensive to feed as a staple diet.
Dry food is more affordable than wet can food in many cases because you can buy it in larger quantities. In terms of the benefits of dry food over wet food, dry food provides some dental benefits, and it is shelf-stable once opened. You need to be careful about checking the ingredients list for these foods, however, because they are more likely to contain preservatives. With any cat food, you have to check the list of ingredients to determine the quality of the product.
- What foods should cats avoid? – Many will argue that cats should avoid carbohydrates altogether. While a meat-based diet is certainly an excellent idea for cats, it is not affordable or practical for most cat owners. If you choose to feed your cat a diet that contains carbohydrates, just avoid low-quality options like corn, wheat, and soy. You should also avoid cat foods made with by-products, unnamed ingredients, and artificial additives. Things like plant oils, plant-based proteins, and supplemental sources of fiber are bound to appear, just make sure they do not overshadow the higher quality ingredients in the recipe.
- How much should you feed your cat? – When it comes to feeding your cat, the caloric content is more important to think about than the volume because every cat food recipe is different. Your cat’s needs will change as he develops from a kitten into an adult cat and then progresses from adulthood into seniority. The best thing you can do is choose a cat food formulated for his life stage and refer to the feeding recommendations on the package according to his age and weight.
- How often should you feed your cat? – Most cat owners choose to feed their cats two meals a day, but it is really up to you and your cat’s preferences. For kittens, it is important to have a steady source of energy, so free-feeding is a good idea. This may be a better idea for senior cats as well since they tend to lose weight as they age and may be more likely to eat small meals throughout the day than a significant quantity at once. If your cat tends to overeat or is gaining too much weight, however, you may want to portion out his daily feeding into two or three smaller meals.
Do kittens and senior cats have different nutritional needs?
Yes, both in terms of nutrients and calories. As a kitten, your cat needs a minimum of 30% protein in his diet and a steady stream of energy. Once your kitten becomes an adult, his minimum protein requirements go down to 26%, but in both cases, it is generally better to go over than under. Cats in all life stages need a minimum of 9% fat in their diet for energy and calorie needs will change based on the cat’s age and bodyweight.
Being a cat owner is great, but it does come with a certain degree of responsibility. Your primary job (aside from cuddling your cat, of course) is to make sure that his needs are met and that means feeding him a healthy, high-quality diet.
There are many high-quality cat foods on the market right now which makes your job both easier and harder. You have a wide variety of options to choose from, but it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between a good and a bad cat food brand.
If you want to feed your cat the best cat food you can afford, take what you’ve learned here and start shopping around! Best of luck!