Best Cat Food of 2018 | Reviews of the Top Wet and Dry Brands
This article was researched by and written in collaboration with Dr. Edele Grey, an Irish veterinarian with clinical experience in Feline Medicine.
Whether you have just gotten your first kitten or your kitty is entering his “grumpy, old man” phase, you want him to be healthy and happy, so naturally you want to give him the best food you can.
Cats in general need a high protein diet – they are what we call “obligate carnivores”, which means they need meat to survive.
They’re unable to manufacture certain amino acids (taurine and arginine) or vitamin A themselves, so must get them from their food; in the wild this would be the prey animals they hunted.
But at home, if your kitty isn’t getting the right nutrients, he could get sick…or worse. And he can’t just go out and eat a mouse to get his fill.
But why is it so hard to find the right type of cat food?
The answer lies in the sheer quantity of different products available. Conflicting sources don’t make the process easier. That’s why we have teamed up with a veterinarian to provide you our (and her) top picks for a healthy pet.
Finding the right meal for your cat takes research and knowing exactly what your animal needs to stay healthy.
Use the quick links below to find a specific type of food, or scroll down to read more about how to ensure you’re feeding your cat the correct food.
Why the Right Food Is Important
There are innumerable diets available and every animal has different requirements depending on their activity levels, breed, age and whether or not they have any health concerns.
- Indoor vs. Outdoor: If your pet lives indoors, he or she will be less active than if she was outdoors, and will devote a lot of time each day to grooming and sleeping, thus a lower calorie option may be more suited to prevent excessive weight gain. When she groom, she ingests some of her hair, thus high fiber diets will help eliminate hairballs.
- Age: As age increases, appetites usually decrease. Even subtle metabolic changes by age ten warrant changes in nutrition, not to mention that older cats may have a slightly harder time chewing.
- Health: Pregnant or nursing queens will need high quality calories to maintain themselves and their litter. Equally, high calories help pets with anemia by supporting rapid replenishment of blood cells.
Finding the right food is tough, and many sites will give you the “best overall” option, but we think this is a bit dishonest.
We know there are many types of cats and circumstances in which they find themselves, so we’ve endeavoured to put together the ultimate resource to recommend our top picks, broken down into very specific categories.
The Right Cat Food
A balanced diet is needed for your pet to keep him healthy and regulate his metabolism.
The right food should provide over 50 important nutrients including vitamins A and C, magnesium, phosphorus and calcium, and should protect him from burping often and throwing up (unpleasant for your furry friend, just like it is for you!).
Another consideration is your kitty’s breed. Persian or Maine Coons, for example, have dense, long coats that require more omega fatty acids to maintain moisture in their skin and keep their coat glossy, and also higher fiber diets to help with hairball control.
Obesity is a risk factor for many health conditions requiring veterinary attention including diabetes and urinary problems; some of these diseases can be addressed with dietary modification alongside medications. If you’ve got a diabetic or larger animal, you’ll definitely want to look below to find a choice that is best for overweight cats.
If your cat is prone to bladder infections or obstructions, then foods that lower his urinary pH will help reduce this occurrence.
Prevention is better than cure however, so where possible you should calculate how much your pet needs to maintain an appropriate weight and measure their food. You can discuss specifics with your veterinarian about your pet’s build, age, activity level and health status.
Allergies are another factor as cats, like humans, can be allergic to a variety of food ingredients or additives.
The most common signs you may notice with the wrong food are excessive grooming or scratching and losing fur, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation.
Even a simple distaste of a certain kind of food can be detrimental. Meals may go uneaten, leading to malnutrition.
About Breed-Specific Cat Food
Different breeds may have different nutritional needs. There are also physical aspects to consider. These include jaw shape; if it makes grasping food hard, then elongated bits of kibble may allow the cat to grab them with its tongue. If your cat eats fast like a Siamese, then tube-like kibbles may help reduce gastrointestinal distress.
Body structure plays a role too. Taller frames are prone to joint stress and osteoarthritis. Foods with omega-3 fatty acids plus glucosamine and chondroitin help reduce the inflammation.
Also, certain ones are better for breeds prone to digestive sensitivities and hairballs.
What’s the Right Amount of Food to Eat?
Being within a healthy weight range is important. About 58% of cats in the United States are overweight, and this can lead to the same health problems seen in people.
To lower the risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer, keep your cat in the right weight range.
Most domestic felines weigh from 8-10 pounds while Persians have a healthy weight of 7-12 pounds and Main Coons can be from 10-25 pounds.
For pets with weight problems, specific calorie counts per unit of food help divvy up portions, so you know exactly what your feline is getting. In general (and contact your vet for an accurate idea of how much your specific animal needs):
- Kittens require up to 275 calories per day.
- Adults need 200-300 calories on average.
- Overweight cats should have 180-200 calories per day.
Of course, the actual number may vary depending on your cat’s build, activity level, and age.
What’s In Your Cat’s Food?
I am often asked about the presence of “by-products” or “meat meals” in cat foods and there is a negative perception around this.
When animals are slaughtered for human consumption, the lean meat is trimmed for use and the remaining carcass is considered a by-product. This includes bone, organ meats, blood, beaks etc.
These are a cheap way to keep protein levels high in pet food and quality can vary. However premium, natural or veterinarian developed food will typically have the highest quality and consistency.
Meat meals are produced from rendering (cooking) organ meats, trimmings, etc., and then drying and grinding them into meal for dried kibbles.
Some people do not want to feed their pet anything they themselves wouldn’t eat which is completely fine, however organ meats are rich in nutrients for cats and are acceptable ingredients in their diet, as in the wild, they would eat the majority of their prey’s carcass.
Grains are another bone of contention for many, and cats are obligate carnivores, thus not requiring large quantities of grain in their diets, but some grains in foods are good sources of readily available carbohydrates for your pet giving her rapid energy.
So, while there is a noble move to push for ultra high quality, human grade cat food, feeding your cat a food that contains these ingredients is not only completely safe, but likely a healthy and smart choice.
Best Cat Food Ratings By Category
As mentioned before, there are so many options on the market that we couldn’t possibly go in depth into every one. Honestly, it would waste your time to compare every single one, since not all of them are good!
Here are our reviews of some of the most highly rated and recommended foods to keep your pal purring right through to his golden years.
Wet, or Canned
These have a high water content which helps with urinary tract and kidney health and are more likely to have the animal proteins your pet needs coupled with a lower carbohydrate level than many dry options.
Wet foods tend to help muscle and bone health and growth and are often preferred by picky eaters though they are also usually more expensive than dry diets.
Just remember not to let them sit out too long, in the same way you wouldn’t let your food sit on the counter for hours before you eat it.
Here are our top two picks for wet/canned.
#1. Purina Fancy Feast Gravy Lovers Gourmet Wet (EDITOR’S CHOICE)
My furry friends’ favorite, it comes in variety packs with poultry and beef chunks in gravy and is a 100% complete and balanced diet for all life stages.
I don’t know if my guys are just NOT picky at all, but they seem to love all the flavors (as for best tasting, I haven’t actually tried it myself so uh, hard to tell you!) , so I never have to waste any of them. My cats are both doing very well so as long as you’re staying on top of portion control, this is our favorite!
#2. Purina Friskies Classic Pate Wet
No excess calories or minerals and offers a variety of flavors to satisfy even the pickiest eater.
It also features naturally occurring micro-organisms that contribute to a healthy digestive tract. The little things matter!
It has the antioxidants and omega fatty acids cats need to stay healthy and strong.
It’s also gluten free and has Taurine (for cats, this is a MUST), boosting heart health. No meat by-products or fillers have been added, either.
Dry foods tend to be a little cheaper than wet and have a longer expiration date. Most are nutritionally balanced and provide a longer feeling of fullness than wet foods.
Some picky cats will refuse dry food however, and if you have a full bowl for a pet that grazes throughout the day it can be difficult to determine if they are eating.
Studies have shown that dry diets do decrease the incidence of periodontal disease in cats (Diet and Periodontal Disease in Dogs and Cats, A. Watson, 1994, Australian Veterinary Journal).
And remember, literally millions of kitties around the world survive and thrive on dry food, so dry food is not bad for cats!
#1. Hills Science Diet Adult Light Dry (EDITOR’S CHOICE)
This trusted brand is produced with natural ingredients and no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. There are also anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals and all the amino acids required by your cat. This food isn’t advised for pregnant or nursing queens or kittens (baby felines should not necessarily eat adult chow) so you would need to transition your cat from kitten food onto this diet at one year old.
#2. Halo Spots Stew Natural Dry
This diet uses whole meat only and no meat meals are included in their ingredients. They also state that their food never contains corn, wheat or wheat gluten and in AAFCO Protocol Tests on digestibility in 2016, this food was ranked top.
Best of both worlds in one diet, these foods tend to be high in moisture, fat and protein content and are easier for older kitties with sensitive teeth than exclusively dry food. Cats naturally take in most of their water from their food so these soft bite-sized bits meet most of your pet’s hydration requirements.
#1. Meow Mix Tender Centers Flavor Dry (EDITOR’S CHOICE)
Three tasty flavor mixtures including tuna/whitefish, chicken/salmon and salmon/turkey will appeal to most cat’s palates. Dual textured kibbles with a crunchy outer layer and tender inside are completely balanced for all age ranges.
#2. Purina Whisker Lickin’s Soft and Delicious Chicken Treats
These soft cat treats come in three fun shapes in a resealable pouch. They’re not a food replacement obviously, but can help provide a softer option for your sensitive kitty.
“Premium” is a protected term so you should always check for the amino and fatty acid, mineral and vitamins in the food.
These diets should meet The American Association of Feed Control Officials guidelines, and you should check that the protein source is first on the ingredient list.
Premium foods should not contain BHT, propyl gallate, corn meal fillers or other preservatives. These foods should offer more nutritional benefits than an average diet.
#1. Sheba Pate in Natural Juices Adult Wet (EDITOR’S CHOICE)
This smooth textured pate is available in a variety of flavors and is corn, soy and wheat free. There are no artificial additives and meat is the first ingredient. This smooth pate is suitable for all ages, which means they can grow with it!
#2. Purina ONE Grain Free Premium Pate Wet
Your pet will be spoiled for choice with beef, chicken, turkey and ocean whitefish varieties with no fillers. This high protein diet is balanced for immune support and muscle growth with omega-6 fatty acids for a glossy coat and healthy skin.
In addition to these basic food breakdowns, there are numerous types of cat food tailored to a specific benefit. In this section, a few benefit-specific products will be highlighted
These can be good for cats with sensitive tummies or allergies to certain grains. One important thing to remember is that grain free does not necessarily mean carbohydrate free with potatoes and other carbohydrate rich ingredients often being substituted. You should check that the product is balanced with the proper nutrients for you pet.
#1. Purina ProPlan True Nature, Natural Grain Free Formulas Dry (EDITOR’S CHOICE)
Two flavors of chicken and egg or salmon and egg, these contain 40% protein with no corn, wheat or soy ingredients. This is a highly digestible food for optimum nutrient absorption and is a complete food for adult cats.
#2. Nature’s Variety Instinct Ultimate Protein Grain Free Dry
This company states that they do not use rendered meats, by-product meal nor fillers in this food. There are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for shiny coats, probiotics for improved digestion and anti-oxidants to boost the immune system of your pet. These freeze-dried, raw outer coated kibbles are a tasty balanced diet for all ages of kitties.
Vegetarian or Vegan
Cat’s are obligate carnivores and thus need meat specific nutrients in order to survive. You should not feed your cat a vegetarian or vegan diet!!! If you would like to supplement your pets diet for health reasons (digestions, etc.) then you can try adding some pumpkin or something, but they should not be fed exclusively to your pet.
#1. Weruva Pumpkin Patch Up!
This pumpkin puree pet food supplement contains only two ingredients and no artificial additives. Pumpkin is naturally rich in soluble and insoluble fibers which improves gut motility and stool quality.
Cats, like us humans, can suffer from intestinal inflammation due to grains or other allergens which reduces nutrient absorption (Food sensitivity in cats with chronic idiopathic gastrointestinal problems. W. Grant Guildford, B.R. Jones, P.J. Markwell, D.G. Arthur, M.G. Collett, J.G. Harte, 2001, Journal of Vet Internal Medicine). If you are concerned about your cat, you should discuss options with your veterinarian as there are some other serious medical causes which may need to be ruled out rather than just switching diet.
#1. Purina Beyond Natural Grain Free White Meat Chicken Recipe Dry (EDITOR’S CHOICE)
Meat is the first ingredient listed and there is no corn, wheat, soy nor gluten included. There is also no poultry by-product meal, or artificial additives to this food.
#2. Hills Ideal Balance Grain Free Dry
Lean chicken is the primary protein source and the carbohydrate is potatoes which are naturally gluten free. The brand claim that your pet will have a shiny, healthy coat within 30 days due to the omega 3 and 6 fatty acids included in the recipe.
Raw diets are becoming increasingly popular as we all become more conscious of the ingredients and additives in our and our pets foods. Frozen, dehydrated, or freeze-dried minced poultry and rabbit are the most popular ingredients.
Proponents of a raw diet claim that it is closest to the natural, wild diet and that your cat’s gastrointestinal system with function best with raw food as it retains more of the vitamins and other nutrients in the meat.
The intricacies of providing a raw diet are discussed here, but you should be cautious to only use fresh meat and never thaw frozen food in the microwave. Freeze-dried diets are a convenient alternative to frozen. Here are your best choices.
#1. Primal Pet Foods Freeze-dried Feline Chicken and Salmon Formula
This complete and balanced diet is suitable for all ages of cat and contains naturally occurring vitamins, minerals and enzymes from human grade, antibiotic and hormone free meat.
#2. Stella and Chewy’s Freeze-dried
A variety of flavors are available to tempt even the pickiest of cats. This is a minimally processed diet with added taurine and probiotics for gastrointestinal health. This is a complete food for all ages containing 98% poultry organs and bone according to the manufacturer.
Fiber is important for gastrointestinal health in cats, particularly long haired cats prone to hairball issues. Fiber is digested by gut bacteria into essential fatty acids and is also a good bulking agent for appetite control in chubby felines.
#1. Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Gastrointestinal Fiber Response Dry
This food contains highly digestible proteins and promotes movement of food through the colon for regular, healthy bowel movements. Oligosaccharides and probiotics restore natural gut flora improving gastrointestinal health.
High protein diets are particularly recomended for growing little ones, pregnant and nursing queens, or injured and recuperating pets. Protein is best absorbed from muscle meats, organ meat and eggs.
#1. Stella and Chewy’s Freeze Dried
The manufacturer states that 98% is poultry organ and bone with added taurine. Can’t get much more protein dense than that!
#2. Natures Variety Instinct Ultimate Protein Grain Free Dry
There are no rendered meats or by-product meals in this diet and it is a high protein, grain free diet.
Some pets need high calorie foods particularly older or ill cats. These cats need soft, wet, tasty and easily eaten and digested foods.
#1. Hills Prescription Diet Feline a/d
Suited for cats 11 years and older, it is loaded with high protein, antioxidants, and probiotics. Older felines that are underweight and with less digestive efficiency will benefit from this product. It also supports strong immunity, bones and joints, and metabolism.
This means that the product must legally be suitable for human consumption and meet strict governmental requirements. This can be difficult to verify.
#1. The Honest Kitchen Human Grade Dehydrated Grain Free
The brand claims to be a 100% human grade diet with no by-products, GMO ingredients or preservatives and is suitable for all life stages.
Natural foods are generally those that do not contain synthetic compounds but you should always check the ingredient list to be sure. You may need to find something on the natural side of the market in order to get a limited ingredient cat food, if minimalism and “only the basics” are what you’re after.
#1. Purina Beyond Natural Grain Free White Meat Chicken Recipe Dry
Meat is the first ingredient listed and there is no corn, wheat, soy nor gluten included. There is also no poultry by-product meal, or artificial additives to this food.
It is advised that diabetic cats should have less than 10% of their daily calorie intake from carbohydrates. Dry food tends to have higher carbohydrate levels than wet diets.
#1. Purina Veterinary Diets DM Dietetic Management Feline Formula Dry
This diet is high protein, low carbohydrate with high levels of vitamin E and omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. Nutritionally balanced, this diet minimizes extreme alterations in blood glucose levels in your pet.
Organic diets have no synthetic additives and may be an option if you are concerned about many other commercially available foods.
#1. Castor and Pollux Organix Organic Healthy Adult
This contains 31% protein with organic chicken as the first ingredient. Other ingredients are also organic, peas, brown rice and salmon meal. This recipe also contains organic flaxseed for a healthy coat and taurine for heart and eye health.
Looking for an ailment-specific type of food to help your cat? Cat foods aren’t limited to trendy types and brands. You can also find products tailored to the health of your individual cat. Here are some examples that can maximize your cat’s quality of life at any stage.
If your pet has frequent episodes of vomiting, diarrhea or constipation he may have a sensitive tummy. You should rule out other serious health concerns with your veterinarian before changing his diet.
#1. Hills Science Diet Sensitive Stomach and Skin Dry (EDITOR’S CHOICE)
This easily digested, complete food contains antioxidants and vitamin E for a glossy coat but is not recommended for babies or pregnant and nursing queens.
#2. IAMS Proactive Health Specialized Care Adult Dry Cat Food for Sensitive Stomach.
There are no fillers in this balanced food, just highly digestible proteins, prebiotics and beet pulp to maximize nutrient absorption.
Cats with diabetes mellitus need reduced carbohydrate diets to avoid the peaks and troughs of blood glucose. For some of these kitties, dietary changes and improve their condition enough to be able to stop insulin therapy and may go into remission. You should always discuss this with your veterinarian before trying a specialized diet.
#1. ROYAL CANIN Feline Glycobalance Dry
This moderate energy food contains cereals to prevent hypoglycemia with a high protein content for slow release energy. L-carnitine helps to maintain lean muscle mass.
Food allergies are relatively common in cats and can manifest in a variety of ways including vomiting, diarrhea or excessive scratching and alopecia. These diets eliminate common allergens but in some cases your pet may be allergic to one of the ingredients remaining and can take time to work out what exactly is the problem.
#1. Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Hypoallergenic Hydrolyzed Protein Dry
This highly digestible and palatable diet contains hydrolyzed soy protein isolate to minimize risk of allergy flare-ups. This is a complete and balanced meal for adult cats that has a money back guarantee when recommended by your veterinarian.
Some cats are prone to urethral obstructions which can be excruciatingly painful. Indoor, neutered males are most at risk especially if they are on the chubby side. Dry foods may exacerbate this problem although there are some formulated for urinary health.
#1. Royal Canin Feline SO Moderate Calorie Dry (EDITOR’S CHOICE)
This diet dissolves struvite urolith crystals and has moderate calories to help maintain weight in the ideal range for your pet. This complete food acidifies urine and has low magnesium levels to reduce the risk of crystals forming.
#2. Purina ProPlan Focus Urinary Tract Health Formula Chicken Entree Wet
This recipe contains real chicken and is formulated to maintain the immune, digestive systems and skin in top shape. Urine pH is decreased coupled with low magnesium to reduce formation of crystals.
As your kitty ages she will need more protein, vitamins and minerals and easily digested carbohydrates to maintain her health and vigor. Her digestion will not be as good as when she was younger, and if she is a picky eater this can be challenging.
#1. Hills Science Diet Indoor (EDITOR’S CHOICE)
This diet is for cats 11+ and claims to slow aging in the brain. There are clinically proven antioxidants within this additive free recipe which comes in dry and canned varieties in different textures and flavors to suit all palates
#2. Purina ProPlan Focus Senior (11+)
This food prevents stomach upsets in sensitive older cats and is generally enjoyed by all cats.
This catch-all term is used for a lot of foods but you know what is best for your cat. It’s hard to give you the absolute “healthiest” brand recommendation, as each person has a different idea of what is optimal for their pet.
#1. Hills Science Diet Adult Light Dry
This natural food with no artificial additives has clinically proven antioxidant benefits and is a complete food for adult cats and helps to maintain a healthy weight.
If your cat has a specific issue then your veterinarian may prescribe a special diet.
#1. Hills Prescription Diet i/d Feline Gastrointestinal Health
This recipe contains highly digestible protein and fat with a mixed fiber source for gut health and stool quality. Antioxidants are included to decrease damage to the gut lining and help repair after illness.
You should speak with your veterinarian before changing to any “diet food”. This should be done to rule out any serious causes of concerns you may have about your pet and also address any health issues that may have arisen from obesity.
#1. IAMS Proactive Health Specialized Care Adult Dry
This food is formulated for indoor cats with moderate activity levels and to prevent problems from hairballs. L-carnitine is added to help maintain a healthy weight through burning fat while promoting lean muscle growth. There are no fillers in this complete food that claims to help control and decrease hairballs.
Free? How About Cheap And Affordable? OK, OK, What About Coupons?
Free cat food is hard to find unless you know a food bank that distributes pet food. Meals on Wheels runs (or maybe ran…their new website doesn’t show anything about the program, but it may be because it’s being updated) the We All Love Our Pets initiative in which participating programs offer free pet food.
Also, check out this Humane Society of the United States list of organizations providing financial assistance for affordable pet food and other services.
If you’re looking for coupons to save, you could try to Google search for the food and a coupon code, but honestly I always just buy my stuff on Amazon, it’s usually cheaper than the store anyway, plus the delivery means I don’t have to go to the store.
Homemade Cat Food and Recipes
In recent years there have been a number of pet food poisoning scandals which has many owners considering homemade cat food. It’s important to remember, however, that there are significant risks of bacterial contamination and nutrient deficiency in home produced foods.
Salmonella is a bacterium that causes illness in both cats and humans and grows readily on raw chicken etc.
Making your own pet food is time consuming and you must be precise in your measurements with fastidious hygiene; if you feel that a homemade diet works best for you and your pet, then I advise you speak with your veterinarian-nutritionist to formulate an appropriate diet for your own pet’s specific needs.
There are many recipes available online though the majority are not balanced enough for permanent use, you may like to try some for a treat.
If you are feeding raw, homemade diets you should use only the freshest ingredients and store them appropriately to minimize the risk of contamination to you and your pet.
As with any other diet if transitioning to a homemade diet, you should include a source of fiber such as psyllium husk and make the change gradually to prevent any tummy upsets.
The Low Down on Cat Treats
We all like to spoil our pets a little, but as with treating ourselves, moderation is key. Treats should ideally comprise less than 10% of your cat’s daily calories.
Treats generally contribute no nutritive value to your pet’s diet.
Some human foods can be given as treats such as plain chicken, turkey, etc., but don’t overdo it as portions required are very small and some foods are toxic including raisins, onions and alcohol.
Catnip is a cheap and easy to grow, much loved cat treat that is low in calories.
Treats can be a great way to praise your pet after doing something they do not like such as clipping nails or to encourage activity and exercise particularly in indoor or sedentary cats.
Have a look at these ratings and reviews below to see what options suits you!
#1. Nature’s Variety Instinct Raw Boost Grain-free Freeze-dried Minis Cat Treats (EDITOR’S CHOICE)
These treats are produced with 100% raw chicken and turkey with carrots and apples and no artificial additives nor fillers. Each treat has only two calories.
There you have it. An in-depth look into the world of cat food. There are many choices to suit different breeds, types, and personalities of felines. The choice depends on many factors, from your cat’s age to its overall health. High fiber, low carb, vegetarian, and even gluten-free cat foods are on the market. You can even find cat foods that alleviate sensitive stomachs, urinary tract problems, and diabetes.
Use the examples above to pick from your favorite dry or wet canned foods. The main idea is to keep your feline content, comfortable, nourished, and healthy for as long as possible. Even an aging cat can be kept in top shape by giving it the right type of food. Always make sure every cat gets enough water, vitamins, taurine, amino acids, and protein to satisfy their dietary needs.