The 11 Worst Cat Foods and 15 Ingredients To Stay Away From

What would you do if your cat developed a serious illness?

Do you have pet insurance?

Do you have the money set aside to pay for an expensive vet visit?

If it was too late, and your cat didn’t make it…

Would you know you did everything you could?

For most cat parents, the pain of losing a beloved pet is gut-wrenching.

Especially if the reason they got sick and passed away is due to something that could be prevented – like picking the wrong cat food.

We’ve developed a database of over 2000 cat foods that we’ve rated based on a number of factors.

Our research has been incredibly rewarding, as it is allowing us to provide the absolute best recommendations for our readers.

But it’s also been disturbing, because there are a scary number of low quality cat foods.

We’ve found foods with:

  • Potentially carcinogenic (cancer-causing) ingredients
  • Poor quality, rendered “meat products” that could include everything from dead zoo animals (literally) to euthanized cats and dogs and everything in between
  • 40%+ carbohydrates (cats only need about 2% of their diet from carbs)
  • Limited protein, even though cats should have a diet that includes over 50% protein

Of course we’ve all heard stories (or maybe your own cat!) of cats who have lived fairly long lives and been fed “average” quality cat food.

So why does it matter?

It’s not 100% certain that your cat will get sick, feel pain, or die prematurely due to low quality food.

But it definitely increases the risk.

And even if the risk is small, it’s one I’m not willing to take with my precious fur babies.

Especially since I know there are good options out there that don’t break the bank!

A List Of The 11 Worst Cat Foods

  1. 9 Lives Dry
  2. Cat Chow Indoor Dry
  3. Fancy Feast Gourmet Dry
  4. Friskies Dry
  5. Joy Combo
  6. Kit & Kaboodle Dry
  7. Meow Mix Dry
  8. Purina Deli Cat Dry
  9. Purina ONE Urinary Tract Health Chicken Dry
  10. Purina Pro Plans Veterinary Diet
  11. SPORTMIX Dry

Why Are They So Bad?

Our rating system gives stars, up to a maximum of 5/5 stars.

When compiling ratings in our database, we have 5 criteria we look at to give points. These are:

  1. Is the first ingredient meat? If not, 0 points
  2. Does it use unnamed meat ingredients (i.e., “meat & bone meal” instead of “chicken”)? If not, 0 points
  3. Does it have above average protein compared to the rest of the foods? If not, 0 points. If average, 0.5 points
  4. Does it have more than 4 controversial or low quality ingredients? If more than 4, 0 points. If exactly 4, 0.5 points
  5. Catological Discretionary Rating. We look at the macronutrient profile, ingredients (including minor ingredients), and overall quality. Only biologically appropriate, quality foods get a rating of 1

All of the foods listed above received a 0/5 star rating.

That means typically:

  • Meat is NOT the first ingredient
  • They use unnamed meats (typically very low quality)
  • They have lower than average protein (cats require around 52% of their calories from protein)
  • They have more than 4 controversial or low quality ingredients
  • We don’t think they deserve any points

We base our criteria on studies that show what cats eat in the wild, and what cats self-select for their diet in lab studies.

These studies indicate that cats typically will eat 52% of their diet from protein, between 36 and 46% of their diet from fat, and between 2% and 12% of their diet from carbs.

Our review process is unbiased and based on extensive research. If you buy through the links on our site, we may earn a commission.

You’ll also notice that all of these foods are dry foods.

Now, you’ll see when we publicly release our full database that there are more than 300 foods that scored 1.5 stars or lower. That’s a LOT of poor quality foods…and that list includes many wet foods.

However, we believe that dry foods can be very detrimental to your cat’s wellbeing.

We talked to Dr. Megan Teiber, DVM, who works with Tuft and Paw. She gives us an overview of why dry cat food isn’t as healthy for your cat as wet food.

“Wet food is beneficial for cats because it most closely mimics the diet they eat in the wild. Cats are obligate carnivores that do best on high protein, low carbohydrate diets. High protein diets are necessary to properly treat feline diabetes. They may also help in the management of obesity and other chronic health issues. Because of the way kibble is manufactured, dry foods naturally have a greater carbohydrate and lower protein content compared to canned foods.

Canned food also contains a significantly higher water content than dry food. Most cats are not good at drinking enough water. Dehydration can contribute to painful bladder disorders and may exacerbate chronic kidney disease. A canned food diet will provide the hydration cats need to keep their urinary tracts healthy. Lastly, a wet food diet can help prevent weight problems. Many cats feel more satisfied after eating canned food, so they are less likely to beg for food and overeat. Traditionally, it was thought that dry kibble was better for cats’ teeth. However, studies have not shown a strong correlation. Therefore, I recommend a canned food diet for many of my feline patients. It is important to remember not all canned foods are created equal–it is still important to select a well-balanced diet from a reputable brand.”

15 Red Flag Ingredients To Watch Out For

If your cat food contains one or more of these ingredients, it could be a low quality, potentially harmful food.

  1. Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)
  2. Caramel
  3. Carrageenan
  4. Cellulose
  5. Glucose / Dextrose
  6. Garlic
  7. Glyceryl Monostearate
  8. Iron Oxide
  9. Meat & Bone Meal
  10. Meat By-Products
  11. Red, Yellow, And Blue Food Coloring
  12. Sodium Nitrite
  13. Sodium Tripolyphosphate
  14. Titanium Dioxide
  15. Wheat Gluten

What Next?

If you’re feeding one of the foods above, your cat food includes an ingredient above, or you think your food might not be the best for your cat, we might be able to help.

We’ve got two suggestions:

  1. Check out our Best Cat Foods page (just tap the link). It contains our 4.5 and 5 star ratings from our database.
  2. Sign up to take our
Cat Food Expert Course

(tap the link to sign up). It’s a 7 day email course that goes a lot more in depth into all of this. By the end, you’ll know more about cat food than 99% of the population, and be ready to pick the absolute best for your cat. We’ll also let you know when our full database goes live.

Otherwise, you can sign up below if you’d ONLY like to be notified when we launch our full cat food database, complete with ratings.

Emily Parker

Emily Parker is the Content Manager at Catological. She's passionate about helping cat parents love their cats better by providing the best information and recommendations about everything you'll need to know about your cat, from kitten to senior years. She believes natural, biologically-appropriate products are best...why wouldn't you provide the best for a member of your family?!

2 thoughts on “The 11 Worst Cat Foods and 15 Ingredients To Stay Away From”

  1. Help please. My 4 yo female Siamese mix turns her nose up at wet cat food. I’ve tried mixing it, etc what do I do?
    She’ll eat a teeny piece of my ham or turkey once in a great while. I’ve tried high priced as well as low priced. The weird thing is she is carrrazy about delectable push-ups ONLY. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Love samples but they are unavailable. Blessings

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