The Best Food for Your Cat: My Recommendations

cat with food bowl

Editor’s Note: Even tough this article was first written in 2012, I periodically update the information to keep it current. Most recent update: April 2016. I try to as many general questions in the comments as I can. If you’d like individualized advice for your cat, please schedule a consultation

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I’m passionate about species-appropriate nutrition for cats. Cats are obligate carnivores, and they need meat not only to survive, but to thrive. The optimal diet for a cat is a properly formulated raw, home-cooked or grain-free canned diet.

Never feed dry food

Cats shouldn’t eat dry food; even the grain-free dry varieties are too high in carbohydrates.

And contrary to the myth that just won’t die, dry food does not clean your cat’s teeth. Most cats don’t chew their kibble long enough for any of the scraping action that is the theory behind this myth to kick in. What little they do chew shatters into small pieces. Some pet food manufacturers offer a “dental diet” that is made up of larger than normal sized kibble to encourage chewing, but in my years at veterinary practices, I’ve seen many cats swallow even those larger size pieces whole. Additionally, dry food leaves a carbohydrate residue in the cat’s mouth that actually encourages growth of tartar and plaque.

Articles about feline nutrition, and one-on-one consultations

You can find many of the articles I’ve written about this topic in the Feline Nutrition section right here on this site. I also provide one-on-one consultations if you need help with transitioning your cat to a healthier diet.

What I look for in a food

  • Protein is listed as the first ingredient on the label, and the meat/poultry used is fit for human consumption. If the meat is organic, that’s even better.
  • The food is grain-free (no rice, barley, or any other grains. Even though these are considered healthy in human nutrition, cats’ digestive tracts are not designed to digest the unnecessary carbs).
  • The food does not contain by-products, corn, soy, or any other fillers.
  • Ideally, I’d like to see no carrageenan in the food. Some of the brands on the list below have carrageenan in some of their flavors, so check labels carefully.
  • Ideally, I’d like a food to be GMO-free. Some of the brands on the list below may contain GMO’s.

Avoid fish-based foods

A word about fish: most cats love fish-based foods. I recommend using them sparingly or avoiding them altogether. Sadly, much of the fish that goes into pet food is contaminated with heavy metals and other toxins. (On a side note, that is also true for fish sold for human consumption.) Fish used in pet food manufacturing often contains whole fish, guts and bones, which can increase phosphorus levels of the food. This can be a problem for cats with kidney disease. Some cats are sensitive to fish-based diets and develop urinary tract problems that resolve when fish is removed from their diet. Additionally, fish based foods may contain menadione, a synthetic form of vitamin K, which has been banned by the FDA for use in human supplements.

My recommendations

I am often asked what brands I recommend. Unfortunately, there are many diets on the market that sound good based on what the pretty packaging says, but when you take a closer look at the label, you realize that there’s not much substance behind the marketing claims. The brands listed below are foods that I either currently feed to Allegra and Ruby, or have fed to them in the past. This list is not meant to be exclusive, and it does not mean that there aren’t other really good diets out there. It just means that these brands are the ones I’m comfortable with after doing thorough research.

I recommend the following (listed in no particular order):

Grain-free canned diets

Weruva. Read my full review of this brand here.

Nature’s Variety Instinct Canned

Bravo Canned

Nature’s Logic Canned

Hound and Gatos

Tiki Cat. I only recommend the poultry-based flavors.

Soulistic. This brand is exclusively sold by Petco (and also available from Amazon), but is produced under the same processing standards as Weruva.

Addiction I only recommend the carrageenan free formulas. They are a bit higher in carbs than I like to see, but I still consider it a good brand.

Wild Calling

Merrick Merrick was bought out by Purina in 2015. Company representatives assured me that they will continue to operate independently, and that the sourcing and the formulas will not change. I’ll be keeping a close eye on this brand, and will remove it from this list if I no longer feel comfortable with it.

Ziwi Peak

Raw diets

Primal Pet Foods I like these diets, but I have found that the formulas seem to vary a bit from batch to batch. If you have a finicky eater, this may become a problem.

Rad Cat This is hands down (paws down?) my favorite raw food, and my cats seem to agree

Darwin’s

Feline’s Pride

Stella and Chewy’s

Nature’s Variety

Dehydrated raw diets

The Honest Kitchen

Stella and Chewy’s

Additional Reading

How much should I feed my cat?

How to wean your cat off dry food

How to get finicky cats to eat

How to read a pet food label

Feeding your cat: know the basics of feline nutrition by Dr. Lisa Pierson

Feline Nutrition

Cooking for your cat: how to make a balanced homemade diet

Kidney failure and diet in cats

New Dr. Goodpet banner

Photo: istockphoto

606 Comments on The Best Food for Your Cat: My Recommendations

  1. Ashley Zarth
    May 23, 2016 at 4:51 pm (1 day ago)

    For Soulistic, is “Good Karma Chicken Dinner – In Gravy” the flavor/option you would recommend? One of my cats is eating the Weruva “Peking Ducken – With Chicken & Duck in Gravy,” but I plan to switch her due to the cost (I have several cats and several sick pets).

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 23, 2016 at 5:07 pm (1 day ago)

      Yes, the Karma Chicken is the Soulistic flavor I recommend, Ashley.

      Reply
  2. Marlene
    May 23, 2016 at 2:14 pm (2 days ago)

    Hi Ingrid, what is your opinion on Pure Balance, which as I understand is Walmart’s brand? The ingredients list on the wet food looks pretty good.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 23, 2016 at 2:26 pm (2 days ago)

      Unfortunately, I don’t know anything about this brand, Marlene (where it’s sourced, manufactured, etc.) It does look like the canned food contains carrageenan, so I would not recommend it.

      Reply
      • Marlene
        May 23, 2016 at 4:39 pm (1 day ago)

        My goodness! I don’t know how I missed that when looking at the Pure Balance food in the store. Back to the drawing board on something my kitties will enjoy that I will feel good giving them.

        Reply
  3. Lorena
    May 23, 2016 at 12:55 pm (2 days ago)

    Hi Ingrid. I’d love to hear your opinion about the wet food Lotus and Addiction. These are two nearly new brands and I just purchased some for my cats.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 23, 2016 at 1:22 pm (2 days ago)

      Addiction is on my list, with a caveat that it’s a little higher in carbs than I like to see. I don’t like Lotus – too many veggies added.

      Reply
      • Jerilin
        May 23, 2016 at 1:57 pm (2 days ago)

        What’s wrong with Lotus? Most of their food I agree wouldn’t be my top pick..but they do have Turkey stew for cats and pork stew for cats under their “just juicy” line. This line is their best option. These have very few veggies. (Only carrots) and very simple ingredients. They are slightly higher carbs but still less or equal to Soulistic chicken and pumpkin and the like. It’s a very good option in my rotation and all 4 of my cats love it.
        A new one I’m trying from Chewy is Petcurrean Go! Duck. Trying this to replace Merrick L.I.D. Duck which my cats hate.

        Also frustrated with Weruva. I feed several of their varieties but why is synthetic vitamin k in several of their cats in the kitchen pouches and then the canned cats in the kitchen ones have three types of gums?! So frustrating. I feed Steak Frites from Tru lux line and pumpkin licking chicken and love me tender pouches to try to avoid these issues. I hope other customers are complaining and they will clean up their ingredient list. Also TOO MANY fish flavors from Weruva (and Tiki Cat) I feed the fish occasionally but avoid as a regular staple for thyroid and then the mercury issues.

        I was looking into those bravo canned foods on chewy but am concerned about their recall history? Have you tried these?
        Love your site and reading the comments here!

        Reply
        • Ingrid
          May 23, 2016 at 2:12 pm (2 days ago)

          The last time I looked at Lotus, I found that it’s higher in carbs than what I like to see in a food. You are correct that menadione (vitamin K) is a controversial ingredient in pet food. I only recommend the Weruva poultry flavors. Bravo’s canned formulas are on my recommended list.

          Reply
          • Jerilin
            May 23, 2016 at 6:01 pm (1 day ago)

            Did your cats like Bravo canned? Is their a specific flavor you’d recommend?

            Do you know what the carb percentage is in Go! (Petcurrean) Shine Duck pate? It lists the as fed carbs as 2% on their website and the dry matter as 9%. I forget if dry matter is the one that matters but do have the coversion formula from G.A. to actual percentages written down somewhere haha.

            Do you know anything about Against the Grain canned cat foods? The ones I was specifically looking at on chewy were the chicken club and Chicken samba.

          • Ingrid
            May 23, 2016 at 6:52 pm (1 day ago)

            You can calculate approximate carbohydrate contents by adding all of the listed nutrients and subtracting the total from 100% – this will give you a fairly accurate number.

            I don’t recall without looking what flavors Bravo offers – I never recommend fish flavors for the reasons outlined in this post, but all other proteins should be okay.

  4. Marlene
    May 20, 2016 at 4:52 pm (4 days ago)

    Hi Ingrid. I feed my cats Rad Cat currently. They love it, but it’s pricey. My vet is not comfortable with homemade raw. Do you know if my cats would get the same benefit if I went with half high quality canned and half Rad Cat?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 21, 2016 at 5:44 am (4 days ago)

      You may want to give Darwin’s a try, Marlene. It’s half the price of Radcat, and my girls go crazy for it. And it’s certainly okay to feed half raw and half canned, but I wouldn’t mix the two together. You could feed one meal raw, and one meal canned.

      Reply
  5. adriana
    May 20, 2016 at 4:11 pm (4 days ago)

    Hello I was just want to start off by saying what an interesting article. I really learned a lot! Ok to my ?, I have a 13 year old kitty/best friend has been struggling with constipation on and off for about 6 years now. Most recently (about 4 years) the vet had to perform an enema and suggested I started feeding him Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Gastrointestinal Fiber Response Dry Cat. It “worked” as he got better but had to perfume another anema last year about this time. come now 2016, I just had to take him again to the vet for another anema as he was not going to the bathroom to poop and I saw him struggling to defecate. Lost story short lol they are now telling me he has Megacolon. I am freaking out and doing as much research as I can as this vet doesn’t seem to put me at ease about all this. I keep coming back or reading about a raw food diet. I was wondering what you recommend, suggestion any advice you can give me would be much appreciate it.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 20, 2016 at 4:27 pm (4 days ago)

      A grain-free canned or raw diet can help some cats with megacolon. I would also try adding a good probiotic to his food. You can also try canned pumpkin – it helps some cats with constipation. Here’s more information on megacolon: http://consciouscat.net/2013/08/05/megacolon-in-cats/

      Reply
  6. Brandi
    May 20, 2016 at 12:58 pm (5 days ago)

    I need advice. We adopted a male cat that is about 5 years old, a few months ago that was to strictly be on a raw food diet. He is being fed Rad Cat raw food. When the shelter had him he had diarrhea and they started him on Rad Cat, at the same time he was on some short term medication. His poop went back to normal and we were allowed to adopt him with the terms that we keep him on this food. Now two month later he is either refusing his food of throwing it up immediately after eating. He’s got diarrhea too. He otherwise is very happy and seems fine but I don’t know what to do. Before we got him he had one last vet visit and they said he got a clean bill of health. Everything I read says raw food is the best so I’m not sure where to turn now 🙁 Any advise or direction for me to go next?? Thank you so much.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 20, 2016 at 4:24 pm (4 days ago)

      You need to take your kitty to a vet, Brandi. A lot can change for a cat in five months, and what’s going on may have nothing to do with his diet.

      Reply
    • Amy
      May 20, 2016 at 4:53 pm (4 days ago)

      Hey Brandi, that sounds like what was happening with my boy cat, Jasper. He may be nauseous and not want to eat because of that. I took my cat to an internal specialist who diagnosed him with IBD and prescribed him cisapride and zantac 2x daily. The cisapride, while usually intended to treat megacolon, helps keep his gut motility up instead of vomiting his food back up. The zantac helps reduce his build up of stomach acid (he was frequently vomiting his breakfast up). As Ingrid suggested, I would take him to a vet! My boy Jasper also seemed fine and happy based on appearances, except for his frequent vomiting.

      Reply
  7. ro-jean smith
    May 19, 2016 at 5:14 pm (5 days ago)

    I have 5 cats, one is 25+ years old; another weighs nearly 30 lb; another has an Oedipus complex; one is very jealous of another, and one (the mother) who is the only normal one, ha. Plus one feral male that comes and goes where and whenever he pleases and is the healthiest of all. Diet is my main concern because it is affecting each one, except the feral. If I start preparing their food, will I be able to purchase taurine and, if so, how do I measure it to be safe?

    Thank you for your website.

    Reply

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