The Best Food for Your Cat: My Recommendations

cat with food bowl

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. Please be aware that the rabbit in Nature’s Variety’s canned and raw forumulas is sourced from China and Italy. Nature’s Variety employs a US trained food scientist to oversee rabbit sourcing. May 2014 update: I believe Nature’s Variety now sources their rabbit from France, but I have not been able to get confirmation when products on the shelves will only contain rabbit sourced from there, rather than from China.

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

Wild Calling

Merrick

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

Feline’s Pride

Stella and Chewy’s

Dehydrated Raw Diets

The Honest Kitchen

Stella and Chewy’s

Resources:

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 (solid and well-researched information on raw feeding)

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

Kidney failure and diet in cats

Critterzone new banner for posts

Photo: istockphoto

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

  1. Allie
    April 8, 2015 at 6:37 pm (1 week ago)

    Hi Ingrid,

    Were adopting an 8 week old kitten in a couple of weeks and I was wondering what you recommended feeding her? Should she just be on canned food? I know you said dry is not good for cats, but since she’s so little I want to make sure she is eating enough.

    My other cat mostly likely has a food allergy as well – so it would be ideal if I could put them on the same food. I wanted to do natures variety limited ingredient rabbit – and give the kitten the kibble and the can of the this.. and Luna who is around 7 month (who has the allergy)- just the can – but they do not have limited ingredient rabbit in can! =( Can I feed the normal rabbit can for natures variety instinct for a cat who has allergies? She has never had rabbit before- but I don’t know if it needs to say single sourced protein.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Allie
      April 8, 2015 at 6:42 pm (1 week ago)

      Natural balance has a duck limited ingredient dry and duck limited ingredient can- is this a good brand? and would this be safe to feed an 8 week old kitten?

      Reply
      • Ingrid
        April 9, 2015 at 6:16 am (1 week ago)

        I do not recommend Natural Balance.

        Reply
    • Ingrid
      April 9, 2015 at 6:16 am (1 week ago)

      I’m not sure whether the Nature’s Variety rabbit formula contains only rabbit, or whether it has other added proteins. You’ll have to check the label. Cats and kittens should never eat dry food for all the reasons explained in the article.

      Kittens do not need to be fed a special kitten formula, here’s more information on why “lifestages” diets don’t make sense: http://consciouscat.net/2014/08/11/life-stages-lifestyle-diets-cat-really-need/

      Reply
      • Allie
        April 9, 2015 at 1:33 pm (1 week ago)

        Okay great. Because Luna will have to be on a specific diet she’s never had before- I wasn’t sure if it had to say “single sourced” protein on the label. But if the ingredients only say rabbit as part of the ingredient list I should be okay? For Nature’s Variety instinct their rabbit can says 95 percent rabbit I believe, but there are no other meats on the label.. so I am not entirely sure what that means- and if that would be okay to feed her as a novel diet. Or if it would be better to get a food that says “single sourced”

        I definitely will not feed our new kitten who we will be adopting who is (8 weeks) dry food then. It’s tough though because I don’t want her to be hungry when I can’t be home for her- would a 5 oz can be enough food for her generally speaking in one day. Is feeding her only 3 times a day enough though? If I fed her part of a can in the morning around 7 and then again around 4 ish 5 and then around 9 ish 10…. is that feeding schedule too far apart? I don’t want her to go hungry which makes me so nervous! But It’s challenging when you only are feeding wet food.

        Thanks! Just trying to plan for our new addition to the family!

        All the best,
        Allie

        Reply
        • Ingrid
          April 9, 2015 at 1:37 pm (1 week ago)

          If no other meat is listed on the label, it should be a single protein diet. If you want to be 100% sure, I suggest contacting Nature’s Variety.

          As for the amounts to feed your kitten, it will depend on her age and weight. Feed her as much as she will eat up to about four months of age, divided into three or four feedings per day. Consider the activity level of your kitten, as well. From four to six months, feed her about 2/3 of a 3-oz. can per pound of body weight per day, and from six months to a year, about half a 3-oz. can per pound per day. Keep in mind that these are only rough guidelines, and you will have to adjust for the age and activity level of your kitten.

          Reply
          • Allie
            April 9, 2015 at 8:22 pm (1 week ago)

            Thanks, Ingrid!

  2. Allie
    March 20, 2015 at 2:25 pm (4 weeks ago)

    Hi Ingrid,

    I was wondering what novel food diets you would recommend for a cat? My cat has had a yeast infection in both ears that hasn’t gone away yet even with 2 rounds of treatment. The dermatologist specialist we saw this morning prescribed her a different medication so we will see how that goes. Fingers crossed. However, I know when we go back though for the re-checkup- if everything is not cleared up… they are going to want to put her on a novel prescription food diet to look for food allergies. I really do NOT want to put her on any of that prescription stuff because it is garbage! It is already giving me anxiety just thinking about the possibility of having to do that in the near future if her ears don’t get better. I want to keep her on high quality grain free food.

    What novel diets would you recommend? I know there is the brand Mauri – which has rabbit and kangaroo, that the local pet store of mine just started carrying. I am sure this brand is much more healthy than the prescription diets!

    Thanks! Any feedback would be appreciated. If I can avoid feeding her prescription diets I will!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      March 20, 2015 at 4:21 pm (4 weeks ago)

      Good for you for wanting to avoid “prescription” diets, Allie. Some of the brands I recommend have single protein diets. A line I really like is Nature’s Variety’s Limited Ingredient line. I believe it comes in venison, duck and turkey. I’ve heard good things about Mauri but have not taken a closer look at it. Merrick is coming out with a limited ingredient line that also looks promising.

      Reply
      • Allie
        March 21, 2015 at 9:55 am (4 weeks ago)

        Thank you! That is very reassuring. Hopefully Merricks limited ingredient line won’t have carrageenan in it.
        I appreciate all of your help! Thanks again.

        Reply

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