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

Nordic Naturals banner for posts

Photo: istockphoto

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

  1. marize
    June 20, 2015 at 3:15 pm (2 weeks ago)

    Help! My cat has pancreatitis and he cant have more than one percent fat in his diet. What brand of food do u reccomend?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 20, 2015 at 3:35 pm (2 weeks ago)

      I’m not aware of any diets that are less than 1% in fat and still contain adequate protein levels. You may want to work with a holistic veterinarian to have a diet formulated for your cat.

      Reply
  2. Mary Ellen
    June 20, 2015 at 10:07 am (2 weeks ago)

    I have a cat that gets rashes from fish. I see you recommend against fish, but you also recommend Merrick. Merrick canned foods all include salmon oil. Do you know if any brand that does not include fish or fish oil–it can be way down on the ingredient list. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 20, 2015 at 12:06 pm (2 weeks ago)

      I don’t know of any brands that don’t contain salmon oil off the top of my head. Unfortunately, you’ll have to read labels to know for sure.

      Reply
  3. Jean
    June 9, 2015 at 3:05 pm (3 weeks ago)

    Hi Ingrid,

    Would you recommend Primal Freeze-Dried Raw food? I am wondering my friend or cat sitter cannot handle frozen raw food when I am out of town for days. Also, my cat is intolerance to Primal beef formula and dislikes Turkey & Salmon; is it fine that she only eats Chicken? Your advice is highly appreciated.

    Jean

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 9, 2015 at 4:43 pm (3 weeks ago)

      I like the freeze-dried raw formulas, but not all cats like them. If your cat can only tolerate chicken, then I would definitely stick with that.

      Why do you think your cat sitter or friend can’t handle raw? When I go away, I put single serving portions of raw food into individual containers, and leave a schedule for the cat sitter when she has to take them out of the freezer so they’ll be thawed in time for each meal. This way, it’s no more complicated for her than feeding canned food: simply thaw and serve. It’s actually less work than preparing a freeze-dried meal, which has to be rehydrated.

      Reply
      • Amanda
        June 10, 2015 at 4:19 pm (3 weeks ago)

        On that note, people should be aware that switching from freeze-dried to the frozen form of the Raw food might come with unexpected results. My cat, who will basically eat anything with a hint of meat in it, had originally started out on the freeze-dried version. Had no problems getting her to eat it right off the bat. She practically lives for it.

        However, when I realized there was a frozen form I decided to try a bag of that. Same end result, right? Hydrated, raw food. Turns out she was accustomed to the freeze-dried form and wouldn’t touch the freezer one.

        TL;DR – whatever form you pick, switching to the other may waste some $$ on your end if the cat decides they prefer the freeze-dried version. I do prefer it, it’s pretty easy to hydrate with warm water, and I usually put a little extra in to ensure proper water intake.

        Reply
        • Ingrid
          June 10, 2015 at 4:22 pm (3 weeks ago)

          You just never know when you switch food on a cat! The consistency of the freeze-dried rehydrated foods is very different from frozen (thawed) raw food, and we all know how fussy some cats can be about change.

          Reply
  4. susan obryan
    June 4, 2015 at 2:20 pm (4 weeks ago)

    Do any of the brands that you recommend contain Wheat Gluten? Have been trying to avoid any that do due to the threat of Feline Diabetes.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 4, 2015 at 4:40 pm (4 weeks ago)

      Without looking at every single one of them, I can’t be sure, Susan. I’m pretty sure if a food is labeled grain-free, it can’t contain wheat of any kind, but I’d doublecheck labels if I were you.

      Reply
  5. Renee Farr
    May 31, 2015 at 1:21 am (1 month ago)

    We are feeding out cat “Natural Balance Ultra Premium Indoor Formula Canned Cat Food”. He seems to really like it. Is this a good choice?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 31, 2015 at 2:02 pm (1 month ago)

      I do not recommend Natural Balance, Renee. They were bought out by Del Monte a few years back, and I am not sure whether they maintained the integrity of the formulas after the buyout.

      Reply
  6. Roxanne
    May 30, 2015 at 10:32 pm (1 month ago)

    Hi Ingrid,

    I’ve been feeding my cats Weruva’s B.F.F. pouches which are tuna based. It seems to be a big hit with them. I noticed you said to avoid menadione, but the B.F.F. pouches do contain ‘Menadione Sodium Bisulfite Complex (Source of Vitamin K).’ Do you think I should try to switch them to another brand or one of Weruva’s other wet foods? What are your thoughts?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 31, 2015 at 12:23 am (1 month ago)

      I don’t recommend fish based foods as anything other than an occasional treat, Roxanne. I think there’s quite a bit of confusing information about vitamin K out there, but that has nothing to do with why I don’t like fish-based foods. Here’s more information: http://consciouscat.net/2011/07/18/does-your-cat-love-fish/

      Reply
  7. Tonia
    May 22, 2015 at 1:38 am (1 month ago)

    I have been feeding my cats Primal for years and have developed a love/hate relationship with it. All three are so much healthier now than when they were eating dry food — the change of diet even cleared up my older boy’s life-threatening bladder issues completely. However, they will only eat the Chicken/Salmon formula (I’ve tried the other flavors and the cats won’t even go near them), and the variation from batch to batch is frustrating. I have been known to hoard bags of a certain expiration date / batch number when I find one the cats like!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 22, 2015 at 6:17 am (1 month ago)

      I agree with you on the inconsistencies with Primal’s formulas, Tonia. It’s very frustrating.

      Reply
  8. honey
    May 20, 2015 at 6:44 am (1 month ago)

    Hi, Ingrid

    What’s your take on Orijen? Is it a brand you would recommend if asked to recommend a dry food brand?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 20, 2015 at 7:29 am (1 month ago)

      I really can’t in good conscience recommend a dry food for cats, Honey! However, if you must feed dry, Nature’s Variety Instinct Ultimate Protein is probably the best choice.

      I have not taken a close look at Orijen in a while – the last time I looked, it was pretty high in carbs.

      Reply
  9. Melanie
    May 7, 2015 at 11:08 am (2 months ago)

    I bought my first kitten while living and teaching English in China. It’s VERY hard to find decent food here. I can order imported online but it’s too expensive for me. I’ve been feeding her Royal Canine Kitten dry along with Mio9. It’s tuna based wet (I think from Thailand) and when I can afford it, I’ve tried Wellness, Weruva, and Merrick but it’s triple the price to ship this here than if I simply lived in the States.

    The reason I give her Royal Canine kitten is because it’s the ONLY kitten specific food I can find here. The other brands are all for adult cats so although I want to wean her off dry, I figure I should keep her on the kitten formula for now. It’s manufactured in China and from France and the first ingredient is Rice so it’s not great. I’ve also noticed some vomiting lately which I’m not sure if it’s from the dry food or not.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 7, 2015 at 11:38 am (2 months ago)

      I would definitely discontinue the dry food, Melanie. If the vomiting continues, get your kitten checked out by a vet. You don’t want her to get dehydrated.

      Reply
      • Melanie
        May 7, 2015 at 6:51 pm (2 months ago)

        I’m trying to avoid the vets, at least in the city where I live for the moment. I’ve seen a few and they seem pretty useless

        I’ll wean her off the dry now. The mio9 has a huge water-content at least. The constant tuna is the downside. The vomiting is not daily at least but it’s happened three times in the past month.

        Reply
  10. Annie
    May 3, 2015 at 8:29 pm (2 months ago)

    I have a 4 year old cat with Cerebellar hypoplasia she also only has 6 and a half teeth, all on her Maxillary (top jaw), none on the Mandible (bottom jaw).
    I really want to give her the best nutrition wise. Please List foods i can make for her or buy in Canada.

    Reply
  11. Tracy
    April 21, 2015 at 9:13 pm (2 months ago)

    Hi Ingrid, I was wondering what’s your take on the Nature’s Variety Instinct Rawboost Cat Food? Is it something you’d recommend?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      April 22, 2015 at 6:12 am (2 months ago)

      Instinct’s Raw Boost is still dry food, so I don’t recommend it, Tracy. However, if someone absolutely must feed dry food, it is without a doubt the best dry food choice available at this time.

      Reply
  12. Allie
    April 8, 2015 at 6:37 pm (3 months 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 (3 months 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 (3 months ago)

        I do not recommend Natural Balance.

        Reply
        • Brianna
          April 23, 2015 at 10:11 am (2 months ago)

          Why do you not recommend Nature’s Balance? It’s a limited ingredient formula.

          Reply
          • Ingrid
            April 23, 2015 at 10:23 am (2 months ago)

            Natural Balance was bought out by Del Monte a while back, and I am concerned that they may not maintain the integrity of the formulas.

    • Ingrid
      April 9, 2015 at 6:16 am (3 months 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 (3 months 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 (3 months 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 (3 months ago)

            Thanks, Ingrid!

          • Allie
            April 21, 2015 at 1:26 pm (2 months ago)

            Do you think Fromm is a good line for canned food

            These are the ingredients for the “Chicken, duck & Salmon pate” :

            Ingredients: Chicken, Chicken Broth, Duck, Salmon, Ocean Fish, Chicken Liver, Pea Fiber, Tomato Paste, Potato Starch, Vitamin Mix: Calcium Sulfate, Taurine, Choline Chloride, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Vitamin E Supplement, Iron Chelate, Zinc Chelate, Niacin Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Potassium Iodate, Riboflavin Supplement, Manganese Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Sodium Selenite, Thiamine Mononitrate, Copper Chelate, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid, Biotin.

          • Ingrid
            April 21, 2015 at 1:45 pm (2 months ago)

            I don’t recommend fish except as an occasional treat. Salmon, as long as it’s wild, is okay, but ocean fish (tile fish) is one of the worst contaminated fish – in fact, they’re so toxic that the FDA advises women of child-bearing age and children to avoid them entirely. The pea fiber and potato starch add carbs, which may mean that this particular formula is too high in carbs (I couldn’t tell you without seeing the guaranteed analysis).

          • debbie
            May 8, 2015 at 3:53 pm (2 months ago)

            I buy Nature’s Vartiety Instinct and the chicken has 95% chicken, turkey and liver on the ingredients. Not sure why its not all 95% chicken? 5% veggie/fruit n no grain or gluten.

          • Ingrid
            May 9, 2015 at 6:51 am (2 months ago)

            That’s one of the things I don’t like about Nature’s Variety, Debbie: they do mix their proteins. Organ meat is a source of taurine, which is one of the reasons pet food manufacturers use liver. It also enhances flavor.

  13. Allie
    March 20, 2015 at 2:25 pm (3 months 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 (3 months 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 (3 months 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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