The Best to Worst Cat Foods


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. 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.

You can find my recommendations of what to feed your cat here.

Quality premium cat food is more expensive

When it comes to nutrition, the old adage of “you get what you pay for” definitely rings true. Quality cat food that is high in meat protein, low in carbohydrates and free of fillers is going to be more expensive. Of course, for most of us, budget is a consideration when it comes to selecting cat food, but keep in mind that while you can’t control your cat’s genetic makeup, you can control what you feed, and a high quality diet will save you money in the long run because you’ll spend less on veterinary bills.

The following is my ranking of types of cat food, from best to worst:

1. A nutritionally balanced fresh or frozen raw diet.

A raw diet is as close to the diet a cat would eat in the wild. This is a fast growing segment of the pet food market, and there are more and more raw diets coming on the market all the time. It’s important that you do your research and learn about the company, where they source their ingredients, and where and how they manufacture the food. You could also choose to make your own raw food, but be sure to use a recipe that has a proper nutritional balance.

2. A nutritionally balanced home cooked diet

If raw feeding is not for you and you don’t mind cooking, a properly balanced home cooked diet is the next best choice. It is less processed than canned food, and you control the ingredients that go into your cat’s food. There are some commercial cooked refrigerated diets available now, but to date, none of them are fish-free, which is why I don’t recommend them.

3. A dehydrated or freeze dried raw diet

Dehydrated and freeze-dried raw foods for cats offer the same advantages of fresh or frozen raw food, but in a neater, easier format for people to handle. These diets simply need to be rehydrated with water to make a complete meal.

4. A premium grain-free canned diet

Grain-free canned diets are easy to feed, and are easily available. Look for brands that contain human-grade ingredients, are preferably organic (although those are still hard to find) and free of GMO’s and carrageenan. Learn to read labels: unfortunately, with the rise in popularity of these diets, some manufacturers are cutting corners and replacing some of the grains in the diet with carbohydrates rather than meat protein. Protein levels in canned foods can vary widely.

5. Lesser quality (grocery store brand type) canned food

This is the next to last least desirable choice, but if budget is an issue, the cheapest canned food is still a better choice for your cat than any type of dry food.

6. Dry food

Cats should never eat dry food; even the grain-free dry varieties are too high in carbohydrates. Additionally, cats need moisture in their diets. While cats who eat only dry food will generally drink more water, they still don’t get enough moisture to support all their bodily functions and essentially live in a constant state of low level dehydration, which can lead to bladder and kidney problems.

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. Additionally, dry food leaves a carbohydrate residue in the cat’s mouth that actually encourages growth of tartar and plaque.

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30 Comments on The Best to Worst Cat Foods

  1. Christie
    January 6, 2017 at 12:13 am (3 weeks ago)

    Do you think it’s ok to heat up canned food that’s been in the fridge in the microwave? Or does it damage the nutrients?

    • Ingrid
      January 6, 2017 at 6:24 am (3 weeks ago)

      There’s a lot of controversy out there over whether microwaving destroys nutrients or actually preserves them. This article from the Harvard Medical School, although not focused on cat food, explains the process: I heat canned and raw food that’s been in the fridge in the microwave for a few seconds, just to take the chill off. Just make sure you mix it up really well so there are no hot spots.

  2. Sharon Bilotta-Testa
    January 2, 2017 at 6:13 am (3 weeks ago)

    New to this very interesting articles and I just started feeding my 5 Orijen dry and I slightly cook the raw food from Darwin’s so far so good..its just so mind blowing on all the brands out there and what NOT to buy as I am always reading the ingredients..reading these articles really help

  3. Kara
    October 30, 2016 at 7:51 pm (3 months ago)

    Hi. Thanks so much for this info. I am desperately trying to find a quality wet food my cat can eat. He has allergies to tuna and tummy trouble, so the raw diet made him constipated and throw up. I’ve heard Rad Cat doesn’t use the raw bones (which cause tummy issues/constipation) it’s just difficult to find and I can’t afford shipping a raw food. He is a sensitive cat, so I have to choose wisely as well he’s picky. I’m feeling a little distraught. I tried adding some dehydrated chicken to his food and that helped me to get him to eat chicken instead of fish, but then he got sick with tummy trouble (could be me trying to ween him off fish and went too fast. Not sure). I too am not a dry food advocate for cats. Any suggestions?

    • Kara
      October 30, 2016 at 7:54 pm (3 months ago)

      FYI, I’ve tried a lot of foods and anything stew like or shredded he won’t eat. Must be pate. Low starch/carb due to tummy sensitivity. Have heard good things about ziwipeak. Not sure if he’ll go for lamb/rabbit but I’m willing to try it.

    • Ingrid
      October 31, 2016 at 5:16 am (3 months ago)

      Bones don’t necessarily cause constipation, although for some cats, they can be a problem. You may want to try the Nature’s Variety or Merrick Limited Ingredient formulas – both are pate style. So is ZiwiPeak.

      • Cheri Collins
        October 31, 2016 at 5:28 pm (3 months ago)

        Yes, and look for rabbit generally, and duck. Halo makes a canned rabbit, I think, and Blue Buffalo a canned duck. I have a cat who’s allergic to fish. Food allergies in cats cause itching and scratching, especially around the face. (That’s what you’ve seen?) It’s not just tuna you want to move him away from, then, it’s all fish. (And yes, for some cats a diet change has to be done gradually. ) I took up canned cat food label reading as a hobby. A brand you think is good because of their reputation may not be good for your cat. I’ve been surprised by how many makers of quality foods have replaced grains with vegetables (especially potato) and fruits. Not better! Cats cannot digest vegetables and fruits. And finally, you have to serve what your cat will eat. Rosie turned up her nose at every fish free quality canned food — except Blue Buffalo’s duck pate for a few months — and will only eat Friskies Poultry Platter (turkey based). From time to time I offer something better… she doesn’t eat it.

        • Kara
          November 1, 2016 at 9:41 am (3 months ago)

          Thank you so much for all responses! Yes, I’m thinking the better quality food I fed Rocky had too many veggies that upset his tummy. He can’t have that. I am definitely moving him away from all fish as well. I’ve tried some duck in the past but he doesn’t seem fond of it but I’m going to use the right techniques now to introduce a food. He liked rabbit before but really liked pork the best (nature’s variety) they stopped making it. Though that one food variety doesn’t have a limited ingredient diet. He liked the lamb limited ingredient for a time then grew tired of it. He’s not a turkey fan. I’m having a hard time finding the lamb limited ingredient in the store, so I may order it. I’m going to revisit some of these suggestions and introduce them the right way. I do give him probiotics as well. Have noticed a huge difference in his coat and less scratching. I’m almost there with my solutions! Thanks again.

        • Kara
          November 1, 2016 at 9:51 am (3 months ago)

          Oh, and yes, the scratching around the face and neck. Though if he goes on the screened porch during summer, until a cold snap in winter basically, he’ll lose hair. He’s even gone so far as to chew his front legs and paws. I have that under control now with no going out and probiotics. So, I think there’s two possibilities going on with allergies but am definitely eliminating all fish. He did used to eat a lot of that in years before, I’m sorry to admit. Thanks again for the input.

      • Kara
        November 13, 2016 at 12:57 pm (2 months ago)

        I tried ziwipeak and he liked the venison but had a tummy reaction to it and became constipated. I wonder if it’s due to bones? Their website says the formulas contain bones but then it’s not listed on the ingredients. So, not sure, but I moved on to Merrick Limited Ingredient chicken and he seemed to like it. I was surprised. No tummy upset. I still think ziwipeak is a great food but I’ll be happy with whatever he eats, that’s also limited in ingredients and doesn’t make him scratch or have tummy issues. I use probiotics in his food which has helped the transition from fish based foods. Still thinking of trying Rad Cat. Thanks for the info on this site!

      • Shelley
        January 17, 2017 at 1:52 am (1 week ago)

        I love your website, thank you for all your time that you invest in it. In response to Kara Oct. 2016 you suggested Merrick Pet food. They were purchased by Purina several years ago and we all know what purina is like, (I wouldn’t even use their chicken feed) Merrick states that their standards are the same, but with Purina purchasing them, something will change, do you know what changes they will make to their food? I spend to much money to try and keep my boys and girls healthy and away from low quality foods.

        • Ingrid
          January 17, 2017 at 6:12 am (1 week ago)

          I removed Merrick from this list.

  4. Jessica
    October 28, 2016 at 12:15 pm (3 months ago)

    I just want to say thank you for starting this article, it’s been an eye opener! My older cat was having the worst vomiting issues and after three vet visits, trying numerous foods and probiotics, their last option was an endoscopy that would cost me almost $1k. Thankfully I found your article and tried an all wet food diet with Weruva and she hasn’t vomited once! She loves it! Spending the extra money Is worth it just seeing her happier and healthier!

    • Ingrid
      October 28, 2016 at 1:32 pm (3 months ago)

      I’m so glad, Jessica! Yay!

  5. LisaM
    October 26, 2016 at 4:46 pm (3 months ago)

    After doing several years of commercial raw – and still using it for one of my fussier cats, I just started with Hare Today’s whole carcass ground mouse (with supplements). Wow. Mikey loves it, licks his little bowl clean. We still do a little bit of Tiki Cat canned food but I feel great feeding him a protein that in his ideal habitat, would be a big part of his diet. I mentioned this to my vet here in NYC, he totally supports raw feeding, he’s even given me recommendations on where to find “quality” raw duck meat at a local farmers market in out neighborhood.
    Anyway, wonderful article Ingrid, thanks for posting! 🙂

    • Ingrid
      October 27, 2016 at 5:09 am (3 months ago)

      I love that your vet supports raw feeding, Lisa.

  6. Alexis
    October 25, 2016 at 12:04 pm (3 months ago)

    I have raised many cats in my lifetime all who live to be 20 at least and never one had kidney or urine issues. .never would I consider feeding raw. I feed high quality wet with a high percentage of protein.with a grain free organic dry free feed at all times. Never has one cat I have raised not thrived and been healthy. Never has one not chosen to eat the wet because the dry was available. Cats like and need high quality food with high protein , taurine and proper blend of vitamins/minerals. Our domestic cats systems are highly evolved from once centuries ago when cats lived on raw. Now eating raw is a detriment for their nutrition. Vets always say my cats are very healthy and have good teeth. Never a kidney problem and no disease. After raising every cat to age 20 plus I know I am feeding correctly My current rescue was a street cat living on raw and she was malnourished when I got her, now she is thriving. .

  7. Janie
    October 25, 2016 at 3:19 am (3 months ago)

    Have been down the long road of a good catfood. One picky cat with no real dietary challenges except being a picky eater and the other kitty who will eat any food and eats like she has never been fed but has had long time digestive issues. And some skin issues occ. I have been with Life’s abundance now and the picky eater is well, still picky but has consistently eaten this food and with some probiotics the other kitty seems to be doing pretty well.
    It’s been a challenge for sure.
    The raw and freeze dried didn’t go over and I went through every possible organic cat food for months. Lots of $$ and wasted food. But. You do what you do for your pets.
    Thanks for your post.

  8. Marisa
    October 24, 2016 at 8:49 pm (3 months ago)

    In defense of eating SOME dry food. Now hold onto your seat…LOL! I am defending allowing and encouraging cats to eat some dry food/ Why you say? Because there are SO many cats available for adoption, and unlike dogs, if they eat dry food they can be left alone for a day or even a weekend (with maybe a neighbor checking in.) This is good for the cat rescue population. ……My former roomate only made her cats food, and we needed to go away for a weekend so she left our dry food. The poor cat vomited all over. If the are used to some dry food out, then you have tested brands that they like the taste of and their stomachs tolerate. ….I think that people would be discouraged from taking on a “high maintenance” pet. …We feed out cat wet food either homemade or canned twice a day but she also gets Nutirisource kibble. – So in terms of getting more cats out of shelter is why I think it would be fine to have both wet and dry food. (Former owner of cats raised on Purina cat chow who ever ever had a bladder or kidney or any problem whatsover. That being said I feed her Nutrasource which is the only quality food she will eat.)

    • Ingrid
      October 25, 2016 at 5:29 am (3 months ago)

      While I understand where you’re coming from, Marisa, I completely disagree with this advice on so many different levels. For starters, I don’t think cats should be left alone for a day or even a weekend. I also have a problem with the idea that cats are “low maintenance” pets, because it’s one of the many reasons why so many cats end up with behavior problems. People think they can just adopt a cat and then leave it alone. Cats are social creatures, and they need stimulation and enrichment. This is especially true for indoor cats.

  9. Cheri Collins
    October 24, 2016 at 4:38 pm (3 months ago)

    Cats don’t “chew” their food the way we do. Their teeth are made for killing (those two long ones in the front), and for tearing muscle and breaking bone. Eating a prey animal they’ve caught, they would swallow pieces of meat and bone (and organs) as soon as they get small enough pieces off the carcass.

    What about kittens? I just gave my cousin a 5 months old kitten for his birthday because he and his partner adopted one kitten (same age), who was tormenting the 10 yr-old cat. They both work during the day so will be gone 8-9 hours. I suggested leaving high quality, meat based dry food (I gave them a bag, 47% protein, no grain) out during the day while they’re away. Otherwise, I think it would be too long between meals for the growing, very active kittens. What do you think?

    • Ingrid
      October 25, 2016 at 5:26 am (3 months ago)

      At five months, I think it’s fine for kittens to go 8 to 9 hours without eating. They could feed one meal before they leave for work, another as soon as they get home, and then a third just before they go to bed.

  10. Will Hodges
    October 24, 2016 at 11:00 am (3 months ago)

    Thanks again Ingrid for a great post. I do have one question about one of the newer Merrick products. Have you had any feedback on their “Backcountry Raw Infused” pouch food? I tried a pouch on Oscar with Anya and they loved it. But a lot of stores don’t sell Merrick now, so I wondered what your latest opinion might be.

    • Ingrid
      October 24, 2016 at 4:02 pm (3 months ago)

      I have not heard much about this product, Will.

  11. Sue Brandes
    October 24, 2016 at 7:21 am (3 months ago)

    Thank you for the post.

  12. Angela
    October 24, 2016 at 3:39 am (3 months ago)

    I always have grain free dry cat food available so my cats can eat when I’m not around to feed them. I serve high grade, grain free wet food during feeding times. Is leaving the dry food out for them really that bad? I feel they would go hungry between feelings otherwise.

    • Ingrid
      October 24, 2016 at 5:47 am (3 months ago)

      I don’t recommend free choice feeding. If you stop leaving food out, they’ll learn to eat enough at meal times and won’t feel the need to eat in between.

  13. Summer
    October 24, 2016 at 2:22 am (3 months ago)

    Can you believe that even my human’s dentist believed the myth about dry food cleaning cat teeth? My human pointed out to her that it would basically be the same as her recommending that her patients eat biscotti or some other hard cookie. I think she got it.

    • Ingrid
      October 24, 2016 at 5:46 am (3 months ago)

      I believe it – I hear it so many times. My response is very similar to your human’s: it would be like a pediatrician telling parents to feed their kids hard pretzels to keep their teeth clean!


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