best-food-for-your-cat

Last update: February 2022

Editor’s Note: Even though this article was first written in 2012, I periodically update the information to keep it current. I try to answer as many general questions in the comments as I can. I cannot always verify the veracity or accuracy of information or recommendations provided by readers in comments.  If you would like me to evaluate a brand or product not mentioned on the list in this post, or if you would like individualized advice for your cat, please schedule a consultation. This post contains some affiliate links*.

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.

Dry food is the equivalent of junk food for cats.  It’s really not all that different from feeding sugared cereals to kids. Cats are obligate carnivores: this means they need meat not just to survive, but to thrive. They cannot get enough nutritional support from plant-based proteins such as grains and vegetables, because, unlike humans and dogs, they lack the specific enzyme that processes plant-based proteins metabolically. They need few or no carbohydrates in their diet. Feeding foods high in carbohydrates can lead to any number of degenerative diseases, including diabetes, kidney disease, and inflammatory bowel disease. Dry food is the leading cause of most urinary tract problems, and it is responsible for the obesity problem among cats. Dry food has also been implicated as one of the contributing factors to diabetes, which is reaching epidemic proportions. 1 in 50 cats may be affected, with overweight cats being at increased risk.

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.

Eusoh Community Pet Health Plan for Cats

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.

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Avoid fish-based foods

A word about fish: most cats love fish-based foods. I recommend using them sparingly or avoiding them altogether. The primary fish used in cat food are salmon, tilefish (usually identifed as ocean whitefish on the label) and tuna. Each of them presents health issues, because fish can contain toxic doses of common water pollutants, heavy metals, and other contaminants.

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.) Mercury is considered one of the top ten chemicals of major public health concern by the World Health Organization.

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 foods (listed in no particular order). If you would like me to evaluate a brand not on this list, I would be happy to do so – please contact me for fees for this service.)

Best Wet Cat Foods

Dr. Elsey’s Clean Protein™ is  available from Chewy.com.

Weruva Read my full review of this brand here. Wervua is available from Amazon and from Chewy.com.

Hound and Gatos is available from Chewy.com.  Some varieties of Hound and Gatos are available from Amazon.

Tiki Cat. I only recommend the poultry-based flavors. Tiki Cat is available from Chewy.com. Some formulas are also available from Amazon.

Soulistic. This brand is similar to Weruva and is available from Amazon.

Ziwi is available from Chewy.com.

Nature’s Logic is available from Chewy.com.

Best Raw Cat Foods

Darwin’s Natural Pet Food

Fegnion

Vital Essentials is available from Chewy.com.

Stella and Chewy’s

Primal Pet Foods

Dehydrated raw diets

The Honest Kitchen is available from Chewy.com.

Stella and Chewy’s is available from Chewy.com.

Primal Pet Foods Primal Pet Foods dehydrated formulas are available from Chewy.com. Some formulas are also available from Amazon.

Gently cooked diets

Smalls

 

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

Homemade food for your cat: healthy, simple and economical

The right diet for cats with kidney disease

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

*FTC Disclosure: The Conscious Cat is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to products on Amazon. The Conscious Cat is an affiliate partner of Chewy.com. The Conscious Cat is an affiliate partner of NomNomNow. This means that if you decide to purchase through any of our links, we get a small commission. We only spread the word about products and services we’ve either used or would use ourselves.

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1,365 Comments on The Best Food for Your Cat: My Recommendations

  1. I have two cats. A 1 yr old & a 4 month old. They both are eating Darwin’s raw. Just recently there appetite started to decrease. And they both have diarrhea. They barely want to eat the Darwin’s anymore. And there coats are very spikey. I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s not smooth or silky. It looks more like, greasy and spikey.

  2. I (age 75) have been owned by cats my entire life. I found your website today. I wish I had found it 60 years ago. Currently, I have 2 healthy female cats and I desperately want feed them right to keep them healthy. I have lost too many cats to kidney disease. please keep up your work.

  3. Instinct limited ingredient wet cat food is no longer produced in the US, is now produced in Thailand.

    I haven’t compared ingredients yet, but the formula seems to have changed. The turkey variety appears pale and slimy, and my cat won’t eat it.

    Might be worth revisiting your recommendation.

    • Thank you for your feedback. I’ve been on the cusp about removing Instinct from my list since some of their formulas have been inconsistent for quite some time.

  4. Hi! My cat had stomach exploratory surgery (to remove a hairball/dry food blockage) and had to have a feeding tube placed due to hepatic lipidosis. The surgery was done about two and a half weeks ago, and he had his feeding tube removed about a week and a half ago. I really want him to get back on Darwin’s (we tried it last year and only stopped because our other cat stopped eating it) to help keep him healthier. Do you know about how long after this type of surgery we would need to wait to feed him Darwin’s? He really thrived on it the time we did try it. Thanks for your time and wisdom 🙂

    • I would check with your vet to make sure that it’s okay to resume feeding raw. It shouldn’t be a problem, assuming everything healed well following his surgery.

    • While I prefer the brands listed in this post, some Fancy Feast formulas can be an okay choice. Just make sure you choose formulas without by-products, artificial flavors, and other artificial ingredients.

  5. My kitty is about 10. He was the neighbors cat. One day I got home from work and he was on my doorstep, ripped wide open from his neck to his tail.
    I took him to the vet (38 stitches). This was about s6-8 years ago. Now, in 2022, he appears healthy,happy,however, his appetite is very, very minimal. II walk him in a stroller…most days 2 times = 3-4 miles. Then I let him walk home (about 1/4 mile) each time. I feed him Fancy Feast, wet food, and Prescription dry food K&M (Kidney and Mobility Support) from Blue Buffalo./Natural Veterinary Diet. Is there a food or something that would increase his eating as I do t think what he’s doing is healthy?

    • I would eliminate the dry food. If he hasn’t had a veterinary check up recently, I’d also take him to the vet. Minimal appetite at his age could be an indicator of any number of illnesses.

    • I grinde raw chicken brest( for human consuption ) ,raw chicken liver ( a little ) ,raw chicken hearts and I add some pumpking from can ( cook ) and also ,feline digestive enzymes and Nutra thrive ( I order ) and mixt this and packed with a little plasick bags and freeze them .I use worm water to defreeze them with this plastik bag and add some warm water inside this raw meet and my 3 cats love this so much . Try this after you find out if your cat is healthy .
      Zofia

  6. I am new to your newsletter, having read about 3 of your articles I applaud and very much appreciate your research and willingness to share it! So thank you for that. I have a male rescue cat that is FIV positive. A bit of history, Jack has been neutered. He is an outdoor cat but lives with 4 other FIV positive cats within a shelter, climate controlled building with access to outdoors area of about 1/4 acres that is fenced with cat proof fencing. For years I have fed them all Purina grain free wet food along with baked chicken or chicken liver. Approx 8 months ago I notice his front leg swollen, the vet inserted a drain and gave him Convenia injection and after a couple wks, stitches removed it seemed healed. 2-3 months later the same thing happened. Given the time frame I thought this a new injury and we went through this scenario several times before we realized it was the same thing over and over. Several cultures and biopsies later, after it looking as though it was healed we are back to square one. It was also noted that there is a small foreign body in the leg that seems to be quite mobile. It is small enough that my vet has not been able to get it out, and neither of us is really sure it is the culprit for the recurrence of this infection. Though as a last ditch effort she as him schedule with a surgical specialist who thinks he can get the foreign body out. In the meantime in an effort to strengthen his immune system I have switched his diet to NomNomNow which is what I feed my indoor cats and what I wish I could afford to feed them all. I also mix in the probiotics that NomNom sells. I would like to know if you have and opinion on NomNoms probiotic but I am also looking for any other advice for strengthening his immune system. He is about 6-7 yrs old and has never been ill, has recovered without issue from dental extractions and other bite wounds. I’m sorry for the length of my note, Im pretty desperate as I know we are looking at possible amputation in the near future if I cant get this resolved
    Many thanks for your time and consideration

  7. my daughters cat is 10 months old almost and tiny and looks ill. she got him from the humane society and 2 weeks later she told them he still looked ill. she took him for tests and they said he was negative for leukemia etc. now he has tested positive. he is an indoor cat and i want to help him. i am reading to stop dry food and give a quality wet food only with daily probiotic and fatty acids. any other recommendations
    thanks

  8. Thanks so much for your responses. I appreciate it!

    What are your thoughts on Dr. Elsey Clean Protein wet canned foods?

    Thanks~

    • I haven’t looked at Wellness in a while, but found over the years that the formulas are not consistent. The company has been sold multiple times since its inception, which is another factor that makes me less inclined to trust a brand.

  9. Hello. My cat will
    Only eat the vital essentials freeze dried raw. He eats turkey, chicken, duck and rabbit. He don’t like it rehydrated. Should I be worried about moisture. He hates any wet food. I have tried almost every brand. Any suggestions. ?

    • Have you tried gradually adding small amounts of water to the dehydrated raw food so he can get used to the new texture over time? Make sure you encourage him to drink plenty of water if you really can’t get him to accept any wet food.

      • Yes. Once I add the water he won’t touch it. Ugh. He seems to drink enough water. Is the freeze dried raw better than kibble. Just want to make sure I am making the right choice. My one cat loves Carna4

        • Freeze dried raw is a considerable improvement over kibble, but freeze dried raw food is not designed to be eaten dry. I’d be concerned that even if he drinks a lot of water, it may not be enough.

  10. I have 2 inside cats, all they will eat is mariners catch wet food mixed with friskies bag food, my girl cat is around 17lbs, way to large, I can’t get her to eat canin diet food, how can we get our fur babies to try something new like I see in your articles, they are finicky. Any suggestions or help would be appreciated. I don’t want them.to have health issues, but neither can I make them eat the more healthier food. Help if you can. Thanks

  11. would you say the wet foods you listed are also good for cats in early stage kidney failure (as well as later stage)?

  12. Hi Ingrid

    Can you please tell us what you feed Allegra?
    Is it always raw (or raw with any particular brands of canned)?
    And if you have made any chances to her diet over time?
    Also, do you give her any supplements, like digestive enzymes, probiotics, or anything else (incl any kind of special treats)?

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