The Best Food for Your Cat: My Recommendations

cat with food bowl

Last update: October 2018

Editor’s Note: Even tough 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.

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. 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™

Weruva Read my full review of this brand here. Wervua is available from Amazon at very competitive prices with free shipping for Prime members.

Nature’s Variety Instinct Canned Some Nature’s Variety Instinct formulas are available from Amazon at very competitive prices with free shipping for Prime members.

Bravo Canned

Nature’s Logic Canned

Hound and Gatos Some varieties of Hound and Gatos are available from Amazon at very competitive prices

Tiki Cat. I only recommend the poultry-based flavors. Tiki Cat is available from Amazon at very competitive prices with free shipping for Prime members.

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.

Ziwi

Best Raw Cat Foods

Darwin’s Natural Pet Food

Balanced Blends Raw Pet Food

Vital Essentials

My Pet’s Pride

Stella and Chewy’s

Nature’s Variety

Raw Paws Pet Food

Primal Pet Foods

Dehydrated raw diets

The Honest Kitchen

Stella and Chewy’s

Primal Pet Foods Primal Pet Foods dehydrated formulas are available from Amazon at very competitive prices with free shipping for Prime members.

Gently cooked diets

NomNomNow

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 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.

Photo: istockphoto

1,219 Comments on The Best Food for Your Cat: My Recommendations

  1. Melanie
    November 6, 2018 at 1:49 pm (1 month ago)

    RE: Soulistic. I can’t find any flavors other than chicken that do not have tuna. Am I missing them? I’ve been buying Grain free Gluten free Soulistic Duck Dinner in Gravy, Lamb Dinner in Gravy and Beef Dinner in gravy. I just noticed that all of these have tuna broth as the first ingredient and tuna as the third ingredient. In fact the only Soulistic I could find without fish was chicken. I am trying to rotate through choices other than chicken. My kitties were loving Soulistic. Thank you for your great website!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 6, 2018 at 4:33 pm (1 month ago)

      Yes, the only Soulistic flavors without fish are the two chicken ones.

      Reply
    • Mary
      November 10, 2018 at 10:21 pm (1 month ago)

      I just bought the chicken and turkey which does not contain any fish and is carrageenan free unlike some of their others. My cat loves it!

      Reply
  2. Randy
    November 4, 2018 at 5:21 pm (1 month ago)

    Hi Ingrid, What is your opinion on Merrick’s Limited Ingredient Diet line of can food? Thank you, Randy

    Reply
      • Nancy Wagner
        November 6, 2018 at 3:28 am (1 month ago)

        We’ve been feeding our two Siamese cats this food for about 5 years – alternating between chicken and salmon pate. Not sure what the ingredients were originally, but here are the first 5 ingredients now:
        DEBONED CHICKEN
        CHICKEN BROTH
        CHICKEN LIVER
        NATURAL FLAVOR
        PEA PROTEIN

        Reply
        • Nancy Wagner
          November 6, 2018 at 3:56 am (1 month ago)

          Full list of ingredients:
          Deboned Chicken, Chicken Broth, Chicken Liver, Natural Flavor, Pea Protein, Calcium Carbonate, Organic Dried Alfalfa Meal, Sodium Phosphate, Guar Gum, Potassium Chloride, Taurine, Salt, Choline Chloride, Flaxseed Oil, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Minerals (Zinc Amino Acid Complex, Iron Amino Acid Complex, Manganese Amino Acid Complex, Copper Amino Acid Complex, Potassium Iodide, Cobalt Glucoheptonate, Sodium Selenite) , Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin A Supplement, Niacin, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Riboflavin Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid, Biotin, Thiamine Mononitrate).

          Reply
      • Dale
        December 3, 2018 at 5:57 pm (1 week ago)

        Whats the besr food for my cat, she seams bloated, and big belly, is dry food no good..

        Reply
        • Ingrid
          December 4, 2018 at 6:25 am (1 week ago)

          If your cat seems bloated, you need to get her checked out by your vet. As I explain in this article, cats should never eat dry food. You can find the brands/foods I recommend in the list in this article.

          Reply
  3. Leslie
    October 13, 2018 at 10:36 pm (2 months ago)

    Just acquired a kibble addicted 5 year old cat that I hope to transition to wet canned, and eventually raw. He will only eat pate (doesn’t like Tiki Cat, for example or real cooked meat) in very small quantities. Your article doesn’t mention pea protein, which I am seeing in foods and dislike. Any suggestions for a pate with no veggies or fruit, carageenan, peas or pea protein? Don’t like to see flaxseed either as it gets rancid very easily, but this may be a tall order. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      October 14, 2018 at 5:38 am (2 months ago)

      I agree with you on pea protein being a poor substitute for meat protein. Of course, it’s cheaper, which is why it’s showing up in so many formulas. Try Dr. Elsey’s, Bravo, or Hound and Gatos – when I last checked, none of them contained pea protein, but formulas change, so it’s always a good idea to read labels.

      Reply
      • Nancy Wagner
        October 14, 2018 at 2:08 pm (2 months ago)

        Our 2 cats would NOT eat anything with peas in it. So after trying about a dozen other brands, we finally came up with Merrick’s Limited Ingredient chicken or turkey – pate. The Pate was the key. We also add to that Life Extension Multi-Nutrient Formula vitamins and home make poached ground chicken. It took a couple of weeks to wean them off kibble and onto our recipe, but now they’re fine.

        Reply
    • Joann
      October 26, 2018 at 7:37 pm (2 months ago)

      Yes,Cornucopia

      Reply
  4. Tammie
    October 11, 2018 at 7:54 am (2 months ago)

    This is the first time I have been to this site. Hoping it is OK to ask a question. I have a 11 year old cat. Seems she has runny stool about every 3 or 4 days in the same exact place, which is right in front of our sliding patio door, where I will see it in the AM when I let the dog out. The vet thinks it is a behavior problem. I currently am feeding her Blue canned food. I also have another cat that I got 2 years ago but the cat that has the problem was doing it prior to getting this cat although the problem is getting more frequent. Do you think it would be helpful to give a probiotic or switch to one of the brands you have listed?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      October 11, 2018 at 8:05 am (2 months ago)

      A probiotic might help, but it does sound like there’s a stress/behavioral component to the issue. I would place a litter box in the spot where she eliminates and see if that fixes the problem. This is not a permanent solution, once she uses the box, you can very gradually move it to a better location in the same room.

      Reply
  5. Jeannie Lindheim
    September 29, 2018 at 9:35 am (2 months ago)

    I was just told that grain free might not be the best for cats.
    What is your thought on this? Thanks so much~

    Reply
  6. Deborah starks
    September 9, 2018 at 8:46 am (3 months ago)

    Is there a update on the brand of can foods for our cats n kittens that is best for them?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 9, 2018 at 3:57 pm (3 months ago)

      Even though the original post date is 2012, as stated in the annotation at the top of this post, this list is kept current.

      Reply
  7. Allie
    September 5, 2018 at 5:33 pm (3 months ago)

    How do you feel about added salt (sodium chloride) in canned food? I have been doing extensive research on your recommended brands, and MOST of them have added salt listed as an ingredient. I’ve read salt causes heart and kidney disease and hypertension (much like in humans). I’m trying to feed the best possible canned food to my cats. Thank you for your help.

    Reply
  8. Jeannie Lindheim
    August 27, 2018 at 7:02 am (4 months ago)

    I feed my cats canned cat food. Purina beyond is my choice with very little wellness indoor dry mixed in. Also backwoods wet is also good. I never would feed my cats raw. Too many problems.

    I don’t understand your comment about wellness food. I don’t use dry food.

    would you recommend wellness food with carregenan? thanks~

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 27, 2018 at 7:31 am (4 months ago)

      I do not recommend any foods with Carrageenan. Raw food is the optimal diet for cats, but I understand that not everyone is comfortable with it.

      Reply
  9. Jeannie Lindheim
    August 26, 2018 at 4:47 pm (4 months ago)

    Thanks so much. Yes, they did talk the carrageenan out of all Wellness wet food

    Reply
    • Zofia
      August 27, 2018 at 9:56 pm (4 months ago)

      The carrageenan – read online about this ingrienient .
      I feed my 3 cats with Blue Baflo can food with this ingrienient in and they ( 3 of them ) die with the same tammy cancer in 9 month time they all were gone . I still miss my cats ,they were not old to die .

      Reply
  10. Jeannie Lindheim
    August 26, 2018 at 1:55 pm (4 months ago)

    Hi Ingrid,

    I had my cat on Primal Freeze dried for 2 years. He LOVED it, but recently doesn’t want it. So I switched to the food he used to eat- Wellness Turkey Pate- no carrigenan, grain free, etc. I tried about 10 different foods when we adapted him and he didn’t like any of them. What about this type of Wellness food? Thanks~

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 26, 2018 at 4:36 pm (4 months ago)

      I haven’t looked at Wellness in a while, but all their formulas used to have carrageenan. It sounds like maybe they took it out?

      Reply
      • Jeannie Lindheim
        August 26, 2018 at 4:48 pm (4 months ago)

        Thanks Ingrid.

        Yes, they did take out the carrageenan. 🙂

        Reply
      • Ron
        August 27, 2018 at 3:18 am (4 months ago)

        I feed my cats canned cat food. Purina beyond is my choice with very little wellness indoor dry mixed in. Also backwoods wet is also good. I never would feed my cats raw. Too many problems

        Reply
  11. Sharyl
    August 25, 2018 at 8:35 pm (4 months ago)

    Hi Ingrid,

    We have been feeding Vital Essentials, but have heard they are changing their formula and it has been so hard to get, so we tried Small Batch. They do list salmon oil in their ingredients. I was wondering if you are familar with the brand etc. Our Vet says they are comparable to VE.

    Thank you,

    Reply
  12. Karen
    August 19, 2018 at 6:14 pm (4 months ago)

    My cat seems to have a sensative stomach and vomits up her food every few days. Raw diets have been tried in the past and she is now eating Tiki cat wet food. She also eats a dry kibble, grain free, Vital Cat duck flavored. She has also been allowed to eat the dog’s dry kibble; Stella and Chewy’s raw blend. Her vomit tends to be chunky as though she is not completely digesting the dry kibble. Any thoughts or ideas? Thanks!

    Reply
  13. Emily
    August 14, 2018 at 4:25 pm (4 months ago)

    Hi there!

    I’m not sure if you — or anyone else, really — will read this comment, but I’ll try anyway as a desperate first-time cat owner.

    I adopted my cat, Diamond, from a local shelter at the end of June. In pretty much every way she is healthy, and at her checkup in July, the vet was super impressed with her health.

    However, being a girl in her 20’s who’s never owned a cat before, I simply followed the diet they had been giving her at the shelter. They would free-feed the cats kibble but give them two wet food meals a day. So…that’s what I did. Diamond was a bit picky about the wet food but she loves dry food to the point that she will eat no matter WHAT I put down in front of her. This is where the problem lies: last night, before bed, I tried to simply just “put away” her kibble, and she went nuts. Like, whining and climbing on me and purring in my ears kind of nuts.

    A lot of the websites on transitioning cats from a dry to wet diet only account for cats eating dry kibble on a free-feed schedule, but Diamond and I are a bit different. I’ve done a lot of research on how to wean her off of the kibble, but again, none of them are really relevant for us.

    Sorry for the long comment, but I’m just not sure what to do anymore! Any guidance you could provide, or resources you could point me toward, would be incredibly appreciated.

    Thank you so much, and thank you for all you do for the kitties with your site!

    Reply
    • Lana
      August 26, 2018 at 7:45 am (4 months ago)

      Hi Emily,

      I’m co-signing Ingrid’s comments. Cats are creatures of habit. Just be patient and remember not to beat yourself up over it.

      Since my cats still prefer some kibble, and i do leave 60kcals out at night since they are actively playing when I’m asleep, I purchased water fountains to encourage them to drink more water. I prefer the Pagoda style that Ingrid recommended because it’s an ideal size for cats,made of ceramic and not plastic, and has parts that are easy to clean.

      Make sure you transition them to the best quality kibble you can afford, if they are eating a cheaper variety. Make sure you check the Guaranteed Analysis and look for .2% taurine. You might only get as close as .15%. Taurine is super important for cats. Wet foods more than always have less than dry food and raw diets typically can not guarantee any taurine. A food can claim to be natural but if it doesnt have the necessary nutrients for your cat, it’s not a superior alternative. So recognize you may have to add taurine and other supplements.

      This is shedding season so make sure you brush your cat frequentl in addition to making sure their diet contains omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. Many dry foods add these as well. It helps keep their coat nice and shiny.

      Also make sure you give them something like Tomyln laxatone a few days a week to help them pass furballs and also poop easier with all of that dry food in their system.. Getting them to take it may be tricky. I wipe a small dallop on top of my cats upper lip on the side, wait for them ro lick it off, then apply more when it’s done. Greenies Smartbites are a good supplement.

      That’s the basics. Other than scheduled playtime around feeding (Da bird and laser toys are sure hits) to encourage them to eat more at feeding time and rest afterwards, you’re good to go.

      Reply
  14. Helen Burley
    August 9, 2018 at 10:19 am (4 months ago)

    Hi, I’ve just started feeding Weruva. they do like the fish products. Are the fish products also the same human grade food as the chicken? I understand that fish should be limited but they get tired of the Fowl Ball and the Double Dip. Unfortunately one of my cats is food sensitive to the Lamb so I’m limited. Also I was going to try them on the GO cat food but all of their food contains salmon even if the name of the food is chicken.

    Thanks,

    Helen

    Reply
  15. simone
    July 26, 2018 at 3:02 am (5 months ago)

    Thank you for the helpful article. My problem is none of the commercial brands listed seem to have KITTEN food. What would you recommend for a kitten? thank you.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 26, 2018 at 5:50 am (5 months ago)

      As long as a diet has sufficient amounts of protein, it is appropriate for kittens as well. Kittens will need more frequent meals and more calories than adult cats, but they don’t necessarily need a “kitten diet.” Here’s more information on so-called life stages diets and why they’re mostly a marketing ploy: https://consciouscat.net/2014/08/11/life-stages-lifestyle-diets-cat-really-need/

      Reply

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