Good To Know


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 can also 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 also some commercial cooked refrigerated diets available.

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 other 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.

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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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This post was first published in 2016 and has been updated.

59 Comments on The Best to Worst Cat Foods

  1. Help!! We have 7 indoor cats ages 12 to 8. They have always eaten Science Diet dry food. However, we have last two to cancer, one currently has bloody stools (so on Hill’s I/D), another has urine crystals which forces all others to eat Hill’s C/D formula. i want to find a better food that is affordable for a household with this many fur babies and on retirement income.Can you offer a suggestion that would be an answer to our problem?

    • Yikes! Hills Science Diet is one of the worst, least nutritious foods on the market. I have a book about cat health written by a vet with 30 years experience in a feline-only practice. She worked for Hills for 10 years and never, ever recommends their foods for any patients.
      Cats with urinary tract problems do not need a Hills dry food. Ideally you want them to eat canned / wet food and drink lots of water. Any canned food is better. If you buy Friskies on line and in “bulk,” you may find it’s not as expensive as you imagine. Shop around on the internet. One of my cats loves the Poultry Platter and won’t eat any other canned food. It’s turkey based, so not a bad choice at all.
      If you need to offer some dry food because of the cost of canned food, you want to read labels and find one or two which have the highest protein content. As Ingrid keeps pointing out (thank you, Ingrid) cats need animal protein. They also need plenty of fat. The do not need and cannot digest and use plant products.
      When I had two senior cats with CKD (chronic kidney disease), which is pretty common in senior cats and another reason you don’t want to keep your cats on dry food only, I took up cat food label reading as a hobby. My oldest cat started life feral and when I made friends with him, only recognized dry food and fresh caught as cat foods. He eats a lot of canned food now, but still insists he must have a little dry food. I adopted a rescued cat who was also used to eating dry food, and tried to wean both cats off of it. Slowly, over the course of a month, I offered less and less of it until one day, none. But Boo, the senior cat, decided it must be gone because Rosie, the newcomer, had eaten it all. He got very angry with her! I had to give them some again. Ingrid wouldn’t recommend this, I’m sure, but for those on a tight budget, the best dry food I’ve found is Purina’s PRO PLAN TRUE NATURE grain free Chicken & Egg recipe. It’s 40% protein, the first ingredient is chicken.
      To encourage the cats to drink a lot of water (which doesn’t come naturally, as they evolved in the desert): 1. Do not put the water bowls with the food bowls, the water gets dirty. In the wild, cats would never take their kill to their water source to eat it. 2. Put out a number of water bowls around the house. I have them in the bedroom, bathroom, two in the livingroom, one very large one on the back porch. Fresh water in clean bowls every day. 3.) The type of bowl matters a lot to some cats. Two of mine will not drink from metal bowls. A heavy stoneware bowl, large diameter so whiskers don’t get squeezed, (but doesn’t need to be deep) will keep the water cooler even in warm weather. I found my cats’ favorites in thrift stores.
      With so many cats approaching their senior years, I can’t tell you how much I want to encourage you to educate yourself now about kidney disease. A woman named Helen wrote an amazing book based on her experiences with 3 cats with CKD. Check out her website. TANYA’S. There’s also an on line support group associated with the site. I learned a lot from the site and from others’ experiences with their cats (and vets).

      • If Ingrid allows, I’ll also recommend a website for shopping for cats: Reasonable prices, good selection and they will deliver litter without adding to the shipping charge. (Getting it all delivered can be important at times. I don’t have a car and canned foods and litter are heavy.) If you spend enough, no shipping charge at all. The Hills c/d is going for $68 for 17.6 lbs. The Purina Pro Plan Chicken & Egg is going for $18.39 for 6 lbs. = $55 for 18 lbs. If you put it on autoship, $17.50 for 6 lbs. With the difference, you could get a flat, 12 cans of 13 oz Friskies Poultry platter.

        • Thank you for this information! I am looking at Young Again website and so much makes sense, logically and scientifically. I’ve not seen a review of their food on Ingrid’s site but i may try it out!

        • Thank you Ingrid! If I had not run across your website it would have taken me much longer to realize there had to be a better food for my babies.

      • OK, here I am again. I went to look at the Hills c/d ingredients. Corn and more corn. Wheat and brewers rice. These are not foods for cats. For raccoons, maybe. Brewers rice, Sara, is very, very cheap and provides no nutrition at all, even if cats could digest it. None; there’s nothing in it. Hills (and some other companies) add it to dry food to bulk it up. Look at the price of the Hills dry food and think about that. Please.

        • Thank you Cheri! It makes me so mad that vets promote these types of food when in reality they cause more problems than they “cure”!!

      • Cheri, I’m going to add to you post, remember that pet food labeling is not as stringent as human food (I even wonder about that now) Not only do you want to look at the ingredient list, you want to be aware of the source of your ingredients. A lot of large name brand pet foods, the ones that have been around 4ever and a lot of the newer brands source their proteins and such from rendering plants that accept euthanized animals, road kill, diseased livestock etc. I believe that is why Ingrid’s list of good foods is so narrow. You always want a quality and consistent protein source. I have 7 cats and one of those absolutely no way no how will eat canned or raw, I transitioned, slowly, mixed, battled with her and she would rather starve. I feed her, Acana, Orjen or Merrick Limited Ingredient. I also try to switch around so they don’t build up an allergy to a certain protein. One of my older cats is fighting acute IBD. Sometimes I think I prolly spend more time searching internet articles and money feeding my pets properly and less on me. Oh and one other note, I found that (free shipping over $49.00) and were a little cheaper than

        • Good websites! Thanks!

        • Shelley, the quality of ingredients is important, but not, perhaps, as important as you imagine. In this country we are very particular about what we will and will not buy to eat. I used to buy organ meats for my cats — lamb hearts and kidneys, all sorts of livers, chicken necks and so on — all fresh. I would just cut them up and the cats ate them raw. They loved to chew on half a skinned chicken neck. Now I can’t find any of those even if I put in a request. And I’m in a city which prides itself on being a foodies’ paradise! But also, like, Sara, I’m retired so I’m sympathetic to the need to keep costs / expenses down. With 7 cats, there are vet expenses, too. The very best food may not fit into the budget. But the cats have a home and regular meals, so I encourage folks to just do the best they can. So many cats here are ending up in shelters. Better food that’s less than perfect than becoming homeless. None of my cats (3 rescues) will eat Acana or Orjen. They’ve rejected Merrick in the past, but I’m about to offer another — I just like them to eat a variety and not get stuck on one.

      • I don’t know how i missed your complete response, Cheri. i appreciate your insight and will certainly take your advice!

      • But how much starch does that dry food have? Starch is a recipe for disaster.

    • Science Diet IS #1 on the worst dry foods on many web sites.

    • This happened to my cat. First I put her on a therapudic urine stone cat food (stones cause blood). After an x-ray showed the stones were gone, I switched to friskies canned and only get formulas with rice (not corn, wheat or soy). I add a little extra water. I only get 10% or higher protein wet food. Problem solved.

  2. Is this discussion still alive?
    I’ve decided I have to ask — Ingrid, what do you mean by “human grade” meats? All canned cat food is made from the by products of meat and fish processed for humans. Nobody slaughters or fishes for cats. How would you read a canned food label and decide it was made from “human grade” meat?

    • It is true that the term “human grade” does not have a real definition in animal feed regulations, and it is used (and often misused) for marketing purposes. The term is most frequently used to set it apart from “feed grade,” which applies to a product that is not fit for human consumption. Human grade refers to the quality of a finished product, and means that that product is approved for human consumption. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell from a label alone what a pet food manufacturer uses – you really need to dig a little deeper. I hope this helps.

  3. 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?

  4. 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

  5. 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?

    • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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.

        • 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.

      • 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!

      • 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.

    • Granted,I am no expert,but give this a try.
      Canned Chub Mackerel (Inexpensive) There will be,normally 3 portions in a can.
      Take one and with little guided effort,with a fork,devide from top to bottom.
      With the fork,lift out the spine(The fish have been flash steamed and in water for some time,so the tiny bones are actually rubbery and of no consequence)
      On we go.
      2 tablespoons of canned/thawed frozen baby sweet peas.
      Stir together well with the now flakey mackerel.
      A couple of pieces of postage stamp sized pieces of sandwich sliced Swiss cheese and serve.

  6. 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!

  7. 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! 🙂

    • I love that your vet supports raw feeding, Lisa.

    • I contemplated buying Hare Today’s “pinkie” mice, but had some apprehensions about it. Ideally we should be able to buy live mice like they do for pet lizards and feed them as opposed to serving up dead mice for cats. The thrill of the hunt–earning their food– must be just as significant for them. But I hope your cat enjoys this and over time thrives. Unfortunately, you can’t really tell how healthy this is without testing many cats over time who are eating euthanized mice. And do the taurine levels remain stable once the mouse is dead?

  8. 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. .

  9. 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.

  10. 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.)

    • 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.

  11. 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?

    • 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.

  12. 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.

    • I have not heard much about this product, Will.

      • My cats love these pouches!! At first I didn’t know if they were the biggest fans but I reintroduced them and now it’s a household favorite! Particularly the duck and turkey pouches (which as an added benefit are lower in phosphorus and magnesium for helping with urinary crystal issues in my males)
        When I emailed the company they were very transparent about the food and responded very quickly. My cats haven’t vomited or had diarrhea on this food and seem to be thriving. As a result I highly recommend it. I’ve heard quite a few others rave about it especially on the diabetic cat forums. I would try it-hope your cats enjoy as much as mine-even the picky ones!

        Ingrid- was Merrick removed from your recommended list simply because they were bought by Purina or for another reason? Some people have claimed or spread rumors that they have changed the food to be less than it was but I haven’t noticed anything and many on the feline diabetes forum and on thecatsite and elsewhere still really recommend it especially the backcountry pouches so I was just wondering.

        • I haven’t had a chance to talk to my contact at Merrick recently to get an update, and until I do, I’ve taken the brand off the list. I’m glad your cats love the pouches, Jerilin!

  13. Thank you for the post.

  14. 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.

    • 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.

  15. 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.

    • 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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