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The cat food industry is flooded with options for healthy cats and those with special needs. Read our guide to research the best cat food brands. Veterinary prescription diets are available for cats with specific medical problems, and other foods are available for cats prone to hairballs and urinary or digestive problems.

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What to consider when buying cat food


Before deciding on a particular brand of cat food, read the ingredients.

  • Meat: Cats are carnivores so the main ingredients should be meats or meat meals, not grains or other carbohydrates.
  • Fat: Fat should also be listed as one of the first five ingredients.
  • Allergen free: Allergies lead to hot spots and yeast infections. Wheat, beef, chicken and soy are known allergens, so avoid these ingredients if your cat is prone to allergies.


Price is a major factor in any purchasing decision, and cat foods can run the gamut. Typically, there are grocery store brands, mid-tier and top-tier products.

Caution! Vitamins are lost or become less potent and fat becomes rancid in bags of food open more that 4-6 weeks, even in sealed containers.

  • Lowest price: With cat foods, you often get what you pay for. Cheaper products often contain lower quality ingredients.
  • Quality matches price: When looking at mid-tier brands, typically only available at specialty pet stores, it is important to make sure that the price is justified by the quality. Look at the ingredients and then compare prices.
  • Bulk options: Buying bulk keeps costs down. Shop by the price per unit, not the price per bag.

Wet vs. dry

Wet food costs substantially more than dry, but it is also much better for cats.

  • Wet food: Wet food is gentler for cats to digest, better for their urinary health and often more palatable. In addition, cats often get much of their daily liquids through wet food. The health benefits may be worth the extra cost of wet food.
  • Dry food: As a cost-effective option, dry food offers complete nutrition, but it is important to verify the quality of ingredients. A bag of dry food can feed a cat for a month, and it usually costs about half as much as a wet diet.
  • Blended diet: A diet of both wet and dry food may be the most cost-effective option, so check to see if a brand offers both options.

Health benefits

Different formulas offer different health benefits. Select foods to meet specific needs of each cat.

  • Urinary tract health: Cats can be susceptible to a build-up of crystals in their urine, resulting in blockages in males. Urinary tract health formulas can prevent the problem before it starts.
  • Hairball formula: Hairballs are a common problem. Hairball control formula can reduce or eliminate hairballs.
  • Prescription formulas: Some cats have health problems requiring prescription cat food. There are foods designed for cats with kidney, liver and heart problems, urinary tract blockages and other issues.

Mineral content

Cats have an assortment of urinary crystals made up of different minerals. Food with lower amounts of the right mineral can have a direct impact on a cat’s health and longevity.

  • Low mineral formulas: Limiting the right mineral in cat food means less likelihood of bladder crystals, blockage in males or possible kidney problems.
  • Consult your Vet: Your veterinarian can tell you which minerals you should avoid for your cat.
  • Consider a wet food alternative: The extra water in wet cat food helps dilute any type of mineral in the urine and reduces the build-up of crystals in the bladder and kidneys.

Kitten and senior formulas

Make sure a brand offers formulas addressing all life stages. Changing brands suddenly can cause cats to experience digestive problems.

  • Kitten formula: Food specifically formulated for kittens has a lot more calories, protein, fat, calcium and phosphorus for their growing body and bones.
  • Adult cat formula: From indoor cat to health-specific formulas, adult cat food should have everything necessary for lifelong health.
  • Senior formula: As cats age, they need fewer calories and different nutrients. Senior formulas typically contain nutrition designed to improve joint health, cater to sensitive stomachs and help senior cats stay active.

Types of cat food

Dry cat food

Dry cat food is made into small, compressed nuggets. Producing dry food requires larger amounts of starch from carbohydrates than other types of cat food. Choose dry food with the highest amount of protein possible.

Wet cat food

Wet or canned cat food is not dehydrated, so it is very moist and soft. It offers higher moisture content and lower calories.

Raw cat food

Raw food is mostly composed of meat, carcass frame with bone and vegetables or grains, along with any extra supplements added for health benefits. This type of diet mimics a cat's natural diet.

Special formula cat food

Some cat foods are specially formulated to combat certain health issues. Obese or obesity-prone cats might benefit from weight management formulas. Special veterinary formulations help cats with a variety of medical problems.

Cats that need a special diet

Active kittens

A pet owner with a new kitten needs food to address healthy development, including calories and nutrients that support rapid growth.

Picky cats

Some cats are very picky about what they will and won't eat. They may turn their nose up at dry food, or go on a hunger strike when faced with a brand they don't like.

Inactive cats

An indoor, inactive or senior feline might carry extra pounds. Creating a diet to help them shed extra weight is challenging, so a special formula might be necessary.

Special needs cats

Special formulas can help cats with kidney, liver heart problems and intestinal or other urinary conditions. This can help reduce veterinary bills.

Cat food FAQ

What foods should cats avoid?

There are many common foods that are toxic or dangerous for cats to eat, including:

  • Raw meat, fish and eggs
  • Fat trimmings
  • Onions, shallots and scallions
  • Garlic
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol
  • Raw dough
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Caffeinated drinks
  • Anything containing the sugar substitute xylitol
What homemade food can cats eat?

Cats can eat many human foods, including:

  • Cooked meats and fish
  • Cooked eggs
  • Whole grains
  • Most vegetables

Cheese is fine in moderation, but some cats may be lactose intolerant.

You can also feed your cat a homemade raw diet that includes plenty of protein, amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. Consult your veterinarian before switching your cat to a raw diet to ensure that their nutritional needs are being met.

Do cats need wet food every day?

While cats don’t require wet food every day, including it in their diet is a good way to add variety and improve their hydration. Be sure to feed them dry food as well to keep their teeth clean and healthy.

What do cats naturally eat?

Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning it’s biologically necessary for them to consume a moisture-rich diet with meat.

What does holistic cat food mean?

Holistic cat food provides a balanced diet that meets all of a cat’s nutritional needs. However, there are no set standards for what is considered a holistic food, so some cat food companies use this term at will. Check to make sure you’re buying something that meets your expectations. Real holistic cat foods often have no artificial additives or preservatives, and they should also have high-quality ingredients. Apply the same standards when shopping for cat treats.

Do older cats need special food?

Older cats need fewer calories and less fat in their food, but they require a higher concentration of taurine for heart health. Cat food companies sell diets formulated for senior cats and cats with specific health issues. Ask your veterinarian which food is right for your older cat.

Not sure how to choose?

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    Author reviews for cat food

    HealthWise Cat Food

    As a leader in the pet food industry and part of the Natura family of products, HealthWise focuses on providing pet food formulas to fit the health needs of all breeds and varieties.

    • No by-products: HealthWise uses real chicken and chicken meal as the protein source.
    • Fewer hairballs: Using a blend of oatmeal, flax seed meal and brown rice called Fiber Matrix, their kitten and cat formula dry food naturally reduces the formation of hairballs.
    • Natural fatty acids: Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are a natural part of the food formula, found in ingredients such as herring meal, ground flax seed and chicken fat.
    • Easy shopping: One type of cat and kitten food means no more peering through shelves looking for a special bag of food.
    • Low in magnesium: Naturally low in magnesium, HealthWise cat food offers solid nutrition to male and female cats prone to struvite urinary crystals.
    • Author note: HealthWise voluntarily recalled dry cat food for potential Salmonella contamination in June of 2014.
    Merrick Cat Food

    Merrick has been a leading name in premium pet food for over 25 years. They don't produce formulas; they cook up delicious recipes designed to please the canine and feline palate.

    Read more about Merrick Cat Food
    Purina Pro Plan Cat Food

    Created by Purina, one of the most trusted names in pet care, Pro Plan is a premium pet food with only one thing in mind - health. Pro Plan creates healthy blends and tempting flavors, all chock full of the nutrition pets need to stay glossy and active.

    Read more about Purina Pro Plan Cat Food
    Hills Cat Food

    The Hills family of pet foods always makes the list when discussing premium options, in large part due to their unique formulas and prescription options.

    Read more about Hills Cat Food
    Fancy Feast

    Fancy Feast is a company that is committed to preparing gourmet cat food selections, and has been doing so for over 25 years. Their headquarters are in St. Louis, Missouri, and they offer a wide array of product types and flavors. Their products will appeal to almost any feline; in fact, Fancy Feast understands that cats have very specific tastes and they endeavor to please even the pickiest cats while providing them with nutritious food. Fancy Feast is especially known for its high quality wet cat foods.

    Read more about Fancy Feast

    Friskies is a company that manufactures cat food products and other assorted pet items, under the umbrella of its parent company, Nestle Purina. Founded in 1965, Friskies continues to be one of the most famous names when it comes to giving cats something delicious for dinner. They are committed to nutrition, pet food quality and safety, pet welfare and sustainability.

    Read more about Friskies
    Iams Cat Food

    Iams Cat Food is a company dedicated to providing pets with the best food possible. Iams was founded on the philosophy that pets need to be given the best nutrition possible. Since its founding, Iams has relentlessly researched new ways to improve their recipes and to ensure that their customers' furry family members are provided with all they deserve.

    Read more about Iams Cat Food
    Kirkland Cat Food

    Kirkland knows cat owners sometimes worry about the food they give their four-legged friends, which is why it developed a food that meets a cat's special nutritional need using ingredients that cat owners can trust.

    Read more about Kirkland Cat Food
    Meow Mix

    Meow Mix brand has been providing cat food and treats for four decades. The company makes wet and dry cat food formulas as well as soft and crunchy treats. Meow Mix also makes a special cat food formula designed to deliver nutritionally balanced food to kittens.

    Read more about Meow Mix
    Nutro Cat Foods

    NUTRO Cat Food is a company that offers premium cat food with a variety of flavors and textures to cats in all life stages. Tailored by the experts at The Nutro Company, it contains natural ingredients with added vitamins, minerals and trace nutrients to deliver the high-quality nutrition cats need to stay happy and healthy. With no poultry by-product meal, soy protein, rice flour, corn, wheat or vitamin K3, NUTRO Cat Food is free from many of the ingredients that are known to cause allergies in cats.

    Read more about Nutro Cat Foods

    Hear from our author -- Dr. Ken Tudor

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