Best Cheap Cat Foods

This list of the best budget-friendly and healthy cat foods includes wet and dry varieties. Some brands offer options targeted to special dietary needs.

Our Picks

With several flavors to choose from, Fancy Feast Classic, sometimes referred to as "kitty crack," draws in picky eaters. This low-cost canned cat food contains protein from quality sources; meat by-products are used, but they're lower down on the list of ingredients.

  • Finicky cats scarf it down.

  • Options include the classic pâté style, grilled, sliced, shredded, as well as selections for gravy lovers.

  • High in protein, with only a few meat by-products.

  • Small amount of wheat gluten in a few varieties; absent in many others.

  • Contains artificial colors and flavors.

  • Some cats present with gas or stomach issues with this food.

While many reviewers say Tiki Cat is unappealing to humans, it's undeniably attractive to most cats. The cans are on the small size for the price, but the chunky formula contains no filler -- it's calorie-dense with the right kind of nutrition.

  • Human-grade cat food at an affordable price.

  • Grain-free, low in carbohydrates and very high in moisture and protein.

  • Good for cats with health issues such as urinary tract infections, diabetes, and IBS.

  • Mostly fish flavors, which may not be the best choice for daily feeding.

  • The fishy smell is off-putting to some people.

Taste of the Wild Grain Free contains more protein (42 percent for the venison and salmon variety) than most cheaper dry cat foods. The sweet potatoes add moisture, fiber, and nutrients that some vets say are good for a cat's digestive health.

  • Suitable for all life stages.

  • Carbohydrates come from sweet potatoes and legumes.

  • Wet cat food users say it's a convenient alternative that also serves well as treats.

  • Contains omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.

  • Very high percentage of protein in Rocky Mountain Feline blend.

  • Roasted venison flavor is mostly chicken meal.

  • Does not appeal to all cats.

  • Some owners question the need for fruits in the mix.

  • Little variety in flavors.

Rescue cats are often fed some variety of Hill's Science Diet in shelters, and owners continue with the brand when they take those cats home. The moisture content is low, even for a dry food, so supplementing with wet food is a good idea. Science Diet addresses certain health issues, such as weight gain, urinary tract, and hairball, with special formulas that seem to work for most cats.

  • Said to be top choice for veterinarians to feed their own pets, according to surveys.

  • Protein is the first ingredient.

  • Owners report less throwing up and fewer hairballs.

  • Cats generally like the taste and seem to thrive.

  • First five ingredients in dry formula include wheat and corn gluten.

  • Dry food is very low in moisture.

  • Some owners say it doesn't seem to fill up their pets.

The urinary tract health version of Purina Pro Plan is particularly popular given the prevalence of this problem among cats. Reviewers at shelters and foster homes say it helps mitigate health issues and cats really go for it.

  • Specific formulas target life stages and health issues; some options are grain-free.

  • Many varieties contain gravy, which ups the moisture content.

  • All versions in Pro Plan line list a named protein (such as chicken, turkey, or salmon) as the first or second ingredient (after water).

  • Only some varieties are grain-free; others contain wheat, corn, and soy.

  • Contains meat by-products.

For a low-price, grain-free cat food, Purina Beyond Grain Free is a solid choice. The proteins come from dried fish, chicken, or egg, and carbohydrates are generally limited to sweet potato and peas. Cranberries are added to some varieties to promote urinary-tract health.

  • Does not contain wheat, corn, soy, or by-product meal.

  • Helps make cats' fur shiny and minimizes hairballs, owners say.

  • Many cats prefer this to more expensive dry foods.

  • No artificial colors or flavors.

  • Fish flavors give off very fishy odor.

  • Limited number of flavors, and some are more expensive.

Rachael Ray's Nutrish seems like the PERFECT food, with actual chunks of protein in gravy and no other ingredients but for vegetable oil, vitamins, and minerals. Many cats, however, aren't sold.

  • High in protein and no carbs.

  • No fillers, by-products, or artificial colors or flavors.

  • Plenty of vitamins and minerals.

  • Many cats spurn the food, reviewers report.

  • Chunks are too large for some cats.

  • Flavors are a bit heavy on fish, which some vets say should be served sparingly.

Whiskas might be a good deal if the cat likes it and the budget is tight. Nutritionally, however, there's not much going for it. There is way more grain than most vets recommend, and reports indicate it's not suited for cats with skin problems.

  • Acceptable food for the very low price.

  • Some cats really like it.

  • Higher in moisture content than many dry foods.

  • Most of the top five ingredients are grain of some kind.

  • Protein primarily comes from by-product meal.

  • Low amount of omega-6 fatty acids.

Other Products We Reviewed

Traders Joe Premium Cat Food

Trader Joe's Premium Canned Cat Food Review

Online comments from experts and pet owners reveal fervent support for this store-brand canned cat food. Trader Joe's Premium cat food reviews at sites such as Viewpoints herald the high quality-to-price ratio, owing to a list of ingredients heavy on muscle-meat protein (e.g., chicken, turkey, fish) and relatively light on less desirable carbs. Pet owners say Trader Joe's Premium gives the most bang for the buck in terms of adequate nutrition and the pate-like texture satisfies all but the pickiest eaters. One cat food reviewer at a forum for the food retailer's fans writes of trying several brands of wet food on a rescued 10-year old cat with only eye teeth and this is the product the cat chose. At Zoo Too another Trader review reports the tuna flavor adequately disguises medication, and while this variety may seem smelly to humans, cats go crazy for it. Cat food reviews posted by bloggers assert Trader's Joe's Premium may be the best wet cat food for the price.

Dining options in this canned cat food line are limited to chicken, tuna, and turkey in various combinations. Compared to some budget cat foods, the list of ingredients is appealing: real animal protein, no byproducts or preservatives, and tolerable amounts of carbohydrates such as brewers rice and oat bran. Chicken broth is noted as the first ingredient, followed by animal and/or fish protein; the guaranteed analysis puts moisture at a maximum 78 percent, crude protein at a minimum 9 percent, crude fat at a minimum 5 percent, and crude fiber at a maximum 1 percent.

Cats have real preferences when it comes to food texture, so Trader Joe's is not a guaranteed hit. But for canned food devotes on a budget, it's sure worth a try.

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Purina One Smartblend Adult Variety Review

One respondent to our informal poll of favorite cat foods likened Purina One Smartblend to a preferred premium brand but for its cheaper price. Indeed, other Purina One Smartblend Adult Variety reviews also trumpet the low price while touting the strong cat appeal. The best thing about this dry cat food, say reviews at Walmart and Amazon, are the two happy customers -- pet and master. Several reviewers note that all the many cats in their care readily scarf it down and other cat food reviews cite health benefits that accrue after switching to this product -- a pet that no longer throws up, for example, and a once portly feline that's now in fit and fighting trim.

Purina One Smartblend Adult Variety comes in two taste combinations: salmon & tuna and chicken & rice. (There are also dry formulas for kittens, mature cats, and indoor cats, and for hairball control and for cats with sensitive digestive systems.) The top ingredient in the adult variety Smartblend is real salmon or real chicken, followed by brewers rice, corn gluten meal, and poultry byproduct meal, making for a solid dose of protein and a noticeable concentration of carbohydrates. The guaranteed analysis puts the crude protein at a minimum 34 percent for both flavors and crude fiber at a maximum 2 percent for chicken & rice and 2.5 percent for salmon & tuna; the minimum crude fat is 13 percent and maximum moisture is 12 percent in each of the two products.

Although the specialized formulas may not always resolve the problems they're intended to address (one Purina One Smartblend reviewer says the Indoor Advantage variety didn't help much with hairballs or obesity), this dry cat food in its various incarnations is definitely a cat pleaser. And its budget price makes for contented cat owners as well.

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Friskies Meaty Bits Review

When we informally polled cat owners about their cat food preferences, one respondent who runs a shelter for cats in Florida said she buys Friskies canned cat food by the pallet for all the animals that come through her door, and it's rare when a cat spurns it. A Friskies Meaty Bits cat food review at Amazon similarly notes that a colony of feral cats enjoys this product as a periodic treat, adding that it's an effective lure for catching cats that need medical attention. Other cat food reviews at the same site and at Walmart report very satisfied diners, not to mention owners who grin at the budget price. Still, several reviews say some cats reject it completely and others just lap up the gravy, leaving the solid bits behind. A couple of commenters ding what they consider to be low quality ingredients.

Like other budget canned cat foods, the first ingredient in Friskies Meaty Bits is water needed for processing. After that comes either meat byproducts or unspecified poultry or chicken, depending on the variety; wheat gluten and soy flour also make an appearance. The guaranteed analysis for each of the three Meaty Bits products (chicken dinner in gravy, gourmet grill, and Meaty Bits with beef in gravy) specifies crude protein at a minimum 11 percent and fat at a minimum 2.5 percent, with maximum moisture of 78 percent and crude fiber of 1 percent. Other wet cat food offerings from Friskies include lineups of pates and flaked, Gravy Sensations, Prime Filets, Savory Shreds, Senior Diet, and Tasty Treasure products.

While some cat owners may find the Meaty Bits recipe less than appetizing, reviews suggest that few cats complain. And yes, the price is right.

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Note: Some batches of this cat food were voluntarily recalled during spring 2012. Check this site for details.

Some people who responded to our informal poll switched to Taste of the Wild Feline Formula because it's less costly than a premium vet-recommended dry cat food and the ingredients put their hearts and minds at ease. A Taste of the Wild cat food review at 1-800-PetMeds says this grain-free dry food is a winner with both cat and owner and another review reports that a cat who previously eschewed dry food took to this product quite well. Other cat food reviews point to the absence of grains in the formula as a big plus, especially for cats with allergies or sensitive intestinal tracts. At Pet Food Talk owners comment about noticeable improvements in cats' coat, energy level, and digestion after switching from other brands. Indeed, the perceived health benefits from a grain-free diet surface frequently in reviews at sites such as Chewy.com and Only Natural Pet Store.

Taste of the Wild Feline Formula dry cat food comes in two flavors: Canyon River, made with trout, salmon, and sweet potato, and Rocky Mountain, made with venison, salmon, peas, and sweet potato. The Canyon River formula contains a minimum 32 percent protein and the Rocky Mountain formula boasts a minimum 42 percent protein; both contain either fish meal or chicken meal with additional protein derived from plants. With no grain in the recipe, fruits and vegetables deliver the carbohydrates.

The combination of budget price and quality product wins over some of the most discerning cat owners. Taste of the Wild Feline Formula is one of few grain-free dry cat foods that falls into the cheap basket.

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Special Kitty Premium Review

One Walmart line of canned cat food, Special Kitty Premium, is the cheapest wet-food product we researched. And it's cheap enough that one of our poll respondents (a dog owner, himself) fed it to posse of feral cats that were hanging around his office. His review of Special Kitty Premium cat food indicates that the animals lapped it up in no time but he concedes that this wasn't really a good test because the cats were probably hungry enough to eat anything. That dig aside, Special Kitty Premium cat food reviews at Walmart give the pate version of this brand high marks for likeability (i.e., cat appeal) and affordability (i.e., human appeal); one commenter says his picky cats prefer it to a major supermarket brand.

On the other hand, a Special Kitty Premium cat food review at Pet Food Talk contends that the formula contains too many ingredients associated with cat allergies and further notes that consumer reviews express concern about the product's nutritional value. Reviews posted at Viewpoints about unspecified varieties of Special Kitty cat food raise similar doubts. Several owners report negative health consequences -- e.g., dull coat, weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting -- that seemingly result from a Special Kitty diet and one says the odor from the food reemerges in the litter box.

The Special Kitty ingredients aren't listed on the product's web page, and a question asking for details that was posted in late October hadn't been answered five days later. The label on a can of Special Kitty mixed grill we found at a Walmart store identified meat byproducts as the top ingredient, followed by water and poultry byproducts; the minimum crude protein for this variety is 10 percent and maximum moisture content is 78 percent, with minimum fat of 5 percent and maximum fiber of 1 percent. Special Kitty comes in two wet cat food formulations -- e.g., pate and sliced, each with its own assortment of flavors -- and it's also available as kibble.

Compared to the other budget cat foods we researched, this one just doesn't cut it. Some cats like it and the price is hard to beat, but you can do better by your pets for a just a few pennies more.

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Friskies Dry Cat Food Review

Friskies dry cat food is a strong favorite among shoppers seeking cheap feed for their cats. And cats certainly do enjoy it, say Friskies dry cat food reviews at PetSmart, although one post states that a vet attributed a cat's low weight to a Friskies regimen imposed by the previous master. Reviews at Walmart are also enthusiastic, with owners reporting bowls licked clean; one reviewer is thrilled about his cats' positive response to Friskies because it's what he can afford.

Some cats aren't convinced, however -- five rescued cats voluntarily cut their intake of Friskies Surfin' & Turfin' Favorites by half after several weeks, according to one pet Samaritan -- and some owners worry about the nutritional value of the ingredients. A Friskies dry cat food review posted at Amazon suggests that feeding this product to your cat on a regular basis is about the same as a steady diet of fast food.

Indeed, the first five ingredients on Friskies' Seafood Sensations include ground yellow corn, corn gluten meal, poultry byproduct meal, meat and bone meal, and animal fat. Although the minimum crude protein hits 30 percent, none of the protein comes from real muscle meat and the formula is heavy on carbohydrates. The guaranteed analysis pegs the minimum crude fat at 12 percent, maximum crude fiber at 4.5 percent, and maximum moisture at 12 percent. In addition to the Seafood Sensations and Surfin' & Turfin' Favorites, Friskies offers Indoor Delights and Grillers' Blend dry cat foods.

This budget cat food works for some cats and their masters, but others find the pickings better elsewhere.

BFF is a lower-priced product in the upscale Weruva family of pet foods. The pouches take some getting used to, and some cat owners swish a bit of water in the bottom to make sure they get out every last drop. The soupy texture is good for older cats and ensures all cats get enough moisture; a canned variety has somewhat less moisture.

  • Produced in a human-grade food plant.

  • Grain-free, low in fat and carbohydrates.

  • High in moisture content; very soupy consistency.

  • Low in phosphorous, making it especially good for cats with kidney diseases.

  • Pouches are a little messy; difficult to get all residue out.

  • Tuna is main ingredient, and may not be best choice for daily feeding.

While Halo Spot's Stew contains many of the same ingredients as cheaper cat foods, the quality of the proteins is higher. The vegetable content looks good to humans but might not do much for cats. Grain-free varieties are more expensive. Halo commits to donating free food to animal shelters.

  • Good for all life stages.

  • Contains primary-source proteins and no meals or gluten.

  • Flaxseed and salmon oil for omega-3 fatty acids.

  • Sweet potatoes are a natural stool softener.

  • Lots of vegetables.

  • Higher in calories per cup than many other cat foods; not good for overweight cats.