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.

What We Considered

More than one-third of American households own at least one cat, according to the latest 2017-2018 APPA National Pet Owner's Survey, and the average cat-owning household accommodates two furry felines. That's a lot of food over kitty's lifetime -- up to 17 years and counting for some indoor cats. And while pampering a pet may provide great pleasure, there's no need to serve up high-priced delicacies. Cheapism researched the type of diets cat experts recommend and what pet owners say about the available offerings in order to identify the best cheap cat food. Our top picks for best wet cat food and best dry cat food promise frugal pet owners and their notoriously finicky friends food that is healthy, satisfying, and priced right.

We Looked At

The budget end of the cat food universe is dominated by Purina, which is credited with its namesake products as well as brands like Fancy Feast and Friskies. Other popular supermarket labels include Whiskas, 9-Lives, and Special Kitty. The middle tier holds more specialized brands such as Halo, Weruva, Wellness, and Blue Buffalo, some of which sell at what passes for a budget price. At the top end are what may be termed farm-to-bowl cat foods made of human-grade protein sources such as free-range chicken; these formulas make a point of containing no grain or GMO products. Freeze-dried foods like Stella & Chewy's Duck Duck Goose Dinner are high in raw protein from primary organic sources but cost about $2 an ounce. Some brands, like Royal Canin, have lines that exclusively cater to special health-based dietary needs, such as digestive sensitivity, weight control, diabetes, renal and liver health, allergies, etc. The product lineup for many mainstream brands also includes health-related blends.

Nowadays most cat food, cheap or high-priced, bears the label "complete and balanced" or "100 percent nutritious." These products meet standards set by AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) for nutritional adequacy. Federal and state regulations require that pet food labels specify, among other things, a list of ingredients in order of relative weight, a statement of nutritional adequacy for a given life stage, and a guaranteed analysis that indicates minimum percentages of protein and fat and maximum percentages of fiber and moisture. There are also strict guidelines that control how foods are designated based on the percentages of ingredients included -- from, for example, "chicken cat food" (95% of product not counting water must be chicken) to "chicken dinner/entrée/formula" (25% of product not counting water must be chicken) to the always dubious "cat food with chicken" (only 3% of product need include the stated ingredient).

The best cheap cat foods meet both industry and veterinarians' nutritional standards, although as a rule they include more filler and carbohydrates and less high-quality protein than pricier varieties. We ignored the popular Purina Cat Chow Complete, for example, because it met few of the requirements vets have for cat food; its primary ingredient is a by-product meal and the next few listed on the label are carbohydrates of some kind. Ditto for Whiskas, one kibble option we specifically do not recommend.

Our Top Pick

Fancy Feast Classic Cat Food

Fancy Feast Classic Review

Our Picks
Fancy Feast Classic Cat Food

Fancy Feast Classic Review

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.

Tiki Cat Cat Food

Tiki Cat Review

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 Cat Food

Taste of the Wild Grain Free Review

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.

Hill's Science Diet Cat Food

Hill's Science Diet Review

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.

Purina Pro Plan Cat Food

Purina Pro Plan Review

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.

Purina Beyond Grain Free Cat Food

Purina Beyond Grain Free Review

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 Natural Cat Food

Rachael Ray's Nutrish Natural Review

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 Dry Cat Food

Whiskas Dry Cat Food Review

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.

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.

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.

Fancy Feast Classic Cat Food

Fancy Feast Classic Review

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.

Tiki Cat Cat Food

Tiki Cat Review

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 Cat Food

Taste of the Wild Grain Free Review

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.

Hill's Science Diet Cat Food

Hill's Science Diet Review

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.

Purina Pro Plan Cat Food

Purina Pro Plan Review

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.

Purina Beyond Grain Free Cat Food

Purina Beyond Grain Free Review

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 Natural Cat Food

Rachael Ray's Nutrish Natural Review

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.

Buying Guide

Cat Food Reviews

Cats are notoriously independent and what they don't like, they cannot be persuaded to eat. Most pet owners find that trial and error is the only way to discover which cat food will keep their choosy customer well fed. So, while we looked at what the experts had to say about nutrition on sites like Catinfo.org, Feline-Nutrition.org, Peteducation.com, and Vet Nutrition, it was cat owners who really made a difference. In addition to reviews posted online at pet food retailers such as Chewy and PetSmart, traditional ecommerce sites such as Amazon and Walmart, and cat-oriented blogs and newsletters, we conducted an informal poll of a few cat-owning households to learn their animals' preferences. We found that while the "parents" would rather feed their cats what humans might consider appetizing, the cats often had other ideas.

Protein.

Cats may be domesticated but their hearts and digestive systems remain wild, which means they need a diet rich in protein from muscle meat. How much protein cats require is a subject of much debate, however, with many experts now saying that mandated protein requirements in cat food may be lower than the ideal. The veterinarian who runs the site CatInfo.org, for example, maintains that feline diets should be approximately 50 percent protein, at most 40 percent fat, and include a very low percentage of carbohydrates (including fruits and vegetables).

Other experts Peteducation.com also point out that the ability of a cat's body to process protein varies by the form that protein takes. Vets say the least processed protein sources are better than by-products (scraps left over after processing) or meals (concentrated protein sources with all the water removed). In other words, chicken, whitefish, tuna, lamb, and egg are the gold standard; non-meat sources such as corn, wheat, and pea contain protein but are difficult for cats to digest. As such, plant-based protein should play a marginal role in a cat's daily intake. (The vet at Catinfo.org would further suggest that fish be approached with some caution as a protein source due to concerns regarding allergies, toxins, and its addictive qualities.)

The best dry cat food contains about 30-35 percent protein. Among our favorites, Purina Beyond Grain Free hits the high end at 35 percent, Hill's Science Diet hits or just misses the mark with its many offerings, and Taste of the Wild soars high with protein content of 42 percent in the Rocky Mountain Grain Free blend. Some reviewers of the Canyon River Feline Formula from that brand consider the food a tad pricey but say the slight premium is worth overlooking because the nutrient-dense recipe means cats eat less. Purina Beyond Grain Free contains protein meal and dried egg product as well as protein from peas, but the first ingredient listed is fish or chicken, which is a huge selling point for pet owners who reviewed the product on the company website. By contrast, Whiskas may be 35 percent protein, but the label on the Seafood Selections variety, which boasts salmon and shrimp "flavors," specifies poultry by-product meal as the main ingredient followed by ground yellow corn and corn gluten meal.

Comparing protein content of dry cat food to wet cat food is like comparing apples to oranges. The percentage stated in the wet cat food guaranteed analysis always will be lower than for dry because of the high proportion of moisture in the canned product -- labels on wet foods usually list about 10 percent protein. Our top picks beat this standard on nearly all varieties (and there are many), with some from Tiki Cat hitting 16 percent or more. Calculating that protein content on a "dry matter basis" -- which gives a sense of actual ingredient percentages once the product's moisture content is subtracted from the equation -- a can of Tiki Cat's Puka Puka Luau: Ahi Tuna & Chicken, with 17 percent protein and 78 percent moisture, would have a dry matter protein value of approximately 77 percent. (Keep in mind that this number is only an estimate since the percentage of protein and moisture in guaranteed analyses are listed as minimum and maximum amounts, respectively, as opposed to exact measurements.)

Fancy Feast Classic cat food varieties contain primary-source protein along with some protein by-products and tally a bit lower than Tiki Cat when it comes to dry matter protein content; generally, the line boasts between 10.5 and 11 percent crude protein, translating to about 50 percent protein on a dry matter basis. Nevertheless, the brand's protein content is relatively high for a cheap cat food, and reviewers posting on Chewy like that it gets the nod from vets and seems to slim down heavier animals.

Grains and Carbs.

Veterinarians often place cats on a grain-free diet, or at least one that's low in carbohydrates. Some cats develop diabetes, and prevention or cure generally calls for a diet with less than 10 percent carbs. http://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/feeding-the-diabetic-cat This is another reason we included Taste of the Wild and Purina Beyond, two grain-free dry cat foods, among our picks; of our top wet food picks, Tiki Cat likewise eschews grains. Wheat, corn, wheat gluten, and corn gluten, are common ingredients in cat food -- kibble especially -- and are found in some of the most popular budget brands, such as Purina Pro Plan (wet) and Hill's Science Diet (dry) varieties. They're key ingredients in Whiskas dry food, which is why we pooh-pooh it.

Grain-free cat food is not necessarily low in carbohydrates, though, and it's difficult to determine the carb content because it's not part of the guaranteed analysis. Peas and potatoes, common in most grain-free cat foods, add to the carbs. Some reviewers of Purina Beyond Grain Free, which contains peas and cassava root, argue that it's too high in carbs for diabetic cats. Taste of the Wild also mixes in potatoes, peas, blueberries, and raspberries, all of which are carb-rich and, some reviewers argue, provide cats with no nutritional advantages.

On the other hand, canned cat food generally contains fewer carbs than dry food. Some of Tiki Cat's grain-free wet formulas, which use no fillers, tout zero carbs, and a commenter on a feline diabetes site attributes a diabetic cat's remission to the low carbohydrate content in Fancy Feast Classic.

Other Ingredients.

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids play an essential role in cat health, according to the experts, and are particularly beneficial to skin and fur. These acids are found in fish oils and oil from seeds, such as sunflower. The better cat foods, including Tiki Cat, Hill's Science Diet, and Taste of the Wild contain these acids, as does Halo Spot's Stew Wholesome Chicken Recipe, which draws rave reviews for producing silky coats and minimizing hairballs.

Of course, all commercial cat food should also include taurine, an amino acid that cats need for healthy hearts, eyes, and reproductive functions. Actual taurine content varies among the brands we list here, ranging from .05 percent to a high of .2 percent across Tiki Cat varieties. Purina Beyond Grain-Free lists Taurine as an ingredient, but we found no specific percentages listed.

Dry Cat Food: Texture and Taste.

Not only does dry cat food contain less protein and more filler than wet cat food, but, by definition, it also contains much less water than canned. This is important to take into account because cats are "programmed" to get most of the fluid they need from the meat they eat; they don't instinctively drink lots of water. Experts recommend at least 1 cup of water a day for each 10 pounds of weight if the animal's diet consists entirely of kibble.

Hill's Science Diet is easy to eat, according to some reviews at PetSmart, because it's not as dry as some kibbles. And Taste of the Wild, available in two flavors, finds favor with picky cats who generally prefer canned food, say reviews on Chewy. In fact, while one user reviewing this food on Amazon wonders at the fruit and other seemingly unnecessary carb sources that are found in the mix, in the final assessment it's admitted that her older cat is unwilling to switch to a canned diet and the cat's stomach tolerates this food better than any other; a happy cat means a happy owner, so Taste of the Wild remains top of menu, blueberries and all.

Wet Cat Food: Texture and Taste.

Canned cat food is less popular than dry because it's pricier, messier, smellier, needs refrigeration once opened, and requires disposing of the cans. Still, many vets and some canned cat food reviewers promote wet because, with more protein, more food-based moisture, and fewer carbohydrates, it's what cats would eat if left to forage on their own. Although canned cat food lessens the need for water intake because of the high moisture content (sufficient hydration is necessary for urinary tract and renal health), experts recommend at least one-third cup of water a day for each 10 pounds of weight for cats who dine exclusively on wet food.

Fancy Feast is the top choice of our polled cat owners, who say it satisfies fussy eaters; one review on Walmart reports that a very sick cat who spurned other foods came back to life when offered this product. The hunks of fish in one of the Tiki Cat varieties are suspended in a consommé-like substance that cats find very appealing, as do some owners who note on Chewy that it almost resembles human food.

Weruva's BFF Grain-Free Pouches (starting at 38 cents/ounce), a cheaper version of a relatively expensive brand with very high quality ingredients, is heavy on fish (vets are divided on whether too much fish is a good thing) and incorporates little else in the mix except broth and added vitamins. Cat bloggers and owners say cats adore it. Rachael Ray's Nutrish, on the other hand, contains a fair amount of primary-source protein, but reviews on Amazon say it fails the taste test with many cats; one complains about the number of bones in the mix.

Special Diets.

Kidney and urinary tract infections are common in cats, particularly as they age. Both Purina Pro Plan and Hill's Science Diet include blends that specifically address this issue. Cat rescue facilities and foster households often make use of both. Reviews of Purina Pro Plan Urinary Tract Health Formula at PetSmart say it helps cats recover from infections (while staving off recurrences), and proves very popular with the animals. Hill's Science Diet reviews on Amazon say it also has a salutary effect, although some cats won't touch it.

Other issues targeted by some of the best cheap cat foods include hairballs, dry skin, excess weight, and age. Reviews at 1-800-PetMeds report that skin and digestive problems were alleviated and older cats with little energy perked up after switching to Halo Spot's Stew (starting at 27 cents/ounce), which is touted for its "holistic" qualities. While it costs a bit more than our official dry food picks, it's a modestly-priced product certainly worth a mention to frugal feline owners looking for an easy-to-digest formula that contains whole meat and is free of animal by-products, gluten, artificial flavors, coloring, and preservatives.