The Healthiest, Best Foods for Cats
If you're thinking it's time to change your cat's food to something healthier, you've come to the right place. Conscious consumers are looking for the best foods to feed their cats. They are doing research and finding that maybe dry cat food isn't the best choice because of numerous reasons.
First, it's not natural for cats. Secondly, there's the pet food recalls. And lastly, but probably most importantly, their cat is struggling with a health condition, such as allergies, obesity, diabetes, or urinary tract problems to name a few.
The single most important thing you can do for your cat that has the biggest impact on her or his health is the choice of cat food.
Avoid dry cat food
If you've read my article "10 Poor Cat Health Warning Signs" or requested my Free Resource "10 Ingredients to Avoid in Cat Food," then you know that I strongly recommend to avoid feeding dry cat food. A lot of cat parents are banishing the bag of dry food for good reason.
Will a cat survive on dry food? Absolutely!
Does a cat thrive on dry food? Absolutely not! Dry food is so far from being natural for them, that it comes with adverse side effects that accumulate over time.
The canned cat foods listed below all have many positive testimonials about the positive changes in cats after switching from dry food to these canned foods, such as:
no more diarrhea,
no more vomiting food every day,
healthy and lustrous fur,
weight loss (from obese to a normal, healthy size/weight),
Note that I periodically update this list, so be sure to check it every so often. If you're a Cats Gone Healthy insider, you'll receive update notices.
There are probably more brands that could be included here. I'd like to keep the list reasonably short to make it easier for deciding and shopping. But if you use or know of something that fits the qualifications, please contact me, and I'll be glad to take a look at the food's ingredients and possibly add it to the list. Likewise, if you've got information that something on the list has a problem, please let me know. Thanks!
Feeding a lot of cats, such as a cat colony
A quick note to cat lovers who care for a lot of cats. It's not always financially feasible to feed anything other than dry cat food if you feed a large cat colony. I volunteered with a non-profit and fed one day a week for about 100 cats, so I understand.
If you can feed canned, or properly supplemented homemade food, it will almost always save you money in the long run by avoiding -- or at least greatly reducing -- the need for vet visits.
With a colony of cats, feeding them very inexpensive canned food is better for them than even the most expensive dry food.
If you feed two times per day, feeding them canned for one meal and dry for the other meal will improve their health.
Or try alternating days--one day canned, the next day dry, and so on.
At the very minimum if these two scenarios are impossible when feeding colonies, then please at least avoid using dry food that contains corn, soy, wheat, and artificial colors, flavorings and preservatives. These ingredients cause stress and extra work on the organs, which depletes the immune system and attracts more fleas. Artificial (chemical) ingredients are also linked to cancer.
A note on fish in canned cat foods
There are so many canned cat foods that are fish-based. Choose ones that avoid fish. Many cats are allergic to fish or become allergic to fish if they eat it every day.
Fish is inexpensive, and it makes the food taste and smell good. This makes it irresistible and addictive to some cats!
Fish used in cat food is sourced from either the ocean or fish farms. Tuna-based foods, even with wild-caught tuna, should especially be avoided as an every day food for cats. Tuna is very high in mercury. It's also high in phosphorous, which is not good for cats with kidney disease. And, it's low in taurine, so extra amounts of synthetic taurine must be added to the food. Daily intake of tuna also leads to deficiencies of Vitamin E and thiamine (a B vitamin) in cats. To counteract this, tuna-based cat foods require extra amounts of these vitamins as well, which will be synthetic.
Ocean-sourced fish in canned cat food
Fish taken from the ocean tend to be top feeders and are very high in mercury, other metals and toxins. Exceptions will be sardines, mackerel, and herring, which are good to include one to two times per week for improved fur and skin.
Farm-raised fish in canned cat food
Most fish used in canned cat food is sourced from fish farms. Fish raised on fish farms contain high levels of antibiotics. Studies are showing this overuse of antibiotics is creating antibiotic resistant genes, or superbugs. The fish are crammed into pools at numbers much higher than they would naturally exist. The stress weakens their immune systems and is one of the reasons that the use of the antibiotics are required. In addition, fish farms use chemicals, such as fungicides.
Feeding fish-based cat food once or twice a week is okay, but every day is just not the best source of protein for cats. An exception might be if a cat is very ill and absolutely won't eat anything else.
A note on vegetables and fruits in canned cat foods
Foods containing tiny amounts of vegetables and fruits are okay. Cats can use a little fiber from these easier to digest carbohydrates. As you probably experience, your cat may like to eat grass or other greens. Two of my cats go nuts when I make a salad. They love spinach, the spicy mesculen salad greens, white button mushrooms, and broccoli stalks. They are allowed a few leaves or bites. Any amount over that, and they throw it up. Steamed vegetables are easier for their digestive tracts.
Where to buy the healthiest, best canned cat food
Most of the following products should be available at large chain pet stores (such as Petco and Petsmart in the U.S.) or a local pet supply store that specializes in more natural, holistic foods and stocks frozen raw food. Petco tends to have a larger selection of the better quality canned brands than Petsmart.
Update 04/2019: Petco is carrying some frozen raw food.
More and more specialty pet supply stores are popping up to meet the demands of well-informed consumers. If there are none in your area, the food can also be ordered on-line from outlets like Chewy.com or Amazon.com. Links are provided for the brands listed.
However, you have to order a full case when shopping on-line. It's a good idea to purchase one or two individual cans in a store first before purchasing a whole case on-line to make sure your cat will like it. But also be aware that your cat might not take to a new food immediately because it's unfamiliar. If you want assistance with transitioning, you can find it here.
Be sure to regularly check the ingredients of your preferred brands. Companies can change ingredients at any time, far more frequently than I can keep up with for this article.
Tip: As you're shopping on-line, do your best to stay focused with the recommended healthiest best foods. I know it can be tempting to click on all the pretty colorful labels with cute kitty cat images on the lower quality, lower-priced foods.
Update: as of July 2019, my cats are fed only raw food, except one meal of canned food per week for a change of pace. Making all the food has been a big cost savings. Prior to this, they were fed one raw food meal per day and one canned food meal per day.
*Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a very small commission if you purchase through these links (at no extra cost to you). It's a great way to say thanks if you find my information helpful for you and your cat, and helps keep this website up to continue helping people and their cats. I personally use or have used any products I recommend.
The canned cat foods listed in alphabetical order
So many cats are sadly addicted to dry food. Addiction brand is a good food to be addicted to! They are from New Zealand. Their Brushtail formula is well-liked by my cats as a special treat.
From their website: "Brushtail (Trichosurus vulpecula), a marsupial found in large numbers in New Zealand, eats only the best berries and foliage, destroying forests and wildlife. Unlike farmed animals, Brushtail is free from antibiotics and artificial hormones. By feeding this food, you are not only helping to conserve New Zealand’s plant and animal life but are also providing your pet with a nutritionally superior meal that promotes wellness and vitality. New Zealand Brushtail is an ideal novel protein source for dogs sensitive to chicken, beef and lamb."
Update 04/2019: It can be difficult to find an online supplier of Addiction canned cat food. Your local specialty pet food store may carry it.
Classic Line, Grain-Free Game Line or Organics Line.
With the Game Line, beware that this line is pure meat and liver. It does not contain vitamins and minerals and no bone for calcium. They recommend not feeding this daily without adding supplements. I use this brand on occasion: rabbit, quail or pheasant (good for rotation diets). When I have it, my cats get this one time a week, so I'm not worried that it doesn't contain the added vitamins and minerals. One meal once a week won't cause a deficiency. I use this for a change away from the almost-every-day chicken. On the day they get this food, they eat raw lamb for breakfast and Evanger's for dinner. This way, they get a different protein source for a full 24-hour period to rest their systems from the chicken.
Holistic Select is one of the the brands I used for many years. This brand is a drier consistency, and therefore you are getting more food for your dollar. I added a little water and mixed to make it smoother.
Choose the Fish Free Pates:
Chicken Liver & Lamb
Update May 2020: Nature's Logic is one of the cleanest canned cat foods out there.
Ingredients you won't find in Nature's Logic
Artificial colorings, flavorings or preservatives.
Synthetic vitamins or minerals.
Thickeners/Binders: xanthum gum, cassia gum, guar gum, carageenan, or flax.
Soy, corn, wheat.
They don't use synthetic vitamins or minerals. This is even better than the homemade cat food recipe I follow, which contains some synthetic supplements to make up for the lack of organs, eyes, brain, etc. found in a cat's prey. Most supplements are synthetic (glandulars/organs are not), and are never going to be as fully assimilated as nutrients found in whole foods. Nature's Logic avoids the use of synthetic supplements because they believe everything a cat needs is found in meat and organs. I agree with this, except that not all organs are included in their recipes, but could easily be added to make the food more well-rounded.
Ingredients you will find in Nature's Logic
All the meats, poultry, fish, vegetables and fruits come from human-edible processing facilities. Remember that ingredients in pet food can be sourced from anywhere and in any condition.
They use egg shell meal as the calcium source. Egg shells are low in phosphorous, high in calcium, and a digestible form of calcium. Other brands use calcium carbonate (assimilation and source are questionable) or bonemeal (source and manufacturing procedures are questionable).
The canned recipes contain 95% animal ingredients, which is top notch for a cat's diet.
Nature's Logic has a Sardine Feast flavor. I advocate feeding sardines or mackerel one to two times per week, and find this flavor to be a good alternative. And it's probably a better price than plain sardines. If you're not sure if your cat will like sardines, first try a regular can of sardines (for humans) packed in only water and unsalted, if possible. No oil-packed. Reviews on Sardine Feast is mixed. Cats either really like it or they don't.
Natures Variety Instinct - Originals
This is a good brand. However, they do contain peas and flaxseed. It's controversial as to whether cats can utilize flax--I don't know why companies use it, and nearly every brand uses it. It could be used for the essential fatty acids (omega 3), or as a thickener so that the food is not runny. Peas are on my list of 10 ingredients to avoid. However, the small amounts should not pose a problem. This line is one of the best IF you need a limited ingredient recipe for your cat or IF you are rotating proteins to avoid formation of allergies and digestive problems. They have rabbit, lamb and duck recipes. My cats have liked all of them.
Nature's Variety Instinct - Limited Ingredients
This line does not contain vegetables, eggs or fruits, whereas the "Originals" does. So, if your cat has digestive problems, this one may be a better choice than the "Originals." It will probably cost a slight bit more.
Nature's Variety recipes include Montmorillonite Clay, which is cleansing to the intestines by drawing out toxins. It is also helpful for some cats with inflamed intestines, such as those with IBD.
Available only from Petco and Amazon. Most flavors contain fish/tuna. Remember, you don't want to use fish every day due to the mercury and potential for allergies. Look for the flavors listed below.
As of 11/26/18, the Aromatic Chicken recipe is not approved because it contains Carrageenan, on my list of ingredients to avoid.
Good Karma Chicken Dinner
Harvest Sunrise Chicken and Pumpkin
Chicken & Turkey
By far, this has been my favorite along with Holistic Select. Although, if I were to go back to feeding canned food on a daily basis, I'd now choose the Nature's Logic if finances allow. The reason is because Wellness, like Holistic Select, contains multiple gum thickeners, which are unnecessary in a cat's diet. Other than that, it is a superb brand of canned cat food. For everyday feeding, choose flavors listed below without fish/tuna. Available at Amazon, Chewy, and chain pet stores.
Turkey (contains Chicken)
Beef & Chicken
Gravies, Minced, Sliced and Morsels:
The Gravies, Minced, Sliced and Morsel recipes are textures that some cats prefer. However, I am concerned with the unknown amount of "dried ground peas" that have been added as a starch to hold the cubes together and/or to increase the protein content. Still, this food is far better than dry food.
Wellness Core Pates
Their line called Core Pates boasts a higher protein content. This is achieved by adding "Meal," which is on my list of ingredients to avoid. It's concentrated protein, but it is highly processed. In addition, farm animals/poultry used in meal can legally include those classified as the 4D's: Diseased, Down, Dying, and Dead. The 4D's are classified as unfit for human consumption, yet allowed in pet food.
Update 4/2019: I'm starting to see canned cat foods containing meal. This is why it's important to check ingredient labels every so often.
The Core Pate Chicken, Turkey, and Chicken Liver flavors also contain potatoes. The Indoor Chicken and Chicken Liver flavors contain meal, pea protein, dried ground peas and pea fiber. That's too much pea stuff going on for our cats.
Update May 2020: This was a popular food among cats, and I used this at one time. However, they had to file for bankruptcy in 2018 and appear to have gone out of business. It's really too bad and surprising, because it was popular in specialty pet stores.
From New Zealand, where all their meat sources are free-range, grass-fed farming.
Update 04/2019: They have added chickpeas to the recipes. A cheap protein substitute for real meat, which cats can't properly utilize. Shame on Ziwi Peak. I will have to say NO to this brand now. Too bad.
Cats are strict carnivores. They evolved on a diet of prey. For our smaller cats this means mice, birds, and insects. They require high protein, fat and moisture to thrive and for their energy needs.
Cats do not require or utilize any carbohydrates. Their bodies cannot process carbs, especially the complex carbs occurring in grains, beans and high starch foods such as green peas and potatoes. Carbs causes stress on their bodies, excess weight, disrupts their insulin levels leading to diabetes, and a whole host of other problems.
Store-bought prepared raw food or a properly supplemented homemade diet of raw flesh is best for our furry friends. This will give them the nutrients they need for thriving health and energy.
If your cat is eating strictly dry food, I recommend changing first to canned food. This makes the transition easier on both of you. Make raw food your end goal.
Please Note: If your cat has Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), the following suggestions will not apply, as cats need foods/recipes for CKD to reduce phosphorous. Although, some of the sources offer CKD recipes.
Store-bought frozen raw cat foods
There are more choices available than just five years ago.
They are a good choice to start with before investing in a grinder or if you don't want to make your own food. The raw foods listed below can be found in the U.S. at Petco, Petsmart, small chain specialty pet stores, and online (shipped with dry ice).
They are already prepared with organs and bones and don't require any work on your part, other than defrosting. Some brands come in chubs of one pound and up, while some offer nugget sizes. For the chubs, you'll need to thaw out a package, split it up into portions, then refreeze and use as needed.
Frozen raw foods are really expensive! You'll pay a lot more per pound than buying the meat and making your own. However, initially, making your own has a higher start-up cost for the grinder and supplements. Likewise, you can skip the grinding and bones by cutting up meat/poultry and adding a calcium supplement, such as seaweed calcium or ground eggshells.
I read that prepared frozen raw foods tend to contain a higher ratio of bones to meat. The companies use a lot of parts typically discarded from human grade meats, such as backs, gizzards and necks. These parts have little meat on them. My cats don't care much for store-bought prepared raw foods. They eat it more slowly than food I make, and will leave behind bits of ground bone. This tells me there is too much bone in the recipe. However, you might be able to find raw food for cats without bones, in which case a calcium source will need to be added.
Most fresh, refrigerated brands found in the grocery stores and giant retail stores have too many ingredients that are not the best for cats, so I recommend avoiding them. The brand commonly sold in these stores is Freshpet - Vital Pet. The Chicken recipe contains ingredients you want to avoid: pea protein, pea fiber, and fish.
Some Frozen Raw Cat Food Brands to choose from:
Only Natural Pet
Stella and Chewy's Raw
Homemade Raw Cat Food
You can make your own raw food at a fraction of the cost. For three cats, you need set aside only about 1-1/2 to 2 hours per month to make a batch of six pounds to freeze in portion sizes, which I call "cat cookies," and to do the clean-up.
Don't wing it without adding proper supplementation, which is necessary according to many experts in the field for several reasons.
Reason #1 - It's not whole prey such as a cat's natural prey of mice, birds, and insects. Although, you can buy frozen mice and chickens raised for raw feeding or raise your own!
Reason #2 - All the organs are difficult to source, so we have to use some supplements to make up for missing organs.
Reason #3 - You'll likely be freezing food and then heating it up to serve. It's unknown how many nutrients are lost in freezing or destroyed if you happen to accidentally overheat. Therefore, we add supplements to err on the side of caution.
I'm working on publishing the recipes for raw and cooked food that I use on this site. Cats Gone Healthy insiders will get notice when it's ready!
In the meantime, here is the raw recipe I use from Dr. Lisa Pierson, DVM at: www.catinfo.org Dr. Pierson's site is FULL of information for a raw diet, the ramifications of feeding dry cat food, photos, and scientific and veterinary explanations. It's very lengthy if you are into detail, and it's what convinced me to go raw for my cats.
Another go-to raw food resource is Anne Jablonski's www.catnutrition.org. There are many other resources online and books by holistic veterinarians.
Both recipes are widely recommended and used by cat parents as the go-to sources. Dr. Pierson and Anne's recipes differ slightly. However, they site each other and refer to each other. I use Dr. Pierson's recipe because she uses pounds and ounces, whereas Anne uses grams for measurements, which I'm not good at using. I also think Anne's amount of bones (or bonemeal for boneless recipes) is quite high.
Another difference is Dr. Pierson does not use a glandular supplement, where Anne does. I simply add the glandulars to Dr. Pierson's recipe. Cats eat all the organs and glands in their prey. In fact, wild cats go for the organs and glands first in their prey, as they are very high in nutrients.
Making the switch over
Not all cats willingly switch over to canned or raw food. They sniff, sit, stare, sit some more, walk away.
Maybe you've tried to banish the bag of dry cat food. And are left feeling frustrated, defeated, and confused as to what to do. You freak out because you're afraid your kitty is gonna starve to death.
Or maybe...the thought of making the transition is overwhelming and confusing with all the information out there. Being the savvy health-conscious cat parent that you are becoming, you know it's the best thing to do for your cat, but you're still saying "she just won't eat anything but dry food."
Let's change that!
If you and your cat need a helping hand and paw switching over, check out my Thrive Programs
If your cat has been on a dry food diet, no matter how "natural" or pricey it is, been on prednisone or antibiotics, received flea or heartworm products, or been routinely vaccinated, he/she would greatly benefit from a detoxification. Changing the food is key and the first place to start. Detoxification is a multi-faceted approach which will pave the way for building up a healthy immune system to fight off disease, inflammation and illness. Learn how to detoxify your beloved purr baby here.