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 have 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. Continue reading for the best cat food for thriving health.
Note that I periodically update this list, so be sure to check it every so often. If you are a Cats Gone Healthy insider, I try to make a habit of sending out notices of updates.
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.
For your own large clan of family cats, try and make this a priority. 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 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, then please at least avoid using dry food that contains corn, soy, wheat, and artificial colors, flavorings and preservatives. Cats don't care about the colors. The colors are used to entice consumers to buy the product. Artificial colors, flavorings, and preservatives cause stress and extra work on the organs, which depletes the immune system and attracts more fleas. Artificial ingredients are also linked to cancer.
A note on fish in canned cat foods
These best canned cat foods avoid fish. Many cats are allergic to fish or become allergic to fish if they eat it every day.
Many canned cat foods are fish-based. Fish used in cat food is coming from either the ocean or fish farms. Fish taken from the ocean is very high in mercury, other metals and toxins. Fish raised on fish farms contain high levels of antibiotics. Studies are showing this overuse of antibiotics is creating antibiotic resistant genes, or superbugs. On fish farms, chemicals such as fungicides are used. Most fish used in canned cat food will be farm raised. Feeding fish once or twice a week is okay, but every day is not good for cats.
A note on vegetables 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. Some 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 either Petco, Petsmart or a local pet supply store that specializes in more natural, holistic foods and has freezers for 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. 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.
Be sure to regularly check the ingredients of your preferred brands. Companies can change ingredients at any time.
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.
*Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a very small commission if you purchase through links I provide (at no extra cost to you). It is 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.
This is one of the the brands I use. This brand is a drier consistency, and therefore you are getting more food for your dollar. I add a little water and mix to make it smoother. Holistic Select is available here at Amazon and Chewy.
Fish Free Pates:
Chicken Liver & Lamb
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 a supplier of Addiction canned cat food. 🙁
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 do not worry that it does not 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.
Natures Variety Instinct Originals
This is a good brand. However, they do contain peas and flaxseed. Cats cannot utilize flax--I don't know why companies keep using it, and nearly every brand uses it. 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.
This is a popular food among cats. I used this at one time. However, I found they started using more gravy and less food, and it felt like I was being cheated. I contacted the company asking about this change. The response was that they haven't changed the recipe but that different batches of protein source vary in moisture levels at times.
They have a rabbit recipe, good for cats sensitive to poultry or beef. They also use Montmorillonite Clay in recipes.
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 is my favorite along with Holistic Select. It is a superb brand of canned cat food. For everyday feeding, choose flavors listed below without fish/tuna. Available at Amazon, Chewy, Petco, and Petsmart.
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.
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. (UPDATE 4/2019: I'm starting to see canned cat foods containing Meal. This is why we have 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.
From New Zealand, where all their meat sources are free-range, grass-fed farming.
UPDATE 04/2019 On Ziwi Peak: 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), these recipes are not recommended. You'll need specific recipes to reduce phosphorous.
Store-bought prepared raw 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. These foods can be found in the U.S. at Petco, Petsmart, and small chain specialty pet stores.
They are already prepared and don't take up your time to make.
Store-bought prepared 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.
I have read that they 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. And after I read about this, it made sense to me why my cats weren't very enthusiastic about the foods.
I've noticed most brands found in the retail giant stores and grocery chains have too many ingredients that are not the best or not natural for a cat, so avoid those. The brand commonly sold in these stores is Freshpet - Vital Pet. The Chicken recipe contains ingredients to avoid: pea protein, pea fiber, and fish.
Some 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. You need only set aside about 1-1/2 to 2 hours per month to make a batch to freeze in portion sizes, which I call "cat cookies," and do the clean-up. It will take more time to prepare a larger quantity if you need for more cats.
Don't wing it without proper supplementation. This 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. We don't know just how many nutrients are lost in freezing or destroyed if you happen to accidentally overheat.
I am working on setting the recipe up here. Cats Gone Healthy insiders will get notice when it's ready!
In the meantime, here is the 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. Very lengthy if you are into detail.
Another go-to raw food resource is Anne Jablonski's www.catnutrition.org.
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.
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 you can detoxify your beloved purr baby here.