A trip down your local pet store food aisle will reveal dozens of different cat foods, most of which belong to a relative handful of product lines.
While each of these individual recipes differs in numerous ways, most foods produced by a given brand will have similar strengths and weaknesses.
In fact, it is often best to concentrate on determining which brand of cat food provides the things you want first, and then deciding which recipe in the brand’s line is best for your cat.
With that in mind, we’ve put together this review of the best cat food brands.
Analysis & Award Winners
Of all the widely available commercial brands, the following three stand out from the crowd. Note that all five of the brands covered in this review are high-quality foods, so if none of the following three seem like the best fit for your cat, don’t hesitate to try one of the others mentioned in the chart above.
Best Overall Cat Food Brand: Blue Buffalo
When you consider all of the important characteristics of a good cat food, including ingredient quality, taste, user reviews and price, Blue Buffalo clearly rises above the rest. The brand produces two primary product lines, Blue Buffalo and Blue Wilderness, and both lines include a variety of different recipes, each of which is designed to address different health concerns, such as stomach sensitivity, hairballs or weight management. Blue Buffalo recipes are straightforward recipes, made in the USA with high-quality proteins, whole grains, nutritious fruits and vegetables, and a number of helpful supplements. Blue Wilderness foods, on the other hand, are designed to more closely resemble the ancestral diet of wild felines. To that end, Blue Wilderness recipes are very rich in proteins and they are made without grains at all. Most of Blue Buffalo’s recipes (including both product lines) are fortified with vitamins, minerals, probiotics and omega-3-rich ingredients to ensure your cat’s health and well-being. And finally, most cats – even finicky ones — find Blue Buffalo products to be quite tasty.
Top Quality Cat Food Brand: Orijen
Orijen is a premium cat food maker, who produces some of the finest recipes available in the commercial market. While a few boutique brands may produce foods with a roughly comparable ingredient list, few are as good as Orijen’s recipes, and few are easy to find. Orijen is itself a very high-priced food (a fact that keeps it from earning the title of Best Overall Food), which turns off a number of potential buyers, but this premium price tag is completely understandable once you glance at the ingredient lists. Most Orijen recipes derive 80 percent of their caloric value from fresh proteins, with fresh fruits and vegetables providing the remaining 20 percent of the caloric value. They are all grain-free recipes, and they are made without any artificial flavors, colors or additives. Orijen foods are made in Canada, primarily with locally sourced, farm-fresh ingredients. Several ingredients rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants are included in the recipes, and most of their formulations feature several probiotic strains.
Best Bang for the Buck: Wellness
Wellness is a very good cat food maker, and they offer almost everything brands like Orijen and Blue Buffalo do while doing so at more affordable prices. They group most of their recipes into one of a few product lines, including Wellness Complete Health, Wellness CORE, and Wellness Simple. CORE is a grain-free product line, while the Simple recipes are comprised of very few ingredients to help avoid food allergies. All of the various Wellness product lines are made in the USA, and they feature high-quality whole proteins and nutritious fruits and vegetables. While many of the company’s recipes are made without grains, those that do feature grains rely on whole, rather than processed, versions of them. Wellness recipes all feature plenty of antioxidant-rich ingredients, a few different probiotic strains and a taste that appeals to most cats.
Best of the Rest
The five cat food brands covered in this review are great options for most owners, but if none of them serve your needs, you could consider the following two brands, which are nearly as good.
Rachel Ray Nutrish recipes do not provide all of the bells and whistles that some other cat food brands do, but they are still good recipes that are available at very reasonable prices. Most Rachel Ray Nutrish recipes feature a delicious whole protein at the top of the ingredient list, as well as a few fruits and vegetables. Most recipes from this brand contain grains, so they aren’t ideal for owners seeking a grain-free diet for their cat. Most cats do appear to like the taste of these recipes.
Taste of the Wild recipes are designed to provide your cat with an evolutionarily appropriate diet, to help foster the best health possible. That means using real, healthy, delicious meats, skipping the grains and incorporating a number of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. Taste of the Wild foods are made in the USA, and they are available in several different flavor variations that most cats love. Taste of the Wild food contains a number of sources of omega-3 fatty acids and at least one probiotic strain.
Characteristics of Good Cat Food Brands
Cat foods differ in a number of ways that are important to consider when trying to identify the best brand. No matter what types of things you need to suit your cat’s specific needs, most cats will benefit from foods that meet the following criteria:
Only select brands manufactured in a country with high quality-control and safety standards. You always want to be sure that your cat is only getting the ingredients listed on the label, and that these ingredients are all sourced from safe, high-quality sources. The easiest way to accomplish this is by sticking to brands manufactured in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or Western Europe.
Avoid foods that do not list a whole protein as the first ingredient. Your cat is an obligate carnivore, and although she may be able to digest relatively small quantities of plant matter, the bulk of her calories should come from meats. Accordingly, you’ll want to look for foods that feature things like chicken, duck, turkey, salmon or trout at the beginning of the ingredient list.
Stick to cat food brands that identify all of the meat meals and meat byproducts in the recipe. While meat meals and meat byproducts can be valuable, nutritious additions to a high-quality cat food, you want to avoid brands and foods that do not identify these ingredients by a single species. In other words, you don’t want to purchase foods with “meat meal” or “poultry byproduct.” Instead, opt for foods that contain items like “chicken meal” or “turkey byproducts.”
Try to find brands that include plenty of omega-3 fatty acids in their recipes. Omega-3 fatty acids help to promote good skin health and coat condition, and they also help to encourage regular, proper shedding (which can reduce the frequency of hairballs). Things like salmon and fish oils are frequently used to boost the omega-3 content of a cat food.
Look for brands that pack lots of antioxidant-rich ingredients in their recipes. Antioxidants help to support your cat’s immune system so that she can better fight off illness and infections. Most commercial foods provide antioxidants by including colorful fruits and vegetables – such as spinach, kale, blueberries, and cranberries – in their recipes.
Try to find foods and brands that fortify their recipes with probiotics. Probiotics are beneficial bacterial strains that live in your cat’s intestinal tract. Among other things, they help to promote proper intestinal function and regulate her elimination habits. Some brands only include a single probiotic strain, while others include several.
Avoid brands that use artificial colors, artificial flavors or artificial preservatives in their recipes. Foods made with nutritious ingredients do not require artificial colors or flavors to tempt your cat’s palette, and natural preservatives (mixed tocopherols) are superior to artificial preservatives. Avoiding these types of ingredients often helps to improve coat and skin condition.
Picking a Good Recipe within Your Favorite Brand
Once you’ve identified the brand that appeals most to you, you’ll need to decide which recipe or formulation is best suited for your cat. To do so, consider the following:
Your Cats Age and Life Stage – Unless stated otherwise on the packaging, most cat foods are designed to meet the nutritional needs of healthy adult cats. This means that if you have a kitten, a pregnant or lactating female or a senior cat, you’ll want to look for a food specifically designed for her needs.
Your Cat’s Weight and Body Condition – Different cat foods provide different amounts of calories, and you should select a food suitable for your cat’s body weight. In other words, healthy cats should consume standard formulas, but thin cats may need foods designed to help them add weight, while overweight cats may require a weight loss formula.
Your Cat’s Allergies or Food Intolerances – Some cats develop food allergies or intolerances to different ingredients. As an owner of such a cat, you’ll want to avoid foods that contain problematic ingredients. In cases in which the offending item is not known, you may want to go with a Limited Ingredient Diet (LID) to help prevent these types of problems.
Your Cat’s Living Situation – Outdoor cats will usually thrive on a standard cat food recipe, but some indoor cats develop problems with hairballs and improper shedding. Fortunately, there are foods designed specifically to address these problems – primarily by including a lot of omega-3 fatty acids, which promote coat health.
Your Cat’s Preferences – Cats can be notoriously finicky, and it behooves owners to note the types of ingredients your cat likes and dislikes. This will allow you to better select foods that will appeal to your cat’s palette. For example, some cats love fish, while others utterly reject it, so you’ll want to know which side your cat falls on.
Your Cat’s Digestive Function – Cats that experience frequent digestive problems may benefit from foods that contain probiotics, which can help to regulate intestinal function and guard against stomach upset. Additionally, the fiber content of a cat’s food can also influence the way her digestive tract works, so be sure to check out the nutritional label of all foods before making your selection.
Do you have a favorite cat food brand that satisfies both your cat’s palate and your desire to provide her with a nutritious diet? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below. Let us know which brand you prefer, why you like it and what types of things factored into your decision.