There’s no doubt about it: Your cute little feline fur ball is a predator, who’s evolved to catch, kill and eat other animals (and human toes, but that’s another story). They bear all of the hallmarks of a pure predator, including a shortened digestive tract, forward-facing eyes and incredibly sharp canines. In fact, cats must eat a meat-based diet or they can become sick. This leads veterinarians and scientists to refer to cats (and similar animals) as obligate carnivores.
So, when looking for a good cat food, it makes sense to select one that is designed to reflect these dietary needs. You want a cat food full of fish, poultry or other meats, with as few other items as possible. One of the items that many owners try to avoid the most is grains.
Fortunately, there are a number of grain-free cat foods on the market that can give your cat the nutrition he needs and deserves. Look over our recommendations, discuss the issue with your vet and try to make the best choice for your cat. Remember to transition your pet to a new food gradually (most authorities recommend taking about one week to do so), by slowly mixing in increasing portions of the new food with the old. This should help your cat avoid intestinal problems.
Analysis & Award Winners
The best of the best grain-free cat foods are detailed below. It is important to take your cat’s individual needs into account before making a decision, but any of the following foods represent a great place to start.
Blue Buffalo Grain Free is a premium food with a very reasonable price tag. Made in the USA, Blue Buffalo is packed full of high-quality ingredients, including deboned chicken (the first listed ingredient), flaxseed, canola oil and turkey meal. These ingredients help to ensure your cat gets the protein he needs, as well as the omega fatty acids that will keep his coat looking fantastic.
Blue Buffalo is also packed with probiotics – including five different species – to help ensure your cat’s digestive system works smoothly. Cranberries, blueberries and parsley help improve the taste and provide all of the antioxidants, vitamins and minerals your cat needs to feel and look his best.
Simply put, Wellness CORE is a premium cat food that most cats find tasty. Wellness CORE is made without any wheat, corn or soy; but it is also made without any artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. The first five listed ingredients – and six of the first seven – are animal-based proteins. Turkey is the primary protein source, but chicken and chicken-derived products as well as fish meals are also included for additional protein.
But the high-quality ingredients included in Wellness CORE are not limited to proteins. For example, flaxseed is included to provide omega fatty acids, while cranberries are used to provide some antioxidants and help to promote urinary health. Additionally, several different probiotics are featured to help ensure your cat’s digestive processes work smoothly.
CANIDAE Grain-Free Pure Elements is a really good cat food that is available for a relatively low cost. Salmon is the first listed ingredient, while salmon- and menhaden-meal follow it, and help provide omega fatty acids, round out the amino acid profile and increase the protein content of the recipe. Several different probiotics are included in the recipe to help foster proper digestion and intestinal health.
Many owners reported that their cat enjoyed the taste of CANIDAE Grain-Free and that the food helped improve their cat’s coat condition. However, as with all cat foods, some owners reported that their cat would not eat this food.
Characteristics of Good Dry Cat Foods
While cat foods differ widely from one product to the next in terms of ingredients, manufacturing processes and dietary goals, the best cat foods all share a number of important characteristics. When making your decisions about the best food for your cat, try to consider the following items:
- The best grain-free cat foods list a high-quality protein first among the ingredients. This includes things like deboned chicken or turkey, pork or salmon. Lesser quality foods usually feature a meat-meal or meat byproduct as the primary protein source. While this isn’t necessarily a disqualifying trait, whole proteins are clearly preferable.
- Ideally, grain-free cat foods should have plenty of antioxidants, omega fatty acids and probiotics. Antioxidants, which are often supplied via colorful fruits and vegetables, are helpful for supporting your cat’s immune system, while omega fatty acids help protect joint health and coat condition. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that help your cat digest his food properly.
- The fewer artificial colors, flavors or additives a grain-free cat food has, the better. The best grain-free cat food options leave out these ingredients entirely, as these are often lead to food allergies, which many customers seeking a grain-free product are already trying to avoid. Artificial additives are almost completely unnecessary if the food is manufactured with high-quality ingredients, and your cat does not care about the color of her food.
- Good grain-free cat foods identify any meat-meals or byproducts by the species. While many byproducts and meat meals seem objectionable to cat owners, these ingredients often represent a nutritious and efficient way to provide additional protein and improve the food’s taste. However, to ensure that animals from unsavory sources are not included, only purchase those foods that identify the species used to make the meal. For example, “fish meal” is not acceptable, while “menhaden meal” or “salmon meal” are.
It can be challenging to find a cat food that satisfies each of these criteria – particularly while trying to avoid paying more for your cat’s food than you do your own. Accordingly, it is often necessary to prioritize the various criteria, enabling you to select the one that best suits your cat.
Encourage Water Consumption or Combine with Wet Food
It is very important to ensure your cat consumes enough water, but this is particularly true of those fed dry, kibble-based diets. Such foods have very low moisture content, which is problematic because cats rarely feel the need to drink very much supplemental water. The chronic dehydration that accompanies this can lead to kidney damage, bladder stones and recurrent urinary tract infections.
Accordingly, you’ll want to do whatever it takes to convince your cat to drink plenty of water. Some cats are tempted by moving water, while others may drink more if supplied with several different water dishes. If your cat doesn’t think that eating and drinking are spectator sports, consider providing a water dish in a secluded area, in which your cat feels safe.
Another good strategy for mitigating this problem is to mix a little wet food in with your cat’s grain-free dry food. This will help increase the moisture content of the food, without costing you an arm and a leg.
Best of the Rest
The following grain-free cat foods represent additional options, deserving of your consideration. They obviously failed to rate as highly as some of the other foods reviewed, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make an excellent choice for your cat. Just give these the same critical eye that you would any other cat food under consideration and do your best to make the best possible choice.
IAMS Grain-Free Naturals possesses many of the traits associated with premium cat foods. Chicken is the first listed ingredient, and it is made without any artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. The combination of chicken and salmon help ensure that IAMS tastes great and contains the amino acids your cat needs to stay healthy. Salmon and a few other ingredients (such as menhaden oil) provide omega fatty acids. Unfortunately, IAMS does not contain any probiotics.
Whole Earth Farms makes a fantastic grain-free cat food, that is loaded with all-natural ingredients. However, while Whole Earth Farms does contain real turkey and duck, its primary protein is turkey meal, which is somewhat disappointing and responsible for the food not ranking more highly. Probiotics are included to help your cat’s intestinal tract operate properly, and salmon oil helps to provide omega fatty acids to keep your cat’s coat looking its best.
If you need a grain-free food for your cat, you’ll surely find a great option among those detailed above. Just be sure that you inspect the ingredient list of every food listed before making your selection, and don’t just pick the least expensive option. If your cat has a specific food allergy, be sure that the food you decide upon does not contain it, or the grain-free nature of the recipe won’t matter. By doing so, you’ll help ensure your cat stays healthy and happy for years to come.