Whether wet, dry, raw, or freshly cooked, the best cat food honors your cat’s needs as an obligate carnivore. It’s rich in animal-sourced protein, has the right amount of fatty acids, and doesn’t spike your cat’s blood sugar with excessive carbohydrates.
After researching feline nutrition and reviewing all kinds of cat foods, we learned which brands and products are worthy of your cat’s bowl—and which ones aren’t.
With taste, nutrition, and quality ingredients always top of mind, here are 10 of the best cat foods you can feel good about feeding your cat.
At a Glance: Best Cat Food to Buy in 2023
- Primarily animal-based recipe with low carb content
- Rich in moisture to support your cat’s hydration
- Plenty of omega-3 fatty acids for skin and coat health
- Made with a single source of animal protein
- Negligible carbohydrate content
- Rich in moisture and animal-sourced fat
- Ultra-soft pâté texture is easy for kittens to eat
- Rich in protein and calories
- Hydrating canned food
Top Picks Explained
Why Trust Cats.com
We personally purchased and tested the foods on this list. With hundreds of cat food reviews under our belt, we’ve acquired a strong handle on what makes one cat food rise above the rest. During our research on the best cat foods, we considered a range of feline health concerns and pet parent lifestyles. Then we went to work analyzing ingredient lists, contacting companies directly, and taking a deep look at customer feedback.
While testing these products with our own cats, we examined the food’s texture, smell, consistency, packaging, and of course, palatability.
In addition, we tested several recipes at an ISO 17025-certified food testing and analysis lab. This gives us the precise macronutrient and micronutrient content of each recipe, looking at microbial content, yeast, mold, and heavy metals.
Finally, we consulted seven veterinarians to get their professional opinion on what makes a great cat food.
Our Veterinary Advisors:
- Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM, CVJ
- Dr. Chris Vanderhoof, DVM, MPH
- Dr. Sarah Reidenbach, DVM
- Dr. Chyrle Bonk, DVM
- Dr. Jamie Whittenburg, DVM
- Dr. Albert Ahn, DVM
- Dr. Elizabeth Youens, DVM
The Best Cat Food on the Market: Our Top 10 Picks
At the top of the list is Smalls Cat Food. It’s hard to beat this wet food’s combination of outstanding protein content, emphasis on animal-sourced ingredients, and the exclusion of additives that might harm your cat over time.
Our rankings are determined by a variety of factors, including quality of ingredients, price, and popularity, among others. Each cat will have different needs and preferences, so while Smalls is our top choice, it may not be ideal for your unique cat. To help you choose the right food for your cat, we’ve broken down our recommendations by type, price category, and other key considerations.
What to Consider When Buying Cat Food
Choosing great cat food starts with an understanding of your cat’s unique nutritional needs as an obligate carnivore. Veterinarian Dr. Lizzie Youens, BVSc, MRCVS explains, “Our domestic pet cats have not altered their physiology much from their wildcat ancestor.” In other words, they crave meat.
According to Dr. Youens, cats gain most of their energy from protein, rather than carbohydrates; they use fats to process certain vitamins and nutrients. “An extra point to consider for our feline friends is that they cannot make certain amino acids, such as taurine, and so they must be provided as part of their balanced diet.”
When weighing your options, Dr. Chris Vanderhoof, DVM, MPH, a veterinarian practicing at VCA Centreville Animal Hospital, recommends asking yourself the following:
- What life stage is my cat in (kitten, adult, or senior)?
- If a senior, does my cat have any specific nutritional needs that a diet can address, such as muscle loss or arthritis?
- Does my cat have any medical conditions that can be addressed with a particular diet?
- Is this cat food nutritionally balanced? (Does it carry an AAFCO statement, and is it meeting at least the minimum nutritional requirements for my cat’s life stage?)
- Does this cat food have a moderate caloric density (especially important for indoor cats)?
- Is this a food that my cat loves and will gladly eat?
Keeping these parameters in mind, here’s what to look for when choosing the best food for your cat.
Look for Low Carbohydrate Content
Cats primarily utilize protein and fat as energy sources. While they can metabolize carbohydrates, high carbohydrate content is not a part of the natural feline diet. There’s little evidence that high-carb foods are harmful, but they’re also not necessary. We prefer foods that model a cat’s ancestral diet.
Choose High-Quality Protein
It helps to understand the difference between crude protein and digestible protein. Digestibility values, not percentages in the guaranteed analysis, are key to measuring nutritional value. For example, an egg and a feather may share the same protein values on a label’s guaranteed analysis. But an egg (unsurprisingly) is far more digestible and nourishing than a feather. For that reason, we prefer foods that incorporate high-quality, clearly-named protein sources.
Avoid Animal By-Products
Animal by-products are one of the most misunderstood ingredients in cat food. While many common by-products are highly nourishing and delectable to cats, digestibility and quality control are major concerns.
Vaguely-specified ingredients may be produced from any number of animal parts. Besides not knowing what type of animals contributed to the by-product stew, you don’t know if it contains more wholesome liver or nutritionally weak chicken feet. To ensure maximum protein digestibility, avoid purchasing cat foods with meat by-products and other vaguely-named ingredients like “meat”, “poultry”, and “meat and bone meal”.
Choose Minimal Plant Protein
While it’s unclear exactly where each source of plant protein lies on the digestibility spectrum, we do know that protein from peas, potatoes, and other plants is less efficient than that from animal ingredients. While a single prey animal offers all the amino acids a cat needs, plant ingredients need to be combined with animal protein and synthetic additives to recreate that mix of amino acids. Furthermore, many cat guardians report that their cats have less waste when they’re eating a diet composed primarily of animal-sourced protein.
Prioritize Moisture-Rich Foods
Our cats’ ancestors were desert dwellers. Because fresh water was scarce, early wild cats evolved to have low thirst drives and a natural inclination to get their water from the moisture-rich bodies of their prey. This means that they typically don’t drink enough water to compensate for moisture-depleted dry food.
Favor Foods Free Of Harmful Ingredients
Artificial flavors and colors are unnecessary and have been tied to health consequences for both humans and animals. Some preservatives may also be of questionable safety. For example, BHA is considered safe in animal feed for all species except for cats due to inadequate safety data. Most pet foods have replaced them with natural alternatives including Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols), rosemary extract, and other antioxidants.
Seek Brands With Trustworthy Reputations
While it doesn’t tell us everything about the brand, a company’s recall history provides key insights into its ethics, safety standards, and the quality of its products. If a company faces voluntary, or worse—mandatory—recalls every five years, purchasing from that company could subject your cat to three or more potentially harmful slip-ups during their lifetime. A communicative, transparent company isn’t afraid to share this information with its customers.
Additionally, it’s helpful to check out what other consumers are saying about the brand. Through social media, blogging, reviews on retail platforms, and sites like Consumer Reports, pet parents can easily share their complaints or praises with the world.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best dry cat food?
The best dry cat food is rich in animal-derived protein, low in carbohydrate content, and made from high-quality ingredients. One of the best brands for dried cat food is Open Farm RawMix.
What is the best wet cat food?
The best wet cat food honors your cat’s needs as a carnivore. It’s a meat-rich product that delivers all the protein, fat, and micronutrients your cat needs without a lot of plants and starch. A few of our favorite brands include Smalls, RAWZ, and Nulo.
What is the healthiest cat food?
The healthiest cat food is nutritionally complete and balanced, emphasizing meat over plants and protein over starch. Look for expert-formulated recipes that were made with carnivores in mind.
Is dry or wet food best for cats?
Because it’s more hydrating and typically lower in carbohydrates, wet food is best for cats. A dry diet is convenient, but it could increase your cat’s chances of health complications over time.
Is grain-free cat food best for cats?
Cats don’t need to avoid grains. What they need to avoid is excessive carbohydrates. Grain-free foods often replace grain with an unhealthy dose of biologically inappropriate ingredients like potatoes and peas.