The best cat food for sensitive stomachs is easy to digest, rich in anti-inflammatory ingredients, and free from additives and artificial ingredients that could irritate your cat’s intestinal tract or immune system.
With its highly-digestible recipe, abundance of omega-3 fatty acids, and personalized customer experience, Smalls Fresh Ground Bird is our pick for the number one best cat food for sensitive stomachs.
But food sensitivities and allergies vary from cat to cat and not everyone is on the same budget.
There’s simply no single food that will solve every cat’s digestive woes. So, in addition to our top pick, we’ve included an assortment of species-appropriate, highly digestible foods to help you choose.
At a Glance: Best Cat Food for Sensitive Stomach to Buy in 2023
- Species-appropriate blend of muscle meat, organs, and bone
- Rich in animal-sourced omega-3 fatty acids
- Fairly low carbohydrate content
- Primarily a meat-based recipe
- Rich in hydrating moisture
- Contains animal-sourced omega-3 fatty acids
- Made with turkey as a single source of protein
- Negligible carbohydrate content
- Short list of simple, whole-food ingredients
- Concentrated source of animal protein and fat
- Very low carbohydrate content around 10%
- Contains low phosphorus levels for kidney support
- Made with a single source of animal protein
- Very low carbohydrate content
- Easily digestible with limited list of ingredients
- Single protein recipe made with rabbit only
- New Zealand green mussels provide omega-3 fatty acids
- Easily digestible and rich in hydrating moisture
4 Causes of Sensitive Stomach in Cats
The term sensitive stomach isn’t clearly defined. It’s typically used in reference to cats who experience digestive issues such as vomiting, diarrhea, or flatulence after eating certain foods. In some cases, these symptoms are related to underlying health conditions but they can also be a physical response to issues with the food itself — the quality or digestibility of the ingredients, the formulation, or even the breakdown of nutrients in the food.
Concerns about your cat’s digestion should be addressed with your veterinarian. They can help you determine whether your cat has an undiagnosed health condition or if they can benefit from a change in diet. Here are the four most common causes of digestive issues in cats.
This is any condition involving acute inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It could be caused by parasites, food poisoning, spoiled food, or another disease. Acute gastroenteritis is typically short-lived and may resolve on its own but some cats may benefit from treatment with anti-nausea medication, probiotics for digestive support, or intravenous fluid therapy.
Colitis is inflammation of the large intestine. This condition can be either acute or chronic and, in many cases, the underlying cause is unknown. Common triggers include bacterial or parasitic infections, kidney disease, and food allergies. Some cats with colitis respond well to bland or novel protein diets while others improve with supplemental fiber or probiotics added to their diet.
Food allergies are allergic reactions to specific substances in food. Contrary to popular belief, gluten and grains are not the most common culprits for cat allergies — they are proteins like chicken, beef, and fish. While skin irritation and poor coat health are the most common symptoms in cats, food allergies occasionally manifest as vomiting and diarrhea.
If you suspect your cat has a food allergy, it’s important to identify the allergen and remove it from their diet. The simplest option is to switch to a diet that doesn’t contain any of the proteins in your cat’s current food and gauge their condition after at least a month on the new food.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
A common condition in senior cats, inflammatory bowel disease is characterized by the accumulation of inflammatory cells in the lining of the GI tract. This inflammation disrupts normal GI function, often causing chronic vomiting and diarrhea. The exact cause of IBD is unknown but an abnormal immune response to components of the diet may be involved.
Why Trust Cats.com
Not only have we spent years reviewing dozens of the world’s most popular cat food brands and hundreds of individual products, but we’ve spent countless hours analyzing labels, contacting pet food manufacturers, and reading customer reviews. We’ve also gotten hands-on experience with most of these foods with the help of our own cats.
The entire testing process for this guide was funded by Cats.com without direct influence from the brands involved. Our recommendations are based on a variety of factors including but not limited to ingredient quality, species appropriateness, brand reputation, price, and popularity.
To test the products on this list, we purchased the food at full retail price and performed a thorough qualitative analysis. In addition to offering the food to our cats to get their opinion, we made observations about the food’s texture, consistency, smell, appearance, and packaging.
On top of performing our own analysis of the brands and products mentioned here, we submitted samples of several foods to an ISO 17025 certified food testing and analysis lab. Thorough testing in a food chemistry lab tells us the nutrient content of each recipe and reveals potentially harmful substances like bacteria, yeast, mold, and heavy metals.
The Top 9 Best Foods for Cats with Sensitive Stomachs
Moisture-rich food featuring highly digestible animal-sourced ingredients is often the best choice for cats with sensitive stomachs. That’s why we’ve chosen Smalls Fresh Ground Bird as our top recommendation. This single-protein recipe is packed with nutrition and hydrating moisture to benefit your cat’s digestion and overall health.
Though Smalls is our top pick, we recognize that it may not be the ideal choice for every cat. Your cat is unique, and so are their needs and preferences. We’ve included a variety of options for different preferences, life stages, and budgets in our recommendations below.
What to Look for in a Cat Food for Sensitive Stomachs
Cats with digestive issues are frequently misunderstood and their problems are often dismissed. The term “sensitive stomach” itself is a euphemism—no cat’s stomach is inexplicably fragile or fussy. There’s usually a reason why a cat can’t tolerate certain foods, even if that reason is difficult — and frustrating — to identify.
In other words, a sensitive stomach isn’t a diagnosis in itself. But if your cat frequently experiences digestive upset, changing their diet could help. Here are some options to discuss with your veterinarian.
Switch to a Bland Diet
If your cat has acute gastroenteritis, start with a 12-hour fast to allow their GI tract to rest, then introduce a bland diet. Think of it like the BRAT diet for humans recovering from a stomach illness — BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.
Like the BRAT diet, a bland diet is non-irritating and provides enough nourishment for a few days, but you shouldn’t feed it any longer than necessary. Your cat needs complete and balanced nutrition, so switch to a nutritionally complete pet food as soon as possible.
This type of diet comes in various forms. Some like pumpkin puree and boiled chicken. Some recommend boiled chicken and rice. If you want to keep it carnivore-appropriate, try unseasoned chicken thighs cooked with the fat and skin attached. Remove the bones and serve with bone broth.
Eliminate Inflammatory or Irritating Ingredients
This often means choosing a pet food made with novel proteins — meats that your cat hasn’t been exposed to before. For example, if your cat always eats a chicken-based food, opt for one made with rabbit or venison instead. Other potentially irritating ingredients include artificial additives, carrageenan, and dairy.
While you’re ridding your cat’s diet of inflammatory ingredients, don’t forget to incorporate anti-inflammatory ones. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish or krill oil are powerful and species-appropriate anti-inflammatories.
Prioritize Highly Digestible Ingredients
Plant protein is less digestible for cats than animal protein. Animal by-products, similarly, may have lower digestibility scores than properly proportioned muscle meat, organs, and bones. Fat follows the same carnivorous logic — animal fat is more digestible than plant fat.
Generally speaking, a diet of whole, animal-sourced ingredients will be more digestible for your cat than a recipe filled with animal by-products, plants, and artificial additives. The shorter the list of ingredients the better because it means there’s less for your cat’s body to process.
Promote Healthy Gut Flora by Providing Probiotics
Supporting a healthy gut microbiome is a cornerstone of ensuring that your cat’s digestive system stays in top shape. Dysbiosis, or an imbalanced bacteria population, is associated with poor digestive health and IBD. Particularly if your cat has undergone antibiotic therapy — which kills both good and bad bacteria — it’s likely that dysbiosis plays a role in your cat’s tummy troubles.
One of the simplest ways to promote healthy gut flora is to add a probiotic supplement to your cat’s meals. You can also consider the inclusion of prebiotics, which promote the growth and activity of beneficial gut bacteria.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What food is good for a cat with a sensitive stomach?
The best food for cats with sensitive stomachs is made with a short list of digestible, species-appropriate ingredients. In other words, a recipe featuring muscle meat, organs, and bone, ideally from a single species or, at least, one that doesn’t trigger sensitivities in your cat.
What ingredients should cats with sensitive stomachs avoid?
Animal-sourced ingredients are the most digestible for cats, so avoid recipes that rely too heavily on plants. Prioritize animal-sourced proteins and fats, being particularly careful to avoid plant protein concentrates like pea protein or potato protein. Avoid inflammatory ingredients as well, such as dairy, carrageenan, and artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives.
Is wet or dry food better for cats with sensitive stomachs?
Digestibility is key when it comes to a diet for cats with sensitive stomachs, so wet food is ideal. High-moisture foods are easier for your cat’s body to process and wet foods generally tend to be lower in carbohydrates than dry food.