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The 12 Best Grain Free Cat Foods

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Medically reviewed by  JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM
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best grain free cat food

Kirsten McCarthy / Cats.com

In this article, we’ll explore the subject of grain-free diets to learn what they are and whether they’re good for your cat. You’ll also see our recommendations for the top grain-free cat foods, wet and dry.

When walking through the cat food aisle at your local grocery store, it may seem like one cat food is the same as any other. There are differences in packaging from one brand to another. But, if you were to open up any two bags, the product inside would look pretty similar.

If you take a closer look at the product names, however, you’ll start to notice keywords like “natural,” “holistic,” and “grain-free.”

Claims like these are common on pet food labels but they can be a little misleading for pet owners.

When you see a product labeled “natural,” for example, you might wonder whether other brands are somehow not natural. When you see “grain-free” on the label, you may wonder whether a product that contains grains is somehow worse.

Unfortunately, the answer to this question is not a simple “yes” or “no.”

The Truth About Grain-Free Cat Food (Explained by a Vet)

The popularity of grain-free diets for pets has skyrocketed in recent years. However, there’s a great deal of misinformation out there about what “grain-free” really means and whether grain-free diets are any better or worse for your cat. You may also be aware of FDA reports linking grain-free diets to an increased risk of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a form of heart disease, in dogs.

Why Trust Cats.com

Before selecting products to test, I spent a great deal of time researching grain-free diets and their potential nutritional impact on feline health. I delved deep into the FDA’s investigation of grain-free pet foods and consulted veterinarian Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM, to learn what to look for when shopping for grain-free cat foods.

Guided by my research and veterinary advice, I selected the products below for at-home testing. In testing these products, I performed an in-depth analysis of their nutritional makeup and made observations about the food’s appearance, texture, consistency, and packaging. My two cats, Wessie and Forest, provided their opinions on flavor and general appeal.

Best Grain-Free Wet Cat Foods To Buy

#1 Overall Best: Smalls Ground Bird Fresh Cat Food

Small Fresh Ground Bird

  • Made In: United States
  • Guaranteed Protein: 13% Min
  • Age Range: All Life Stages
  • Calories Per Ounce: 40
  • Typical Cost Per Day: $4.00 per day

Smalls is a fresh cat food delivery service that offers human-grade homemade-style cat food in a variety of proteins and textures. The formulas are rich in animal-sourced protein—all made with a single type—and low in carbohydrates. Unlike many grain-free cat foods, they’re free from starchy potatoes and legumes like beans and peas.

Featuring chicken and chicken liver as the top two ingredients, this fresh food contains about 48% protein (measured as dry matter). Green beans, kale, and dandelion greens are the only plant ingredients, so the carbohydrate content of this formula is very low. It’s highly digestible for most cats and comes in convenient 5-ounce packages.

In addition to being high in protein and low in carbohydrates, this formula is rich in moisture, which helps support hydration, digestion, and skin and coat health. Overall, this minced chicken recipe offers a species-appropriate source of balanced nutrition for cats in all life stages making it one of the best gluten free cat foods on this list.

Ingredients

Chicken, Chicken Liver, Green Beans, Water Sufficient for Processing, Dried Yeast, Tricalcium Phosphate, Kale, Magnesium Proteinate, Potassium Chloride, Choline Chloride, Dandelion Greens, Dried Kelp, Taurine, Zinc Proteinate, Iron Proteinate, Cod Liver Oil, Salt, Niacin Supplement, Vitamin E Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Thiamine Mononitrate, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Riboflavin Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid, Sodium Selenite, Biotin.

Ingredients We Liked: Chicken, Chicken Liver, Cod Liver Oil

Ingredients We Didn’t Like: None

Guaranteed Analysis

Crude Protein: 13%
Crude Fat: 8.5%
Crude Fiber: 1.5%
Moisture: 73%

Dry Matter Basis

Protein: 48.15%
Fat: 31.48%
Fiber: 5.56%
Carbs: 14.81%

Caloric Weight Basis

Protein: 34.54%
Fat: 54.84%
Carbs: 10.63%

What We Liked:

  • Made with a single source of animal protein
  • Doesn’t contain potatoes or legumes
  • Rich in hydrating moisture for your cat
  • Cod liver oil provides animal-sourced omega-3 fatty acids

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Only available as a subscription plan
  • No phone support (text and email only)

#2 Best Ethically-Sourced: Open Farm Homestead Turkey Rustic Blend Wet Food

  • Made In: United States
  • Guaranteed Protein: 8.0% Min
  • Age Range: Adult
  • Calories Per Ounce: 24
  • Typical Cost Per Day: $4.46 per day

When it comes to reducing litter box odor, the quality of your cat’s diet matters. This Open Farm formula is our premium pick because it features wholesome, high-quality ingredients that are ethically sourced.

This wet food formula features humanely-raised turkey as the primary ingredient and the sole source of protein. Because turkey is a novel protein for many cats, it may help relieve digestive issues related to food allergies or intolerance. You’ll also find turkey bone broth as a main ingredient. Turkey bone broth provides moisture and may help support healthy digestion.

In addition to being rich in animal protein, this formula is completely free from fillers, animal by-products, vaguely-named ingredients, and artificial additives that often contribute to litter box odor. It contains more plant ingredients than we’d like, but the dry matter carbohydrate content of the formula as a whole is still fairly low.

Ingredients

Humanely Raised Turkey, Turkey Bone Broth, Pumpkin, Carrots, Spinach, Red Lentils, Agar Agar, Non-GMO Cranberries, Garbanzo Beans (Chickpeas), Chicory Root, Sunflower Oil, Coconut Oil (preserved with mixed tocopherols), Salt, Vitamin A Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin E Supplement, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin Supplement, Biotin, Folic Acid, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Zinc Amino Acid Chelate, Iron Amino Acid Chelate, Copper Amino Acid Chelate, Manganese Amino Acid Chelate, Sodium Selenite, Dried Kelp, Potassium Chloride, Dandelion Greens, Choline Chloride, Taurine, Turmeric.

Guaranteed Analysis

Crude Protein: 8%
Crude Fat: 6%
Crude Fiber: 2%
Moisture: 82%

Dry Matter Basis

Protein: 44.44%
Fat: 33.33%
Fiber: 11.11%
Carbs: 11.11%

Caloric Weight Basis

Protein: 32.56%
Fat: 59.3%
Carbs: 8.14%

What We Liked:

  • Single source of high-quality animal protein
  • No fillers, animal by-products, or vaguely-named ingredients
  • Contains the moisture your cat needs for hydration
  • Made from ethically-sourced ingredients

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Fairly expensive compared to the average cat food
  • Contains several plant-based ingredients

#3 Premium Pick: Wellness CORE Natural Grain Free Wet Canned Cat Food

Wellness CORE Grain-Free Chicken, Turkey & Chicken Liver Formula Canned Cat Food

  • Made In: United States
  • Guaranteed Protein: 12% Min
  • Age Range: Adult
  • Calories Per Ounce: 39
  • Typical Cost Per Day: $3.49 per day

Formulated for adult cats, this canned food is completely free from grains, including low-quality fillers. In fact, five of the first six ingredients are all animal-based, including two whole sources of fresh poultry (chicken and turkey), two organ meats, and chicken meal.

The primary source of carbohydrate in this formula is dried ground potatoes which, though a little high in starch, are a digestible source of carbs for cats. You’ll also find cranberries, which can help support the urinary tract, as well as flaxseed, a natural source of omega fatty acids and dietary fiber.

Overall, this Wellness grain-free formula is a nutritious choice for adult cats. The only downside is that it is a little bit pricey. Also, the size of the 3-ounce can may be a little deceiving based on the weight it holds.

Ingredients

Chicken, Turkey, Chicken Broth, Chicken Liver, Chicken Meal, Turkey Liver, Dried Ground Potatoes, Natural Flavor, Cranberries, Guar Gum, Ground Flaxseed, Potassium Chloride, Salmon Oil (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Choline Chloride, Taurine, Cassia Gum, Xanthan Gum, Dried Kelp, Chicory Root Extract, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Magnesium Sulfate, Iron Proteinate, Zinc Proteinate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin E Supplement, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Sodium Selenite, Niacin, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, Biotin, Potassium Iodide, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid, Rosemary Extract.

Guaranteed Analysis

Crude Protein: 12%
Crude Fat: 7%
Crude Fiber: 0.5%
Moisture: 78%

Dry Matter Basis

Protein: 54.55%
Fat: 31.82%
Fiber: 2.27%
Carbs: 11.36%

Caloric Weight Basis

Protein: 38.1%
Fat: 53.97%
Carbs: 7.94%

What We Liked:

  • Made with real animal protein as the main ingredients
  • Nutritionally balanced for adult cats
  • Packed with moisture and low in carbohydrates

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Above average in cost
  • Size of can may be confusing

#4 Best For Sensitive Stomach: Instinct Grain-Free Real Chicken Recipe Canned Cat Food

Instinct by Nature's Variety Original Grain-Free Real Chicken Recipe Natural Wet Canned Cat Food

  • Made In: United States
  • Guaranteed Protein: 10% Min
  • Age Range: Adult
  • Calories Per Ounce: 44
  • Typical Cost Per Day: $3.19 per day

The Instinct brand is formulated to mimic your cat’s natural ancestral diet, which is built on high-quality animal proteins. True to their promise, Instinct’s Grain-Free Real Chicken Recipe packs a punch with protein, listing three animal-based proteins as the top three ingredients.

Fresh chicken, fresh turkey, and chicken liver are the first three ingredients in this formula, contributing to a crude protein content of 10%, which converts to over 45% dry matter basis. This recipe contains minimal added carbohydrates, which are limited to fresh veggies, for a total of under 7% carbs.

In addition to being loaded with animal-based protein and moisture, this formula contains chelated minerals and added vitamins to ensure nutritional balance for adult cats. You’ll also find additional fruits and veggies at the end of the list that provide natural sources for key nutrients.

The primary downside to this recipe is the cost. Though it may be above average in price, it is free from grains and low-quality fillers and doesn’t contain any artificial additives.

Ingredients

Chicken, Turkey, Chicken Liver, Chicken Broth, Ground Flaxseed, Montmorillonite Clay, Egg Product, Peas, Carrots, Potassium Chloride, Salt, Minerals (Iron Proteinate, Zinc Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Sodium Selenite, Potassium Iodide), Choline Chloride, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Niacin Supplement, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, Biotin, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid), Taurine, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate, Menhaden Fish Oil (Preserved With Mixed Tocopherols), Artichokes, Cranberries, Pumpkin, Tomato, Blueberries, Broccoli, Cabbage, Kale, Parsley.

Guaranteed Analysis

Crude Protein: 10%
Crude Fat: 7.5%
Crude Fiber: 3%
Moisture: 78%

Dry Matter Basis

Protein: 45.45%
Fat: 34.09%
Fiber: 13.64%
Carbs: 6.82%

Caloric Weight Basis

Protein: 33.65%
Fat: 61.3%
Carbs: 5.05%

What We Liked

  • Rich in animal-based protein and moisture
  • Made with all-natural ingredients
  • Packed with healthy omega fatty acids

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Above average in cost

#5 Best For Picky Eaters: Weruva Paw Lickin’ Chicken Grain-Free Wet Cat Food

Weruva-Paw-Lickin-Chicken-Canned-Cat-Food

  • Made In: Thailand
  • Guaranteed Protein: 10% Min
  • Age Range: Adult
  • Calories Per Ounce: 19
  • Typical Cost Per Day: $4.41 per day

Packed with real animal protein, including flavorful chunks of chicken, this Weruva recipe is our top choice for picky eaters. In addition to being loaded with real animal protein, it is high in moisture and very low in carbohydrates, though not as low as some of the recipes we’ve chosen (about 12%).

What we love about this recipe, aside from its rich protein content, is that it is completely free from grains, fillers, and carrageenan. Carrageenan is a food additive that could cause inflammation, but this remains highly debatable.

This food doesn’t contain antibiotics, growth hormones, genetically modified organisms, or MSG. It is produced in a human food facility. We should note, however, that this facility isn’t located in the United States. Weruva canned foods are produced in Thailand.

In addition to being a great source of real animal protein and moisture for your cat, this Weruva recipe is also available in larger cans than many we’ve reviewed. It comes in 3-ounce, 5.5-ounce, and 10-ounce cans, with a recommended feeding of 1 ounce per pound of bodyweight. For a 10-pound cat, you’d only need to feed one 10-ounce can per day, ideally divided into two or more feedings.

Ingredients

Chicken (Boneless, Skinless Breast), Chicken Broth, Potato Starch, Sunflower Seed Oil, Calcium Lactate, Xanthan Gum, Tricalcium Phosphate, Choline Chloride, Taurine, Zinc Sulfate, Vitamin E Supplement, Ferrous Sulfate, Nicotinic Acid (Vitamin B3), Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Calcium Pantothenate, Copper Sulfate, Riboflavin Supplement (Vitamin B2), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Vitamin A Supplement, Manganese Sulfate, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid, Potassium Iodide, Sodium Selenite, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement.

Guaranteed Analysis

Crude Protein: 10%
Crude Fat: 1.4%
Crude Fiber: 0.5%
Moisture: 85%
Ash: 1.2%

Dry Matter Basis

Protein: 66.67%
Fat: 9.33%
Fiber: 3.33%
Carbs: 12.67%

Caloric Weight Basis

Protein: 65.36%
Fat: 22.22%
Carbs: 12.42%

What We Liked:

  • High in protein, low in fat and carbohydrates
  • Real chicken flavor that picky cats find appealing
  • Recommended for cats with kidney disease

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Fish recipe contains large chunks some cats may not like
  • Contains over 10% carbohydrate

Best Grain-Free Dry Cat Foods To Buy

#1 Overall Best: Dr. Elsey’s cleanprotein Grain-Free Dry Cat Food

  • Made In: United States
  • Guaranteed Protein: 59% Min
  • Age Range: Adult
  • Calories Per Pound: 1828
  • Typical Cost Per Day: $0.84 per day

Our top pick overall for the best grain-free dry cat food is this cleanprotein recipe from Dr. Elsey’s. Though Dr. Elsey’s is best known for their cat litter, they also offer two dry cat food recipes and a small assortment of canned foods. This chicken recipe dry food contains 95% protein from animal sources, with a guaranteed protein content of 59%.

The first ingredient in this grain-free dry cat food recipe is fresh chicken. It’s followed by pork protein isolate, and gelatin, all of which are animal-based sources of protein. Gelatin also acts as one of the food’s sources of structure and is a replacement for grain-based options like grains or legumes.

In addition to being packed with protein, this dry food recipe contains moderate fat and above-average fiber content. Dietary fiber offers limited benefit to cats, especially when it comes from plant-based sources, but 4% shouldn’t be high enough to bother your cat’s digestive system which makes Dr Elsey’s one of the best pea free cat foods on this list.

Another potential downside for this recipe is the cost, which is well over $6 per pound. Fortunately, the recommended feeding amount is only about ½ cup per day for a 10-pound cat, making the daily cost less than $1.00.

Ingredients

Chicken, Pork Protein Isolate, Gelatin, Chicken Fat (Preserved With Mixed Tocopherols), Flaxseed, Natural Flavor, Salmon Oil, Potassium Citrate, Calcium Carbonate, Fructooligosaccharide, Calcium Carbonate, Choline Chloride, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Niacin Supplement, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin A Acetate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid), Minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Calcium Carbonate, Manganous Oxide, Copper Sulfate, Iron Amino Acid Chelate, Manganese Amino Acid Chelate, Zinc Amino Acid Chelate, Copper Amino Acid Chelate, Sodium Selenite, Cobalt Carbonate, Ethylenediamine Dihydroiodide), Potassium Chloride, Mixed Tocopherols (Preservative), Taurine, Salt, Rosemary Extract.

Guaranteed Analysis

Crude Protein: 59%
Crude Fat: 18%
Crude Fiber: 4%
Moisture: 12%

Dry Matter Basis

Protein: 67.05%
Fat: 20.45%
Fiber: 4.55%
Carbs: 7.95%

Caloric Weight Basis

Protein: 53.78%
Fat: 39.84%
Carbs: 6.38%

What We Liked:

  • Meat-based recipe very high in protein
  • Low in carbohydrates, estimated under 8%
  • No grains, fillers, or artificial additives

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Above average in cost
  • Low in moisture (like all dry foods)

#2 Best Budget: Kirkland Signature Nature’s Domain Salmon Meal & Sweet Potato Recipe

  • Made In: United States
  • Guaranteed Protein: 32% Min
  • Age Range: Adult
  • Calories Per Cup: 403
  • Typical Cost Per Day: $0.20 per day

Grain-free cat food is often more expensive than the alternative, but Kirkland cat food is one of the most economical brands on the market. This particular recipe features protein-rich salmon meal as the first ingredient and contains several supplemental proteins, including ocean fish meal.

This recipe does contain several sources of added carbohydrates, but they are grain-free and generally digestible for cats. We also like that this formula contains guaranteed levels of probiotics to support your cat’s health and digestion.

Though it was once only sold in Costco stores, you can now buy Kirkland cat food online on Amazon.

There have been some recall issues. For example, there was a product recall from 2012 due to potential salmonella contamination. This recall also affected other brands produced by Diamond Pet Foods, including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Taste of the Wild, and 4Health.

Another downside to this recipe is its high carbohydrate content. This formula contains over 45% carbs measured on a dry matter basis and over 38% by caloric weight. It still contains over 30% protein, however, which makes it a biologically appropriate choice for adult cats.

Ingredients

Salmon Meal, Ocean Fish Meal, Sweet Potatoes, Peas, Potatoes, Pea Protein, Canola Oil, Natural Flavor, Choline Chloride, Dl-methionine, Taurine, Dried Chicory Root, Tomatoes, Blueberries, Raspberries, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Dried Lactobacillus Acidophilus Fermentation Product, Dried Bifidobacterium Animalis Fermentation Product, Zinc Proteinate, Vitamin E Supplement, Niacin, Manganese Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Zinc Sulfate, Manganese Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Vitamin A Supplement, Biotin, Potassium Iodide, Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Vitamin B12 Supplement, Manganous Oxide, Sodium Selenite, Vitamin D Supplement, Folic Acid.

Guaranteed Analysis

Crude Protein: 32%
Crude Fat: 14%
Crude Fiber: 3%
Moisture: 10%

Dry Matter Basis

Protein: 35.56%
Fat: 15.56%
Fiber: 3.33%
Carbs: 45.56%

Caloric Weight Basis

Protein: 29.91%
Fat: 31.78%
Carbs: 38.32%

What We Liked:

  • Relatively high in protein for a dry food
  • One of the most economical cat food brands
  • Guaranteed levels of probiotics for digestive support

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Very high in carbohydrates (over 30%)
  • Contains canola oil instead of animal-based fat

#3 Best For Sensitive Stomach: Ziwi Peak Air-Dried Mackerel and Lamb Recipe Cat Food

ziwi mackerel and lamb

  • Made In: New Zealand
  • Guaranteed Protein: 43% Min
  • Age Range: Adult
  • Calories Per Pound: 2177
  • Typical Cost Per Day: $2.51 per day

Ziwi Peak is a premium pet food brand based in New Zealand. This particular recipe features whole, blue mackerel that is 100% sourced from ethical farms, as well as grass-fed lamb. It contains 96% meat, fish, organs, and New Zealand green mussels, which puts it under 5% carbohydrate.

In addition to being packed with protein and animal-based ingredients, this air-dried formula is nutritionally dense. Because it is air-dried rather than extruded like traditional kibble, the ingredients retain more of their original nutritional content. Extruding is a way to cook foods quickly and kill harmful microorganisms in the food.

The higher nutritional quality accounts for the high price point of this recipe, which is about $1.75 per ounce. That being said, the food is very calorie-dense, so you’ll need to feed your cat only about 2 ounces per day. This makes Ziwi Peak’s dry food much more affordable than their canned food.

We love that this formula is made with high-quality, natural ingredients in a pure and simple formula that is ideal for sensitive stomachs. It does contain synthetic essential nutrients, but the majority of the main ingredients come from muscle meat, organs, and bone.

Ingredients

Mackerel, Lamb, Lamb Heart, Lamb Tripe, Lamb Liver, Lamb Lung, New Zealand Green Mussel, Lamb Kidney, Lamb Bone, Lecithin, Inulin from Chicory, Dried Kelp, Minerals (Dipotassium Phosphate, Magnesium Sulfate, Zinc Amino Acid Complex, Copper Amino Acid Complex, Iron Amino Acid Complex, Manganese Amino Acid Complex, Sodium Selenite), Salt, Preservative (Citric Acid, Mixed Tocopherols), Vitamins (Choline Chloride, Thiamine Mononitrate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid, Vitamin D3 Supplement), DL-Methionine, Taurine.

Guaranteed Analysis

Crude Protein: 44%
Crude Fat: 24%
Crude Fiber: 3%
Moisture: 14%
Ash: 12%

Dry Matter Basis

Protein: 51.16%
Fat: 27.91%
Fiber: 3.49%
Carbs: 3.49%

Caloric Weight Basis

Protein: 41.79%
Fat: 55.36%
Carbs: 2.85%

What We Liked:

  • High in protein and animal-based ingredients
  • Free from grains, fillers, and artificial additives
  • Contains muscle meat, organs, and bone

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Above average in cost
  • Low in moisture (like all dried foods)

#4 Best For Weight Loss: Tiki Cat Born Carnivore Grain-Free Dry Cat Food

  • Made In: New Zealand
  • Guaranteed Protein: 43% Min
  • Age Range: Adult
  • Calories Per Pound: 1721
  • Typical Cost Per Day: $0.72 per day

When it comes to supporting your cat’s healthy weight loss, it’s important to find a highly digestible recipe that is rich in real animal protein. This Tiki Cat formula fits the bill.

This dry food recipe is packed with real animal protein, including deboned chicken, chicken meal, and dehydrated chicken as the first three ingredients. You’ll also find dried egg as a supplemental protein source and a limited number of digestible grain-free carbohydrates.

Compared to other dry cat food formulas, this recipe contains relatively fewer carbohydrate ingredients. However, it’s still a little higher in carbs than we’d prefer. We do appreciate, however, that it is grain-free and doesn’t contain any low-quality fillers like corn, wheat, or soy. It is also completely free from artificial additives and by-products.

Like Weruva, Tiki Cat produces many of their foods in Thailand. They describe their facilities as “award-winning human-grade canning plants” and we’re inclined to believe it. Thailand is quickly becoming one of the primary locations for pet food manufacturing (particularly wet foods) and, for the most part, follows high standards.

Ingredients

Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Dehydrated Chicken, Dried Egg Product, Tapioca, Natural Chicken Flavor, Ground Whole Flaxseed, Chickpeas, Peas, Chicken Fat (Preserved With Mixed Tocopherols And Citric Acid), Brewers Dried Yeast, Calcium Sulfate, Choline Chloride, Inulin (Prebiotic), Salmon Oil, Pumpkin, Taurine, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Sulfate, Vitamin E Supplement, Niacin Supplement (Vitamin B3), Copper Sulfate, Vitamin A Supplement, Manganese Sulfate, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), D-Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Biotin, Riboflavin Supplement (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12 Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Calcium Iodate, Folic Acid, Sodium Selenite, Rosemary Extract, Ascorbic Acid (Preservative), Citric Acid, Tannic Acid.

Guaranteed Analysis

Crude Protein: 43%
Crude Fat: 19%
Crude Fiber: 3.5%
Moisture: 10%
Ash: 10%

Dry Matter Basis

Protein: 47.78%
Fat: 21.11%
Fiber: 3.89%
Carbs: 16.11%

Caloric Weight Basis

Protein: 41.49%
Fat: 44.52%
Carbs: 13.99%

What We Liked:

  • Rich in animal-based protein
  • Digestible high-quality ingredients
  • Free from grains, fillers, and artificial additives

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Relatively high carbohydrate content
  • Low in moisture (like all dry foods)

#5 Best For Picky Eaters: Solid Gold Indigo Moon Grain-Free Dry Cat Food

  • Made In: New Zealand
  • Guaranteed Protein: 42% Min
  • Age Range: Adult
  • Calories Per Pound: 1808
  • Typical Cost Per Day: $0.55 per day

Cats are notorious for being picky when it comes to their diet, but some cats are pickier than others. If you have a picky eater, you’ll need a recipe that is packed with real animal ingredients, creating an appealing flavor and aroma. Our top grain-free pick is this Indigo Moon recipe from Solid Gold.

In addition to being made primarily from animal proteins, this Indigo Moon recipe has a significant number of positive customer reviews. Cats and their owners alike seem to be big fans of this recipe. It is surprisingly low in carbohydrates for a dry food, estimated under 20%.

The first ingredient in this grain-free cat food is chicken meal, a concentrated source of animal protein. You’ll also find fresh chicken, dried eggs, and ocean fish meal as supplemental sources of protein. We’d prefer to see fewer starchy carbs like potatoes and peas in this formula. But, again, the total carb content is fairly low and it is still a grain-free recipe that doesn’t contain any low-quality fillers.

Ingredients

Chicken Meal, Potatoes, Canola Oil (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Peas, Chicken, Dried Eggs, Ocean Fish Meal, Natural Flavor, Carrots, Potassium Chloride, Pumpkin, Salmon Oil (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (Source of Vitamin C), Niacin, Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin A Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Biotin, Folic Acid), Taurine, Minerals (Zinc Sulfate, Ferrous Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Manganese Sulfate, Zinc Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Sodium Selenite, Calcium Iodate), Blueberries, Cranberries, DL-Methionine, Choline Chloride, Dried Chicory Root, Rosemary Extract, Dried Lactobacillus Acidophilus Fermentation Product, Dried Enterococcus Faecium Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus Casei Fermentation Product.

Guaranteed Analysis

Crude Protein: 42%
Crude Fat: 20%
Crude Fiber: 3%
Moisture: 10%

Dry Matter Basis

Protein: 46.67%
Fat: 22.22%
Fiber: 3.33%
Carbs: 27.78%

Caloric Weight Basis

Protein: 36.34%
Fat: 42.03%
Carbs: 21.63%

What We Liked:

  • Primarily made from nutritious animal-based ingredients
  • High in protein from quality animal sources
  • Relatively low in carbohydrates for a dry food

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Low in moisture content (like all dry foods)
  • Contains several plant-based ingredients

#6 Best Ethically Sourced: Open Farm Catch-of-the-Season Whitefish Dry Food

  • Made In: New Zealand
  • Guaranteed Protein: 37% Min
  • Age Range: Adult
  • Calories Per Pound: 1789
  • Typical Cost Per Day: $0.74 per day

This high-protein formula features wild-caught seasonal whitefish as the primary ingredient, supplemented with ocean whitefish meal as a concentrated source of animal protein. You’ll also see herring meal in the third slot on the ingredients list, making this recipe protein-rich overall.

In addition to being packed with animal-based protein, this formula contains herring oil as a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. That being said, coconut oil is actually the primary source of added fat and is plant-based which is why we select Open Farm as one of the best gluten free dry cat foods on the market today.

We appreciate that the list of ingredients for this recipe is fairly limited, though there are a few more plant-based ingredients than we’d like to see. The formula is, however, completely free from fillers, animal by-products, vaguely-named ingredients, and artificial additives.

Ingredients

Ocean Whitefish, Ocean Whitefish Meal, Herring Meal, Garbanzo Beans (Chickpeas), Coconut Oil (preserved with mixed tocopherols), Green Lentils, Herring Oil (preserved with mixed tocopherols), Pumpkin, Natural Flavor, Red Lentils, Non-GMO Cranberries, Apples, Dried Chicory Root Extract, Choline Chloride, Salt, Dandelion Greens, Taurine, Turmeric, Potassium Chloride, Tricalcium Phosphate, Dried Yucca Schidigera Extract, Mixed Tocopherols (a natural preservative), Calcium Carbonate, Zinc Proteinate, Iron Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Sodium Selenite, Calcium Iodate, Vitamin E Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Niacin Supplement, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Vitamin A Acetate, Riboflavin Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid, Rosemary Extract.

Guaranteed Analysis

Crude Protein: 37%
Crude Fat: 18%
Crude Fiber: 3%
Moisture: 10%

Dry Matter Basis

Protein: 41.11%
Fat: 20%
Fiber: 3.33%
Carbs: 35.56%

Caloric Weight Basis

Protein: 32.83%
Fat: 38.78%
Carbs: 28.39%

What We Liked:

  • Rich in animal-based protein from whitefish and herring
  • Herring oil provides omega-3 fatty acids
  • No fillers, animal by-products, or vaguely-named ingredients
  • Contains ethically sourced ingredients

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Contains a significant number of plant-based ingredients
  • Doesn’t contain the moisture your cat needs

Is Grain-Free Cat Food A Good Choice?

Before getting into the details of whether grain-free cat food is a good choice for cats, let’s take a moment to explore what grain-free diets are.

As the name suggests, a grain-free diet is one that doesn’t include any grains. That means no wheat, barley, rye, rice, corn, or oatmeal. The thing you need to realize about grain-free diets is that they are not necessarily carbohydrate-free.

In fact, some grain-free diets are higher in carbohydrates than similar products.

When a pet food manufacturer removes grains from a product, they often replace it with another carbohydrate like potato, lentils, peas, or tapioca. In many cases, grain-free products are loaded with high-glycemic carbs that can cause your cat’s blood sugar to spike. This can be particularly problematic in cats with feline diabetes.

Regardless of what kind of carbohydrates the recipe contains, remember that cats are obligate carnivores and have no biological requirement for carbohydrates in their diet.

Your cat is an obligate carnivore, which means he’s evolved to follow a primarily meat-based diet. The majority of his nutrition needs must come from animal sources, not plants. Whether you’re considering a grain-free or grain-inclusive diet, it’s important to determine the total carbohydrate content.

Unfortunately, this can be a little tricky because pet food manufacturers don’t list the carb content of their foods. You can, however, estimate the carb content of a cat food recipe using the information provided in the Guaranteed Analysis that’s on the cat food label.

To estimate the carb content of a cat food recipe, add up the values for Crude Protein, Crude Fat, Crude Fiber, and Moisture. You’ll also need to add the Ash content, if listed. If it isn’t listed, you can estimate about 7% for dry food and 3% for wet food. Add up these five percentages and subtract from 100% – that will give you the estimated carb content of the recipe.

Ideally, you want the carb content to be close to zero, but we’re generally happy with commercial diets that contain less than 10% estimated carbohydrate.

So, as long as a grain-free cat food is primarily meat-based and provides for your cat’s nutritional needs, there’s no reason not to choose it. You should always be checking the list of ingredients for red flags and do a quick calculation on estimated carbs to determine whether a product is worth considering.

Controversy And Misconceptions Surrounding Grain-Free Cat Food

Though there’s theoretically nothing wrong with grain-free cat food as long as it provides for your cat’s nutritional needs, there’s still a great deal of controversy and misinformation surrounding the issue.

Until recently, grain-free diets were primarily found in veterinary offices and marketed as specialty diets for cats with food allergies and certain health problems. During the early 2000s, low-carb and gluten-free diet fads became popular and, along with them, a rise in the popularity of grain-free diets for pets.

The million-dollar question is this: do cats need grain-free food? No.

It may be true that you won’t find a lion munching on grains in the wild, but grains can be used as a natural source of vitamins, minerals, and energy in a nutritionally-balanced commercial cat food recipe. As long as the recipe meets your cat’s needs for protein and doesn’t go overboard on carbohydrates, there’s nothing terribly wrong with it.

What About Cats With Food Allergies?

If your cat is allergic to grains, a grain-free diet is certainly a better choice than the alternative. That being said, food allergies are rarer in pets than the general public seems to believe. Also, grain allergies are less common than allergies to animal proteins like chicken, beef, and fish.

Common symptoms of food allergies in cats include itchy skin, hair loss, and digestive issues. If your cat is exhibiting these symptoms, talk to your veterinarian and consider an elimination diet using a limited ingredient or single-source novel protein recipe.

Do Grain-Free Diets Cause Heart Disease?

In July of 2018, the FDA announced the launch of an investigation into reports of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in pets following grain-free diets. It’s worth noting, however, that the diets in question contained a high proportion of peas, lentils, legumes, and potatoes. As a group, these are referred to as ‘BEG’ diets: boutique, exotic, or grain-free.

DCM is uncommon in dogs overall, but large-breed dogs have an increased risk of developing the condition. DCM is fairly rare in cats.

The concern is that the FDA received a significant number of reports of DCM for dog breeds that weren’t previously known to possess a genetic predisposition for the disease. In response to customer complaints, the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine collaborated with the Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network to investigate the claims.

The FDA issued several updates over the course of the next two years, but no definitive link between grain-free diets and DCM in dogs could be identified.

In September 2020, the FDA issued another update regarding a study involving 150 dogs diagnosed with DCM in an attempt to identify potential causative factors. The results showed that DCM is a complex issue with multiple potential variables, including breed, age, weight, and more. Dietary changes were not judged responsible for dogs that experienced full or partial recovery.

In other words, the analysis revealed no definitive relationship between grain-free and legume-rich diets and the incidence of DCM.

What About Taurine Deficiency?

Taurine is an essential amino acid. Deficiency in this nutrient is a well-documented potential cause for DCM. In conducting their analysis, the FDA tested for taurine deficiency, but the majority of dogs diagnosed with DCM in relationship with grain-free diets were not found to be deficient.

Furthermore, taurine is derived from animal sources and not grains, so the concern that grain-free diets might contribute to taurine deficiency is unfounded.

Ultimately, when it comes to the subject of grain-free diets for cats, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

It’s important to remember that grain-free diets are primarily a marketing tool used by pet food manufacturers – the incidence of grain allergies in cats is actually fairly low. Though cats require animal-based sources for the majority of their nutrition, they have some ability to metabolize high-quality carbohydrates like whole grains and vegetables.

Remember as well that many grain-free diets are actually higher in carbohydrates than their grain-inclusive counterparts.

Note: The values in our nutrient charts are automatically calculated based on the guaranteed analysis and may not represent typical nutrient values. This may lead to discrepancies between the charts and the values mentioned in the body of the review.
small mallory photo

About Mallory Crusta

Mallory is an NAVC-certified Pet Nutrition Coach. Having produced and managed multimedia content across several pet-related domains, Mallory is dedicated to ensuring that the information on Cats.com is accurate, clear, and engaging. When she’s not reviewing pet products or editing content, Mallory enjoys skiing, hiking, and trying out new recipes in the kitchen. She has two cats, Wessie and Forest.

17 thoughts on “The 12 Best Grain Free Cat Foods”

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  1. Brittany

    Would you give feedback on specific food? I am getting a kitten and want gluten-free food (I’m celiac). I’ve settled on Blue Buffalo Freedom Indoor Kitten Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Dry Cat Food for now. What are your thoughts?

    Reply
    1. small mallory photoMallory Crusta Post author

      Hey Brittany, definitely!

      I’ve taken a quick look at that particular recipe. Overall, it’s a decent grain-free dry food but not ideal. On the positive side, it’s primarily made from relatively high-quality animal ingredients, doesn’t contain any by-products or artificial additives, and it contains some added probiotics for digestive health. But at the same time, the food’s heavy on legumes and carbohydrate sources in general, meaning that it could increase your cat’s chances of developing diabetes over time. Additionally, dry foods may put cats of any age at an increased risk of chronic dehydration and urinary tract issues.

      I’d recommend a high-moisture, low-carbohydrate food instead. For example, you might consider Blue Buffalo’s Healthy Gourmet Kitten Chicken Entree paté.

  2. Luna Zane

    Why is Blue Buffalo your top pick when it only got a C rating but Purina Beyond scored higher with a B. Also, under the Blue you list a positive as having Sweet Potato but it’s not an ingredient. Under Beyond you list the one Con as having to do with Blue. Beyond does have a sweet potato variety but I don’t think Blue does.

    Reply
    1. small mallory photoMallory Crusta Post author

      Hello Luna, good observations! This is an older article and in need of some refreshing. We plan to update this article soon so that it reflects the We’re All About Cats Standard. If you’re interested in good grain-free foods, you might like our newer guide to the best cat food on the market.

    2. Misty

      Hi, under Purina ProPlan Canned you said what you like about it is that it has no gluten corn or by products then list the ingredients, the 1st four are, Chicken, Corn Gluten Meal, liver and meat by products.

      Alot of ingredients listed in dry foods of products you promote as good have By-Products, meat Meal, Soybean Meal, Beef Fat Naturally Preserved With Mixed-Tocopherols, Whole Grain Corn, Powdered Cellulose, Soybean Hulls, Liver Flavor, Salt, Caramel Color. No cats should be fed with food containing any of those ingredients in dry or wet food and no carrageenan in wet foods.

      The first 3 ingredients should always be meat not water, grains, gluten, flour, By-Products from any animal or animal meals.

      Purina is in the top 10 worst food.

    3. small mallory photoMallory Crusta Post author

      Hi there Misty! That doesn’t sound right at all. I’ve reviewed the article and it looks like it’s in need of an update as soon as possible. Thank you for pointing these issues out to us.
      Best,
      Mallory

  3. Kevin Lippincott

    Have 2 cats – male approx. 3 years old, and a 7 1/2 month old kitten female… Each have their own wet and dry foods (he’s on a prescription dry because of his teeth and jaw). I’m looking for the best dry, grain free kitten food for her and best grain free wet for both

    You can email me directly as well

    Thank you

    Reply
    1. small mallory photoMallory Crusta Post author

      Hello Kevin, here are my recommendations for your two cats:

      Best Grain-Free Kitten Food

    2. Nature’s Variety Instinct Original Grain-Free Kitten Recipe with Real Chicken
    3. Simply Nourish Source Chicken and Turkey Kitten Food
    4. As for good grain-free wet foods, I’d recommend taking a look at our list of the best wet cat food on the market. All of them are grain-free and some are formulated for all life stages, meaning that they’ll be perfect for both of your kitties.

  4. Divine

    Purina Pro Plan (all Purina products) should be excluded from any quality pet food reviews, for these ingredients listed…
    WHEAT GLUTEN, MEAT BY-PRODUCTS (slaughterhouse floor scrapings?), CORN STARCH, ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS, SOY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, And what cat needs ADDED COLOR? Shame, shame Purina.
    Purina is garbage crammed in a can or dried and bagged and sold 100X its actual cost.
    Not mad at you, and maybe you got some kickback from them, so can’t blame you for making a bit of cash. You can let them know how much negative response you got. I worked with animal feed products. Wouldn’t take Purina products if they gave them to me free.

    Reply
    1. J. M.

      I just notified the purina company today. I’ve fed purina cat chow to my cats for years. But lately my indoor cats and outdoor ones, all have been throwing it up! Haven’t seen any recalls but I’m actively looking for a new dry food, not Purina! Thanks for your info.

  5. Zue

    Hello!

    I live in another country, but I use this web for research about cat food, my cat is allergic to grains and chicken, she eat Pure Vita Grain Free, but I’m checking anothers brands and know I don’t know what is the best brand for dry food grain fre.

    In my country, I can buy Orijen Six Fish, Taste of Wild Grain Free, Pure Vita Grain Free, Victor Grain Free, Nutrience Grain Free and Hill’s Prescription Diet Skin Sensitive food, from these all brands, wich is the best for my Cat?

    Thanks for yours comments

    Reply
    1. small mallory photoMallory Crusta Post author

      Hello Zue, thanks for the comment. I would lean towards Orijen or Pure Vita as the two best options from that list, and I’m leaning towards Pure Vita out of those. As you may know, Pure Vita has put a lot of effort into creating truly allergy-safe foods, and they’re one of the brands I’d trust most for cats with allergies and sensitivities.

  6. Nancy Madden

    Hi Brittany. The Instinct brand has started making ,manufacturing their wet cat foods
    in Thailand.
    My cat was eating the Instinct Chicken
    canned food, and the Instinct Limited
    Ingredient Turkey for years., made in USA .
    I noticed the smell and consistency had
    changed , my cat stopped eating both,
    and then I noticed Product of Thailand
    on the label.
    My cat absolutely won’t eat either Instinct
    products now, sniffs and walks away.
    I can tell the difference when I open
    the can, and it’s not good.
    People should be aware of this change,
    which was fairly recent, in Oct 2022.,
    and unannounced, as far as I know.

    Reply
  7. Darlene Miiconi

    It seems to me the author of this article is not a pet food nutritionist, an expert, or even knowledgeable about the basic and numerous ingredients that have been pointed out to her by the readers of her article as being bad, even deadly to cats. She states that this is an older article in need of an update. REALLY?? That is her excuse for lacking even the basic knowledge of pet food ingredients. Research into many of the ingredients commonly used in cat food has been going on since the 1940s. And as many have done above, a simple and basic internet or library search will give you information on every ingredient these pet food companies are using.
    The changes we are seeing in pet foods are mainly due to consumer demand. That is us, the pet owners demanding better quality ingredients for our pets.
    This list above may not contain grains, but some do contain ingredients such as potato starch, legumes- such as peas and garbanzo beans (which are known to lead to cancer due to the lectin they contain), “natural flavoring”- which is not a regulated term so it could be anything; Guar Gum a plant-based binder, is known to cause diabetes, & inflammatory bowel disease in both cats and dogs with sensitive tummies; Agar Agar, red seaweed is also a filler and binding agent that also can lead to IBD, constipation and other sensitivity issues with the GI tract-tummy, and the list goes on. I can think of better foods that do not contain any of these ingredients that are not on this list. That leaves me wondering if they are sponsors of the website and that is why they made it to the list, hmmm.
    Also, yes, as one commenter pointed out, cats are not omnivores, but in the wild, they consume prey that is omnivores, so they do eat plant materials via the prey they eat. Adding for example carrots to your cat food is more for the fiber and vitamins they contain that they would get from the prey they consume in the wild or the occasional grass nibbling all cats do to aid in their digestion.
    Pet food is a huge money making industry, and some companies only see a profit and are willing to play word games when listing the actual ingredients their products contain such as the word Natural instead of Organic. One is not interchangeable with the other but not all consumers know that and many companies use that to their advantage.
    Thankfully the consumer is becoming smarter, better self-educated, and is demanding they cleanup their products. Companies with strong ethical mission statements and priorities are the ones who will come out on top.

    Reply
    1. Carolina

      Hi, Darlene,
      This is a wonderful and balanced, well-informed reply.
      I feel exhausted from spending hours on doing my research, then realising that the recommended brands -such as the ones stated on this article- are still not good.
      Can you please provide any suggestions?
      All I want is high-protein, zero grain, tasty dry food for my cat.
      She’s 3 years old and has been on Hill’s Digestive dry food, by recommendation of the vet, since she was a kitten (due to tummy sensitivity).
      She weights 5 kilos and the Vet says she needs to lose 1, but still insists on Hill’s Digestive being the best.
      My cat only likes dry food (but drinks plenty of water).
      Any brand suggestions would be highly appreciated.
      Thanks!
      Carolina

  8. Cat dietician by necessity

    Ok. I’m not wealthy (a fixed-income senior trying to survive the Fed’s insanity) and all I want is a dry cat food that I can afford as well as one that is AVAILABLE because it doesn’t help if I can’t buy it!… I supplement with wet food in small amounts. My VERY fuzzy Ragdoll needs hairball control food. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    1. small mallory photoMallory Crusta Post author

      Hi there! Considering that hairball control foods generally contain added fiber, you may find that any budget-friendly dry food will do as long as you add a good fiber supplement. Kirkland’s dry cat food can be a good option.