The best natural and holistic cat foods are those that most closely resemble a predator’s diet of meat, blood, bones, and organs.
All the foods on our list of the top 5 best natural and holistic foods are high in animal protein, low in carbohydrates, and made without artificial ingredients.
Natural. Holistic. Human Grade. Organic. Real.
Words like ‘natural,’ ‘holistic,’ and ‘premium’ lack regulatory definitions and primarily exist to make the food look like a virtuous choice. If marketers knew shoppers would buy it, these foods would be labeled “really good” or “the best cat food ever.”
Thirty years ago, the most desirable pet foods were scientifically formulated and expertly balanced for optimal nutrition. The best cat food was the one you imagined being formulated in a sterile lab and made by a scientist in a white lab coat. Cat food shelves buzzed with words and phrases like “complete,” “optimal performance,” and “veterinarian recommended.”
But now we’re going back to nature and it’s all about ancestrally-inspired food. Behind the recycled packaging and pictures of exotic-looking cats, most natural and holistic foods are no better than the rest.
At a Glance: Our Top Picks for Best Holistic Cat Food To Buy
Want a quick look at the products reviewed in this article? In the comparison table below, we’ve highlighted some of the most important features of each product. You’ll find more detailed information about each product later in the article.
- No plant protein
- Single-source animal protein
- Extremely low in carbohydrates
- A species-appropriate, meat-based recipe
- Rich in protein
- Low in carbohydrates
- Rich in animal protein
- You can choose the moisture content
- Supplemented with probiotics to promote healthy digestion
What Is Natural And Holistic Cat Food?
There’s little regulation backing up the use of the word ‘natural’ on a cat food label. According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, the word indicates that the ingredients haven’t been chemically altered. That means that almost all foods qualify for the ‘natural’ distinction.
The word is primarily used to give you the impression that a given food is morally superior to other products. It says nothing about the quality, nutritive value, or species-appropriateness of the ingredients behind the label. A natural cat food product can be a stellar, ultra-digestible formula, or it could be junk food.
What Does Holistic Really Mean?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘holistic’ as “relating to or concerned with wholes or with complete systems rather than with the analysis of, treatment of, or dissection into parts.”
The fundamental premise behind true holistic foods, aside from the fact that they exploit a marketing buzzword, is the idea that food is most nourishing in its natural state. Humans are smart, but they’re not smart enough to fully understand the intricacies of whole-food nutrition.
Instead of parsing nutrition into synthetically-replicable levels of minerals and macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, proteins), holistic foods assume that every part of a whole food is essential—including those components humans aren’t yet aware of.
Cats naturally get all their nutrition from whole, fresh, and uncooked animals. Meat loses some of these nutritive qualities when it’s cooked, and most meat is much more expensive than fruits and vegetables.
For this reason, holistic cat foods often contain excessive amounts of whole-plant ingredients.
Instead of taking the traditional scientific approach and providing key nutrients through synthetic supplements, a holistic food may incorporate whole foods as sources of these nutrients. For example, while typical cat foods might provide precise levels of synthetic beta carotene, the holistic cat food manufacturer may choose sweet potatoes and carrots as whole-food nutrient vehicles. Note that cats require preformed vitamin A from animal sources. They cannot form it from plant-sourced beta carotene.
Cats survive and thrive on nothing but their prey—raw meat, bones, and organs.
Unlike dogs, cats retain the same carnivorous dietary needs that earned them a place in human society thousands of years ago.
If you take another definition of holistic—“characterized by the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the physical symptoms of a disease”—a holistic cat food should nourish your cat emotionally as well as physically.
Qualities of the Best Natural and Holistic Cat Food
Our domesticated cats’ ancestors thrived on fresh, raw meat. However, until pet stores and groceries start selling live mice, birds, and squirrels in the cat food department, it’s impossible to buy an authentically ancestral cat diet.
Everything on the market is in some way a facsimile of those needs, ranging from almost-perfect prey model raw foods to plant-based kibble, which relies heavily on synthetic supplements to achieve complete and balanced status.
Here are a few indicators of a high-quality natural and holistic cat food.
It’s Rich In Animal Protein.
Cats thrive on nourishing, high-quality protein from animal sources. Look for foods that emphasize animal ingredients and avoid those containing protein-rich plant ingredients like pea protein and corn gluten meal. These create the illusion of adequate protein content, but they’re less digestible for cats than muscle meat and organs.
It’s Low In Carbohydrates.
As obligate carnivores, cats have virtually zero requirement for carbohydrates. Excessive carbohydrate content contributes to diabetes and weight gain.
Having evolved as desert animals, cats have adapted to obtain most of their hydration from their food, not from a water bowl. Dry cat food is, by design, very low in moisture and can lead to chronic dehydration. It is ideal to choose a wet, hydrating food with at least 75% water content.
It’s Free From Potentially Harmful Additives.
The manufacturers of holistic foods are intentional about ensuring that their foods are free from artificial ingredients, including those listed below:
- Ethoxyquin, BHA, and BHT. These preservatives have been linked to organ disease, cancer, and skin problems. Instead, look for mixed tocopherols, which are natural forms of vitamin E that are sourced from foods like nuts and seeds. Mixed tocopherols are an effective natural preservative found in most cat food products today.
- Artificial colors. There are indications that some artificial colors may cause health issues in humans and animals.
- Carrageenan. This seaweed-derived ingredient is a thickener and binding agent used in many canned cat foods. It may increase inflammation and is a suspected carcinogen. Look for foods that contain agar-agar or guar gum in lieu of carrageenan. Better yet, opt for a food made without any thickeners.
There has not yet been extensive scientific research on the health effects of these artificial ingredients in pet food. Consider speaking to your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist if you are wary about cat foods containing these ingredients.
Finally, a quick note about raw foods. Although raw food diets have become very popular in the pet food world, raw meats carry the risk of foodborne disease because they may contain disease-causing bacteria like E. coli. Speak with your veterinarian if you want to feed to your cat a holistic, raw food diet.
Our Top Picks for the Best Natural and Holistic Cat Foods
Now that you have a better understanding of how we came to our top picks, you’re probably eager to see them! Here are our top 5 picks for the best natural and holistic cat foods:
Here are our top picks for the best natural and holistic cat foods you should consider: