Cat Food Basics…

CAT FOOD BASICS:
Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they require nutrients that are found ONLY in animal tissue. Cats need tons of protein and have no need for carbohydrates in their diets. Carbs basically just make cats fat and cause diseases, but dry cat foods are loaded with carbs because they help the kibble stick together in the manufacturing process. Canned foods are all very low in carbohydrates. Canned foods also have the added benefit of forcing your cat to consume more water, which is great because many of the most common cat diseases are improved by increasing water intake (kidney disease, UTIs, blockages, crystals, etc.).

So here are the criteria for a good cat food:

  • High Protein
  • Low in Carbohydrates
  • High in Moisture
  • High-Quality Ingredients

If we’re looking at just carbohydrates and protein, canned food is better than dry food. Even the cheapest grocery store generic canned food is better than 99% of dry foods. Canned food is more expensive and less convenient, so to keep things simple, there are separate lists for canned foods and dry foods. The brands are primarily ranked on nutrient makeup (carbs & protein), and then bumped down a notch or two for containing low-quality ingredients.

For brands in this list, if one company makes grain-free and non-grain-free foods, you can usually assume that their grain-free food is at least marginally better (lower carbs, higher protein). You can also assume that any formula labeled “light, diet, weight control, or indoor” is at least marginally worse (higher carbs) than the regular stuff from the same brand.

Some flavors of food are significantly better than other flavors of the same brand. There is a huge amount of variation. If you want more detailed and accurate information, post in this thread and we’d be happy to help you choose.

CAT FOOD BRANDS

Premium Canned Foods — These foods are very low in carbohydrates and very high in protein. They also use excellent ingredients (no corn, soy, byproducts, or anything like that). Generally <15% of the calories in these foods come from carbohydrates, which is what your cat is designed to eat.

Blue Buffalo
By Nature (95% Meat formulas)
California Naturals
Chicken Soup
Innova
Innova EVO
Merrick
Nature’s Variety Instinct
Solid Gold
Wellness

Good Canned Foods — These foods are mostly a little higher in carbs and a little lower in protein, or they use some lower-quality ingredients in relatively small amounts. But they’re still very good foods and better than most dry foods.

Authority
Avoderm
By Nature Organics
Fresh Pet
Natural Balance
Nature’s Variety Prairie
Nutro
Organix
Pinnacle
Purina Pro Plan (regular & Selects)
Royal Canin
Taste of the Wild

Acceptable Canned Foods — These foods are mostly still better than dry foods in terms of nutrients, but many of them use byproducts, corn, and soy as protein sources. They may also use artifical presevatives/colors, menadione, and other low-quality ingredients. How good these foods are varies A LOT from flavor to flavor. If you have to feed these foods, I recommend that you 1) look at these two charts (here and here) and choose flavors with the biggest numbers in the protein column and the smallest numbers in the carb column, and 2) read the ingredient labels and pick the flavors with the least awful ingredients. You should also know that most of these “cheaper” canned foods contain significantly more water than the premium foods, which means you may not be saving as much money as you think. For example, if you compare the cost based on calories (instead of ounces), many Fancy Feast flavors are more expensive than Wellness.

By Nature Goldleaf Selects
Fancy Feast
Friskies
9-Lives
Science Diet
Sophisticat
Special Kitty
Whiskas

Next, Dry Foods. In case you missed this before, CANNED FOOD IS BETTER THAN DRY FOOD FOR CATS.

Good Dry Foods — These are the few dry foods that are almost as good as canned food (in terms of being low in carbs and high in protein). If it weren’t for the fact that they lack moisture, these would be equivalent to Premium or Good canned foods. These foods are also extremely dense in terms of calories per cup of food, so many cats will eat 1/3-1/2 cups a day or less. In short, you’re getting more bang for your buck.
(For example, if you compare the costs based on calories (instead of lbs or kgs), Solid Gold Indigo Moon is cheaper than A LOT of dry foods, including Purina, lots of grocery store crap, and almost every food on the Acceptable list. These foods are expensive by the pound, but they really only cost $6-12 per month to feed an average sized cat.)

Innova EVO
Nature’s Variety Instinct
Orijen
Solid Gold Indigo Moon
Wellness Core

Acceptable Dry Foods— These foods use good ingredients, but they’re too high in carbohydrates and/or too low in protein. Nutritionally, they’re not as good as almost any canned food, but you could do a LOT worse. (These are mostly in the range of 25-30% carbohydrates; there are almost no canned foods this high in carbohydrates.)

Acana
Before Grain (Merrick)
Blue Buffalo
California Naturals
Chicken Soup
Halo/Spot’s Stew
Felidae
Healthwise
Innova
Nature’s Variety Prarie
Pinnacle
Solid Gold Katz-N-Flocken
Taste of the Wild (Rocky Mountain Formula)
Wellness (formulas other than “Core”)

Poor Dry Foods — These aren’t quite as bad as the Awful Dry Foods, but they’re close. These foods either have decent ingredients but huge amounts of carbohydrates, OR they have awful ingredients and moderate amounts of carbohydrates . Most of these are also pretty overpriced for what you’re getting.

Authority
By Nature
Drs Foster & Smith
Eagle Pack
Eukanuba
Flint River Ranch
Natural Balance
Natural Ultramix
Nutro
Organix
Purina Pro Plan (regular & Selects)
Royal Canin
Taste of the Wild (Canyon River Formula)
Wysong

Awful Dry Foods — These foods are the worst – awful ingredients and tons of carbs. They’re loaded with corn, soy, and byproducts. Many of these contain the minimum amount of protein required to be legally labeled “cat food”. Many contain more carbohydrates than protein, which is a recipe for greasy, obese, diabetic cats.

Fancy Feast
Friskies
Iams
Meow Mix
9-Lives
Purina Cat Chow
Purina ONE
Science Diet
Sophisticat
Special Kitty
Tender Vittles
Whiskas