In addition to high-quality protein sources and nutritious animal protein by-products like liver and other organ meats, you may find grains on your food’s ingredient list—and that’s perfectly acceptable for your cat’s diet. Dr. Simpson says. “Grains and corn are often misrepresented as pet food fillers; however, these ingredients are actually good sources of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and fiber,” she explains, adding that, though cats are obligate carnivores, they can digest the carbohydrates found in conventional cat foods.
How do I choose between the different types of cat food?
“Factors like age, breed, and health can certainly play a role when selecting the right consistency of food for your cat, as do their personal preferences,” Dr. Simpson says. On one hand, dry cat food, like kibble, comes in an array of shapes and textures, and can help with dental concerns like tartar control. Plus, pet owners on a budget and low on time may like that dry food tends to be more convenient to feed and less expensive than wet cat food.
On the other hand, wet food has a higher moisture content, which can be beneficial for cats who need more hydration in their diets like those with diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and lower urinary tract disease, Dr. Simpson says. She also notes that the consistency of wet food, which ranges from pates to stews, is easier for cats with fewer teeth to chew. You can even mix a little dry and a little wet food together if your cat doesn’t seem to like the texture of just one.
What not to feed your cat?
Outside of standard dry, moist, and wet cat foods, Dr. Simpson cautions cat owners against feeding cats all-raw or homemade diets. The former, she explains, offers no benefits over regular commercial cat food in terms of nutritional needs, and can even lead to nutritional deficiencies and food-borne illnesses. Meanwhile, the latter also puts cats at risk of deficiencies. If you’re interested in making your cat’s food at home, Dr. Simpson recommends getting in touch with a veterinary nutritionist through the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.
Speaking of getting in touch with an expert, that is the best route to take if you’re completely unsure what might be, say, the best dry cat food or canned food for your kitty. “With hundreds of different brands and potentially misleading advertising and online information, it can be confusing and frustrating to choose the best diet for your cat,” Dr. Simpson says. “The best way to choose an appropriate diet is to ask your veterinarian for a recommendation.”
The best vet-recommended cat food to try
With that in mind, there’s no way we could feature every single healthy, protein-rich cat food brand on the market right now, but with the guidelines referenced by Dr. Simpson (and some help from the internet’s most enthusiastic reviewers), we’ve highlighted some of the best cat food brands for you to try below.
It’s no coincidence that foods from Hill’s Science Diet—and Hill’s Prescription Diet, the brand’s arm that addresses health concerns like sensitive stomachs, urinary tract issues, and maintaining a healthy weight—regularly appear on the shelves at vets’ offices. This brand is a standard-bearer when it comes to AAFCO- and WSAVA-compliant foods, and it employs over 200 scientists at its Global Pet Nutrition Center.
Another favorite among veterinarians, Royal Canin’s in-house team of veterinarians and nutritionists puts all of its meals through an extensive development process before presenting them to customers. Among its special offerings you can find kitten food and meals made especially for older and senior cats, plus recipes rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for shinier coats.
For science-backed recipes packed with healthy proteins and carbs that won’t put a huge dent in your wallet, Purina Pro Plan is an excellent choice. From indoor cats to senior cats to cats that are prone to hairballs, this brand’s offerings have an option that’ll keep your cat well-fed and healthy. Purina One, a less expensive alternative from the same brand, doesn’t offer as many health-specific recipes, but will still provide your cat with a balanced diet.
Merrick is a standout among pet food brands for its team of nutritional experts, company-run canneries and factories, and its enduring dedication to making foods free of artificial flavors, preservatives, or fillers. Its Purrfect Bistro line of cat foods contains all the necessary vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, and fiber that a happy, healthy cat needs. And the line features salmon, beef, and chicken recipes that are made to promote hairball control and healthy skin and coats.
This brand isn’t on the same name-recognition level as, say, Purina, but its nutritional chops put it on the map all the same. In the name of continued advancement in pet nutrition, Farmina’s Vet Research team works with independent vets to develop its recipes. Said recipes contain ingredients sourced from heavily vetted farms and producers, so you can trust your cat is enjoying healthy, high-quality meals.
With premium ingredients packed and an ever-expanding in-house Health and Nutrition Advisory Board, VetDiet’s mission is true to its name, producing meals that prioritize your cat’s health and wellness. This 25-year-old, family-run company has delicious meals made for all life stages (from kittens to older cats), and for specific needs like immune system support and weight control. It even makes healthy cat treats, for when your cat has been an especially good girl or boy (in other words, always).
Nature’s Logic was founded on the value of whole-food nutrition, meaning its products don’t contain added synthetic ingredients—all the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients your cat needs come from meats, veggies, and healthy carbs. For quality control and contamination prevention, the brand directly purchases or approves all of its ingredient sources, and it tests every batch of food that come out of its U.S.-based manufacturing locations.
Earthborn Holistic’s cat foods are made in the U.S. out of its own kitchens and factories, which have been family-run for almost 100 years, since the brand’s founding. It offers both whole-grain and grain-free dry cat food, as well as grain- and gluten-free wet food made with hearty proteins like chicken liver. Across the board, its foods feature animal protein sources like salmon, chicken, duck, and beef as their first ingredient.