The 9 Best Grain-Free Cat Foods
This wiki has been updated 26 times since it was first published in March of 2016. If your feline friend has a sensitive digestive tract, skin conditions, or allergies, you may want to try one of these grain-free foods to help address the problem and improve its overall health. The options on this list come in an abundance of different flavors and formulations, so there's something for every cat, old or young, and whether they scarf meals down or are picky eaters. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
July 08, 2021:
One previous selection from Crave proved to be not very popular with picky cats and has been discontinued. You'll also have a hard time finding bulk Nutro grain-free varieties, so that one's also been removed. In their place we've added Nutro Perfect Portions. This popular wet food brand comes in so many flavors that we'd be very surprised if there weren't a few your cat loves. It's not cheap, but for wet food it's actually reasonably priced. The rest of our recommendations remain the same.
March 19, 2020:
Like humans, each cat has different nutritional needs and its own habits, so we wanted to make sure our list presented foods for nearly every feline out there, young and old, indoor and outdoor.
Since chewing on kibble is important for dental health, we made sure to have a few dry varieties on here. Natural Balance L.I.D. Green Pea & Venison is a limited-ingredient food, so it can be a smart choice for pets with sensitive stomachs. Nature's Variety Instinct Rawboost Chicken combines freeze-dried chicken pieces and kibble, so it might entice a picky pet who usually won't go near the dry stuff. Merrick Purrfect Bistro Salmon & Sweet Potato has, as its name promises, a healthy and flavorful carbohydrate that offers vitamins and fiber for healthy digestion. Nutro Duck & Potato has yucca extract, which can minimize waste odor, making cleaning kitty litter a bit more pleasant.
If you're looking to spoil your furry friend with something really tasty, Avoderm Natural Entree Chicken and Duck, which has hydrating gravy, is a good pick. Households with multiple cats who have diverse palates might like Weruva Cats in The Kitchen Cuties Variety Pack, because it has four different recipes.
Felines who prefer recipes of the fish variety, and pet owners who appreciate the heart-healthy benefits of such food, may like Solid Gold Five Oceans Mackerel & Tuna and Blue Buffalo Blue Wilderness Wild Delights, the latter of which has trout and chicken.
A few foods lost their spot on our list. Purina Pro Plan True Nature unfortunately gives many sensitive cats an upset stomach so it had to go. Nutro Wild Frontier doesn't have the pure and limited ingredients list we like to recommend for this category, so it also lost its place, and Earth Farms has a chunky consistency that many pets seem to find distasteful.
October 18, 2018:
Edited to minimize redundancy in product / image selection and descriptions, as well as to emphasize variety in terms of flavor profiles, nutrient composition, and textures, including dry kibbles, canned chunks in gravy, moist food pouches, and single-serve pâtés.
A Brief History Of Cat Food
Almost all of these early cat foods were of the wet variety, and most were made of different types of chopped fish.
Cats were originally domesticated in large part because they're so adept at finding and catching their own meals, so the idea of store-bought cat food is relatively new.
In fact, the entire reason that feeding cats initially became commonplace is the notion that it could make them better hunters. In 1837, the French writer Mauny de Mornay suggested that serving cats a steady diet would keep them supple and lithe, allowing them to be more proficient at sneaking up on rodents. Ill-fed felines, he surmised, would be too tired and sickly to catch anything.
In 1876, Spratt's, one of the first manufacturers of dog biscuits, also became the first company to produce commercial cat food. The brand's big hook was that their cat food was healthier than boiled horse flesh. Their slogan was actually a reference to "cat's meat men," itinerant salesmen who sold boiled horse meat out of carts on the street.
Almost all of these early cat foods were of the wet variety, and most were made of different types of chopped fish. As a result, they were more popular in coastal areas, where you could be more certain that your furry little friend would be served a fresher catch.
As with so many other industries, though, everything changed when WWII broke out. Since pet food was considered a non-essential good, fresh meat became harder to find, and the metal for the cans was reserved for other purposes. Dry kibble, which could keep for longer even when stored in paper bags, became the definitive food form for both cats and dogs.
Manufacturers were intent on bolstering the popularity of dry kibble even after the war was over, as it was cheaper to produce and allowed them to make use of meat by-products. Today, dry food outsells its wet counterpart by a healthy margin, but many vets recommend feeding your feline a mixture of both. This is because the kibble is good for their teeth, while wet food tends to have more of the vitamins and minerals they need to stay healthy.
Regardless of what you give your cat, one thing's for certain: if you don't feed him enough, he won't have the energy required to hide his dead mice in your shoes every morning.
Why Go Grain-Free?
Before we get started discussing the merits of a grain-free diet, it's important to know one thing about your cat: he's a carnivore. While dogs can enjoy a diet filled with fruits and vegetables, cats need meat — it's filled with important nutrients and amino acids like taurine that they can't produce on their own.
That's also the linchpin of the grain-free argument. It's theorized that, since cats didn't evolve to eat things like corn or wheat, they shouldn't be forced to consume it now, and indeed, some cats suffer from grain allergies or otherwise have difficulties digesting the stuff. If that sounds familiar, then by all means consider going grain-free.
Another reason many people oppose feeding their pets grains is that those ingredients usually serve as cheap fillers in dry food.
Another reason many people oppose feeding their pets grains is that those ingredients usually serve as cheap fillers in dry food. Meat is expensive, whereas corn and wheat are not, so if you can convince cats to eat food filled with grist, it will save the manufacturer (and the pet owner) money. It's the feline equivalent of filling up on bread at a steakhouse.
All that grain comes at a price, though: more evil carbs. Kibble loaded with fillers will be less satisfying than food packed with meat, so the cat will have to eat more to get full. As a result, you really need to watch those portion sizes, because feline obesity — while cute — is extremely unhealthy. Make sure they get plenty of exercise to offset those calories by investing in toys or a cat tree as well.
Ultimately, going grain-free will likely be healthier (especially if your cat's allergic), but it will also be more expensive. Whether or not the benefits will outweigh the costs is a decision to be made in conjunction with your vet.
Just don't tell your cat you're eliminating carbs from his diet, because if Garfield has taught us anything, it's that getting between a cat and his beloved lasagna could be hazardous to your health.
How to Pick a High-Quality Cat Food
Many pet-food labels are made in such a way as to mislead you into thinking you're feeding your buddy a healthier diet than you truly are — and it can be difficult to determine exactly what you're really giving him to eat. Here are a few things to keep in mind when searching for the perfect food.
If it's a pâté, the listed ingredients only have to make up 25 percent of the food.
For starters, you should know that if a manufacturer claims that their food contains a single ingredient or mix of foods, then that ingredient had better make up at least 95 percent of what's inside. So, if it says it's pure turkey, the food has to be 95 percent turkey by law. If it's a pâté, the listed ingredients only have to make up 25 percent of the food. Meanwhile, if all it says is that it's flavored with a certain meat, then it merely has to contain trace amounts.
Next, look at the nutritional information. Specifically, you're looking at the percentage of protein versus carbohydrates. You want to make sure that your pet is getting mostly meat, so a higher amount of protein is a must. This also means that the meat should be one of the first ingredients listed.
If you're not sure what to buy, or if all that label-reading is making you go cross-eyed, then keep it simple and ask your vet for a recommendation. After all, the most important thing to remember is that, once you find the perfect, healthy food for your cat, he'll absolutely refuse to eat it.