Best Cat Food for 2018 : 11 Brands We Think Are Tops

The Top-Rated Dry, Wet, Frozen & Fresh Human Grade Foods For Adult Cats in 2018

Like all animals, pets, and even people, cats are individuals. That means that there’s never going to be a single “best” cat food that is appropriate for every cat.

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Cat foods are made for different life stages (kitten, adult), for cats with health issues, for cats that are more active or sedentary, for indoor cats and outdoor cats, and so on. Different cats have different nutritional needs. To some extent, different pet food companies have different philosophies and approaches to how they make food. It’s not always about just making money either. A lot of people work for pet food companies because they honestly love animals.

Regardless of health or age it’s true that a large contingent of cats fall into an average range where there aren’t a lot of special considerations an owner needs to make outside of budget. Our recommendations for the best cat food on this page are catered to that group of pet owners who value quality above all else.

Quick Look : Top 4 Best Cat Foods By Type

TypeFoodPriceRating
DryWellness CORE Grain-Free Chicken, Turkey & Chicken Meal Dry Cat FoodWellness CORE Grain-Free Chicken, Turkey & Chicken Meal Dry Cat Food
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$3.28/lb5 stars
CannedNature's Variety Instinct Grain Free Chicken FormulaNature’s Variety Instinct Grain Free Chicken Canned Cat Food
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$2.10/5.5 oz can5 stars
Freeze-DriedThe Honest Kitchen Grace Dehydrated Cat FoodThe Honest Kitchen Grace Dehydrated Cat Food
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$.87/Ounce5 stars
Human GradeNom Nom Now Human Grade Cat FoodNomNomNow Human Grade Cat Food
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$.53/Ounce5 stars

On the other hand, many veterinarians, pet nutritionists, and researchers – the people who formulate cat foods – look at recipes and see nutrients. Cat lovers look at labels and see individual ingredients. They think about eating the ingredient themselves and imagine how Zeus the Cat would like it. So experts at a pet food company may firmly believe that X ingredient provides healthy, safe nutrition for your cat but when you see the ingredient listed on a label, you may balk. The FDA and AAFCO (Association of American Feed Officials) are often on the side of the pet food experts but when cat lovers/consumers make their feelings clear enough, pet food companies make changes. They will provide cat foods that cater to what their customers want. One of the ingredients that falls in this category would be meat and animal by-products. They used to be a common ingredient in many pet foods and experts believed that they provided good nutrition for pets. But as pet lovers became more educated about the sources of by-products and how they differed from whole meats and meat meals, many consumers balked at buying pet food that contained by-products. Today you rarely see them included in better quality cat foods.

There’s also sometimes a disconnect between what experts learn in school and what cat lovers, keeping up to date with the latest research, believe about cat nutrition. Cat nutritionists and cat lovers can agree that cats are obligate carnivores. They have to have meat in their diet for a variety of reasons. However, you will still find veterinary sites and other information sites online that explain why cats have to have carbohydrates. As you can imagine, this kind of information sends many cat lovers right over the edge!

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So, what’s the best food?

You have several choices when deciding on the best food for your cat. You can feed a homemade diet; or you can feed one of several kinds of commercial diets. Homemade diets can be either raw diets or cooked. Both formulations have their supporters and some drawbacks.

Commercial diets can be dry, wet (canned or pouches); or frozen or freeze-dried.

Before making any choice it’s important for you to consider any special needs that your cat has. Some dietary needs are harder to meet than others; and some are quite easy if you are willing to do a little research. If your cat has certain health problems you might be better off using a prescription formula cat food. The ingredients often look terrible (grains, high in carbs, by-products) but they often work well, in conjunction with your vet’s treatment. However, some health conditions respond as well, or better, to a homemade diet.

Determine your cat’s life stage – kitten, adult, or senior. If you have a kitten you want to be certain that he is having all of his nutritional needs met because he is growing at this age. Nutritional deficiencies or excesses at this age can have health effects later in life.

Senior cats can become picky eaters and many people have to add toppings or supplements to their older cats’ food to encourage them to eat. As cats get older their senses can get duller, including their senses of taste and smell, so food needs to be especially appealing for many older cats to keep them eating. Some older cats are chubby while others begin to lose muscle mass and weight so this is not a one-food-fits-all age. Senior cat foods that are low in calories are not always a good idea. Some cat foods for senior cats also have less protein – another bad idea. Many older cats need more protein because they can begin to have difficulty metabolizing nutrients, including protein, as they age.

After you have considered some of these factors, you can begin to decide if you would prefer a wet or dry, frozen/freeze-dried, or homemade diet for your cat.

Today’s common wisdom about cat foods

Here’s what most devoted cat lovers will tell you today about choosing the best cat food:

  • Wet foods are better than dry foods because cats need more moisture in their diets;
  • Choose a food that is high in animal/meat protein;
  • Look for foods with few plant-based ingredients, including plant-based proteins;
  • Do not buy cat food that contains grains;
  • Choose cat foods that are low in carbohydrates/starches;
  • Choose a food that is labeled complete and balanced under AAFCO guidelines.

Yes, we know that AAFCO has its critics, but these are minimum requirements. At least this is a place to start for a pet food manufacturer. Products that are labeled for intermittent or supplemental feeding are not adequate as your cat’s diet.

If you are in doubt about AAFCO’s guidelines for cat food, you can check these tables (Tables 4, 7, and 8) for cats and kittens.

Finally, most cat lovers today feel that the healthiest diets for cats are those that come close to imitating a cat’s natural diet. You probably don’t want to catch mice for your cat (though some people do – or buy frozen mice), but cat food that is less processed, with higher moisture, higher protein, moderate fat, and low carbohydrates is generally considered desirable for most cats today. This usually means that wet (canned) cat foods and raw/homemade diets are most preferred. However, it’s also important to consider your own personal lifestyle and budget. Not everyone has the time or resources to make raw or homemade diets for their cat. And you may prefer a dry food instead of a canned food for your own reasons.

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The cat’s natural diet

According to a 2011 presentation in The British Journal of Nutrition (“Estimation of the dietary nutrient profile of free-roaming feral cats: possible implications for nutrition of domestic cats,” by Esther A. Plantinga, Guido Bosch, and Wouter H. Hendriks, “The results show that feral cats are obligatory carnivores, with their daily energy intake from crude protein being 52 %, from crude fat 46 % and from N-free extract only 2 %.” These estimates coincide with earlier estimates from researchers. On a dry matter basis, the cat’s natural diet can be estimated as 72 – 78 percent moisture content, with protein, fat, and carbohydrates on a dry matter basis as 63 percent protein, 23 percent fat, and 2.8 percent carbohydrates.

Canned, raw/homemade diets come closest to replicating the cat’s natural diet. On a dry matter basis, it is not unusual to find canned food that is 65-75 percent (or more) moisture; and raw food diets can be 70 to 75 percent moisture. Cats are particularly prone to urinary health problems so diets that are high in moisture are usually recommended for their urinary tract health. Dry cat foods can have a moisture content between 10 and 12 percent, with some as low as 6 percent. Dry cat foods have many benefits for the cat owner – they are easy to store; they are less expensive per ounce; they are easier to schlep home than bags or cases or canned cat food; and a bag of cat food doesn’t spoil right after you open it, unlike a can of cat food. However, from a health perspective, many cat lovers feel that canned foods are a better choice for their cats because of the higher moisture content and for other reasons.

Best Dry Cat Foods

For this category we have chosen foods that are free of corn, wheat, and soy.

FoodPriceNutritionRating
Wellness CORE Grain-Free Chicken, Turkey & Chicken Meal Dry Cat FoodWellness CORE Grain-Free Chicken, Turkey & Chicken Meal Dry Cat Food
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$3.28/lbA+5 stars
Merrick Before Grain Chicken Formula DryMerrick Before Grain Chicken Formula Dry Cat Food
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$2.37/lbA5 star
Taste of the Wild Rocky Mountain Grain-Free Dry Cat FoodTaste of the Wild Rocky Mountain Grain-Free Dry Cat Food
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$2.07/lbA5 stars

Wellness CORE Grain-Free Chicken, Turkey & Chicken Meal Dry Cat Food

5-star
Buy Online : $3.28/lb
This Wellness CORE Grain-Free Cat Food is complete and balanced for cats in all life stages, offering a crude protein content of 38%, a crude fat content of 12%, and just 5% crude fiber. As a leader in premium pet foods Wellness CORE offers protein rich grain-free formulas that work for your cats health and your budget. This formula contains 62% premium meat and plant proteins with minimal carbohydrate content. For healthy fats, this recipe relies on chicken fat, a highly nutritious ingredient and a concentrated source of energy for cats. Carbohydrates included in this recipe are digestible beans and legumes as well as some fresh fruits and vegetables. These fresh fruits and veggies also act as natural sources for key nutrients which work together with the chelated minerals and vitamin supplements to ensure quality and balanced nutrition for all cats.

Merrick Before Grain Chicken Formula Dry

5-star
Buy Online : $2.37/lb
This Merrick Backcountry Game Bird Recipe Dry Food is a protein-rich, grain-free kibble that is infused with pieces of freeze-dried raw meat. This combination makes for a nutrient-rich and flavorful diet that any cat is sure to enjoy. The first five ingredients in this formula are deboned chicken, chicken meal, turkey meal, potatoes, and peas. These ingredients work together to provide a crude protein content of 42% and a crude fiber maximum of 4%. Because the main carbohydrates in this recipe are gluten-free and grain-free, this recipe offers excellent digestibility for cats – the inclusion of dried fermentation products as probiotics doesn’t hurt either. For fats, this recipe relies on salmon meal and chicken fat to provide a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to support your cat’s healthy skin and coat. You will also notice chelated minerals on the list which offer optimal nutrient absorption.

Taste of the Wild Rocky Mountain Grain-Free Dry Cat Food

5-star
Buy Online : $2.07/lb
In the wild, cats do not eat the same thing every day but their diet balances itself out through variety. The Taste of the Wild line of products uses the principle of a balanced, primal diet for cats to ensure complete and balanced nutrition with minimal risk for triggering food allergies and sensitivities. This recipe in particular features chicken meal, roasted venison, and smoked salmon as the primary proteins. For carbohydrates and an additional dose of protein this recipe relies on digestible, grain-free options like sweet potatoes, peas, and pea protein. With chicken fat as the primary fat, this formula also provides a balance of omega fatty acids for healthy skin and coat. Let’s not forget that Taste of the Wild products are manufactured in the U.S. under rigorous production standards and have not been subject to any concerns regarding recall since 2012.

Pros and Cons of Dry Cat Foods

Along with the issues already mentioned, there are some other things to consider about dry cat food:

  • Dry cat food is made with an extrusion process that requires high heat; it is one of the most processed means of making pet food;
  • Dry cat food requires the use of starches/carbs to make the food into a dough/batter so it can be successfully poured through the extrusion machinery and hold its shape;
  • Pet food manufacturers often use some plant-based proteins in their dry pet foods;
  • Cat kibble is sprayed with taste enhancers to make the food more palatable to cats; the food can be addictive to cats which can lead to obesity;
  • Dry cat food can lead to urinary health problems because cats do not automatically drink enough water to compensate for the dry kibble. This can lead to mild dehydration, kidney disease (a leading cause of death in cats), and other health problems.
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Generations of cats lived long lives eating dry cat food and no one knew that it might cause problems so if this is news to you, don’t feel bad. If you prefer to feed dry cat food for lifestyle reasons or budget reasons, or because that’s what you like, there are some good dry cat foods. Some people like to mix dry cat food with some canned food to get some of the benefits of both kinds of food.

Best Canned Cat Food

FoodPriceNutritionRating
Nature's Variety Instinct Grain Free Chicken FormulaNature’s Variety Instinct Grain Free Chicken Canned Cat Food
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$2.10/5.5 oz canA+5 stars
Tiki Cat Puka Puka Luau Succulent Chicken in Chicken Consomme CannedTiki Cat Puka Puka Luau Succulent Chicken Canned Cat Food
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$2.42/6 oz canA5 stars
Weruva Cats in the Kitchen Goldie Lox Chicken and Salmon Recipe Au JusWeruva Cats in the Kitchen Goldie Lox Chicken and Salmon Canned Cat Food
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$1.67/6 oz canA5 star

Nature’s Variety Instinct Grain Free Chicken Formula

5-star
Buy Online : $2.10/5.5 ounce can
The Nature’s Variety Instinct line of products was designed to harness the nutritional power of raw foods in a convenient, more accessible form. The Instinct line of products includes everything from high-protein kibbles and canned foods to raw-boost formulas and raw frozen meals. The Nature’s Variety Instinct Grain-Free Chicken Formula belongs to the Instinct Originals line of canned foods which are high in protein, grain-free, and nutritionally balanced. This recipe in particular is made with protein-rich chicken and turkey as the main ingredients with ground flaxseed as the main source of fat. This recipe is supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables as natural sources for key nutrients to help balance out the chelated minerals and vitamin supplements. Overall, this Nature’s Variety Instinct Grain-Free Chicken Formula contains 10% crude protein, 6.5% crude fat, and 3% crude fiber which translates to dry matter values of 45% protein and 29.5% fat.

Tiki Cat Puka Puka Luau Succulent Chicken in Chicken Consomme Canned

5-star
Buy Online : $2.42/6 ounce can
The Tiki Pets Company is known primarily for producing gourmet wet foods for both cats and dogs. The Tiki Cat line of products features whole, human-grade shredded or sliced meats and seafood, available in nearly twenty different flavors. In addition to being protein-rich, these formulas are cooked in a flavorful broth to preserve the moisture content of the raw ingredients. The Tiki Cat Puka Puka Luau Succulent Chicken in Chicken Consommé recipe features shredded chicken breast meat simmered in a flavorful chicken consommé and supplemented with vitamins and minerals as needed to ensure complete and balanced nutrition. This formula offers 18.5% crude protein and 2.3% crude fat with 0% crude fiber. These percentages translate to dry matter values of 84% protein and 10% fat. The beauty of this recipe is that it contains a minimal amount of main ingredients (supplements excluded) and that it is not just grain-free, but carb-free. The chicken used for this ingredient is also sustainably sourced and free from both hormones and antibiotics.

Weruva Cats in the Kitchen Goldie Lox Chicken and Salmon Recipe Au Jus

5-star
Buy Online : $1.67/6 ounce can
The Weruva Company follows the tagline, “people food for pets”. This is a reference to the fat that Weruva uses many human-grade and organic ingredients in their recipes – recipes that are produced in human food facilities. Weruva offers four different product lines for canned cat food and the Cats in the Kitchen line is middle of the road in terms of price point. The Cats in the Kitchen line of products is essentially a cross between the original lineup of Weruva recipes and the Best Feline Friend line of protein-rich, low-fat recipes. The Weruva Cats in the Kitchen Goldie Lox Chicken & Salmon Au Jus recipe in particular is made with protein-rich white breast meat chicken as well as both tuna and salmon. Sunflower seed oil provides plenty of omega-6 fatty acids while salmon oil provides omega-3 fatty acids to balance it out. This formula contains 11% crude protein and 2% fat which translates to dry matter values of 66% protein and 30% fat.

Pros and Cons of Canned Cat Foods

Many cat lovers today recommend canned foods for the reasons mentioned above.

  • Canned cat foods provide more moisture in the cat’s diet which is better for the cat’s urinary tract health.
  • Their protein and fat percentages are closer to those found in the cat’s natural diet.
  • They have fewer carbs and starches than are usually found in dry cat foods.
  • Canned cat foods are slightly less processed than dry cat foods, which are cooked intensively.

There are some disadvantages to canned cat foods, including some that are often not mentioned on cat food sites:

  • Canned cat food spoils quickly after it’s opened;
  • Canned cat food is more expensive per ounce than dry food;
  • You have to convert canned food to dry matter basis (DMB) to really understand the protein, fat, and other percentages; otherwise you will not be able to make meaningful comparisons;
  • Many cat food cans are BPA-lined – a preservative that has been linked to some health problems in cats such as hyperthyroidism; at present some companies use BPA-free cans in the small sizes but not the large; or they do not use BPA-free cans; and some companies seem to give misleading responses. It’s possible that there could be some confusion at the companies themselves or with their customer service representatives, but this is an issue that concerns many cat lovers.
  • Most, if not all, cat food companies use some form of thickening agent in their canned foods such as carrageenan guar gum, or another gum; research, especially in the European Union, has been critical of these ingredients as a source of digestive upset or worse.

You can find some cat foods that don’t contain carrageenan or the gums, but it can take some effort. Even among brands that have formulas without them, they can have some formulas that contain them, so be sure to read the labels.

We haven’t really discussed cat food in pouches. Some people like to feed them but many of these foods have water as the first ingredient and have more starches than regular canned cat foods – but they can be very tasty if you have a cat that is a picky eater.

Best Frozen/Freeze-Dried Cat Foods

FoodPriceNutritionRating
The Honest Kitchen Grace Dehydrated Cat FoodThe Honest Kitchen Grace Dehydrated Cat Food
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$.87/ozA+5 stars
Feline Primal Chicken and Salmon Formula NuggetsFeline Primal Chicken and Salmon Formula Nuggets
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$2.21/ozA5 star
Stella & Chewy’s Freeze-Dried Duck Duck Goose Cat FoodStella & Chewy’s Freeze-Dried Duck Duck Goose Cat Food
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$2.25/ozA5 stars

The Honest Kitchen Grace Dehydrated

5-star
Buy Online : $.87/ounce
The Honest Kitchen is unique among pet food manufacturers in that they only offer dehydrated foods for cats. There are two recipes to choose from – the Prowl chicken recipe or the Grace turkey recipe. The Honest Kitchen Grace Turkey Recipe Dehydrated Food is made with 70% cage-free turkey and eggs to deliver a crude protein content of nearly 39%. These same ingredients also contribute to a 34.5% crude fat content while the fresh fruits and vegetables deliver carbohydrate energy and 2.5% fiber. As a dehydrated food product, this recipe only contains 4.5% moisture and it needs to be reconstituted before feeding it to your cat. It may take some time for your cat to get used to the texture of this product, but it can’t be beat in terms of natural flavor and balanced nutrition. Through the use of just seven main ingredients plus vitamins and minerals, this recipe delivers protein-rich, highly flavorful nutrition for cats in all life stages.

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Feline Primal Chicken and Salmon Formula Nuggets

5-star
Buy Online : $2.21/ounce
Primal Pet Foods is known for their raw frozen and freeze-dried raw recipes for cats and dogs. This company understands that cats are carnivores, so all of their cat food products are protein-rich, made with raw meats as well as fresh bone and organic produce to ensure complete and balanced nutrition. This Primal Pet Foods Feline Chicken and Salmon Formula offers 52% crude protein that comes from chicken, chicken necks, chicken gizzards, salmon, and chicken liver – many of these ingredients also contribute to the 32% crude fat content of this recipe. Salmon oil is the main source of fat in this recipe and it works together with coconut oil and cod liver oil to deliver a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to help support your cat’s healthy skin and coat. This formula contains supplemental taurine for eye health, Vitamin E for antioxidant support, and fresh produce as natural sources for key nutrients.

Stella & Chewy’s Freeze-Dried Duck Duck Goose Cat Food

5-star
Buy Online : $2.25/ounce
Stella & Chewy’s may have a strange name, but there is no questioning the company’s commitment to quality nutrition for cats and dogs. This company is unique in that they only offer freeze-dried and raw frozen recipes, both of which are made from the finest raw ingredients available. Stella & Chewy’s recipes are 98% meat, organs, and bone with no glutens, grains, or fillers. Their recipes are rich in taurine, supplemented with probiotics, and complete and balanced for all life stages. This Stella & Chewy’s Freeze-Dried Duck Duck Goose Recipe offers the nutritional benefits of raw food with the convenience of dry food. It is made with 98% poultry meat, organs, and bones with pumpkin seed and pea fiber for healthy fats and dietary fiber. This formula is supplemented with chelated minerals for maximum nutrient absorption and dried fermentation products for probiotic support. Overall, this recipe provides 40% crude protein, 30% crude fat, and just 2% crude fiber.

Pros and Cons of Frozen/Freeze-Dried Cat Foods

Commercially frozen and freeze-dried foods are normally based on a raw diet for cats. They are typically less processed than either canned foods or dry kibble so they retain more of the original nutrients in the food. These foods are usually sold in different options such as chubs, patties, medallions, nuggets, and tubs. Some of the foods are treated with High Pressure Processing (HPP) to kill bacteria. This is essentially a pasteurization process that doesn’t use heat. While this process does kill the bacteria you should be aware that it means the food is more processed and some people who feed a raw diet object to this process because it means some of the nutrients are also affected.

If you are feeding your cat a frozen food, you will need to thaw it before feeding. If you are feeding a freeze-dried product, you just need to add some water and mix. Companies usually provide good directions about preparing the foods. Some foods may require some transition time. Some frozen and freeze-dried foods are complete and balanced while others are meant to be used as a base or for supplemental feeding. Be sure you know what you are purchasing.

If you are interested in feeding your cat a raw food diet, frozen and freeze-dried foods are probably the easiest ways to do so. They involve minimal mess and you don’t have to put together your own menus for your cat. Advantages of the raw diet include the desirable high moisture content; the high bioavailability of the nutrients; reports of less stool; the minimal processing of the food and their natural source. Cost may be less than buying expensive canned foods, too. Some people who feed their cats raw report that cats eat as much as 30 percent less food than when eating canned foods but this will vary depending on the individual cat.

Best Human Grade / Subscription Cat Foods

One of the newer things to happen to cat foods is a slew of fresh, subscription-based cat food diets. For this category, all the food is human-grade, handmade and delivered straight to your door. The food is also free from preservatives, fillers grains or artificial flavors.

NomNomNow

5-star
Buy Online : Starting at less than $20/week
NomNomNow promotes better health through better food. It offers two recipes for cats, which were both specially formulated by Dr. Shmalberg — a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. Founded in 2015 and headquartered in Oakland, California, NomNomNow cooks weekly batches in their personally owned and operated facilities in San Francisco. All the food is sourced from the USA.

The Chicken Chow-Meow recipe has 18% crude protein, which comes from the chicken thigh, breast and liver, and just 4% crude fat. It’s also filled with veggies such as asparagus, carrots and spinach, plus a specially formulated nutrient mix. With so little ingredients, the food is better utilized by your cat’s system, resulting in less waste and easy digestion. When you sign up, you’ll answer a few questions about your cat and his health — with this information, the company pre-portions the amount of food your cat needs for each meal.

Smalls for Smalls

5-star
Buy Online : Get Quote
Smalls for Smalls is another subscription-based pet food service, and also tends to be a bit more affordable than most. Its food is sourced from USDA certified human grade suppliers, and prepared in Brooklyn. Smalls for Smalls offers three recipes: Beef, chicken and turkey. All these recipes are packed with simple ingredients and filled with protein. The Turkey Recipe contains 24.6% crude protein and 4.8% crude fat.

When you sign up with Smalls for Smalls, you’ll provide information about your cat such as his weight, activity level, current diet, any health issues or add his unique needs in your own words. This company lets you choose if you want to do “all smalls”, “mostly smalls” or half smalls”, so you don’t have to completely switch your cat over if you don’t want to. Due to their simple recipes, Smalls for Small is a good choice for cats with food sensitivities and allergies.

Pros and Cons of Fresh, Subscription Cat Foods

There are a few things to consider when transitioning your cat to a fresh diet:

  • It’s convenient to not have to stop by the pet store — the food gets delivered right to your doorstep as often as you choose. Most sites offer weekly, bi-weekly or monthly delivery options.
  • All the food is meat-based, grain free and free of artificial ingredients and preservatives. There aren’t many ingredients, which mean you cat is utilizing the food to its fullest potential.
  • It can be a little pricier than normal cat food. Depending on what subscription service you choose, it could get expensive. However, it does seem worth it considering the quality and personalization you’re getting.
  • The food has to stay fresh. If there were ever some kind of emergency where you lost power or didn’t have access to refrigerator, the cat food would go bad.

We hope this look at some of the options available to you for feeding your cat has been helpful. At one time people didn’t have many choices about what to feed their cats. They could give them some scraps from the kitchen – or let the cat fend for himself and catch mice. Then owners could choose from a couple of kinds of canned or dry food at the grocery store. Today there are countless super premium brands of cat food and we can debate every ingredient, demand better research, and seek the healthiest foods for our cats. Our cats deserve only the best.

Kate Barrington

Kate Barrington is a freelance writer specializing in the subject of pet health and wellness. An avid dog lover and adoring owner of three cats, Kate has a great deal of experience writing about all kinds of pets and all aspects of pet care. Her work has been featured on a number of pet websites and she is a regular columnist for Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine.

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