What Is The Best Dry Cat Food?

When you walk into the kitchen each morning to feed your cat, where do you go? Do you head to the refrigerator to take out an opened can of wet cat food or do you head to the pantry and pull out a bag of dry cat food to fill your cat’s bowl?

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Cat food comes in all kinds of different forms, but the two main options are dry cat food and wet cat food. The truth is that both of these options offer unique nutritional benefits as well as differences in terms of pricing and convenience. The type of food you choose for your cat is largely a matter of preference. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the time to learn about your options.

In order to ensure that your cat’s nutritional needs are being met, you need to select a high-quality cat food product. Wet or dry, it really depends on your cat’s preferences as well as your budget, but there is something to be said about the benefits of dry cat food over wet cat food. Keep reading to learn more about how dry cat food is made and how it stacks up against wet cat food. You’ll also receive tips for choosing a high-quality product as well as our recommendations for the best brands of dry cat food.

Quick Look : Top 4 Best Dry Cat Foods

Food Price Nutrition Rating
Orijen Cat & Kitten Grain-Free Dry Cat FoodOrijen Cat & Kitten Grain-Free Dry Cat Food
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$4.91/lb A+ 5 stars
Taste of the Wild Rocky Mountain Dry Cat FoodTaste of the Wild Rocky Mountain Dry Cat Food
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$2.06/lb A 5 star
Acana Wild Atlantic Regional Formula Grain-Free Dry Cat & Kitten FoodAcana Wild Atlantic Regional Formula Grain-Free Dry Cat & Kitten Food
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$4.17/lb A 5 stars
Blue Buffalo Wilderness Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Dry Cat FoodBlue Buffalo Wilderness Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Dry Cat Food
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$2.75/lb A 5 stars

How is Dry Cat Food Made?

When you open up a bag of dry cat food, you typically find it to be full of small, hard pellets of uniform shape and size. Just looking at a bag of dry cat food, you generally can’t see any evidence of the individual ingredients that go into the product. But how exactly are raw, fresh ingredients turned into hard kibbles? And are all dry cat foods made using the same process?

The process through which most dry pet foods are still made today was developed during the 1860s, though it wasn’t perfected and commercialized until about a century later. Most dry foods are made using a process called extrusion which blends the raw ingredients while cooking them, resulting in a cohesive product that is shaped into pellets. Here is the basic process through which most dry cat food products are made:

  1. The raw ingredients are gathered separately and stored until they are ready for processing.
  2. The individual ingredients are processed to remove moisture and to separate the fat and protein components.
  3. Meat ingredients are rendered (cooked) and ground to achieve the desired texture then reground to create a uniform consistency.
  4. The meat mixture is blended with other ingredients including carbohydrates and nutritional supplements.
  5. The mixture is heated and thickened into a dough – it may also be preconditioned.
  6. The final product is extruded under high pressure, forcing it through orificed plates to create small kibbles of uniform size and shape.
  7. The kibbles are dried and cooled then they may be spray coated with flavor enhancing materials.

Most dry cat foods go through a process similar to this, though there may be variations in certain stages of the process. For example, some of the higher quality dry cat foods are oven-baked rather than being extruded and cooked at high temperatures. Some dry cat foods also skip the final stage in the process where the kibbles are sprayed with a flavorful coating to enhance palatability.

Dry vs. Wet Cat Food

When it comes to choose the ideal diet for your cat, your two main options are dry food or wet food. If you speak to five veterinarians about which option is best, you will receive five different answers because, for the most part, it is a matter of preference. If you really want to make an informed decision, however, here is a brief overview of the pros and cons for dry food versus wet food:

Pros and Cons for Dry Food:

  • Dry cat food comes in packages of different sizes so you can purchase as much or as little as you want for your convenience.
  • Once opened, dry cat food can stay shelf-stable for several weeks or months at a time as long as it isn’t exposed to moisture or extreme heat.
  • Per portion, dry cat food is generally much more affordable than wet cat foods of similar quality – its longer shelf-life also means that you don’t waste as much due to spoilage.
  • Dry cat food tends to be lower in calories than wet cat food and it is sometimes easier to control your cat’s portions with dry food to prevent overeating.
  • The shape and texture of dry cat food can help to scrape plaque and tartar off your cat’s teeth, improving and maintaining his oral health
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Pros and Cons for Wet Food:

  • Wet cat food typically comes in pre-measured portions in cans, tubs, or pouches so you only open as much as your cat can eat in a few days.
  • The higher moisture content of wet cat food can help to keep your cat hydrated and it may provide digestive benefits as well.
  • Wet cat food is beneficial for cats with kidney and urinary problems because the higher moisture content helps to reduce urinary crystal formation.
  • The higher moisture content of wet cat food can help to keep your cat’s skin healthier and his coat shinier.
  • Some cats prefer the texture of wet food over dry food and it may have higher protein and fat content than dry food
  • Once you open a container of wet cat food you need to store it in the refrigerator, sealed properly, and it will only last for 3 to 5 days

As you can see, there are upsides and downsides to both options. Take some time to carefully consider the pros and cons of both dry food and wet food, comparing them to your cat’s individual nutritional requirements. If you decide that dry food is the way to go, the information in the next section will help you to make a smart choice.

Tips for Choosing a Premium Dry Cat Food

In order to choose a high-quality dry cat food for your feline friend, you need to understand the basics of cat nutrition. Cats have very different nutritional needs from dogs, though both require a diet that is high in protein. According to the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), kittens require a diet that consists of at least 30% protein and adult cats require a minimum of 26%. In addition to protein, cats require a certain amount of taurine and arginine, two amino acids, as well as various vitamins and minerals. A balanced diet for both cats and kittens should also contain a minimum of 9% fat from healthy, animal-based sources.

Now that you have a basic understanding of your cat’s nutritional needs, you can compare them to the nutrition offered by various dry cat food products on the market. When you pick up a bag of cat food it is easy to be distracted by colorful pictures and positive health claims. What you really need to be paying attention to, however, can be found on the back of the bag, usually near the bottom. There are two main things you should look at on a cat food label – the guaranteed analysis and the list of ingredients. The guaranteed analysis simply shows the percentage of crude protein, crude fat, and crude fiber (and sometimes other nutrients) that the product contains. Compare these values to the minimum nutritional requirements you have already learned to see if it is a good option for your cat. You can also use these values to make a direct comparison between two different dry cat foods.

Perhaps the most important thing on any pet food label, however, is the ingredients list. This list is ordered in descending order by volume – that means that the ingredients at the top of the list are used in the highest volume. It should make sense, then, that you want to see high-quality sources of animal protein at the top of the list for any dry cat food you consider buying. Remember, your cat needs a diet that contains at least 26% for adults and 30% for kittens and it should come from animal sources like meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. Animal proteins are called “complete” proteins because they contain all of the essential amino acids that your cat’s body cannot synthesize on its own – taurine and arginine are the most important essential amino acids for cats and they can only be found in animal proteins.

In addition to making sure that the product contains plenty of quality animal proteins, you should look for healthy animal fats as well. Fats provide your cat with essential fatty acids. They act as a concentrated source of energy while also supporting your cat’s skin and coat health. Dry cat foods may contain carbohydrates as well, just make sure that they come from digestible sources like cooked whole grains, sweet potatoes, potatoes, or beans and legumes. And remember, cats are obligate carnivores so they do not have a biological need for carbohydrates in their diet. For domesticated cats, however, carbohydrates in small quantities provide dietary fiber to support healthy digestion. Just avoid high-glycemic carbohydrates and, if your cat has food allergies or sensitivities, gluten and grains. You’ll also want to make sure that the product contains the vitamins and minerals your cat needs, either from natural sources like fruits and vegetables or from synthetic supplements.

Though the guaranteed analysis and the ingredients list are the most important tools you can use to make a direct comparison between two dry cat foods, there is one more part of the label you should check. The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has created nutrient profiles for cats and dogs in different life stages – these profiles establish the minimum nutritional requirements of kittens and adult cats. Before a cat food product can be sold, its nutrient content is compared to the AAFCO nutrient profile for the appropriate life stage. If the product meets those minimum requirements, the package will carry an AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy that looks something like this, “[Product Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles” for either growth/reproduction or maintenance. If the product carries this label, you can rest assured that it will meet your cat’s minimum nutritional needs, as long as it is formulated for the proper life stage. Some foods are formulated for all life stages.

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One thing you need to keep in mind is that just because a dry cat food product carries an AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is a high-quality product. You have to put together all of the pieces of information you find on the label to make that determination. The AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy is a good place to start, but you should also check the guaranteed analysis to make sure that the product offers more than your cat’s minimum requirement for protein, fat, and other nutrients. After that, you need to look at the ingredients list to ensure that those nutrients come from high-quality sources. Avoid any dry cat food that doesn’t list a quality animal protein first; that relies too heavily on plant proteins; that doesn’t include healthy animal fats; that contains too much carbohydrate (particularly high-glycemic carbs); or that includes artificial additives like colors, flavors, and preservatives.

Top 4 Dry Cat Food Brand Recommendations

Now that you have a better understanding of how dry cat food is made and how it compares to wet cat food, you are ready to start shopping around. Keeping in mind the tips you received in the last section, take your time when you start shopping to ensure that you choose a high-quality product for your cat. If you need help getting started, consider one of these top four recommended brands of dry cat food:

Food Price Nutrition Rating
Orijen Cat & Kitten Grain-Free Dry Cat FoodOrijen Cat & Kitten Grain-Free Dry Cat Food
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$4.91/lb A+ 5 stars
Taste of the Wild Rocky Mountain Dry Cat FoodTaste of the Wild Rocky Mountain Dry Cat Food
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$2.06/lb A 5 star
Acana Wild Atlantic Regional Formula Grain-Free Dry Cat & Kitten FoodAcana Wild Atlantic Regional Formula Grain-Free Dry Cat & Kitten Food
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$4.17/lb A 5 stars
Blue Buffalo Wilderness Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Dry Cat FoodBlue Buffalo Wilderness Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Dry Cat Food
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$2.75/lb A 5 stars

Orijen Cat & Kitten Food (Dry)

Orijen Cat & Kitten Grain-Free Dry Cat Food

The Orijen pet food company is based in Alberta, Canada but their products are widely available throughout the U.S. This company offers biologically appropriate diets for cats and dogs which means one thing – that their products mirror the quantity, freshness, and variety of meats that wild cats and dogs are meant to have. Orijen understands that cats are carnivores – they are not meant to eat a diet that contains grains or high-glycemic carbohydrates. Each of Orijen’s dry cat food recipes is rich in meat and meat protein, limited in carbohydrates, and abundant in fresh flavor. Not only does Orijen follow a natural approach to pet nutrition, but they are dedicated to maintaining the highest standards for safety and quality with their products. Their production is never outsourced and they use fresh, regional ingredients whenever possible. Simply put, Orijen is a brand of dry cat food that you can trust.

The Orijen brand of pet food recently released a new line of biologically appropriate diets for cats. With five recipes to choose from, Orijen gives you the ability to select a product that is perfectly suited to your cat’s unique nutritional needs. Each recipe features unmatched fresh meat inclusions to mirror the evolutionary diet of wild cats without the use of vegetable proteins, high-glycemic carbohydrates, and artificial additives. These recipes are protein-packed and made with nutrient-rich ingredients which negates the need for long lists of synthetic supplements that you find in many lower quality dry cat food products. Orijen’s biologically appropriate dry cat foods feature premium proteins like free-run chicken, nest-laid eggs, and wild-caught fish in Whole Prey ratios that include fresh meats as well as organs and cartilage to meet your cat’s nutritional needs naturally, not synthetically. Your cat would be lucky to receive any of Orijen’s dry cat food products.

Taste of the Wild Rocky Mountain Dry Cat Food

With a name like Taste of the Wild, you should expect nothing but the healthiest, all-natural products from this brand and that is exactly what you will get. This pet food brand understands that cats (and dogs) crave a taste of the wild which is why all of their premium, grain-free formulas are loaded with quality meats to maximize the nutritional benefits of products inspired by the ancestral diets of wild cats and dogs. To give you an idea of what Taste of the Wild has to offer, consider that all of their formulas are made with real roasted meats plus fresh fruits and vegetables, wholesome legumes, and live probiotics. Taste of the Wild dry cat food will do more than just meet your cat’s needs for high-quality nutrition – it will exceed them.

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Each of Taste of the Wild’s cat food products is designed to satisfy your cat’s instinctual cravings for real meat. Every recipe features a unique protein blend to ensure an optimal amino acid profile, drawing on sources like venison, bison, lamb, duck, and quail. Taste of the Wild supplements their recipes with gluten-free and grain-free carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, garbanzo beans, and green peas as well as fresh fruits and vegetables for antioxidants and essential vitamins and minerals. Each recipe is fortified with live probiotics and digestive enzymes to ensure maximum absorption of quality nutrients as well as healthy and regular digestion for your cat. Currently, Taste of the Wild only offers two dry cat food formulas but either one would be a great choice for your cat.

Acana Wild Atlantic Regional Formula Grain-Free Dry Cat & Kitten Food

The Acana pet food company is the same company that owns and produces Orijen pet foods. Acana is based in the United States and they offer a variety of biologically appropriate pet foods made with fresh, regional ingredients. It is Acana’s mission to represent a new standard in pet food – one that is based on fresh meats, poultry, fish, and eggs that are sustainably farmed, fished, or ranched by local suppliers and delivered fresh each and every day. The Acana company understands that dogs and cats have different nutritional needs, so they formulate their products to mimic the natural evolutionary diet that dogs and cats were meant to follow. This means high inclusions of fresh meats and meat proteins as well as limited carbohydrate content and no artificial additives. Acana holds themselves to the highest standards for quality when it comes to their dry cat food products.

Compared to many pet food manufacturers, Acana offers a limited variety of cat food products and only dry cat food products, at that. All of Acana’s dry cat foods fall under the Regionals heading, a product line that was redesigned in the spring of 2016. Acana Regionals dry cat food recipes are designed to provide for the nutritional needs of cats by adhering to their natural evolutionary requirements. Each of the four recipes in the Acana Regionals line features whole prey such a game, fish, and fowl as well as fresh fruits and vegetables for nutritional balance and flavor. The four recipe options are Meadowland, Wild Atlantic, Grasslands, and Appalachian Ranch, and each one is produced in company-owned DogStar kitchens in Kentucky. No matter which of these four recipes you choose, you can count on the fact that it will not just meet but exceed your cat’s minimum nutritional requirements while also satisfying his cravings for real meat and real flavor.  

Blue Buffalo Wilderness Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Dry Cat Food

Every cat has his own unique nutritional needs, and no one understands that better than Blue Buffalo. All of Blue Buffalo’s cat food products offer exceptional quality, but each of them is as individual as your cat. Blue Buffalo divides their cat foods into four different product lines – Basics, Freedom, BLUE, and Wilderness. The BLUE line of products features all-natural recipes made with a unique combination of fresh, wholesome ingredients blended with antioxidant-rich LifeSource Bits. The Freedom line of products features flavorful recipes that are gluten-free, grain-free, and devoid of artificial additives. The Basics line is made up of Limited Ingredient Diets perfect for cats that suffer from food allergies and sensitivities. Finally, the Wilderness line features meat-rich, high-protein formulas inspired by the diet of wild cats.

No matter which product line you choose, you can count on the fact that all of Blue Buffalo’s dry cat food products offer high-quality, balanced nutrition and plenty of natural flavor. Blue Buffalo understands that your cat is a member of the family and he should be treated as such – that means offering him a high-quality diet that meets his nutritional needs and satisfies his cravings. This company offers dozens and dozens of different product choices, all of which are complete and balanced in terms of nutrition and loaded with natural flavor. When it comes to their protein choices, Blue Buffalo offers standard options like chicken, turkey, and salmon as well as unique and novel proteins like duck, venison, and rabbit. No matter what your cat’s needs are, Blue Buffalo is sure to have a dry cat food product that will be a perfect fit.

Different kinds of cat food have different advantages and drawbacks, but most cat owners find that a dry food diet is the best option for their feline friend. If you decide that dry cat food is the way to go, take the time to do some research and compare your options carefully to ensure that you make a smart choice. Feeding your cat a high-quality dry cat food will help to keep him in optimal health for as long as possible so he can enjoy a long and happy life with you by his side.

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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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