As the old saying goes, cats have nine lives. This is fortunate, as it may take approximately 3285 days to claw through all the options for feline food available on the market right now.
Along with the plethora of cat food companies, there’s a mountain of information to digest to figure out what to feed your tabby. “Cats are true carnivores, therefore a diet high in protein and relatively low in carbohydrates is ideal,” Dr. Katy Nelson, senior veterinarian at Chewy, tells Mental Floss. ”Unlike dogs, cats cannot make the amino acid taurine, so taurine should be added to the diet to ensure adequate amounts, particularly in low-protein diets.”
But when it comes to planning your cat’s diet, taurine isn't the only thing that matters; there are several other important factors to keep in mind. Choosing the correct food for your pet is a very individual decision, based on you and your furry companion’s preferences. To help you find the "purrfect" dry cat food for your cat, we reached out to several leading experts to identify top brands. Below are some of their picks, plus helpful tips to keep in mind before you buy anything.
Dry Cat Food Basics
The options for cat food are vast, but according to experts, dry cat food (also known as kibble) is one of the most popular because it's convenient and relatively inexpensive. According to Dr. Gary Richter, DVM, medical director of Holistic Veterinary Care, founder of Ultimate Pet Nutrition, and author of The Ultimate Pet Health Guide: Breakthrough Nutrition and Integrative Care for Dogs and Cats, pet parents should look for foods that are mainly meat-based and feature fresh, whole-food ingredients. "Frequently, foods add in vitamins and minerals and that is fine, but beyond that, all of the ingredients should be actual food," he writes in an email.
Another big thing to keep in mind, according to Dr. Richter, is that cats tend to get “patterned” to food they ate as kittens, so cats that grew up on kibble will frequently only want to eat kibble. Starting your pet off early on a diet that's rich in fresh, whole foods is ideal, but if you didn't, don't stress it. You can always change their diet, although Dr. Richter suggests doing this slowly after consulting with a trusted veterinarian. "For any diet change, a very gradual transition over one to two weeks is recommended," he adds.
Although kibble is easy to buy and very affordable, experts claim it can be higher in carbohydrates than wet cat food. It also has low moisture content, meaning cats will have to get their hydration elsewhere. That said, Tracy Donnelly, category manager for Cat Consumables and Litter Supplies at Pet Supplies Plus, notes that dry food can be beneficial for feline dental health. "Crunchy kibble helps reduce plaque and tartar buildup on cats's teeth," she says. (A 2010 study by the Journal of Veterinary Dentistry also found that “a larger kibble size with enhanced textural characteristics, producing increased abrasion and greater tooth penetration, results in a significant reduction in plaque accumulation in the early stages after teeth cleaning.”)
As a cat’s main source of nutrition, Donnelly says that all cat foods should also meet the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines for a complete and balanced diet. In the event of food recalls, Dr. Nelson urges pet parents to reference the FDA, and to check out the Pet Nutrition Alliance (PNA), as the latter organization seeks to promote pet nutrition worldwide by asking hard-hitting questions of manufacturers via its Dare to Ask reports. (For example, Dr. Nelson reveals that the PNA asks whether companies own their manufacturing facilities and whether they employ board-certified veterinary nutritionists (ACVN) or Ph.D.-trained nutritionists.)
The Best Dry Cat Food Brands to Shop Now
1. Best for Nursing Cats and Kittens: Royal Canin Feline Health Nutrition Mother & Babycat Dry Cat Food; From $23
This cat food from Royal Canin is specifically designed for newborn kittens and pregnant or nursing cats. The easy-to-chew kibble is a nice transitional choice for weaning kittens and contains antioxidants and vitamins. John P. Loftus, Ph.D., DVM, assistant professor at the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, tells Mental Floss that he routinely recommends Royal Canin (along with Purina Pro Plan and Hill’s Science Diet), noting, “These are all companies that I know have many years of research behind them, veterinary nutritionists on staff, and rigorous quality control protocols. Additionally, these brands are where the bulk of our therapeutic diets lie to help treat various conditions in cats (and dogs).”
Buy it: Amazon
2. Best for Cats With Sensitive Systems: Iams Proactive Health; From $10
Does your cat have a sensitive stomach, or skin that's prone to irritation? Iams Proactive Health is a great choice that helps maintain strong muscles and supports better digestive health and skin with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. This is one the brands (along with Hill's Science Diet, Royal Canin, and Purina) that Cori Blair, DVM, veterinarian and owner of Feline Health in New York City, swears by. She encourages shoppers to look past how "plain" the packaging looks, adding, "They put their money towards ensuring the highest-quality products, but most consumers are drawn to prettier packaging with better marketing … [it leads] to many cats being fed less-than-stellar food."
Buy it: Amazon
3. Best for Picky Eaters: Acana Indoor Entrée Adult Dry Cat Food; From $20
Dr. Nelson recommends Acana because this premium brand thoughtfully crafts food with farm-fresh and protein-rich ingredients to meet the nutritional needs of cats. The dry cat food line includes seven varieties, but this particular kibble is great for picky eaters because it carefully balances calories, protein, and fat, plus includes ingredients that will help your feline maintain a healthy weight, as well as skin, coat, eye, and heart health, Dr. Nelson says. Acana does follow AAFCO guidelines, and could be a great option for pet parents who want to try a diet produced outside of the bigger manufacturers.
Buy it: Chewy
4. Best for Cats Who Get A Lot of Hairballs: Hill's Science Diet Urinary Hairball Control; From $20
Cats are famous for getting hairballs, which can happen after they swallow too much hair while they're grooming. Over time, it builds up in their systems, leading to those icky tubes (not balls) of hair that you've probably seen come out before. To help them manage this chronic problem better, Pet Supplies Plus’s Donnelly recommends Hill’s Science Diet Urinary Hairball Control, writing that it has “the optimal level of magnesium to support the health of the whole urinary system; natural fiber comfortably reduces hairballs; [and has] vitamin E, omega-3s [and] -6s for beautiful skin and fur.”
Buy it: Amazon
5. Best For People Allergic to Cats: Purina Pro Plan LiveClear; From $23
Many people are allergic to cats, but according to Dr. Nelson, feeding these four-legged pals from the Purina Pro Plan LiveClear line lets cat lovers breathe easier. This is the first and only food proven to reduce allergens simply and safely, with a key protein sourced from eggs. This popular choice features probiotic high-protein salmon and rice.
Buy it: Chewy