If you’re a cat owner looking for quality dry cat food, you don’t have to choose one full of preservatives and fillers. These days, there are plenty of brands that offer nutritious and tasty choices your cat will crave.
Before you choose a dry cat food, consider your cat’s dietary requirements. Growing kittens, for instance, have greater calorie, fat and protein requirements than adult cats, while adults need fewer calories but enough to maintain a healthy weight. Senior cats can have digestive and other issues, and there are specific formulas that address those concerns as well. Also note how active or sedentary your cat is. You can find higher-calorie formulas for cats that play and explore all day and lower-calorie formulas for house cats that are less active.
And, contrary to popular belief, wet cat food isn’t always better than dry. There are many benefits to choosing dry food, including cleaner teeth and more chewing, which can benefit digestion. Other benefits of dry foods that humans like include less expensive, easier to store and less messy. Dry food is also ideal for cats that prefer to graze, and it doesn’t spoil as quickly as wet cat food.
We found Blue Buffalo Wilderness Adult Dry Cat Food to be the top choice due to its high antioxidant content and quality chicken ingredients. Our best value pick, Purina ONE +Plus High-Protein Indoor Advantage Dry Cat Food, is less than $20 for a 7-pound bag and full of essential vitamins that cats need.
Best dry cat foods
Blue Buffalo Wilderness Adult Dry Cat Food
Our top pick blows its competitors out of the water. If you’re looking for dry cat food with high-quality ingredients and no artificial flavoring, grain or by-products, pounce on this one. According to Blue Buffalo, the chicken formula was inspired by the diet of the lynx and contains fruits like blueberries and cranberries, veggies like sweet potatoes, carrots and peas and probiotics, all of which felines need. Made without preservatives, corn, wheat or soy, it also includes omega fatty acids for healthy skin and shiny fur as well as Blue Buffalo’s proprietary LifeSource Bits mix, a blend of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that support immune system health and oxidative balance.
However, all of these high-quality ingredients don’t come cheap: A 12-pound bag costs about $4 per pound.
Purina ONE +Plus High-Protein Indoor Advantage Dry Cat Food
Budget-conscious dry cat food shouldn’t sacrifice your kitty’s nutrition. This one from Purina is the best of both worlds, being less expensive and chock-full of protein, essential vitamins like zinc and selenium and vitamins E, A, and D. The first ingredient is real salmon, which promotes strong muscles and a healthy heart. This food is also a fantastic option for cats that need to lose weight since it’s made with 10% less fat than other standard Purina formulas.
There are some downsides to the wallet-friendly price, however. While this formula has a lot of good stuff that cats need, there are a few ingredients to pay attention to if your cat has food allergies, such as chicken by-product meal, gluten, soy and grain.
Hill’s Science Diet Indoor Adult Dry Cat Food
A favorite brand among cat owners, this dry cat food is made with high-quality meat designed to be digestion-friendly and keep cats full longer. While it’s higher in carbs than others on this list, this energy-promoting formula is easy to digest (thanks to the natural fiber). It includes green peas, apples, cranberries, carrots, broccoli and beta-carotene in addition to the main ingredient, chicken, and antioxidants and amino acids, which are important in supporting overall immunity and cat health.
However, if grain-free cat food is important to you, look elsewhere. While this choice helps with weight management, energy and digestion, it does contain grain and by-products. This one is a mid-level food on the pricier side at $3.61 per pound.
Purina Beyond Grain-Free Natural Dry Cat Food
Purina’s Beyond line of pet food focuses on using natural ingredients, and this one comes in ocean whitefish and egg flavors. Cats love the ocean whitefish flavor that includes sweet potato and cage-free eggs. Crunchy enough to satisfy feline cravings, this dry food provides natural probiotics that support healthy digestion and is never made with gluten, grains, corn, wheat, soy, poultry by-products or artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. You can expect to pay $3.48 per pound for all of that goodness.
Iams ProActive Health Healthy Adult Dry Cat Food
Iams is not only a trusted pet food brand that pet owners know and love, but it also has a reputation for quality. The Iams ProActive Health dry cat food is made from nutritious ingredients (always with chicken or salmon as the first ingredient) and formulated with omega fatty acids to contribute to a shinier, glossier, and overall healthier coat. And cats love the taste. This food is made in the U.S. with essential nutrients like calcium and potassium (for a healthy heart) and no fillers. A 16-pound bag costs $2.25 per pound.
Solid Gold Let’s Stay In Holistic Food for Indoor Cats
It might not have the name recognition of Iams or Purina, but Solid Gold has been around since 1974 and makes a good, cat-friendly product. Specifically formulated to match the health needs of indoor cats that struggle with hairballs, this dry cat food has gut-friendly prebiotics and 90 million live probiotics per pound to help minimize hairballs. In addition to lean salmon as the first ingredient, It also includes salmon oil to promote healthy skin and coat, and it’s gluten- and grain-free. Other ingredients include fiber-packed lentils, apples, blueberries and pumpkin. This isn’t the cheapest choice on our list: a 12-pound bag goes for about $3.67 per pound.
Smalls Freeze-Dried Raw Water Bird Food for Cats
Just as there is a market for fresh, human-grade food for dogs, there is for cats, too. Smalls is dedicated to preparing raw meat diets for felines. The freeze-dried raw water bird food is made from high-quality duck, a healthy option rich in protein, vitamins and minerals that most cats love. Duck contains phosphor (which promotes healthy bones and teeth), B vitamins (for strengthening fur, nervous system and metabolism) and iron (crucial for transporting oxygen and red blood cell formation). In addition to duck, the formula includes goat’s milk, eggshell membrane, herring oil and vitamin E. And If duck isn’t your cat’s meow, there are two other flavor options. Smalls’ cat foods are preservative-free and freeze-dried to retain their full nutritional value.
Smalls offers a $32 sampler of 10 packets. A subscription costs between $72 and $120 per month $1.83 per ounce). The dry kibble costs about $1.75 per ounce but has to be paired with 12 wet food packets as part of the company’s wet-and-dry subscription.
Crave Indoor Adult Cat Food
Crave food for adult indoor cats comes in a variety of flavors like chicken, chicken and salmon, and salmon and ocean fish, and sizes from 2 to 10 pounds. Real meat is the first ingredient, and the food also provides other important essentials like vitamin E, zinc, calcium, niacin, selenium, folic acid, vitamin D and B vitamins to provide overall immunity support. At $2.71 per pound, this dry cat food is one of the best values out there.
Wellness Core Indoor Dry Cat Food
Wellness Core dry cat food is an affordable, nutrient-rich best seller that’s beloved by cats for its quality, fresh ingredients. Grain-free and packed with energy-promoting protein, Wellness Core has real poultry or fish as the main ingredient plus animal proteins, fats, essential amino acids, vitamins and probiotics. Some reviewers note that this formula enticed their feline picky eaters, and the formula helped improve pain associated with aging joints and muscles.
What to know before you buy dry cat food
Not all dry cat foods are the same. There are some excellent brands with quality ingredients, but there are also some subpar formulas that are essentially the feline equivalent of junk food. Cats are obligate carnivores, which means their food should contain quality animal protein (not by-products) to give them the 41 essential micronutrients they need to thrive.
Ingredients to look for
Protein: Quality dry cat food has a high protein content. Look for a formula that is at least 26% protein, and 30% protein or more is even better. The protein should come from a high-quality animal source and not from animal by-products.
Amino acids: While cats can make many of the amino acids they need in order to thrive, there are 11 essential amino acids that cats can only get from their diet, including arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, valine and taurine.
Taurine: In particular, taurine is an essential amino acid for cats. While it occurs naturally in meat, we recommend a dry cat food that contains added taurine to help your kitty avoid a deficiency. According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the minimum taurine requirement for dry food is 25 milligrams per 100 kilocalories.
Vitamins and minerals: Look for a dry cat food with a range of added vitamins and minerals. According to PetMD, these include vitamins A, D, E, K and B12, thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, niacin, pyridoxine, folic acid, biotin and choline. Ideally, they should be chelated for easier absorption.
Fats: High-quality dry cat food should contain plenty of good fats and fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6.
Fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are important ingredients in dry cat food. They provide carbohydrates as well as the above-mentioned vitamins and minerals.
Ingredients to avoid
Also know what kinds of ingredients signal a low-quality cat food. Ideally, those that contain the following should be avoided:
- Artificial colors, flavors or preservatives
- Animal by-products
- Cornmeal as filler
- Lots of carbohydrates (small amounts are acceptable)
- Rendered fat
- Unidentified meats and animal fats
- Look for a statement of nutritional adequacy on the package. This qualification means that the food meets or exceeds the minimum nutrient requirements set out by the AAFCO. It should be labeled “complete and balanced.”
- Stay up to date on product recalls. Even if it’s a brand you trust, stay current on product recalls by visiting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website.
- Look for quality ingredients and real animal proteins. Proteins from whole sources are ideal, but some foods contain them in “meal” form, too. If the label says something generic like “meat” or “meat products,” that’s a no-go. Just like with dog food, ingredients are listed in a specific order. The ones listed first are the main ingredients.
- Check the source of the meat ingredients. Any meat sourced from overseas might not be the best quality, so try to look for locally or sustainably sourced meats or cat food made in the United States.
Q. How much does dry cat food cost?
A. Generally, dry cat food is more affordable than wet food, and there is a range of price points to suit different budgets. Of course, you get what you pay for when it comes to cat food, so bear in mind that a cheap bag won’t be as nutritionally sound as a pricier one.
Cat food comes in bags of varying sizes, so we examined the price per pound. Budget cat food tends to cost between $0.60 and $1 per pound. These formulas usually contain lower-quality meats and more fillers. Mid-range dry cat food costs between $1 and $2 per pound. You can find quality options in this price range. High-end dry cat food costs between $2 and $5 per pound and contains high-quality ingredients, many of which are organic and/or locally sourced.
Q. How can I tell if my cat is thriving on dry food?
A. You’ll be able to tell if your cat is thriving if it has a shiny coat, healthy-looking teeth and gums and a healthy appetite. Other indicators that your cat’s belly is agreeing with the dry food include a healthy weight and regular bowel movements that are neither wet and loose nor too dry.
Q. Is dry cat food better than wet cat food?
A. According to many veterinary nutritionists, a combination of both dry and wet food is the best of both worlds. On its own, each has pros and cons.
Dry food is easier to feed and store. It also typically costs less than wet food, has a high calorie content in relation to its weight, and it also promotes dental health. However, dry food includes more grains, is more likely to have preservatives and can be less palatable to cats due to the lack of moisture.
Wet food is more expensive, but it’s easier for cats to consume and digest because it contains more protein and fat. However, wet food can contribute to weight gain and potentially worsen a cat’s teeth and gums. It also spoils more quickly than dry food.
Q. What is freeze-dried cat food?
A. This is a form of dry cat food that consists of raw meat that has been dehydrated in low temperatures. It can be rehydrated to create something akin to wet cat food, but it is shelf-stable in its dry form and can last a long time before spoiling. It’s designed for pet parents who want to feed their cats a raw diet without the hassle.
Q. How much dry food should I feed my cat?
A. That depends on the cat’s weight, age, and activity level. As mentioned above, outdoor cats that roam outside burn more calories than house cats that sleep most of the day. That means outdoor cats require food with a higher calorie content. Senior cats have different caloric requirements than growing kittens, as do cats that tend to be overweight versus those that don’t. Follow the instructions on the package for your cat’s weight range. If you have questions or concerns, consult your vet about your cat’s personal dietary needs.