The Best Cat Food According to a Veterinarian

The Best Cat Food According to a Veterinarian

Katelyn Son
By Katelyn Son
Medically reviewed by Ivana Crnec, DVM
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If you buy something from a link on our site, we may earn a commission.
See our advertising disclosure.

Cat owners only want what’s best for their kittens, so naturally, they want to give them a healthy and nutritionally balanced diet with the best cat food. But how do owners navigate the aisles of kibble, cans to find the best cat food? 

Since studies show that proper nutrition is critical for overall health and wellbeing, in this article, we will review the seven best cat foods of 2021. We will talk about their pros and cons and reveal what other customers feel about each brand.

Read on to find out what to look for in quality cat food. Plus, we will also give you some helpful tips for accurate cat food label interpretation and explain the AAFCO standards.  

What is the Best Cat Food?

Smalls Cat Food
  • Smalls Human-Grade Fresh is protein-rich and picky cat-friendly. 
  • Our ingredients are USDA-certified, humanely-harvested, and sustainably-sourced—no BPAs, preservatives, fillers, or mystery-ingredients, ever.Smalls Freeze-Dried Raw retains the nutritional benefits of a raw, high-protein diet.
  • Get $5 off use code VETS5
  • Subscribers receive free treats for life on every order

Best Cat Foods: Our Top Picks Reviewed

Smalls Cat Food

smalls wet cat food

Get it at Smalls

Summary: Smalls is a fresh cat food manufacturer and delivery service based in NYC. The brand used human-grade ingredients and premium animal protein sources including chicken, turkey, and fish.

Its recipes are USDA-certified and available in two options – minced style and classic pate. In terms of flavors, there are four combinations – Bird (Chicken), Other Bird (Turkey and Chicken Liver), Cow, and Fish. 

With min 21% protein and low in carbs, the Smalls formulas are suited for cats of all life stages. Consistent use results in improved digestion, better weight and hairball control, and balanced energy levels. 

  • Human-grade ingredients and USDA-certified recipes
  • Fresh food with high-quality and sustainable proteins
  • High protein, low carb formula
  • Four different tastes and two textures
  • No artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives
  • Polite customer service and home delivery option
  • Needs freezer-storing and thawing before use
  • Not individually portioned
  • Available only via subscription

Review: Satisfied customers report fresher breath, fewer hairballs, shinier coats, and energy outbursts after using the Smalls food for their cats. They also say the food is “easily digestible” and “improves the poop quality” (firmer and less stinky). Plus, the customers are more than happy with the “professional customer service” and home delivery. All in all, we rate the Smalls Cat Food as the Best Overall food for cats. 

Open Farm Homestead Grain-Free Formula

Get it at Open Farm 

Summary: Open Farm’s Homestead offers premium quality and grain-free cat food for indoor and outdoor cats. All of the ingredients are natural and 100% tractable, and the protein sources are ethically raised. 

Featuring superfoods like pumpkin, carrots, and turmeric, as well as fresh cranberry and dandelion greens for urinary tract health, the Open Farm’s healthy Homestead diet is suitable for all cats regardless of age and breed. Plus, the kibble is conveniently sized and shaped. 

  • Ethically harvested and wild-caught fish
  • Protein sources for the first three ingredients
  • Fish oils as omega-3 fatty acid sources
  • No artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives
  • Exceptionally palatable taste
  • Relatively rich in carbohydrates
  • Heftier price tag than similar products

Review: Customers say the food “smells amazing,” and cats are delighted with it, including cats that generally dislike dry food. They also say the formula is more expensive but “worth every penny.” All in all, we rate the Open Farm Homestead Grain-Free Formula as the Best Dry Cat Food.

The Honest Kitchen Grain-Free Chicken Clusters

The Honest Kitchen Grain-Free Chicken Clusters

Get it on The Honest Kitchen     Get it on Amazon

Summary: The Honest Kitchen is a family-owned, US-based company that formulates healthy pet food from minimally processed, human-grade ingredients. These grain-free, protein-rich, bite-sized chicken clusters were developed in collaboration with a veterinary nutritionist using a bunch of cage-free chicken, natural foods, and a probiotic boost to aid digestion.

The Honest Kitchen Grain-Free Chicken Clusters contain premium ingredients to anchor your feline’s overall health and wellness. This recipe contains cranberries to support your cat’s urinary health, probiotics, and other gentle ingredients to achieve healthy digestion, and flax seeds to help reduce hairballs and maintain a healthy coat for your feline.

  • All-natural, non-GMO ingredients
  • Made with minimal processing
  • Human-grade quality
  • Supports digestion and healthy skin & coats
  • No fillers, meat meal, and additives
  • Relatively rich in calories
  • Has high-fat content
Review: Satisfied customers report that The Honest Kitchen Grain-Free Chicken Clusters recipe has contributed a lot in the healthy weight management of their cats, and has helped them achieve a healthy set of teeth and coat. Some of them have also posited that the quality of The Honest Kitchen’s cat food is unmatched and this has been consumed by their pets for a couple of years already.

Purina Beyond Grain-Free Formula

Purina Beyond Grain-Free Formula

 Get it at Amazon

Summary: The Purina Beyond Grain-Free Formula features certified and sustainable seafood ingredients and is free from cheap fillers, allergenic grains, and artificial additives. The added vitamins, minerals, and natural probiotics contribute to the overall quality profile.  

Plus, the diet can be served with Beyond wet cat food for an extra protein boost. Mixing the two foods also improves palatability and supports hydration. As the famous cat food brand says, its diets allow you to “feed your cat the way nature intended.”   

  • Wild-caught whitefish as ingredient number one
  • Contains sweet potato and cage-free eggs
  • Natural probiotics for more efficient digestion
  • No grains, GMOs, poultry by-products, and artificial additives
  • Made in the US with earth-friendly practices
  • The cassava root contains too much starch and fiber
  • Some cats dislike the taste and texture of dry foods

Review: Delighted customers say the Purina Beyond Grain-Free Formula is the solution to the most common cat owner complaints – “stepping on cat food crumbs, stinky litter box, cleaning up vomit every day.” All in all, we rate the Purina Beyond Grain-Free Formula as the Best Cat Food for Adults. 

Tiki Canned Food

Tiki Canned Food 

Get it at Amazon          Get it at Chewy

Summary: The Tiki brand offers gourmet recipes specifically formulated for cats with delicate palates. The real meat and broth improve the formula’s moisture content, and together with the added nutrients, they support digestive, cardiovascular, and urinary health. 

The Tiki Canned Cat Food can be used as a complete and balanced meal or based on the cat’s preferences as a topper. Plus, for straightforward usage, the food comes in convenient and easy-to-open BPA-free cans. 

  • Rich in high-quality and nourishing protein
  • Real broth for natural hydration  
  • No fruit and no vegetable formula
  • Free from grains (soy, wheat) and GMOs
  • Added taurine for heart health support
  • Sunflower seed oil is not the best choice for cats  
  • Low overall fat content

Review: Customers describe the Tikki Canned Food as “top-notch” and say that “cats go crazy for the shredded chicken.” They are also happy about the diet’s easy digestibility and soft texture suitable for cats with dental problems. All in all, we rate the Tiki Canned Food as the Best Wet Cat Food. 

Wellness CORE Grain-Free Formula

Wellness CORE Grain-Free Formula

Get it at Amazon      Get it at Chewy

Summary: The Wellness brand uses simple, natural ingredients without any fluff or fillers. The brand offers the Core Range, which is a protein-focused, grain-free cat food, and the Complete Health range with well-balanced grain-free options for everyday health. 

With turkey, turkey meal, and deboned chicken as the first three ingredients and added health-boosting nutrients, the Wellness CORE Grain-Free Formula is a nutrient-dense diet capable of fueling the growing kitten’s high dietary needs. 

  • Hydrating and calorie-dense formula  
  • Contains added fish oil as a DHA source  
  • Palatable formula with soft pate texture
  • Supports brain and eye development
  • Promotes lean physique and robust immunity
  • Includes unnecessary plant-based ingredients
  • The quality of some components declines over time

Review: Happy customers say “cats love Wellness cat food,” and considering the ingredient quality, the formula is “reasonably priced.” They are also satisfied that the kibble “does not disintegrate into powder” at the bottom of the bag. All in all, we rate the Wellness CORE Grain-Free Formula as the Best Cat Food for Kittens.  

Hill’s Science Diet Adult 7+ Senior Vitality

Hill's Science Diet Adult 7+ Senior Vitality

Get it at Amazon      Get it at Chewy

Summary: Hills has perhaps the most widely available premium and specialist cat foods on the market today. This cat food brand range offers no less than 18 varieties and formulations of dry cat food to suit all and every dietary and personal preference.

The Hill’s Science Diet Adult 7+ Senior Vitality food contains ingredients that directly enhance the aging cat’s declining functions. In other terms, the diet supports brain health, interaction, energy, and vitality. There is also a canned option suitable for toothless feline seniors

  • Vet-recommended prescription diet with impressive ingredients
  • Chicken and brown rice as the first two components
  • Supports functions that decline with age
  • Rich in omega fatty acids for skin and coat health
  • Hills supports shelter pets and pets in need
  • May cause weight gain in some cats
  • Cats can be allergic to the corn gluten meal

Review: A satisfied customer says, “this food might have saved my cat’s life,” and another is happy with the “hook and loop (velcro) seal.” Regular customers agree that cats like how the Hill’s Science diets taste. All in all, we rate the Hill’s Science Diet Adult 7+ Senior Vitality as the Best Cat Food for Seniors.   

Blue Buffalo Basics Grain-Free Formula

Blue Buffalo Basics Grain-Free Formula

Get it at Amazon       Get it at Chewy

Summary: Blue Buffalo‘s Basic Limited Ingredient Diet is formulated on the concept that “less is more.” The diet has a single animal protein (fish) and several easily digestible carbohydrate sources such as peas, pumpkin, potatoes. 

The careful selection of limited ingredients and nutrients makes Blue Buffalo Basics the perfect cat food for cats with sensitive tummies. Plus, BLUE’s exclusive LifeSource Bits (powerful combo of cold-formed vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants) support overall health and wellbeing. 

  • Limited ingredient recipe  
  • LifeSource Bits (antioxidants, vitamins, minerals)
  • Superior omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids ratio
  • Supports healthy digestion and weight management
  • Promotes healthy skin and shiny coat
  • Contains several carbohydrate and fat sources
  • Some cats may dislike the low moisture content
  • The ingredients list is long and confusing

Review: Customers describe their cats as “happier and energetic” after switching to the Blue Buffalo Basics Grain-Free Diet. Plus, they say the kibbles are so tasty they “can be used as treats.” All in all, we rate the Blue Buffalo Basics Grain-Free Formula as the Best Cat Food for Sensitive Stomachs. 

What Should I Look for in the Best Cat Food?

First, let’s dispel the myth that homemade cat food is better than commercial brands. Although it is possible to craft a diverse and balanced homemade diet, you would need a great deal of knowledge and ingredient combinations to satisfy every aspect of your cat’s complex dietary requirements.  

On the other hand, while some brands are better than others, the majority of commercial cat foods are just what your cat needs to be healthy and live a long and happy life. The best cat food is made to benefit the health of cats, not only to make a profit from selling a substandard product! 

But let’s go through the important buying factors and considerations to avoid substandard food brands and ensure the best cat food for your feline friend. 

Protein Type and Content. Cats are obligate carnivores – that does not mean they should eat only meat and nothing else. However, it means they need meat or animal-sourced protein to thrive. 

In terms of type, there are various options – chicken, turkey, salmon, etc. Unless your cat is sensitive to certain proteins, you can choose the taste they like most. As for content, it depends based on the cat’s age and life stage. 

The Ingredient List. Reading and understanding the entire ingredient list can be lengthy and confusing. The most important thing is to focus on the first five ingredients as they make up most of the food. 

Once again, since cats are carnivores, the majority of these five ingredients should be meat. Namely, listing a carbohydrate source or a veggie among them is not necessarily a bad thing. However, at least three out of the five ingredients must be meats. 

Health concerns. Obviously, if your cat is diagnosed with a chronic condition such as diabetes, arthritis, or food allergies, it will need a diet formulated specifically for those needs and requirements.  

Addressing health issues through diet requires prescription foods. In other terms, it is best advised to consult with your vet and ask for a prescription diet that will satisfy your cat’s nutritional necessities. 

Reputable Brands: Reputable and trustworthy brand. When looking into different cat food brands, you need to consider their reliability. Generally speaking, a good brand will be transparent about its ingredients and manufacturing practices. 

Some cat food brands are now using ethically sourced meats, cage-free eggs, and wild-caught fish. Others practice sustainable and eco-friendly manufacturing processes or donate funds to pets in need. 

Your Budget. When shopping for cat food, it is important to bear in mind the adage “You get what you pay for.” Cheaper lines of cat food may cost you in the long run as vet expenses from associated health issues can quickly pile up. 

Then there is the fact that cats will have to eat more significant quantities of the carbohydrate-packed cheaper foods to satisfy their hunger and nutritional needs. That being said, the market does include many nutritional dry cat foods without the premium price tag.

How do You Read a Cat Food Label?

Cat food labels are long and loaded with complicated words. Therefore they are hard to read and understand. To make things easy, we will list the few things you need to pay attention to:

  • Ingredient list. Since cats are obligate carnivores, animal-sourced proteins should be high on the list
  • Guaranteed analysis. Explains the percentage of each nutrient (protein, fat, fiber) found in the diet
  • Calorie content statement. Must be clearly listed and expressed in kilocalories or k/cals
  • AAFCO complete and balanced statement. To ensure the diet is complete and third-party lab-tested. 

But, what does the abbreviation AAFCO mean? AAFCO stands for Association of American Feed Control Officials – a voluntary membership association of local, state, and federal agencies that regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies.

In other words, the AAFCO sets pet food nutrition standards based on the requirements of the National Research Council (NRC). Practically speaking, a cat food labeled as AAFCO-approved is considered to be of high quality. 

With that being said, we should say that you also need to look beyond labels, claims, and popular keywords. For example, let’s discuss two ingredients with bad reputations – meat by-products and grains. 

When a food includes meat by-products, it is immediately discarded as low-quality. This is not necessarily true. By-products, if properly sourced and processed, can be healthy. In fact, raw-feeders base their meals on meat by-products (livers, chicken feet, hard-to-reach muscles). 

Grains are another factor. While it is true that some cats can be sensitive to grains, the incidence of grain allergies is not nearly as high as marketed. Grains are rich in nutrients that cannot be found in other foods, and their unnecessary exclusion may result in health issues. 

Bottom line, even if you do your research on cat food brands and label interpretation, choosing the right option for your cat and objectively supporting the choice can be tricky. 

Our Final Thoughts on Best Cat Food

choosing the best cat food

Whether dry kibble, raw or wet food, ingredients are what matter the most when choosing the best diet for your cat. As a quick walkthrough in the cat food world – always check the label and remember:

  • A high-quality animal-based protein source as first ingredients.
  • Less than 10% of calories should come from carbohydrates.
  • Unspecified meats and by-products are a definite no-no.
  • Essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and probiotics are a plus.
  • GMO ingredients, unnecessary fillers, and artificial additives must be avoided. 

With these general guidelines in mind, you are ready to find the best cat food for your pet and your budget. And do not forget, if your feline friend has a chronic condition or specific dietary requirements, talk to your vet before purchasing on Amazon or Chewy.