Cat Food Breakdown: The Good, The Bad, & The Heinous

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cat eating raw meat

The pet food industry and I have always had a bit of a rocky relationship. We don’t call, we don’t write. We definitely don’t send Christmas cards. We have what you might call a dark and storied history.

Call me overdramatic (because I probably am), but few things get my blood boiling more than seeing ads on TV from big pet food brands, touting “happy, healthy” pets with “glossy coats” and “increased energy and vitality!!”


Stick it where the sun don’t shine, big pet food brands.


Why so much angst, you ask? My childhood dog and best friend of 13 years died (relatively early, for his breed) from canine leukemia, caused in no small part by the various bits of garbage that pet food manufacturers are shoveling into our furry family members. After his death, I spent months researching pet food, going on mini-crusades against the pet food industry, and annoying the crap out of my family and friends.


The (cat-related) fruits of that labor, I present to you below.



Basic cat food rules:
  • Before you buy anything, check the ingredients on the back. By law, ingredients must be listed according to content, with the most prevalent ingredient listed first. The first 5 ingredients should always be a protein of some sort, and ideally not a by-product (by-products are beaks, feathers, hooves, rancid meat, euthanized pets, etc.. yum)
  • No more than 10% of calories should come from carbohydrates (grains, potatoes, soy, peas, etc). Grain-free is best, if you can swing it.
  • Wet food will generally be better for your cats than dry foods, since dry foods tend to be heavily processed, have high carb content and very little water content.
*I’ll go more in-depth into why these things are important at the end of this post




cat eating food


Best bang for your buck:

Don’t feel like spending hundreds of dollars a month on cat food? I feel you. These are a few great options that won’t have you eating top ramen every day.

*slightly less-than-ideal ingredients are highlighted in red



Natural Balance canned cat food

Natural balance cat food

Get it on Amazon

First 5 ingredients (for the ultra formula):

Chicken Broth, Chicken, Chicken Liver, Salmon, Duck

Price range:

$30-35 for 24 6-oz cans

Not grain free








Newman’s Own canned cat food

Newman's own cat food

Get it on Amazon

First 5 ingredients (for the chicken/salmon formula):

Organic Chicken, Sufficient Water for Processing, Poultry Liver, Salmon, Ocean Whitefish (fish used in cat food can be high in mercury/toxins)

Price range:

$25-30 for 24 6-oz cans

Not grain free




Trader Joe’s canned cat food

Trader joes cat food

Only available at TJ’s…unless you like being ripped off on Amazon!

First 5 ingredients (for the chicken/turkey formula):

Chicken Broth, Chicken, Turkey, Ocean Fish, Animal Liver  (vague descriptors = not so bueno)

Price range:

$16.56 for 24 6-oz cans  <–whaaat? Deal of the century. Only available at TJ’s stores, though

Not grain free





Slightly more buck:

The ingredient quality will be higher here, with fewer fillers and fewer (or zero) non-animal protein sources.



Nature’s Variety Pride canned cat food

Nature's Variety pride cat food

Get it on Amazon

First 5 ingredients (for the chicken formula):

Chicken Broth, Chicken, Chicken Liver, Peas, Egg Whites  (Pea protein = cheap filler)

Price range:

$20 for 12 5.5-oz cans (so approximately $40 for 24 cans)

Grain free!



Wellness Core canned cat food

Get it on Amazon

First 5 ingredients (for the chicken/turkey formula):

Chicken, Turkey, Chicken Broth, Chicken Liver, Chicken Meal

Price range:

$40 for 24 5.5-oz cans

Grain free!






Nature’s Variety Limited Ingredient canned cat food

Get it on Amazon

First 5 ingredients (for the turkey formula):

Turkey, Turkey Broth, Turkey Liver, Peas, Montmorillonite Clay (a natural anti-caking agent with supposed detoxifying health benefits)

Price range:

$25 for 12 5.5-oz cans (so approximately $50 for 24 cans)

Grain free!




Blue Buffalo canned cat food

Get it on Amazon

First 5 ingredients (for the chicken/turkey formula):

Chicken, Chicken Broth, Water, Turkey, Chicken Liver

Price range:

$46 for 24 5.5-oz cans

Grain free!







Nutro canned cat food

Nutro cat food

Get it on Amazon

First 5 ingredients (for the chicken formula):

Chicken Broth, Chicken, Chicken Liver, Egg Product, Pork Broth  (Egg Product = egg waste product, cheap protein)

Price range:

$25 for 24 3-oz cans (so approximately $50 for 24 6-oz cans)

Grain free!



Nature’s Logic canned cat food

Nature's Logic cat food

Get it on Amazon

First 5 ingredients (for the chicken formula):

Chicken, Chicken Broth, Chicken Liver, Chicken Heart, Dried Egg Product, (Egg Product = egg waste product, cheap protein)

Price range:

$23 for 12 5.5-oz cans (so approximately $46 for 24 cans)

Grain free!



There are other canned food options out there, but from my digging these appear to be your best bet (both in terms of price and quality). Know a great brand* that you don’t see here? Please leave me a comment and I’ll commence my obsessive research.

*I know Weruva is also meant to be a good choice, but I can’t justify paying that price for so much…water. It’s a super watery food, y’all.



Dry food options worth a look

“But Stef,” you say, “I heard that dry cat food is literally from the devil. Literally.”

Well, not exactly. Although dry food isn’t optimal (nothing beats a homemade, raw diet), if you choose the right brand it can be a fantastic supplement to wet food, or at the very least a cheaper alternative. And by right brand I mean: high quality animal protein content / low carb & grain content.

*If you’re feeding your cat dry food exclusively, closely monitor their water intake. If your cat doesn’t drink at least 8-10 fl oz (about 1 cup) of water per day, please consider switching them to wet food! Why? Cats generally have very low thirst drive and derive most of the water they need from their food.



Orijen Cat & Kitten dry cat food

*Dec 2016 update: Thanks to a commenter for bringing this to my attention: Orijen has recently moved their manufacturing (for the US only) from Canada to Kentucky, US. Ingredients have changed as well, and initial reviews indicate strange fishy odors and kitty reluctance to partake. I’ve highlighted the major changes below.


Get it on Amazon

[CANADA] First 5 ingredients:

Boneless Chicken, Chicken Meal, Chicken Liver, Whole Herring, Boneless Turkey

In fact, the first 14 ingredients are all high-quality proteins. No grains and no preservatives. (There’s a reason it’s so expensive)

Price range:

$60-65 for a 15-lb bag

Grain free!





[USA – NEW] First 5 ingredients:

Deboned Chicken, Deboned Turkey, Yellowtail Flounder, Whole Eggs, Whole Atlantic Mackerel

Major changes:

  • Chicken meal has been replaced by deboned turkey as the second ingredient. Deboned meats are weighed before being cooked, so their weight includes water, disproportionately inflating their percentage in the final product. Their actual content in the formula is much lower. Chicken meal, on the other hand, has the water extracted beforehand, so it’s a far superior, more concentrated form of protein.
  • If we consider the aforementioned change, most of the protein in this formula comes from fish (including scales, bones, & fins)
  • Maximum level of Phosphorus, Calcium, Ash, etc. are not mentioned
  • Magnesium increased from 0.09% to 0.1%
  • Proteins reduced from 42% to 40% (min)
  • Omega-3 reduced from 1.2% to 0.8% (min)
(See a full breakdown of the new formula here.)


Price range:

Here is the most irritating part. They’ve degraded their ingredient quality (and protein content) and decreased their bag size, while keeping prices the same. Smells like a cash grab.

Here’s the new price breakdown:

$60-65 for a 12-lb bag (so approximately $75-80 for 15 lbs). What. the. f#$%. 

Still grain free. No exclamation point for you though, because fuck you.




Petcurean Go! Fit & Free dry cat food

Petcurean cat food

Get it on Amazon

First 5 ingredients:

Chicken Meal, Deboned Chicken, Deboned Turkey, Duck Meal, Turkey Meal

While not quite as impressive an ingredient list as Orijen, Petcurean go! checks all the boxes

Price range:

$60 for a 16-lb bag

Grain free!


[Another advantage of Petcurean go!: It’s manufactured in Canada (like the Orijen US formula used to be), where the pet food industry is much more heavily regulated.]




Acana Grasslands dry cat food

Acana cat food

Get it on Amazon

First 5 ingredients:

Deboned Lamb, Deboned Duck, Whole Eggs, Lamb Meal, Catfish Meal

Price range:

$55-65 for a 15-lb bag

Grain free!








Wellness Core dry cat food

Get it on Amazon

First 5 ingredients:

Deboned Turkey, Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Whitefish Meal, Herring Meal

Price range:

$30-40 for a 12-lb bag (so approximately $40-50 for 15 lbs)

Grain free!







Open Farm Homestead Turkey & Chicken dry cat food

Open Farm is interesting, since they’re the first pet food manufacturer (that I know of) to mass-produce “ethical pet food,” which means their farm animals are all humanely raised and sourced. I dig it. 


Get it on Amazon

First 5 ingredients:

Humanely Farmed Turkey, Humanely Farmed Chicken, Ocean Caught Whitefish Meal, Ocean Caught Herring Meal, Chickpeas (no brotato, cats shouldn’t eat chickpeas… although this ingredient isn’t quite as bad as some other cheap fillers)

Price range:

$25 for a 5-lb bag (so ~$75 for 15 lbs)

Grain free!






Merrick Before Grain dry cat food

Merrick before grain

Get it on Amazon

First 5 ingredients:

Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Potato Dehydrated, Turkey Meal, Chicken Fat (silly Merrick, cats don’t eat potatoes)

Price range:

$25 for an 11-lb bag (so $35 for 15 lbs) <–steaaaallllll

Grain free!







I’ve left off a lot of otherwise-decent brands with higher carb content (like pea proteins or oats) and excessive use of fish.

Know a good brand you think should be included? Clue me in in the comments!



cat eating wet food


Things to absolutely avoid

Looking to do your own digging? Here are a few things to look out for:



Avoid like the plague:
  • Corn, corn meal, corn gluten (just anything corn-related). It’s a shit filler product and it’s killing both us and our pets
  • Soy. Another cheap filler protein, that commonly causes pet food allergies
  • Wheat and wheat gluten. More cheap filler protein used to increase profit margins
  • Cellulose/Powdered cellulose: 10000% empty fillers
  • By-products. These are all the leftover scraps deemed unfit for human consumption, like intestines, feet, bone—often from diseased animals
  • BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole), BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene), or Ethoxyquin. All chemical preservatives known to cause cancer in humans and animals
  • Any “natural”/artificial flavors or colorings




Test your knowledge!

Here’s a real life cat food ingredient label from a very well known, TV-ad-running, pet-health-touting manufacturer. Feel free to cross check with the “to avoid” ingredient list above!


Now do you see why I LOATHE big pet food brands?



Why does any of this matter?

Your cats are doing just fine on TV-ad-running garbage food, you say? They just love it, you say? That’s equivalent to saying that a toddler loves having Lucky Charms three meals a day. Of course they love it! It’s sugary, nutritionally-barren filler laced with chemicals and artificial flavors.

Cats have evolved to subsist on animal protein, period. In fact, they need 5 times more protein in their diets than dogs do, making careful meal-planning on our parts even more crucial. Their bodies were simply not made to digest carbs like grains, corn, soy, or rice, and forcing them to do so inevitably leads to:


  • Diarrhea, skin problems, allergies & arthritis, to start
  • Feline diabetes
  • Pancreatitis
  • Chronic renal failure
  • Urinary crystals
  • Cystitis (bladder inflammation)
  • Bladder / kidney stones
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
  • Hepatic Lipidosis (fatty liver disease)
  • Cancer (and premature death)


If you love your kitties (and I know you do!), give them the best possible chance at a long, healthy, happy life—just like their wild, fearsome (and very very carnivorous) ancestors had before them.


Nutrition is only one factor (albeit an extremely important one) affecting your cat’s longevity and health. Here’s how to ensure your cat lives to the ripe old age of 20, and beyond.

Check out my breakdown of what to indulge and what to avoid in cat treats.

Read my comprehensive guide to another essential cat need – vertical space.


What do you feed your little wombats? Anything I missed? Let me know!


Pin it!



(New content goes up about once a month!)



  1. Ellen Pilch says:

    I didn’t know Trader Joe’s had cat food- I am going to get some. Thank you- this is an excellent post. I am always so conflicted on what to feed my cats and with 13 cats I can’t afford the more expensive ones.

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Thanks a lot ! And yup, Trader Joe’s canned food is pretty unbeatable for the price. The only downside is they’re only sold in individual cans, so lugging a month’s supply home is a bit of a pain.
      I totally feel you on the expensive food! Good job taking care of all your babies!

      1. Greg says:

        Our Trader Joe’s runs $0.79 per can, so that’s $18.96 per 24. Still a great price. We’ve tried a few other brands, but our picky cat only likes the TJ Chicken and Turkey flavors. I guess she picked a decent one for us. Since we don’t regularly venture to TJ, every 2 or 3 months we’ll make a run, hoping they have them in stock, and buy 60-90 at a time. Thanks for the article.

        1. Why Cat Why says:

          Yes, Trader Joes is my lifeblood! We do the same and haul home huge quantities every few weeks or so.

  2. Engineer L says:

    The most cost effective option for wet cat food is actually to buy the 13 oz cans, instead of the 3-6 oz cans. I recommend Wellness and Dave’s Pet Food (get the grain-free ones). I buy them off, which I find to be much cheaper than your local pet store.

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Thanks for the tip! And yes, I love I get packages from there practically every week. :]

  3. Andrea Smith says:

    I just went through a thorough research and found that Merrick Limited Ingredient Diet, Grain Free high quality is as comprable to the Core Wellness, Nutro etc listed above..

  4. Kerri says:

    I, too, do my shopping via Love them! After our previous baby, Kramer, developed diabetes due to a diet consisting mainly of dry food (thanks, vet, for that advice!), we now feed our two current babies only Weruva wet food. But boy, it does cost a fortune, however, it’s worth it to see how healthy they are, how soft and shiny their coats are, etc. Currently looking for a more affordable option to supplement it.

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Yes! I stopped listening to our vet’s advice on nutrition after the 3rd time she recommended Science Diet, haha. So glad your babies are doing well on Weruva! It’s definitely expensive. I’d look into Tiki Cat for something similar and slightly cheaper!

  5. Corey says:

    You aren’t being fair to Fromm’s, I think… All of the premium dry foods have a shockingly steep price curve from the low volumes to the high: Wellness Core Original is ~$23 for a 6 lb bag, $38 for a 12 lb, for example (on A 15 lb bag of Fromm’s runs around $45 depending on the flavor, vs. the $25 you cite for 5-lb. (I’m a bit biased here because one of my cats is very picky, and rejected every premium dry food until I got to one particular variety of Fromm’s.) That said… The premium dry foods also go rancid fairly quickly unless you keep them sealed in an airtight container, so a 15-lb bag may also not be a good buy unless you have enough cats to go through it quickly. (Tip: If you’re past the halfway point in a bag of dry food, and kitty suddenly seems reluctant to eat it and/or starts throwing up frequently… The food has gone off. Took me a while to figure this one out, but my cats are now much happier with me buying smaller bags of food.)

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Hi Corey, thanks so much for your comment! I think you’re right, Fromm’s is actually cheaper than Orijen for their 15-lb bag. Prices are always fluctuating so thanks for the heads up.

      My issue with Fromm’s is their ingredient list though – the 3rd ingredient is pea protein, which is a cheap filler product with no nutritional value for our kitties. Given what Fromm’s is charging, this is an unacceptable ingredient for them to include anywhere in their food, let alone in the first 5 ingredients! Other than that, Fromm’s seems like a decent quality food with very little additives, so I’m glad your picky cat is doing well on it. I know how tough it is to find something they actually like eating, so keep it up! :]

  6. dmk says:

    Great article, thanks for the research!

    I’m also a (new) fan of .

    My cat had a few bouts of UTI as a kitten, and recently as a 9-year-old cat (I slipped and bought a cheap bag of dry food; I’m pretty sure that was the cause). We now know she is prone to bladder stones. Tiki Cat canned food is her primary food, since they have great nutritional info on their site.

    My Mom feeds her ten-year-old cats Trader Joe’s; it’s high quality, and you cannot beat that price!

    I’m currently researching food options for two 11-week-old bundles of energy.

    – Change the red color to something less brown; it’s a little too dark and doesn’t stand out. I recommend something more like #d06040 ; Check out for text samples.
    – In addition to the prices you already quote, please add price per ounce for wet food, and price per pound for dry food; that makes it easier to compare across brands and sizes.

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Thanks for your great feedback! I’ll get on the readability/comparability issues pronto.

      And yes, you really can’t beat Trader Joe’s for price/quality.

  7. Jessica says:

    You might want to check the latest on Orijen. I stumbled across your site while searching out new options for our felines.

    I got a shipping update from Chewy that my autoship of Orijen was changing without an explanation why so I started looking into it. Us folks in the USA will no longer be able to get the version made in Canada and instead will be getting the version now made in KY. Lots of reviews I have read did not have good things to say about the changes or their cats reaction to the changes. So…I stocked up on all the Canada version I could and am hunting for a new food.

    Petcurean GO seems to be the next possible contender (if they will eat it). But for now we have a few more bags of Canadian Orijen and Tiki Cat.

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Oh no! My cats love their Orijen, and I’ll definitely have to look into the changes… Probably a cost-cutting measure of some sort. >:/

      Thanks so much for your comment!

  8. KellyZ says:

    Thank you for your research! Just wondering if you have any advice for a male cat that has to be on “urinary tract health” food? (I see another commenter was concerned about this also). I feed my cat Royal Canin SO and Purina ProPlan Urinary wet food, but looking at the first 5 ingredients, it’s not looking so good anymore. Any advice, as I’m sure others have cats with the same problem? ( I see someone mentioned that TIKI food has a lot of water….is that good enough?) Thank you!!!

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Hi Kelly! Normally I’d always default to asking to your vet for their recommendations, but past experience tells me that most vets tend to shill sub-par pet foods with supposed “health-boosting” benefits. Here is a pretty informative article I found on the subject:

      Essentially – high quality, high-protein canned food with high water content is key. Tiki cat sounds like a good choice, especially if your cat has a low thirst drive. One caveat is to avoid feeding your cat exclusively the fish flavors, as too much fish can be detrimental to kitty’s health!

  9. jean says:

    just found your helpful, informative site. trying to figure out what to feed my 12 week old kittens! they seem to eat anything..but i am in this for the long haul and would like to get a couple of wet products lined up to use daily.

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Hi Jean! You’re on the right track already if you’re feeding them high-quality, nutritionally dense wet food. Kittens can generally eat the same kind of food as adult cats, just in larger quantities relative to their body weight. You know, to fuel all that exponenetial growing and extreme hyperactivity. :]

  10. Arabella says:

    Was just wondering if you knew about Avoderm wet canned food? Also if Blue Buffalo dry cat food is okay. My cats generally like Blue Buffalo over the years and are healthy. However I am always open to switching to something else if there are healthier options.

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Hi Arabella! Just did a quick search for Avoderm’s ingredient list, and right off the bat I’d say to stay away from any foods with added salt and carrageenan. I’ve also looked into Blue Buffalo before, and while they are a decent brand, their use of tapioca starch and pea protein (zero-nutrition filler) is disappointing given their reputation–which is why I’ve left them off this list.

  11. Judie says:

    I couldn’t figure out why my 3 cats, 2 are 11 year old Bombays, 1is a 6 year old disabled. I bought the Bombays from a pet store, they were living in horrible conditions, the 6 year old, I rescued from a hoarder. They have been given the best, so when they refused to eat the dry Orijen returned bag to store, after 2 different bags, & finding out food was no longer from Canada, & the ingredients have been changed, the light bulb went off. Researched ingredients, hope I can get Go Fit & Free Chix, Turkey, & Duck from Chewy. Iam a senior & my cats mean the world to me 😻 Glad I found

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Hi Judie, thanks so much for your comment! So happy to have helped!
      I’ve fed my cats a few samples of Go Fit & Free (Turkey, Chicken, Duck) and they seem to love it (and my hyper-sensitive allergic cat has had no reactions to it). So there’s a bit of anecdotal evidence for you! :]

  12. Delta says:

    What do you think of dehydrated foods like Primal or Stella & Chewy’s? Are they good quality and worth the cost?

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Hi Delta, I’m not too familiar with freeze dried cat foods, but a cat blog I love (natural cat care) has a pretty informative article ranking raw foods here:

  13. LG says:

    Any suggestions for low calories food. Vet wants a 250 calories diet. We used to feed our cat dry food only. Now we want wet food during the day and some dry food over night. She lost about 2 lb over year and a half. We would like something grain free and low fiber for dry food. We started on hills diet light wet (138kcal/can) and hills light dry food, Currently Traider Joe tuna and Nature’s Variety Instinct Grain-Free Dry Cat Food, but we think she gaining weight back because of the Nature’s Variety Instinct Grain-Free Dry Cat Food has too many calories.

    Any suggestions would be appreciated.


    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Right away I’d say to cut out the dry food completely. Dry food has too many carbs for our cats, especially for those trying to lose a few pounds. Go for a high-protein, grain-free wet food only. The Hills “light” diet you were feeding kitty is chock-full of empty fillers and carbs–try to avoid it! And never free-feed (leave food out for) an overweight kitty.
      Also, portion control is much more important than calorie counting. Give her set portions, 2-3 times per day. If she doesn’t finish her portion, throw it out. She’ll learn to adapt to this feeding schedule and eat everything you put in front of her, no more, no less!

      More info:

      1. LG says:

        By being on Hills wet food is how she lost weight. Vet wanted wet food as it has more moisture and keeps her full for longer time. She has been throwing up before, but now with weight loss she still throwing up. So we switched her to TJ tuna and it seems to help. We did blood panel/work and all came good.
        Is TJ tuna ok?
        Any recommendations for wet food?

        We can’t cut out dry food completely as she becomes very very vocal at night.

        1. LG says:

          Any suggestions, please?

        2. Why Cat Why says:

          Trader Joe’s canned is a great place to start. I’d say stick with the chicken/turkey formula since too much fish is bad for our cats (particularly tuna, which can be high in mercury).

          Totally understand about the cat being bothersome at night–but it will take perseverance and patience (and sometimes sleepless nights) to condition our cats out of unwanted behavior!

          1. LG says:

            We rotate it with tuna. Did you see people were talking that chicken turkey rice dinner has Carrageenan? What is your opinion on it?

          2. Why Cat Why says:

            I don’t know enough about carrageenan to speak definitively about it, but I understand it’s “possibly” cancer-causing in humans. While I’d normally try to avoid such ingredients, considering the low price of Trader Joe’s canned food there are bound to be some trade-offs (no pun intended)!

  14. Kaitlyn says:

    I buy my cat Weruva and he absolutely loves it! I can get 6 oz cans 24 pack for about $31.00 off (they give discounts based on different thing like paying with a debit card etc) I also supplement with dry food (taste of the wild) at night just to help stretch his wet food out a little more.

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Supplementing with dry food is a great way to go! Thanks for your tip about, I’ll have to check them out. :]

  15. Bethany says:

    Hi! Thanks so much for all the great info! What about Nulo (?) food? The dry chicken/cod…it is grain free…I know they are not supposed to have fish so I’m wondering about the cod? One of my cats has bloody stool the vet said it was his food. I was horrified. I’m now switching from Purina Beyond and wet Friskies to Trader Joe’s wet food and Nulo instead. Wondering if these are good choices? Thank you! 🙂

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Hi Bethany! Just did a quick search of Nulo’s ingredients, and for the price it looks like decent food. There are some less-than-ideal ingredients in there like peas and “natural” flavor, but overall it’s not bad! I’d try to balance out the fish content with a fish-free wet food option (Trader’s is great for the value), or by mixing it with a grain/fish-free value dry food like Merrick’s Before Grain.

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