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At our house, feeding the cat is a daily exercise in bonding. Our big Siberian mix, Max, sits by his bowl and purrs loudly when he sees the can of wet cat food. Max also likes snacking on a low-calorie dry cat food that is available to him at all times. Max is happy—but what makes for the best dry cat food? We went on a search to learn more about cat nutrition and this style of cat food.
What Should We Feed Our Cats?
With all the dry, canned, fresh, and raw foods on the market, it can be difficult to decide what to feed your cat. But as this comprehensive article from the Cornell Feline Health Center and nutrition experts like Rose Silcox-Rither say: “Cats are obligate carnivores.”
That means that when it comes to nutrition, cats need an ample supply of meat. They evolved as meat-eating hunters, the Cornell article explains, with diets containing high levels of animal protein, moderate amounts of fat, and only minimal carbohydrates from vegetables and grains,
Silcox-Rither, an animal behaviorist who owns the Seattle-area company Better Kitty, adds that cats, as desert animals, ate primarily rodents and birds. Fish is not essential for them. Red meat and poultry are key.
Can Dry Food Fit in Your Mix?
Many adult cats can thrive on a full or partial diet of convenient and affordable dry foods. There are pros and cons:
- Convenience. Leave food out in the morning and go about your workday. While a few cats are gobblers, most cats are content to simply graze off and on during the day. You won’t come home late in the evening to an anxious, hungry cat.
- Freshness. Dry food can be left out if your cat is at home alone for the weekend. A feeding device can ensure they access the right amount of food each day.
- Reassurance. If your cat is a rescue, or suffers from food insecurity, just knowing that a bowl with dry food is available can reduce anxiety about eating.
- Cleaning: Dry food is less messy and less smelly.
- Low moisture. Many cats get water from their food, but dry food can’t satisfy this need. Make sure your cat has access to fresh water and is drinking it—or include some wet food as part of their diet.
- Bulky bags. Dry cat foods are heavy, and many come only in large bags. They can be a pain to lug into your house. And if you try a new food and your kitty turns up his nose—well, there you are with 15 pounds of unwanted kibble.
- Taste. Many cats tend to prefer wet food, so dry foods are often coated in fat to make them more appealing to your kitty’s taste buds. So while some cats will happily chow down on dry foods, others vastly prefer wet food and will let you know about it. If your cat is finicky, not eating well, or takes medication that must be mixed into food, you may need to include wet food in their daily food plan.
It’s likely just fine to feed you cat an all-dry food diet—but check with your vet, who knows your cat and their specific health issues. Many cats thrive on a diet of high-quality dry food. (Note that very small kittens aren’t fully equipped to chew kibble and get enough nutrition from it; they’ll need at least some wet food.)
If you feed dry food, make sure your cat has access to fresh water at all times. And make sure the dry food stays fresh. It’s not a bargain to buy a huge bag of dry food if you have only one cat—dry food should be consumed within two months of opening the package. Store dry food in a cool, dry location, away from sunlight to prevent spoiling, and keep the original bag (which is designed to keep food fresh) or container tightly closed. PetMD has a few more dry food storage tips.
The Best Dry Cat Foods
The dried cat foods that made our list are approved by the Feline Nutrition Expert Subcommittee of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) as meeting the basic minimum nutritional requirements for cats. They contain these feline diet essentials:
- high in protein
- moderate amounts of animal fats
- essential vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and amino acids
Be sure to select a food that is appropriate for your cat’s age, weight, and health status. We’ve included some dry foods for kittens (small, kitten-safe kibble) as well as weight-management formulas and foods for senior cats (generally lower in calories).
Here are our top picks—we’ve noted which foods have small packages available for you to try out affordably on finicky feline diners.
This highly rated kitten kibble leads with chicken, an excellent protein for cats. It includes an antioxidant-rich mix of vitamins A and E, along with DHA, a nutrient found in their mother’s milk. Available in 3-, 5-, and 16-pound bags.
This blend is designed for kittens up to 1 year old and includes the rich protein diet they need, along with vitamins and minerals, fish oil for brain and vision development, and taurine to help promote good vision and a healthy heart. It’s available in 3.5-, 7- and 16-pound bags.
This food is formulated for kittens between 4 months and 1 year who are ready to enjoy dry food. The small kibble is designed for those sharp little teeth! Chicken and rice are the lead ingredients in a recipe that includes highly digestible proteins, vitamins and essential minerals In 3.5, 7, and 15-pound bags.
This popular cat food for adults is great source of chicken, a lean protein that cats need for nutrition and energy. The grain-free formula contains the antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals essential to feline good health. Try it out with a 2.5-pound bag or buy it in 6-, 9.5-, or 12-pound packages.
Reviews report that cats find this food particularly tasty; it’s part of a line of Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diet (L.I.D.) dry foods that allow you to pick the specific type of protein your kitty gets. This formula has green peas and duck as the primary ingredients, along with vitamins and minerals required for an adult cat. Available in 5- and 10-pound bags.
This affordable dry food is designed for indoor cats and is excellent for the less-active adult kitty. Chicken, lentils, and salmon head up the recipe, along with pumpkin, dandelion greens, berries, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Check it out with a 3-pound bag; it’s also available in 6- and 14-pound sizes.
Hill’s Science Diet foods are targeted to cats in particular age ranges or with particular dietary needs. This formula, made in the U.S., is designed for active cats, 1 to 6 years of age. Chicken is the first ingredient, followed by wheat, corn, and rice. It comes in 4-, 7-, and 16-pound bags.
This Blue recipe has chicken as the first ingredient, followed by wholesome grains, veggies and fruit. It also includes Blue’s own LifeSource Bits—a combination of antioxidants, minerals and vitamins chosen by animal nutritionists to support your cat’s overall health and wellness. In 3-, 5-, and 7-pound bags.
Designed for a healthy senior cat, this formula has a crunchy kibble that helps inhibit the buildup of plaque on their teeth. The chicken and corn-based recipe includes L-carnitine to promote healthy weight and a fiber blend that includes prebiotics and beet pulp for healthy digestion. In 3.5, 7, and 16-pound bags.
Tips for Testing a New Cat Food
Be patient with your furry little gourmand. Experts recommend starting a new cat food slowly. First mix a small quantity of the new food in with the old, and up the proportion of new food every day or two. While your cat is adjusting, keep an eye not just on what they’re eating and how enthusiastic they are about it, but on how their stomach is handling it—watch for vomiting or diarrhea.
If your cat repeatedly turns their nose up at the new food, accept that you may have to back down—or try another food entirely. A stubborn cat can refuse to eat altogether, which puts them a risk for hepatic lipidosis, a serious health condition. This PetMD article has additional extensive advice on transitioning your cat to a new food.
Featured image via Pixabay/Crepessuzette