Feeding time for your cats can sometimes be tedious; they’re just about the pickiest eaters around, so it’s difficult to find a food that they’ll willingly eat, that’s good for them, and that doesn’t require you take out a second mortgage.
Nutrition is particularly important for your cat because they’re naturally meat eaters and don’t process grains well. They get most of what they need in their diet from meat sources, and many commercial cat foods use complex carbohydrates as filler, which should be avoided if possible.
Because we know it’s difficult and time-consuming to find a cat food that’s balanced and affordable that your cat will actually eat, we’ve put together this list of reviews of the best affordable cat foods out there.
Let’s dig in so your cat can too!
A Quick Look at the Winners of 2021
|Best Overall||American Journey Grain-Free||
|Best Value||Iams ProActive Health Dry||
|Premium Choice||Purina Cat Chow Indoor Dry||
|Meow Mix Original Choice Dry||
|Purina Kit & Kaboodle Dry||
The 10 Best Budget Cat Foods
1. American Journey Grain-Free Dry Cat Food – Best Overall
Instead of reviewing this cat food, we could just tell you to look at the ingredients! This American Journey Cat Food really is grain-free, it’s made up of 40% protein, and all of the ingredients are recognizable, which means there are no artificial ingredients, fillers, or preservatives. The nutrients provided outside of the protein are well-rounded and balanced, so your cat will be getting everything they need to stay happy and healthy. The best thing about this food is that your feline friend is bound to love it! Since a large portion of American Journey food is real meat, this had our cats coming from the other room to eat — something we never thought we’d see from our picky eaters.
A few things to look out for: the pieces of food are small, which might lead to your kitty not chewing enough. Also, most of the flavors include chicken or fish which are common food allergens for cats, so this may not be the best food if your cat has food allergies.
2. Iams ProActive Health Dry Cat Food – Best Value
This product line from Iams is first and foremost made with your cat’s health and happiness in mind. It’s made with real protein as the first ingredient, and the majority of this formula consists of whole foods. This food also boasts that it helps reduce your cat’s weight as well as hairballs. The lower-fat content and filling carbohydrates will likely help your cat eat fewer calories, and there are high-fiber ingredients that may help in the hairball department — although we didn’t see any difference in hairball frequency. The pieces of food are small, so your cat may not chew them enough, which could be an issue for some cats. Because this food is made with real chicken, your cats are less likely to turn their nose up at their bowl. The nutrition packed inside and the price tag make this the best budget cat food for the money, as a 16-pound bag costs about what a 12-pound bag of other healthy options does. There are carbohydrates, which your cat may not process as easily, so this food didn’t hit our number one spot, but it’s still an excellent choice, especially for the money.
3. Purina Cat Chow Indoor Dry Cat Food – Premium Choice
If you’re willing to give a little bit more from your wallet for a little bit better meal for your cat, the Purina Cat Chow may be the option for you. This food is specially formulated for indoor cats, which means if you have a cat that struggles with a weight issue or you have a low-energy kitty, this food will be a great option for them. It does have a rather high carbohydrate content, but this is likely to make your cat feel full to help control hunger and weight gain. It’s made with real meat and protein sources, as well as meat flavors that will have your cat enjoying every bowl.
While it’s a good choice, it’s not a perfect home run. The meats are not the main ingredients, and it has artificial coloring in it which keeps this out of our top two choices for budget cat food. Additionally, this food is more expensive than other options on the list, but it does supply your furry friend all of the nutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals they need to stay healthy.
4. Meow Mix Original Choice Dry Cat Food
The Meow Mix Original Choice food is made with a variety of meats in each flavor, and having a variety of protein sources is the best thing for your cat’s nutrition. This collection of different meats may be why your cats will love this food so much — ours certainly did! It’s also packed with vitamins and minerals and provides all of the nutrients needed for a balanced diet. The meat, however, is not the main ingredient, and the protein content is lower than the higher-rated foods on this list. Carbohydrates make up roughly 50% of this formula, and these can be difficult for some cats to digest. Additionally, the ingredient list includes artificial coloring which is neither necessary nor particularly healthy for your cat.
5. Purina Kit & Kaboodle Dry Cat Food
The Purina Kit & Kaboodle ingredient list on this food contains multiple protein sources including chicken, fish, and turkey — this combination is not only beneficial for your cat’s health, but it also entices even picky eaters to dig in. There are a bunch of vitamins and minerals packed into this food, but they’re coupled with artificial coloring which isn’t needed in cat food. The protein content is lower than many other options, and the main ingredients are carbohydrate-based corn and soybean products. There is a high fat content which can help keep your cat’s joints and coat healthy, but this creates a high-calorie food that may lead to weight gain in some cats. Although a minor inconvenience, it should be noted that this bag is not resealable, so you’ll need a separate airtight container to maintain freshness.
6. 9 Lives Daily Essentials Dry Cat Food
The Daily Essentials 9 Lives option is another on our list that provides protein from multiple sources including chicken, turkey, and fish. This will help get your cat munching even if they tend to be finicky eaters. The food is also loaded with vitamins and minerals, so it really does have the “daily essentials” for your feline friend to stay happy and healthy. The main ingredients are mostly carbohydrate-heavy corn products, and there are artificial colors included here which aren’t necessary or particularly healthy. This food is one of the most affordable on the list, but the reason may be the high carbohydrate content. It should also be noted that the fat content is fairly high, so if weight maintenance is an issue for your cat, this may not be the best option for you.
7. Rachael Ray Nutrish Dry Cat Food
The Rachael Ray Nutrish Dry food has a slightly higher protein content than many other commercial options, and it includes real, whole protein sources, which is important for your cat’s health. There are a good number of vitamins in this cat food but less than other foods on this list. The fat content is very high at 14%, so this may not be a good option for indoor cats or those who generally have lower energy levels; it may also create weight gain issues for your feline friend, especially if they’re heavy eaters. If your cats are particularly picky you may be better off with a different food. While our cats admittedly tend to be generally picky eaters, this food caused some turned-up kitty noses.
8. Purina ONE Sensitive Skin & Stomach Dry Cat Food
The Purina ONE food is specifically made for cats with sensitive tummies, and it contains a higher protein content than many other commercial cat foods, which can aid in digestion. So, if your kitty has digestive issues this may be a good option for you. This food has a very high fat content at 13% and is consequently very high in calories, so this likely won’t be a good food for your cat if they have issues with weight management. There are vitamins and nutrients inside the bag but less than in other options, so it doesn’t provide as much of a balanced diet. This cat food is fairly expensive, and although it contains whole protein sources, it may not entice your cat to eat if they are picky when it comes to food; this was another food that our cats chose to leave in their bowls.
9. Weruva Cats in the Kitchen Grain-Free Canned Cat Food
The Weruva Cats in the Kitchen Grain-Free wet food contains a variety of real protein sources which will likely entice even the pickiest of eaters to dive in. Despite whole meats being the main ingredients, the protein content is very low at only 10% given the moisture content, which is really insufficient for cats. The food also contains large pieces of fish which may be too big for your cat to consume safely, and ours resorted to leaving many of these pieces behind. This resulted in large portions of this food being thrown away. So while this food may be relatively inexpensive, you’ll end up paying more for the food your cat actually eats. We’re also concerned that these fish pieces may contain bones, so even if your cat does eat the chunks, they may not be safe. For these reasons, along with the very low protein content, we wouldn’t recommend this food for your cat.
10. AvoDerm Natural Wild by Nature Grain-Free Canned Cat Food
The AvoDerm Natural Wild wet, canned cat food is made with real, whole protein, but there’s only one source (salmon), so this doesn’t provide balance in your cat’s diet. Even though the main ingredient is salmon and the protein percentage is higher than the previous product on this list, the price tag is rather high on this cat food. The food has a low number of vitamins and minerals, so it doesn’t supply a well-balanced kitty diet. It’s also important to note that this food is not a pate, so many cats may opt-out of eating it, especially since the salmon flakes seem rather dry. Whether it’s the texture or the taste, we found that our cats didn’t think this food was at all appetizing, and they chose to stay hungry rather than give it a try. Given our cats’ reactions and especially the price, we wouldn’t recommend this canned food.
After reading about our top 10 list, you can probably agree that buying cat food can be a complicated process. This is mainly because the options available will always create a balancing act of looking for real, whole, and varied protein sources which tend to be expensive, and an affordable food that’s priced realistically. In our buyer’s guide we’ll cover the main components of choosing a cat food, which we hope will help you narrow down the options the next time you walk down the pet aisle.
Protein vs. Carbohydrates
Cats are natural predators that need a high protein diet to stay healthy, and protein should be the main supply of calories for your feline friend. While carbohydrates are significantly cheaper than meats, they aren’t easily processed by your cat, so these generally are seen as “filler foods” that don’t offer much nutrition for your cat. Your primary goal in searching for a budget cat food should be to find one that has a high protein content.
Another thing to keep in mind in terms of macronutrients is fat content. Healthy fats are great for cats and can help promote healthy joints and coats, but too much fat significantly increases the caloric density of cat food, so a moderate percentage of fat – around 10% – is best for most cats. Keep in mind that an even lower fat percentage may be better for your cat if they struggle with weight management.
Vitamins and Minerals
While protein and fat sources are your main concerns when looking for a good cat food, vitamins and minerals are important as well, so you’ll want to find a food that provides all of these necessary micronutrients for your kitty. The results of feeding your cat a high-fat or low-protein food may be immediately evident, as they may cause weight gain or digestive issues, but you likely won’t see immediate effects of vitamin deficiency. Pay careful attention to the ingredient list to make sure you’re buying a balanced cat food, or check with your vet to make sure the option you choose provides everything your pet needs.
Leaving Out Unnecessary Additives
You should always review the ingredient list on cat foods before making a purchase because while many commercial brands boast that they are grain-free or don’t contain corn products, they might include preservatives or artificial colors which are usually unrecognizable or difficult-to-pronounce ingredients. A quick search online will help determine if these ingredients are preservatives or artificial colorings. These ingredients are unnecessary in cat foods and should generally be avoided. They don’t offer any nutritional benefit, and they may cause digestive problems or long-term health issues in your pet.
Perhaps one of the most important, non-nutrition-based things to look for in a cat food is a product that your cat will actually eat! High protein is great, but if your cat would rather go hungry than eat the food you’re serving, then it doesn’t matter how many great things are in the food. Generally, cats will find foods with multiple protein sources most appetizing because they smell like foods they enjoy: chicken, turkey, beef, and fish. However, any cat owner will know that cats are very often very finicky and picky eaters, so what is enticing to one won’t be appetizing to all. You may need to try out a few different foods for your cat to find a healthy and affordable option they don’t just leave in their bowl. Opting for a protein-rich food with different meats included is a good place to start to get your cat’s interest piqued.
Although usually not an issue, you may find that your cat struggles with the sizes of some foods. Most cats won’t have a problem eating small or larger pieces of food, but if you find your cat is not chewing enough (or at all), you may want to choose a different cat food that’s made of larger pieces that will force your furry friend to chew.
Lastly, and with all of the above things considered, you should find a food that ticks all of the health and wellness boxes for your cat and doesn’t require you to pay an arm and a leg for a 5-pound bag. Highly nutritional, healthy, and appetizing cat food does exist even for those on a budget, so don’t feel like you need to pay top dollar for proper nutrition. It’s important to find a food that’s good for your cat and your wallet so that you create a sustainable and enjoyable diet for your kitty.
Finding a cat food that’s all-around beneficial and healthy for your cat can seem like a daunting task, and when a lot of high-nutrition and high-protein cat foods top the price range you’re comfortable with, it may seem impossible. Add in a picky cat that would rather starve than eat some commercial cat foods, and you’ve got a big problem!
Know that there are options out there that will suit your budget and your cat’s appetite and well-being. Our top pick to suit both of you is American Journey Grain-Free Dry Cat Food for its nutrition, cat-pleasing taste, and affordable price. If you’re looking for a cheaper option that will still provide a healthy, balanced diet, then Iams ProActive Health Dry Cat Food is the best option for you. No matter which option you choose, we’re sure these reviews will help you hone in on the perfect cat food for you and your little furball!
- 10 Best Cat Foods 2020 & Reviews & Top Picks
- 10 Best Cat Foods Made in U.S.A. 2020 & Reviews & Top Picks
- A Quick Look at the Winners of 2021
- The 10 Best Budget Cat Foods
- 1. American Journey Grain-Free Dry Cat Food – Best Overall
- 2. Iams ProActive Health Dry Cat Food – Best Value
- 3. Purina Cat Chow Indoor Dry Cat Food – Premium Choice
- 4. Meow Mix Original Choice Dry Cat Food
- 5. Purina Kit & Kaboodle Dry Cat Food
- 6. 9 Lives Daily Essentials Dry Cat Food
- 7. Rachael Ray Nutrish Dry Cat Food
- 8. Purina ONE Sensitive Skin & Stomach Dry Cat Food
- 9. Weruva Cats in the Kitchen Grain-Free Canned Cat Food
- 10. AvoDerm Natural Wild by Nature Grain-Free Canned Cat Food
- Buyer’s Guide