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Special Kitty Cat Food Review 2021: Recalls, Pros & Cons

Review Summary

Our Final Verdict

We give Special Kitty cat food a rating of 4 out of 5 stars.

Introduction

Walmart is known for many things. On the one hand, it sells affordably priced products that allow regular people to make ends meet, but on the other, it’s not exactly known for having the highest-quality offerings.

That also sums up its store-brand cat food, Special Kitty.

Special Kitty is a budget food. It’s often sold in bulk, as you can buy 44-pound bags of dry kibble, which is unusual for a cat food. Therefore, it’s best suited for people who can’t afford to spend much on their cat’s diet or those who are struggling to feed a large number of cats, such as shelters or rescue groups.

All that value comes with a downside, however, which is your cat’s nutrition. There’s not much in here worth recommending, as it’s full of cost-cutting ingredients, like animal by-products, corn, and soybeans.

The brand isn’t forthcoming with information about its practices either. As best we can tell, it is manufactured in the United States, but the manufacturer (J.M. Smucker) doesn’t exactly have a sterling reputation.

Your cat won’t go hungry eating this stuff, but they won’t reach their full potential on it either.

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At a Glance: The Best Special Kitty Cat Food Recipes:

Image Product Details
Our Favorite
Winner
Special Kitty Naturals Dry Cat Food Special Kitty Naturals Dry Cat Food
  • Feature iconMade with real chicken
  • Feature iconHigh protein levels
  • Feature iconMeat is first ingredient
  • Second place
    Special Kitty Pâté Wet Food Classic Variety Pack Special Kitty Pâté Wet Food Classic Variety Pack
  • Feature iconVariety of recipes staves off boredom
  • Feature iconFirst ingredients are meat and water
  • Feature iconReal meat included in recipe
  • Third place
    Special Kitty Outdoor Formula Dry Cat Food Special Kitty Outdoor Formula Dry Cat Food
  • Feature iconDesigned for outdoor cats
  • Feature iconGood for short bursts of energy
  • Feature iconBone meal has important nutrients
  • Special Kitty Complete Nutrition Formula Dry Cat Food Special Kitty Complete Nutrition Formula Dry Cat Food
  • Feature iconContains 25 essential vitamins and minerals
  • Feature icon100% complete and balanced nutrition
  • Feature iconProvides essential fatty acids
  • Special Kitty Cuts in Gravy Wet Cat Food Gravy Dinner Special Kitty Cuts in Gravy Wet Cat Food Gravy Dinner
  • Feature iconMade with real Ocean Whitefish and Tuna
  • Feature icon100% complete and balanced nutrition
  • Feature iconHigh protein
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    Special Kitty Cat Food Reviewed

    Who Makes Special Kitty and Where Is It Produced?

    Special Kitty is a Walmart-exclusive line, and it’s difficult to find much information on its manufacturing history. It appears that the manufacturer has changed several times in its existence, but as best we can tell, the food is currently made by J.M. Smucker.

    J.M. Smucker owns several manufacturing facilities, including ones in Alabama, Kansas, and New York. We’re not sure which one Special Kitty is made in, but all of the facilities make inexpensive, mass-produced pet foods like Meow Mix, 9Lives, and Kibbles ‘n Bits.

    Special Kitty was previously owned by a variety of companies, including Mars PetCare, Doane Pet Care, and Big Heart Pet Brands. Some of these definitely produced the food overseas (including China), but it doesn’t look as if J.M. Smucker does so today.

    Which Types of Cats Is Special Kitty Best Suited For?

    It’s difficult to honestly review budget foods like Special Kitty without sounding elitist. We understand that not everyone can afford to give their cat top-of-the-line foods, and we also believe that everyone should be able to experience the joys of pet ownership, regardless of their financial situation.

    That said, the only reason to buy Special Kitty is if you’re strapped for cash. It has a poor nutritional profile, and there’s little reason to believe that the manufacturer is strict about quality control.

    If this is the best food that you can afford, then by all means, buy it. We’d much rather you feed your cat Special Kitty than leave them languishing in a shelter. However, if you can afford anything else, you should probably buy that instead.

    Special Kitty Complete Nutrition Formula Dry Cat Food

    Which Types of Cats Might Do Better With a Different Brand?

    Again, this is a difficult question to answer without coming off as a snob. However, facts are facts: Virtually every cat will do better with a different brand.

    It all depends on what you can afford. If you want a budget-friendly food that’s much better for your cat than Special Kitty, we’d recommend Rachael Ray Nutrish Indoor Complete.

    Discussion of the Primary Ingredients

    Fillers

    Its dry foods are mostly filler. That is to say, they’re made of cheap ingredients that add bulk to the food without adding any nutritional value.

    In most cases, ground yellow corn is the first ingredient, followed closely by corn gluten meal. That’s a problem because cats are obligate carnivores — their diet should primarily be made of meat, not vegetables.

    Unfortunately, meat costs more than corn, so it’s cheaper for both the manufacturer and the consumer to fill the cat food with corn.

    Think about a cat in the wild. If they found themselves in a cornfield, they’d be more focused on the mice or birds in that field rather than the plants.

    As a result, cats have never really developed a way to process corn, so it shouldn’t be included in their food at all, much less used as its bedrock.

    Animal By-products

    In most cases, meat is one of the first few ingredients listed, but unfortunately, that meat usually comes in the form of animal by-products.

    Animal by-products are pieces of meat that weren’t suitable for other uses, but in order to save money, the manufacturers will pile them all together and put them in low-cost foods. There will be a fair amount of nutrition inside, but you have no idea what else might be in there.

    Special Kitty Pate Wet Food Classic Variety Pack, 13 oz

    The actual definition of animal by-products states that these include “carcasses and parts of carcasses from slaughterhouses, animal shelters, zoos, and veterinarians, and products of animal origin not intended for human consumption, including catering waste.” So, you might have meat from many long-dead and diseased animals inside, which isn’t good for your cat.

    If you think of a cat in the wild, would they be catching fresh prey or scavenging on a days-old carcass? Cats are excellent hunters, and they haven’t evolved a hardy enough stomach to scavenge. As a result, animal by-products can be hard for them to digest.

    Meals

    “Meals” are foods that are made of mashing up a bunch of different ingredients together. For example, chicken meal contains a bunch of different parts of the bird — including bones and organ meat — all mushed into a single substance.

    They may sound gross, but meals can offer an assortment of nutrients not often found in lean cuts of meat. If used appropriately, they can be important parts of any cat’s diet.

    Unfortunately, Special Kitty uses things like soybean meal. That means you’re getting a bunch of different parts of the soybean, which wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the fact that cats shouldn’t be eating soybeans at all.

    You’ll also find animal by-product meals. Again, meals are usually a good thing, but when they’re made from piles of rotten meat, you’re better off avoiding them entirely.

    The Nutritional Splits Are Actually Respectable

    If you ignore what actually goes into the food and just look at the percentages on the label, Special Kitty doesn’t seem so bad. Their dry foods are usually in the range of 30% protein, 10% fat, and 5% fiber — these are not outstanding numbers to be sure, but nothing to turn up your nose at either.

    Your cat will get most of the nutrition that they need from this food, so you don’t need to worry about them getting malnourished or anything like that.

    Its Canned Food Is a Bit Better

    If you check out the labels on one of its canned foods, you’ll see water as the first ingredient. This is fairly typical for wet cat foods (it has to get wet somehow, after all), and since most cats don’t drink enough water, giving them plenty of moisture is always a good idea.

    Special Kitty Complete Nutrition Formula Dry Cat Food, Chicken & Turkey Flavor

    After that, though, the next ingredient is usually an organ meat, like liver. While you might not care for liver, your cat will love it, and it’s full of all sorts of nutrients that aren’t found in leaner cuts of meat. It’s a good thing to see it listed so highly on these labels.

    Once you get past the liver, though, you’ll find fillers like wheat gluten, soy flour, and modified food starch, as well as animal by-products.

    You may also find other proteins like tuna or ocean whitefish, but these will be in limited quantities. Overall, it appears that its wet foods are made by taking a bit of good meat and caking it in fillers and cheaper cuts of meat.

    It Has a Limited Number of Special Recipes

    Special Kitty hits all the basic notes when it comes to special recipes, as it has both indoor and outdoor cat formulas, as well as foods designed for kittens. Beyond that, though, the pickings are slim.

    It doesn’t have a dedicated senior formula nor weight management or sensitive stomach options. It has a “complete nutrition” option and a “naturals” line, which is its high-end option. It’s the best of the bunch, but it mainly just involves shuffling around cheap ingredients.

    If your cat has any sort of special dietary needs, don’t expect Special Kitty to be able to accommodate them.

    Despite Its Flaws, Cats Seem to Love the Taste

    Most cats gobble this stuff down, so you shouldn’t have any difficulty convincing your cat to eat it. There are literally hundreds of user reviews on Walmart’s website attesting to the fact that cats find this stuff to be delicious.

    Of course, the problem is that it’s a very calorie-dense food, so you’ll have to be strict about portion control. Otherwise, you’ll have an obese cat on your hands and all the health problems that come with that.

    Special Kitty Is Tremendously Popular

    Special Kitty is the top-selling cat food in the United States by an overwhelming amount; it’s corralled nearly 20% of the overall cat food market. That’s more than every other brand combined.

    It’s not surprising, though. Walmart is the top retailer in America, and many owners jump at the chance to give their cats a cheap food that they’ll actually eat.

    But just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, and feeding your cat Special Kitty is not an exception to that rule.

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    A Quick Look at Special Kitty Cat Food

    Special Kitty Cuts in Gravy Wet Cat Food

    Pros
    • Budget-friendly
    • Sold in bulk
    • Cats love the taste
    • Decent nutritional profile
    Cons
    • Loaded with cheap fillers
    • Uses tons of animal by-products
    • Little in the way of lean, healthy meat inside
    • Limited variety of recipes available

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    Recall History

    Whenever you’re making cheap food, more emphasis is placed on cutting costs than by following every rule to the letter. As a result, budget food manufacturers are often more prone to recalls than other food companies, and Special Kitty is no exception.

    The first recall happened in 2007. Special Kitty was part of the Great Melamine Recall, in which hundreds of pet foods were recalled because they’d been tainted with melamine, a toxic chemical found in plastics. These tainted foods — all of which were made at a single factory in China — were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of pets.

    It was recalled again a year later for potential salmonella contamination, and in 2017, a recall was issued due to a lack of thiamine. Both of these could be fatal to cats, although no illnesses or deaths were traced back to the affected foods.

    It’s important to note that the above recalls happened before J.M. Smucker took over production. However, Special Kitty had one recall under J.M. Smucker’s watch in December 2019, as some of its canned foods “didn’t meet the company’s quality and safety standards.” J.M. Smucker said that eating the foods could “cause nausea with excessive salivation, diarrhea or vomiting to more severe symptoms, including difficulty walking, seizures, and in extreme situations, death.”

    It’s also worth noting that many of J.M. Smucker’s other brands have been recalled as well. In fact, it issued three different recalls between 2018 and 2020 alone, so it doesn’t look like its manufacturing standards are as strict as you might hope.

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    Reviews of the 3 Best Special Kitty Cat Food Recipes

    Special Kitty Naturals Dry Cat Food — Our Favorite

    Special Kitty Naturals Dry Cat Food, Chicken

    This is Special Kitty’s high-end brand, and there’s no doubt that it’s the best food that it makes. That said, you’ll find the same questionable ingredients that you see in all its other foods, like animal by-products and cheap fillers. With the Naturals line, the order is mixed up so animal by-products are actually listed first rather than third or fourth. It’s not much but it’s better than nothing.

    The overall protein levels are good, though, clocking in at 38%, and there is real chicken inside — it’s just the eighth ingredient listed.

    The fiber and fat levels are lower than we’d like (at 3% and 13%, respectively), but neither numbers are unforgivable. There’s brewer’s rice inside as well, which should help offset any upset stomachs caused by all the corn and wheat.

    Special Kitty Naturals is not a great food, but it’s the best Special Kitty has to offer.

    Calorie Breakdown:

    Special Kitty Naturals Dry Cat Food

    Pros
    • Made with real chicken
    • High protein levels
    • Meat is first ingredient
    • Brewer’s rice is gentle on tummies
    Cons
    • Loaded with fillers and animal by-products
    • Chicken is eighth ingredient listed
    • Fiber and fat levels are low
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    Special Kitty Pâté Wet Food Classic Variety Pack

    Special Kitty Pate Wet Food Classic Variety Pack

    If you want to feed your cat a wet food instead of (or in addition to) dry kibble, Special Kitty has this wet food variety pack to allow you to do just that.

    There are three recipes in each box: usually, tuna, mixed grill, and something called “special supper.” This allows you to change up your cat’s meals and prevent them from getting bored.

    The first ingredients are the same for all recipes: water and meat by-products. The water is good, as cats need moisture, and having meat by-products listed as one of the first two ingredients is better than having corn or wheat listed there.

    There’s real meat in these cans as well (usually chicken and fish), but it’s pushed down the ingredients list. You’ll find chicken by-products ranked ahead to go along with the “meat by-products.”

    These foods have a decent amount of protein at 10%, but they are not many essential nutrients, like taurine, inside. As a result, you should pair it with a well-balanced kibble, but spending extra money on two foods kind of defeats the purpose of buying Special Kitty at all.

    Calorie Breakdown:

    Special Kitty Classic Tuna Dinner Canned Food

    Pros
    • Variety of recipes staves off boredom
    • First ingredients are meat and water
    • Real meat included in the recipe
    Cons
    • Packed with animal by-products
    • Needs to be paired with well-balanced kibble
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    Special Kitty Outdoor Formula Dry Cat Food

    Special Kitty Outdoor Formula Dry Cat Food

    If you let your cat wander around outside, then Special Kitty Outdoor Formula may be your best bet among the brand’s offerings.

    The bag promises that it has the “nutrients to support an active outdoor life.” Beyond that, we have no idea what sets it apart from its indoor cat formula.

    As best we can tell, the outdoor stuff has a bit less fiber and way more carbs. In fact, carb-heavy fillers make up five of the first six ingredients listed.

    That will give your cat short bursts of energy but won’t provide them with anything long-lasting. It will also increase their odds of becoming obese, so you’d better hope that your cat is actually moving around while they’re outdoors instead of just lounging on the porch.

    The formula has 30% protein, which is on the lower side of average, and it all seems to come from animal by-products. You will find bone meal inside, though, which is a nutritious but seldom-found ingredient in cat foods.

    Special Kitty Outdoor Formula will definitely give your cat all the fuel that they need to zoom around for an hour or so outside.

    Calorie Breakdown:

    Special Kitty Naturals Dry Cat Food

    Pros
    • Designed for outdoor cats
    • Good for short bursts of energy
    • Bone meal has important nutrients
    Cons
    • Stuffed to the gills with cheap fillers
    • Less protein than we’d like to see
    • Likely to cause obesity unless cat is very active

    *We used Special Kitty Naturals calorie breakdown to represent the calories in this product*

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    What Other Users Are Saying

    • All About Cats: “Special Kitty cat food is primarily plant-based rather than animal-based. Low-quality fillers like corn, wheat, and soy make up the majority of their dry food products and their wet foods rely heavily on meat and poultry by-products.”
    • Pet Food Talk: “The ingredients in Special Kitty are low-quality … it seems that Special Kitty is regarded by consumers as a low-quality, inexpensive cat food formula that does not contain good sources of nutrition.”
    • Walmart: As pet owners, we always double-check with reviews from buyers before we buy something. You can read these by clicking here.

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    Conclusion

    Special Kitty is a cat food that’s designed to fill a specific niche: giving people with little disposable income a way to feed their cat a food that they’ll love. If you simply rank it on its ability to fulfill that criterion, it’s a smashing success.

    When you examine how it’s able to provide tasty, inexpensive meals, though, the wheels fall off. Its foods are loaded with cheap fillers and low-grade meat, and your cat simply won’t get nearly as much nutrition from Special Kitty as they would from a better food.

    Feeding your cat Special Kitty is definitely better than letting them starve, but it’s a far cry from being a healthy food.