What Is the Healthiest Cat Food in 2020? (Top Ingredients and Brands)

Last Updated on: November 18, 2020

Cats are and have always been one of the most spoiled animals on the planet. They have been revered by us humans since the ancient Egyptians decided that cats were magical creatures with the capacity to bestow good luck to their caretakers.

For most cat owners, not much has changed today. We want to do the best we can for our feline friends. Much of that comes down to the food they eat. What should we watch out for in the ingredients list? What food will appeal both to their health and their taste buds?

Read on to find out more about what ingredients to stay away from and which ones are good signs when they show up. Then, check out our list of a few of the healthiest cat foods on the market in 2020, with options from kittens to seniors and wet to dry.

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A Quick Comparison of Our Favorites

Image Product Details
Winner
Rachael Ray Nutrish Natural Dry Cat Food Rachael Ray Nutrish Natural Dry Cat Food
  • No ground corn, wheat or soy
  • Excludes poultry by-products
  • Uses chicken and brown rice
  • Second place
    Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein Grain-Free Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein Grain-Free
  • 100% grain-free
  • High-protein chicken blend
  • LifeSource Bits
  • Third place
    Hill’s Science Diet Dry Kitten Food Hill’s Science Diet Dry Kitten Food
  • Specifically made for kittens
  • First ingredient is chicken
  • Healthy blend of antioxidants and vitamins
  • Iam’s Proactive Health Dry Cat Food Iam’s Proactive Health Dry Cat Food
  • First ingredient of chicken
  • Crunchy kibble
  • Fish oil
  • Wellness Wet Cat Food Wellness Wet Cat Food
  • Chicken is the first ingredient
  • Wet-food option
  • 100% grain-free
  • The Healthiest Cat Food in 2020

    Many cat food companies make it a mission to develop healthy cat foods. Here are a few of those brands and specific formulas that can make you feel good about what you feed to your furry friend.

    1. Rachael Ray Nutrish Natural Dry Cat Food

    Rachael Ray Nutrish Natural Dry Cat Food

    Rachael Ray follows a relatively simple recipe using natural ingredients. Farm-raised chicken is the first ingredient, followed by brown rice, vegetables, vitamins, and taurine. The company makes sure not to include any corn products, wheat, or soy, all negative additives in cat food.

    Pros
    • No ground corn, wheat or soy
    • Excludes poultry by-products and meals
    • Uses chicken and brown rice
    Cons
    • Negative customer reviews citing poor animal health

    2. Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein Grain-Free

    Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein Grain-Free

    Blue Buffalo believes, as a brand, in feeding pets according to their evolutionary nutrition. They use real chicken as the first ingredient in their high protein food blend. It is entirely grain-free, ridding their formula of gluten, wheat, or any of their by-products. Another bonus is the LifeSource Bits, which are loaded with antioxidants to keep your paw-fect pet full of the vitamins and minerals they need to support their systems.

    Pros
    • Recipe is 100% grain-free
    • High-protein chicken blend
    • LifeSource Bits add antioxidants
    Cons
    • Recent changes in their recipe are not preferable to some customers

    3. Hill’s Science Diet Dry Kitten Food

    Hill’s Science Diet Dry Kitten Food

    Different ages of cats need different types of food. Hill’s Science is renowned for its quality cat food and has made a food specifically for kittens, from weaning to 1 year old. Cats who are pregnant or nursing can also use the extra nutrition that the kibble provides. The first ingredient is chicken. Others include fish oil and an antioxidant blend. Your kitten is getting just what they need to grow into a strong, ferocious feline.

    Pros
    • Specifically made for kittens
    • First ingredient is chicken
    • Focuses on a healthy blend of antioxidants and vitamins
    Cons
    • Smell from fish oil somewhat unsavory

    4. Iam’s Proactive Health Dry Cat Food

    Iam’s Proactive Health Dry Cat Food

    Iam’s Proactive Health recipe focuses on prebiotics and the satisfaction of your cat’s digestive and immune defenses. Chicken is the first ingredient in this food, helping them maintain lean muscles and keep a check on their weight. The crunchiness of the kibble helps prevent tartar buildup on the teeth. It contains taurine, fish oils, and fibers for an overall healthy mind and body.

    Pros
    • First ingredient of chicken
    • Crunchy kibble for clean teeth
    • Fish oil for a healthy coat
    Cons
    • Older cats have trouble with the kibble

    5. Wellness Wet Cat Food

    Wellness Wet Cat Food

    Sometimes, dry food doesn’t cut it, so give wet cat food a try. Wellness is a quality brand all around, especially their chicken-based wet cat food. It is a grain-free recipe and supports what they call the five signs of kitty wellness: healthy skin and coat, satisfied stomachs, bright eyes, healthy teeth and gums, high energy levels, and strong immunity.

    Pros
    • Chicken is the first ingredient
    • Healthy, wet-food option
    • 100% grain-free
    Cons
    • Can cause diarrhea if not mixed with dry food

    6. Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Dry Cat Food

    Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Dry Cat Food

    Natural Balance uses a simple formula, noted by the “limited ingredient” in the title. It is grain-free in kibble form. Interestingly, duck is the main ingredient in this dry cat food. This change makes it easier for cats with allergies to more typical foods. The kibble is loaded with the essential vitamins and nutrients for cats, including taurine and omegas.

    Pros
    • 100% grain-free
    • Formulated with duck for allergic kitties
    • Includes all essential vitamins
    Cons
    • Unfamiliar proteins might surprise cats

    7. Instinct Raw Boost Dry Cat Food

    Instinct Raw Boost Dry Cat Food

    Instinct uses the ideas behind a raw food diet when formulating their recipe for cats. They use real chicken in freeze-dried raw-coated pieces of kibble. The protein content is higher than usual, and each bite has a boosted nutritional value. The food is also instilled with probiotics for a healthier digestive system.

    Pros
    • Freeze-dried bits boosts nutrition
    • Probiotics aids the digestive system
    • Higher protein content
    Cons
    • Raw pieces stand out as unfavorable for some cats

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    Buyer’s Guide

    Reading Labels

    Not all companies are out to trick consumers with the way that their labels are worded. However, it is still something that you should watch out for when buying cat food.

    If it says that the food contains “beef,” “chicken,” or “tuna,” or something similar, then it must contain 95% of the specified meat. This rule is per the guidelines set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

    Labels that use the modifiers “dinner” or “buffet” signifies that at least 25% of the total weight of ingredients has to be the specified meat.

    Finally, any phrase that includes the word “with” as it describes the ingredients, i.e. “with beef,” is only required to contain 3% of that meat.

    If you want to know even more about guidelines, packaging regulations, and specific terms, look to the AAFCO. You can learn what unfamiliar terms mean, what could be harmful, and what is not.

    Some things, taurine as an example, may sound like harmful chemicals. But in fact, taurine is an amino acid that is found in animal protein. Cats need it for essential organs to function correctly, such as their brain, vision, and heart.


    Ingredients to Avoid

    Certain foods contain unhealthy ingredients for cats. Some of these are somewhat controversial. For example, some people do not agree with grain-based diets, including corn or wheat, for animals like cats and dogs. Others say that they provide necessary compounds for their health.

    Depending on your cat’s age and state of health, you might be able to get away with offering them more of these foods if you feel comfortable with it. If you are on a mission to serve dishes that are as healthy as possible, keep an eye out for these ingredients:

    • Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)
      • BHA and BHT are both nasty chemicals used as artificial preservatives in all kinds of food, both human and animal. They have been reasonably found to be human carcinogens and have caused tumors in lab animals. A little of either of these won’t harm your cat in the short term, but eating it every day can have deteriorating effects as they age.
    • Ethoxyquin
      • This is another chemical preservative that is now illegal to use in human food in the U.S. but is still legal in animal food. It is harmful both if swallowed and if it comes into contact with the skin. It can be tricky and is not often shown on ingredient labels because it mostly turns up in the fish meal.
    • Garlic
      • Garlic is extremely toxic to cats. The idea behind adding it into some cat foods is that it can reap beneficial effects in low doses. However, this hasn’t been entirely proven correct, although the harms have been.
    • Wheat and Corn Gluten
      • Wheat and corn gluten are more filler than anything, at least in animal food. Wheat gluten has become a popular addition to vegan’s diets because it has high protein content and is “meat-like.” It shouldn’t be in cat food, though, since it is a way to raise crude protein numbers with a low-quality meat substitute.
    • Carrageenan
      • Another controversial ingredient, carrageenan, is red seaweed. Producers use it as a thickening agent. A specific kind, named degraded carrageenan, is thought to be a carcinogen. It is not allowed for use in any food. However, some believe that it might become degraded after cats ingest it and pass it through their stomach acid.
    • Caramel
      • Coloring in a cat’s food is entirely unnecessary because the cat doesn’t care what color their food is. It is an unnecessary addition, and some options, including caramel, have been proven potential carcinogens.
    • Propylene Glycol (PG)
      • All kinds of things go into pet food to give it the distinctive traits that pet owners expect it to have. PG is a moistening agent to obtain the “right” texture in food and treats. It is derived from the chemical compound in antifreeze and can be extremely toxic.
    • Meat By-Products
      • When a company claims to use “meat by-products,” it is saying that it comes from low-quality sources, such as dead animals from farms and ranches, fats, and food waste from restaurants.
    • Food Dyes
      • Other than a caramel color, food dyes can include Blue 2, Red 40, and Yellows 5 and 6. These have been linked to many different kinds of allergic reactions and some cancers in humans and animals.
    • Glucose
      • Glucose is sugar. Cats do not need any sugar added into their diet, including dextrose. It often leads to obesity and possibly even diabetes.
    • Sodium Nitrite
      • Sodium nitrite, when it enters into a cat’s body, becomes a carcinogen. It is often used as a color and flavor enhancer for meats.
    cat looking up from food dish
    Image Credit: fantom_rd, Shutterstock

    Ingredients Cats Need

    A cat’s diet is quite straightforward. Naturally, they are carnivorous and need mostly pure proteins in their food. Today, since pet owners mostly buy their food, preservatives, fillers, and unstandardized “extras” can make their way into a cat’s diet. Watch out for these things as you search for the best food for your pet.

    • Standardized Protein Sources 

    Protein doesn’t always come from a pure source. Budget brands often look for things like wheat gluten to increase protein without increasing costs. However, it doesn’t mean that it is healthy for your cat.

    Look for foods that don’t list their protein source as anything other than “meat,” such as “meat derivatives” or “meat by-products.” You can keep an eye out for meats and organs, such as chicken liver or heart.

    • Named Fats

    Cats need high-fat content to meet the required 20-24% of fat in their diet. Some owners might think that high-fat content leads to obesity, like it might in humans. However, look for named fat sources, like chicken fat, for a healthy addition to your pet’s diet.

    • Carbohydrates Sans Fillers

    Carbohydrates mean more energy for cats. However, since they are natural carnivores, they can have issues digesting them in high concentrations. They do not have any need for carbohydrates from grains, and these can end up triggering allergies. Most carbohydrates act as fillers in cat food. Avoid these potential issues by finding foods with carbohydrates like potatoes or peas.

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    Conclusion

    Cats can be extremely finicky eaters, but finding them the healthiest options is essential. Learning to read labels is necessary to determine if a food is as healthy as it claims to be.

    Watch out for divisive labeling techniques and familiarize yourself with the terms that brands are allowed to use. Some of them can be somewhat misleading. Knowing what your cat is getting in each dish will help both of you.


    Featured Image Credit: Africa Studio