4 Best BUDGET Cat Foods For Top Health


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Are you struggling to find affordable cat food to feed your cat?

Finding food that your cat likes and is good for them can put a strain on your finances. This is especially true with more cats in the house.

Many cheap cat food products use low-quality fillers or are high in carbohydrates. If you don’t feed your cat good quality food there’s a risk of more health problems down the line.

In this article, I’ll help you find the best budget cat food to keep your cat feeling frisky.

The goal of this website is to help cat owners learn more about taking care of their cats. I am not a veterinarian and I recommend seeking the advice of a vet for any further questions.

The advice in this article is not intended as medical advice.

Here are best budget cat foods I’ve looked at:

> Overall Best Budget Cat Food: Fancy Feast Classic Beef Pate

> Best Budget Dry Cat Food: Crave with Protein from Chicken Adult Dry Cat Food

> Best Budget Cat Food for Seniors: Sheba Perfect Portions Grain-free Turkey Pate

> Best Budget Cat Food for Kittens: Fancy Feast Kitten Tender Ocean Whitefish Feast

Buying Guide: The Best Cheap Budget Cat Food

If you’re tight on money and looking for cat food don’t worry. There’s plenty of good options on offer…but alas plenty of terrible ones.

The main difference between budget wet food and premium is the use of meat by products. This isn’t a bad thing per se as meat is meat.

What you don’t want is a lot of cheap filler ingredients like wheat gluten meal and plant protein. This isn’t going to benefit your cats health.

Here are our quick dietary tips to help with budget cat food buying:

  • Look for foods where animal based foods are high on the ingredient list
  • Steer clear of dry food high in grain or plant protein sources (e.g. wheat gluten meal)
  • Choose mostly wet foods as they are better quality on a budget (usually)
  • Avoid grains
  • Be mindful of filler ingredients like gums and carrageenan which may irritate digestion
  • Choose food that is AAFCO approved for all life stages

What are the pros and cons of wet and dry foods?

I recommend choosing wet cat foods if you’re on a budget. They tend to have better quality at a cheaper price point with more animal based ingredients.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each choice:

Dry cat food pros:

  • More affordable than wet
  • Convenient
  • Longer shelf life
  • More flavor choice

Dry cat food cons:

  • Less moisture
  • Higher in carbohydrate
  • Tend to contain more rendered meats (less digestible protein source)
  • Dry food may contain more low-quality plant proteins

Wet cat food pros:

  • More animal-protein
  • Higher in moisture
  • Can buy variety packs with a mix of flavors
  • Easier to find options for limited ingredient diets

Wet cat food cons:

  • More expensive for a healthier option
  • Prone to spoilage if left out
  • Less convenient
  • Less shelf life

Overall, the best food on a budget is wet canned foods.

These foods contain more ingredients cats need for long-term health. Cats also prefer high moisture foods (most likely due to its similarity to meats composition).

What ingredients should you look for in cheap cat food?

Cats are obligate carnivores in the wild.

They consume prey such as rodents and birds. Animal-based foods are low in calories and give cats all the nutrients they need for health.

Give your cat a diet based on what they eat in the wild for best results.

Here are some key things to look for:


Look for a high protein diet.

Cats are unique in that they use more protein than other species like humans. They use protein for energy via a process called gluconeogenesis. This converts protein to energy in their body.

A cat can’t adapt to a low protein diet, so they need enough to maintain strength and energy. Senior cats have worse protein digestion with aging.

The constituent of protein is essential amino acids. Cats need 10 essential amino acids, including taurine. Without enough taurine cats develop heart problems.

Most cat foods have added taurine, but some plant and grain-based foods interfere with taurine and protein digestion. Meat-based foods are the best source of essential amino acids for cats.

Look for ingredients like:

  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Turkey
  • Whitefish
  • Salmon

When given a choice, cats prefer a diet high in protein (about 50% on a dry matter basis). If food is less than this, it is ok if the sources of protein are easy to digest meats. Plant protein foods don’t offer cats enough essential amino acids and aren’t optimal.

Many budget foods use meat by-products which are an acceptable source of protein for cats.

Bottom Line: Look for a high protein cat food (~50% on a dry matter basis) from animal-based food sources for top health.

A cat eating food containing meat.


A cat benefits from a moderate-fat diet.

Fat helps improve taste which is important to avoid food rejection. On the other hand, low-fat food may be better for weight loss.

Added fat from plant oils is not needed for cats. Cats cannot convert the oil in fat to essential oils. They are also averse to the taste of plant-based fats.

Bottom Line: Look for a moderate-fat food (25-40% dry matter basis) for best taste. Avoid plant-based fats.

How Do I Choose The Best Budget Cat Food?

Wet canned cat food is the best choice on a budget.

As cats are obligate carnivores, they benefit from foods high in animal protein and moisture.

Budget wet canned cat food sometimes contains off-cuts of meats (called by-products), however, these cuts are nutritious and healthier than plant-based foods.

Budget dry cat food tends to contain high amounts of carbohydrate ingredients. These ingredients may be harder to digest and create frequent digestive issues.

Wet foods have a higher moisture content which is important for cats of all life stages, especially older cats. This helps with keeping your cat’s kidneys healthy.

What Should I Avoid In Budget Cat Food?

Look for budget cat food with fewer filler ingredients such as:

  • Corn gluten meal
  • Wheat gluten
  • Pea protein
  • Potatoes
  • Lentils
  • Brewers rice

These types of foods are less digestible than animal-protein foods and don’t provide many nutrients to your cat.

Cheap ingredients save costs for the manufacturer, at the cost of your cat’s health.

Let’s take a closer look at some ingredients to steer clear of.

Cat food manufacturers use many different foods which may or may not benefit your cat


Rice is a high carbohydrate grain that is usually added to cheap cat food.

Unfortunately, rice is terrible for cats.

The rice itself inhibits the absorption of taurine, an essential amino acid crucial for healthy eyesight development and heart health.

Brewers rice is a lower quality form of rice made from the husks of rice that are normally removed.

This form of rice provides no nutritional value to cats.

Powdered Cellulose

Cellulose is an indigestible fiber that bulks up cat food.

It is often referred to as sawdust in its consistency.

Cellulose does appear to offer some benefits to reducing energy intake and managing hairballs in small amounts.

Check out my article on the best cat food for hairballs to learn more.

Cellulose helps decrease the gastrointestinal transit time of ingested hairs.

A small amount of powdered cellulose may not be bad for your cat. However, excess cellulose displaces high-quality protein foods.

Powdered cellulose is made from trees as a thickener in some cat food brands

Pea Protein

Pea protein is a cheap replacement for animal foods.

On the bright side, isolated pea protein is better digested than in whole pea form.

Cats are able to digest small amounts of pea protein.

That said pea protein should not be the main food source for cats.

Pea protein is a low-cost alternative to meat. Cat’s may be able to digest a small amount but prefer meat.


Carrageenan is a seaweed-based thickener used in moist wet canned cat food.

There are some reports linking carrageenan to increased immune response and digestive-related issues.

It’s best to stay on the safe side and avoid carrageenan.

Carrageenan is made from seaweed to thicken cat food products. It may lead to digestive issues in some cats.

Meat By-Products

By-products are controversial in pet foods.

Most budget choices will tend to contain more by-product ingredients such as ‘meat by-product’.

This includes food sources such as beaks, necks, intestines, and viscera. Contrary to popular belief, cats avoid eating the intestinal content of prey.

Cats are also averse to dying meat, as this contains the chemical monophosphate nucleotides. This creates an unpleasant smell that puts off cats.

Remember that cats kill and eat their food ‘fresh’. They aren’t scavengers.

To be frank, the taste of such foods is not going to be as appealing as a higher quality food containing good animal sources and a fresh smell (e.g. organs not including the intestine, muscle meat, ground bone).

The use of dead animals for food is up for debate, as there are benefits to sustainability. They also do contain nutrients that cats do benefit from (e.g. protein and fat).

Use your own discretion.

Bottom Line: Budget cat foods tend to use more by-product food sources. This may reduce the taste due to unpleasant parts and a worse smell.

Handling meat at a factory.

What Should I Look For When Reading a Cat Food Label?

The main key to reading a cat food label is to read the ingredients list and nutritional panel.

The front label is usually misleading containing lots of buzzwords and imagery that confuses people. However, the ingredients list tells the real story about your food.

Check out my guide to reading a cat food label to learn more.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enforces guidelines for general labeling in the USA.

Some states use the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines for pet food labels.

Bottom Line: The ingredients list and nutrition panel are the most important places to look on a cat food label…not the front!

A woman reads the label of cat food.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s Better: Dry or Wet Cat Food?

Wet canned cat food is best.

This is because wet cat food contains less carbohydrate and more meat. This is a more species-appropriate nutrient profile for cats, given their carnivore nature.

Wet cat food also has more moisture which is important for kidney health. Generally, there is a good range of acceptable cheap wet cat food.

It is much harder to find great quality cheap dry cat food. You need to invest quite a bit more to get top-quality dry cat food.

A cat with food.
Canned wet cat food is usually the best budget cat food choice due to the high protein and moisture for top health

Do I need to worry about allergic reactions?

If you notice any symptoms of allergies speak with a vet.

Symptoms include:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Rash
  • Watery or itchy eyes

Some cat foods may include foods not listed on the product. Research has found the DNA of unnamed species such as horses and pigs in common cat food.

There’s no 100% foolproof way to assure your food isn’t contaminated. Avoid vague terms like ‘meat by products’ and ‘poultry liver’ as these may contain a range of unwanted food sources.

A cat with a diagnosed allergy may need an elimination diet. This involves using a limited ingredient cat food with novel or hydrolyzed protein.

Check out this article on the best cat food for allergies to learn more.

A cat eating food.

Conclusion: Best Budget Cat Food

In this article, I’ve looked at the best cheap cat food on the market.

Many cheap cat food products use low-quality fillers or are high in carbohydrates. However, there are some good options out there that give your cat the nutrition they need for optimal health and happiness.

Wet canned cat food is the best choice on a budget. These foods give your cat more animal protein and moisture which is better for their health.

Budget dry cat food is high in fillers such as wheat gluten, cornmeal, oats, potato, corn, and peas. Too many filler ingredients don’t benefit your cat’s digestive health.

Ask your vet for more help choosing the best cheap cat food product for your needs.

A relaxed cat

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