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9 Best Cat Food for Sensitive Stomachs

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Do you have a cat with a sensitive stomach and don’t know what to do?

If you want to stop your cat vomiting and having diarrhea it’s time to look at what goes in your cats bowl.

In this article I’ll help you find out how to help your cat have easier digestion and less stinky litter trays. I’ll also answer some frequently asked questions on this topic.

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 cat food picks for sensitive stomachs.

> Best Cat Food for Sensitive Stomachs Overall: Feline Natural lamb feast

> Best Cat Food for Diarrhea: Weruva Cats in the Kitchen

> Best Dry Cat Food for Sensitive Stomachs: Dr. Elsey’s Clean Protein

> Best Wet Cat Food for Food Allergies and Intolerances: Meat Mates lamb dinner 98% grass fed meat

> Best Kitten Food for Diarrhea: Nulo Freestyle duck & tuna

> Best Cat Food for Senior Cats with Diarrhea: Ziwi Peak Otago Valley

> Best Budget Cat Food for Sensitive Stomachs: Fancy Feast tender beef & chicken feast

> Best Cat Food for Sensitive Stomachs Variety Pack: Tiki Cat After Dark

> Best Treat for Sensitive Stomachs: Vital Essentials rabbit nibs

Best Cat Food for Sensitive Stomachs: Buying Guide

The best thing you can do with a cat with a sensitive stomach is to give them food lower in carbohydrate. This makes digestion easier for most cats. Wet cat foods are the best choice for diarrhea and vomiting.

Here are our quick dietary tips to help with vomiting and diarrhea:

  • Choose a wet canned cat food
  • Avoid foods with added peas, chickpeas, lentils and/or soy
  • Avoid added grains
  • Choose a cat food low in carbohydrate (less than 12% on a dry matter basis)
  • Avoid additives, preservatives, gums, and/or carrageenan
  • Choose a cat food lower in fiber
  • Avoid homemade foods or ‘grandma’s remedies’ (e.g. leftovers, cooked pumpkin)
  • Offer a novel protein food source (e.g. lamb, turkey, venison) if not seeing results

Always keep a history of your cats vomiting and diarrhea. Report these signs and symptoms with your vet.

Unfortunately, diarrhea and vomiting in cats are poorly understood in the literature. The causes and treatments are generally vague.

Many things aren’t proven, but they haven’t been disproven either.

The approach I recommend is to try pick a healthy food that is as less likely to cause digestive upset as possible.

There’s many reasons cat can vomit and/or have diarrhea.

Possible causes include:

  • Parasites (particularly high risk in shelter raised cats and kittens)
  • Hairballs
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Nausea
  • Stress
  • Allergies
  • Food intolerances

When it comes to diet, cats have a hard time digesting carbohydrates. This is due to a lack of digestive enzymes.

Less carbohydrate digestive enzymes = less ability to digest carbs.

What matters most with your cats digestion is the amount of carbs in the diet, since cats can digest small amounts of carbohydrates only.

The type is also important. Coarse and uncooked carbohydrate foods are harder to digest (e.g. grits).

Food intolerances and allergies also interfere with digestion. As it turns out, many grain based foods are sources of food intolerances.

By avoiding foods with carbohydrate you address most food intolerances. This helps improve digestion.

It’s usually best to give cats food with less ingredients from meats, organs, and bones. Novel protein sources also help with food allergies.

Not only is this best for your cats health as a carnivore, but it reduces the risk of food intolerance issues.

After diarrhea episodes, it’s important cats rehydrate with moisture. This is also why wet foods are the best option for cats with sensitive stomachs.

I’ll help you further with the following tips for what to look for.

Protein

A high protein diet from animal foods is easy-to-digest for cats. Cats consume high protein diets in the wild from prey.

The constituent of protein is amino acids.  Amino acids form bone, hair, skin, teeth, muscles, and other organs.

Good protein sources include:

  • Fish
  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Turkey
  • Eggs
  • Lamb

The type of protein affects digestion. Plant based protein is harder to digest. Wheat gluten meal (popular in some dry cat food brands) is a low quality protein.

It’s best to avoid cat food with plant based and grain based protein for the most part. Whilst small amounts are fine, they should not dominate the ingredient list.

This is especially important for senior cats as they have worsened protein digestion. It’s important to ensure a senior cat gets a high protein diet to compensate for digestive changes.

The higher an ingredient is on a cat food label, the more of it is in the food in a general sense.

At a glance, if you see plant based or grain based protein in the top 5 ingredients its usually not a good sign for digestion.

What to look for in brief:

  • A food high in animal based ingredients
  • Avoid plant based and grain based protein sources
A cat eating meat.
Animal based foods are easier for cats to digest and the best choice for sensitive stomachs.

Carbohydrate

Look for cat food with fewer carb based ingredients like barley, wheat, oats, and potato. Cat food should contain no more than 12% carbs on a dry matter basis to help with digestion.

Research has found that cats have limited digestive enzymes for carbohydrate. The 12% number represents the ‘upper limit’ of what cats can tolerate.

Most of the time, the information about carbohydrate won’t be on the cat food label.

So this means you’ll need to calculate the carbohydrate content when checking cat food (i.e. a little more hassle).

You can check the list of ingredients to see whether the food is high in carbs. If you see the following ingredients high on the label, it’s usually not a good sign:

  • Wheat
  • Corn
  • Rice
  • Oats
  • Tapioca starch
  • Bran
  • Barley
  • Starch
  • Dried berries (e.g. blueberries)

Lastly, food intolerances may occur through a wide variety of foods, but wheat, barley, and gluten are the main suspects. Signs of food intolerance include pruritis (itchy skin).

Cutting out grains reduces the risk of digestive upset from food intolerance.

Most dry cat food is chock full of grain based ingredients and worth avoiding for this reason.

Check out my top 9 tips to maximize your cat’s nutrition for more.

What to look for in brief:

  • Less than 12% carbohydrate on a dry matter basis
  • Avoid cat food with added grains as these ingredients can cause food intolerances
  • Be weary of cat food with carb based ingredients high on the list
A cat waiting for food.
A cat does not need grains in their diet.

Fat

Fat doesn’t affect digestion that much in cats. Look for cat food that contains moderate amounts of animal fats for overall health.

Fat provides a cat three important functions:

  • Energy
  • Palatability (taste)
  • Absorption of fat-soluble vitamins

Cats prefer to get their energy from protein and fat over carbohydrates.

When given a choice, cats prefer a moderate-fat diet (25%) over a low-fat diet (10% energy intake). Animal fats like tallow are the tastiest fat sources for cats.

Senior cats benefit from a higher fat intake to combat weight loss.

What to look for in brief:

  • A moderate-fat diet (25-40% of total energy intake) from animal food sources
  • Fat doesn’t appear to affect digestion and vomiting
A cat eating.

Fiber

Some indigestible fibers may increase constipation risk. Cellulose decreases the water content of feces and leads to mild constipation. Reducing the level of fiber and cellulose provides relief from constipation.

Some cats experience mixed results.

A diet high in crude fiber increases the size of the fecal matter which improves motility.

However:

It’s the moisture content that affects the softness of the stool.

A diet low in moisture and high fiber creates a large hard stool. Many dry cat foods increase the risk of digestive upset because of this.

Low residue diets (i.e. less fiber and indigestible material) are recommended to help alleviate diarrhea. A 4 week dietary trial helped resolve over 60% of vomiting cases in one trial.

Cats have a small stomach that doesn’t distend as much as humans. This means cats are affected by foods that increase gas (includes foods like legumes).

What to look for in brief:

  • Choose a wet cat food low in fiber to improve digestion
  • Avoid gas producing foods like legumes
A cat laying down.
Fiber doesn’t help cats with sensitive stomachs because of their small stomach size. This is sensitive to bloating from gassy foods like peas, whole-grains and soy.

Carrageenan

Avoid giving your cat food with added carrageenan for easier digestion.

Carrageenan is a thickening agent sourced from seaweed. Many foods use it for a thicker texture (e.g. milkshakes, ice cream, cat food with gravy).

Carrageenan provides no nutrition to cats and only provides downsides.

Degraded carrageenan is a possible carcinogen and may lead to digestive issues.

Food-grade carrageenan (used in cat food) contains between 5-25% degraded carrageenan.

Degraded carrageenan induces local inflammation for research purposes (e.g. injected into the paw of rats to induce edema). Degraded carrageenan added to the water of guinea pigs resulted in:

  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Weight loss
  • Loose stools
  • Blood in the feces

What to look for in brief:

  • Look for cat food that does not contain carrageenan
Carrageenan
Carrageenan can form small amounts of degraded carrageenan. This can irritate digestion.

Dairy

Avoid giving a cat with a sensitive stomach excess dairy foods. Many cats are lactose intolerant. This means they have difficulties digesting the sugar (lactose) in milk.

A cat with lactose intolerance may experience digestive issues when drinking milk. This includes vomiting and diarrhea.

A cat may be able to tolerate small amounts of cheese (which does contain lactose sugar) or milk (up to 85ml). Your mileage may vary.

Most cat food does not contain dairy, but some owners may put dairy products out for their cats or provide leftovers with dairy foods.

Reduce or eliminate dairy from your cat’s diet to help with digestion.

Learn More:

A cat drinking milk. Cat's can tolerate small amounts of dairy.
Cats with sensitive stomachs may tolerate small amounts of milk (up to 85ml) but use caution.

Moisture

Cats are prone to not drinking enough water. Eating a lot of dry foods can limit the amount of water in a cat’s diet. Too little water can cause constipation and vomiting.

If not given access to eating wet foods and meat, a cat does not drink enough water. This can lead to dehydration and kidney problems. This may result in digestive problems like constipation.

In the wild cats eat small prey which is 70-85% water by weight.

The best thing to increase moisture is to give your cat mostly wet food.

I recommend a diet of at least 80% wet food and 20% (at the most) dry food.

What to look for in brief:

  • Choose a canned wet food with 75-85% moisture
A cat drinking water. Cat's need about one cup of water every day for proper hydration.
Cats need to drink at least one cup of water per day from food or drink sources. Wet cat foods help meet hydration needs.

Fillers

Any ingredients that have a chance to irritate your cat’s digestion are worth eliminating.

In general, simple animal-rich foods are best for cats.

Let’s take a look at some things to avoid:

  • Histamines
  • Gluten
  • Lactose
  • Colorings
  • Preservatives
  • Flavorings
  • Lectins
  • Gums

These foods are sources of food intolerance. Some cats respond well to food without any of these ingredients.

It doesn’t hurt to avoid these things, and there’s only upside…so why not?

Food intolerance is a negative reaction to food that doesn’t involve allergies.  

There are many possible foods that lead to intolerance for a variety of reasons. Food intolerance is a catch-all term for a variety of food-related sensitivities.

Either the food is poorly digested (e.g. lactose) or the food itself causes changes to the digestive system function (e.g. transit time, water absorption).

What to look for in brief:

  • Choose cat food with as little filler ingredients as possible to reduce risk of digestive upset
A kitten.

Plant Foods

Many plant-based foods are toxic to cats and may cause diarrhea. This is because of problems with the liver in detoxifying plant compounds. 

Here is a list of plant-based problem foods that give cats a hard time:

  • Avocado
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Apricots
  • Grapes
  • Sultanas
  • Green tomato
  • Green potato
  • Garlic
  • Yeast
  • Green vegetables
  • Citrus fruits
  • Nuts

The best way to avoid these foods is to not give your cat leftovers (as these contain a wide variety of foods not suitable for cats).  

Some internet sources recommend pumpkin and probiotics. Neither of these treatments are effective for cat diarrhea and worth avoiding.

The best thing to do is avoid giving your cat leftovers as many human foods contain a wide variety of plant based ingredients (e.g. onion in a meat based sauce).

Learn More:

Best Cat Food for Sensitive Stomachs

Best Overall Cat Food for Sensitive Stomachs

Feline Natural Lamb Feast Grain-Free Canned Cat Food, 6-oz, case of 12

Feline Natural Lamb Feast

The best choice for cats with diarrhea and vomiting. Ultra low in carbs and fillers. Contains lamb which gives relief from allergies.

Key Features

  • AAFCO approved for all life stages
  • 98% animal based ingredients
  • Low in carbs (0.5%)*
  • Grain-free
  • Gluten-free
  • Soy-free
  • No gums
  • No carrageenan

*dry matter basis

Learn More about Feline Natural:

Best Cat Food for Diarrhea

Weruva Cats in the Kitchen Canned Cat Food

Weruva Cats in the Kitchen Chicken Frick ‘A Zee

Great high moisture choice for diarrhea to help rehydrate your cat. Ultra low in carbs, with minimal fillers. Shreds texture that suit some cats preferences.

Key Features

  • Suitable for adult cats
  • High in protein (66.7%)
  • Low in carbs (3.3%)*
  • High in moisture (81.4%)
  • Grain-free
  • Gluten-free
  • Soy-free
  • No carrageenan

*dry matter basis

Learn More about Weruva:

Best Dry Cat Food for Sensitive Stomachs

Dr. Elsey's cleanprotein Chicken Formula Grain-Free Dry Cat Food, 2.0-lb bag

Dr. Elsey’s Clean Protein Chicken

A very low dry food perfect for sensitive stomachs. No soy and peas to stop painful bloating. Small round texture that’s easy to chew.

Key Features

  • AAFCO approved for all life stages
  • 95% animal based foods
  • Low in carbs (3.3%)*
  • High in moisture (81.4%)
  • Grain-free
  • Gluten-free
  • Soy-free
  • Pea-free

*dry matter basis

Best Wet Cat Food for Food Allergies and Intolerances

Meat Mates lamb dinner 98% grass fed meat

The best cat food to help give relief from allergies and food intolerances. No irritating fillers. Complete nutrition for all life stages.

Key Features

  • AAFCO approved for all life stages
  • 98% animal based foods
  • Low in carbs (1.7%)*
  • Novel protein lamb for allergy relief
  • Grain-free
  • Gluten-free
  • Soy-free
  • Pea-free
  • Gum-free
  • Carrageenan-free

*dry matter basis

Learn More about Meat Mates:

Best Kitten Food for Diarrhea

Nulo Freestyle Duck & Tuna Recipe Grain-Free Canned Cat & Kitten Food, 5.5-oz, case of 24

Nulo Freestyle Duck & Tuna Recipe

Great kitten food to ease digestive issues. No grains or gluten to help with digestion. Complete nutrition for growth.

Key Features

  • AAFCO approved for all life stages
  • High in protein (54.5%)
  • Low in carbs (5.7%)*
  • Grain-free
  • Gluten-free
  • Soy-free
  • Pea-free
  • Carrageenan-free

*dry matter basis

Learn More about Nulo:

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the Signs my Cat has a Sensitive Stomach?

These are the signs of a sensitive stomach:

Dry heaving occasionally and ejecting a small hairball is not uncommon. 

Learn More:

A cat laying down.

Why Does My Cat Have a Sensitive Stomach?

Cats can experience vomiting and diarrhea due to a lot of reasons. This includes hairballs, nausea, stress, parasites, and dietary food intolerance.

Let’s take a look at some common culprits.

Hairballs

Cats groom themselves to maintain cleanliness.

Their tongue contains a rough sandpaper texture called papillae extracts dirt from the fur. 

A lot of the fur a cat ingests will pass through the digestive system. 

Excessive fur may lodge in the esophagus and stomach, causing the cat to retch. 

Learn More:

Cat's may get hairballs if grooming too much.

Nausea

If a cat consumes spoiled food, it can get sick (like a human).

Wet food or leftover scraps are prone to accumulating bacteria. If you have left out wet food for too long, it has the potential to spoil. 

Cats are also intolerant to a wide range of foods.

A cat regurgitating food.

Parasites

Fleas are a source of many feline parasites.  If your cat is scratching itself often and also appears to retch, it might be a sign of parasites.

There are many symptoms of a parasitic infection which include diarrhea, coughing, pale gums, a distended abdomen, as well as vomiting.

Check out my article on tips to control fleas to tackle a flea problem.

Stress

Stress is not good for a person and cats are no different.

If cats are not able to acclimate to their environment they may experience stress-related illnesses.

Research has found that providing a cat with a predictable routine that includes time for play can reduce the risk of feline interstitial cystitis.

This illness can lead to an increase in vomiting episodes.

A stressed cat.

Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract (i.e. stomach, throat, colon).

Cats with gastroenteritis have symptoms that include abdominal pain, dry heaving (with or without vomit), diarrhea, coughing, and lethargy.

Many things can cause gastroenteritis.  Vets are best equipped to diagnose this condition.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Cats are obligate carnivores and thrive off an animal-based diet. 

Grains, legumes, fruit, junk food, and other ‘human’ foods are not easily digestible for a cat.

Although these constituents make for cheap cat food, they don’t make for optimal cat nutrition.

There’s no easy answer for this.  Cats need quality nutrition for health.

Provide your cat foods that don’t have any (or very little) ingredients including grain, binders (e.g. guar gum, acacia gum, xanthan gum, carrageenan), potato, vegetables, and/or refined oils. 

If improving your cat’s dietary quality improves their digestion, then it’s a sign their previous feeding was leading to the sensitivity.

A simple elimination diet (i.e. basing your cat’s diet on simple meat products) can help with digestion.

A relaxed cat.

What is the Best Cat Food for Sensitive Stomachs?

A wet cat food high in animal protein is the easiest-to-digest choice.

Other things to avoid are:

  • Filler (e.g. additives, thickeners)
  • Fiber (increases constipation risk)
  • Carbohydrates

Remember:

A sensitive stomach is caused by many problems including:

  • Hairballs
  • Parasites
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Eating too quickly
  • Food allergies
  • Food intolerances.

If adjusting diet doesn’t help with a sensitive stomach, speak with a vet for help.

Bottom Line: Choose a wet canned food high in animal protein for easier digestion.

Two cats enjoying food without pain.

What if Your Cat has a Food Allergy?

If your cat has a food allergy, they need a novel protein food source.

Novel proteins are protein sources most cats aren’t exposed to. They include:

  • Lamb
  • Turkey
  • Venison
  • Duck

If your cat has a food allergy, it may experience digestive symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea.

If you suspect a food allergy, speak with your vet for more.

Learn More:

Is Wet Food Better for Cats with Sensitive Stomachs?

Yes. Wet cat food tends to have fewer irritating ingredients to your cats digestion. It also contains moisture to help rehydrate your cat if they have diarrhea.

Dry food tends to contain a lot of unfavorable ingredients to digestive health.

This includes things like:

  • Grains
  • Soy
  • Lentils
  • Peas
  • Fiber
  • Wheat gluten meal
  • Corn gluten meal

Choosing a wet food will help you to avoid a lot of these irritating ingredients.

Conclusion

Cats experience digestive upsets for many reasons including diet. They include parasites, hairballs, stress, and nausea. Some cats eat too much at one time which leads to vomiting.

A wet cat food high in animal protein provided in small serves is the easiest for cats to digest. Avoiding foods with grains and fillers helps reduce the risk of digestive upset.

If problems persist, speak with a vet for help.

Our Top Pick: Best Cat Food for Sensitive Stomachs

Feline Natural Lamb Feast Grain-Free Canned Cat Food, 6-oz, case of 12

Feline Natural Lamb Feast

The best choice for cats with diarrhea and vomiting. Ultra low in carbs and fillers. Contains lamb which gives relief from allergies.

Key Features

  • AAFCO approved for all life stages
  • 98% animal based ingredients
  • Low in carbs (0.5%)*
  • Grain-free
  • Gluten-free
  • Soy-free
  • No gums
  • No carrageenan

*dry matter basis

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