In this article, I’m going to check out the best cheap cat foods on the market in 2021. This will help you find the best product to provide your cat with complete and balanced nutrition.
Many cheap cat food products use low-quality fillers. This includes things like corn, wheat, soy, brown rice, and pea protein. This drives down production costs but reduces the number of essential nutrients your cat needs to be happy and healthy. This guide will help you find a better quality product on a budget.
I’ll provide a buying guide and answer some frequently asked questions at the end of this article. Here is a summary of the products I reviewed in this article.
In general, wet canned food is a better budget cat food option than cheap dry cat food. This is due to the higher amount of protein and moisture. Animal-based protein benefits cats more than grain products used in cheap dry food.
At Simply Cat Care, we recommend the best quality food to improve your cat’s chance of living out a happy life. In this review, I’ve analyzed the best cheap cat foods on the market to find which ones are suitable for your cat.
I am not a veterinarian and I recommend seeking the advice of a vet before making a purchase.
Let’s get into the review.
Product Review: The 7 Best Cheap Cat Food in 2021
Best Cheap Cat Food Overall: Purina Beyond Grain-Free Natural
Purina Beyond Grain-Free is a great quality affordable cat food for a balanced meal.
The main ingredient of this product is trout followed by fish broth, chicken, liver, catfish, and egg products. The fish broth provides moisture for great kidney health, and the other foods are high protein animal-based foods to give your cat the essential nutrients it needs.
The product also contains a small amount of carrot and inulin which might help with digestion. The food is completely free of grains and gluten, with no sneaky pea, potato, wheat, soy, or rendered by-products tossed in as fillers. The dry matter carbohydrate amount is 10%, which is the upper range of what is suitable.
It is a very solid choice however there’s a limited variety of this range. If you strictly want to avoid fruits and vegetables in your cat food, then the small amount of carrot (and sweet potato in other products of the range) may not be quite what you are after.
Crude Protein: 10.0% (*45.5%)
Crude Fat (min): 5.0% (22.7%)
Carbs (estimated): 2.2% (10.0%)
Crude Fiber (min): 1.5% (13.6%)
Ash (max): 3.3% (15.0%)
Moisture (max): 78.0%
Energy: 1,168 kcal/kg (99 kcal/can)
*dry matter basis %
Best Cheap Cat Food Limited Ingredients: Almo Nature HQS
Almo Nature HQS is an interesting and unique product.
The tins come in four flavors that only contain meat and water. There are no synthetic vitamins, minerals, or carbohydrate foods in these cans. What is more, the meat is high-quality human-grade meat.
For the price, this is about the highest quality food you are going to find. The high-quality protein will help keep your cat healthy and strong. The tins have limited ingredients to help with sensitive stomachs. That means for the price, the tins give you top value for your money.
On the downside, the products are very low in fat. For a sole source of nutrition, the product does not have enough calories to provide for your cat’s dietary needs.
GUARANTEED ANALYSIS (TROUT AND TUNA)
Crude Protein: 13.0% (65.0%)
Crude Fat: 3.0% (15.0%)
Carbs (estimated): 0.0% (0.0%)
Crude Fiber: 1.0% (5.0%)
Ash: 3.0% (15.0%)
Energy: 710 kcal/kg (49.7 kcal/can)
Best Cheap Cat Food Dry: Nulo Grain-Free Dry Cat Food
Nulo Grain-Free Dry Cat Food is the best option I could find in the budget dry cat food range.
The first four ingredients on the pack are all animal-based protein sources. On the downside, two of those are chicken and turkey meal which is a litter lower quality due being heat treated. However, that is still much better than the majority of cheap dry cat foods that are front-loaded with grains.
The total carbohydrate content is 27.4%. Preferably, you would like to see a value less than 10%, but for dry cat food, this is better than most competitors. You will need to provide wet cat food on top of this food for a balanced diet.
The addition of a few fruit and vegetable foods is probably unnecessary for healthy cat food. If your cat’s digestive system is sensitive, then these ingredients may test them.
Crude Protein: 40.0% (44.4%)
Crude Fat (min): 17.0% (18.9%)
Carbs (estimated): 24.7% (27.4%)
Crude Fiber (min): 5.0% (12.5%)
Ash (max): 3.3% (3.6%)
Moisture (max): 10.0%
Energy: 3,724 kcal/kg (468 kcal/C)
Best Cheap Cat Food Pate Wet Food: Sheba Premium Cat Food
Sheba Premium Cat Food is a variety pack of chicken and turkey flavors in a tasty pate.
The packs are conveniently portioned for ease of use and are high in animal protein. The packs do contain a mixture of chicken and pork, so if your cat is after a limited ingredient diet, these packs won’t be for you.
The lack of grains and gluten helps sensitive stomachs. However, the addition of tapioca starch raises the carbohydrate content to as much as 18.4% which is a little high for optimal health.
Crude Protein: 9.0% (47.3%)
Crude Fat (min): 5.0% (26.3%)
Carbs (estimated max): 3.5% (18.4%)
Crude Fiber (min): 1.5% (7.8%)
Moisture (max): 81.0%
Energy: 941 ME/kg (35 kcal/serving)
Best Cheap Cat Food Budget Pick: Iams Perfect Portions
Iams Perfect Portions is another good affordable wet food option on the market.
The products contain a lot of good animal-based protein foods to support your cat’s health. None of the protein sources are rendered meals, so this gives the food the best quality for nutrition. The carbohydrate content is 11.3% which is slightly high but better than many options at this price point.
There are no artificial preservatives or artificial flavors in this product. The product is also grain-free to give your cat’s digestive system an easier time. The product also contains added fish oil for healthy skin and immune system function.
Since this is a ‘recipe’ product the ingredients are scattered between different sources. The salmon is mainly chicken for example. If you were after a specific meat source (e.g. limited ingredient) then this won’t be the product for you.
Crude Protein: 9.5% (43.1%)
Crude Fat (min): 5.0% (22.7%)
Carbs (estimated max): 2.5% (11.3%)
Ash (max): 4.0% (18.1%)
Crude Fiber (min): 1.0% (4.5%)
Moisture (max): 78.0%
Energy: 1,207 kcal/kg (45 kcal/serving)
Best Cheap Cat Food Gravy: Weruva Classic Cat Stewbacca
Weruva Classic Cat Stewbacca is another good choice on the menu for cat foods if you are after a gravy option.
It’s made with predominately chicken, duck, salmon, and broth. This is a great start for providing your cat the essential vitamins and minerals it needs to thrive. As with all wet cat food, the moisture content keeps your cat’s kidneys healthy.
The product avoids grains, gluten, carrageenan, and has no artificial flavors or colors. There are two sizes to suit cat needs for all life stages.
The product uses a small amount of tapioca starch which raises the carbohydrate and lowers the protein. This means, on a dry matter basis, the product is less optimal for your cat’s needs. This might test overweight cats who might need fewer carbs.
Crude Protein: 7.0% (46.6%)
Crude Fat (min): 4.0% (26.6%)
Carbs (estimated max): 1.0% (6.6%)
Ash (max): 3.0% (18.1%)
Crude Fiber (min): 1.0% (6.6%)
Moisture (max): 85.0%
Energy: 1,092 kcal/kg (87 kcal/serving)
Best Cheap Cat Food Variety Pack: Purina ONE High Protein
Purina ONE High Protein range is a good overall choice.
The cans are rich in meaty goodness, providing your cat the protein and fat it needs to live and thrive. The carbohydrate content is low with no added grains, legumes, corn, or potato. This is great to see in budget cat food options to help cats with sensitive stomachs or weight control issues.
Unfortunately, the tins only come in a minced texture. Some cat’s simply don’t like mince, and prefer a chunky or pate mix. The tins also contain guar gum which is a thickener. This might be another troubling ingredient for a sensitive stomach and reduce nutrient absorption.
Crude Protein: 11.0% (50.0%)
Crude Fat (min): 5.0% (22.7%)
Carbs (estimated max): 1.1% (5.0%)
Ash (max): 3.4% (15.4%)
Crude Fiber (min): 1.5% (6.8%)
Moisture (max): 78.0%
Energy: 1,127 kcal/kg (95 kcal/serving)
Buying Guide: The Best Cheap Cat Food
In this buying guide, I’m going to help you work out the best cheap cat food for you. I’ll be going in-depth about this topic.
By the end of this buying guide, you should clearly understand how to read a cat food label and make informed choices.
Who is this guide for?
This guide is for people that have a limited budget but want to keep their cat happy and healthy.
Owners will also benefit from reading the guide to understanding more about cat food labels.
Is it bad to feed cats cheap food?
Many cheap cat food brands use ingredients that aren’t suitable for cats.
Cats are obligate carnivores in the wild. This means they rely upon animal-based protein and the nutrients found in animal foods to survive and thrive.
Without animal-based foods, cats are not able to get the vitamins, minerals, omega 3 fatty acids, and high-quality protein they need. In many cases, cats cannot use plant-based food sources to replace these important nutrients.
For example, cats cannot convert beta-carotene (a plant-based form of Vitamin A) into the active form of Vitamin A called retinol.
Felines also need the essential amino acids taurine in their food.
This is only found in animal-based protein sources. A deficiency leads to blindness and heart-related diseases. In the 1980s many thousands of cats died due to eating a taurine deficient diet .
The good news is regulations around cat food require supplementing the vitamins and minerals needed for health.
It is unlikely a cheap cat food will lead to nutritional deficiencies. However, the lack of high-quality ingredients may lead to an increased risk of other health issues such as weight gain, diabetes, arthritis, kidney disease, diarrhea, and other conditions associated with poor diet.
Where can I buy inexpensive cat food?
You can find cat food in many places these days.
Most supermarkets will stock many brands. Online stockists include Amazon and Chewy.
What ingredients should I look for in the best cheap cat food?
A good quality cat food should contain predominately animal protein from foods such as lamb, duck, venison, turkey, ocean fish, chicken, and salmon. The essential protein content of these foods is high. Fish (e.g. salmon, ocean fish) also contain essential fatty acids needed for great skin and coat health.
Cat food labels list ingredients in order of weight. The first ingredient of the food should contain a good protein source (e.g. chicken, duck). If the first five ingredients are all animal-based foods, this is usually a good sign of quality.
Wet foods have a higher moisture content which is important for cats of all life stages, and especially older cats. This helps with healthy kidney function.
What ingredients should I avoid in cheap cat food?
As I’ve mentioned, cheap cat food contains more cost-saving ingredients. Grains and potatoes are cheap compared to meat. Grains also hold dry cat food together. This is one reason dry cat food is less favorable to wet cat food.
Many sources of meat are not ‘human grade’. For example, the meat includes offal, bone, and parts we wouldn’t consume. On the other hand, these foods do provide cats nutrients and they are good for cat needs.
Let’s take a closer look at some ingredients to consider.
Rice and Brewers Rice
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.
Cellulose is an indigestible fiber that bulks up cat food. It is often referred to as sawdust in its consistency.
A small amount of powdered cellulose may not be bad for your cat. However, excess cellulose displaces high-quality protein foods.
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.
Carrageenan is a thickener used in moist wet canned cat food. Seaweed provides carrageenan.
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.
How do I read a cat food label to find the best cheap cat food?
Learning how to read cat food labels will help you make informed choices about what to feed your cat.
Let’s go into detail about how to understand cat food labels.
Regulation of pet food labeling happens at the federal level and the state level. That means the laws vary from state to state, and in different countries.
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 .
What is AAFCO?
AAFCO stands for the Association of American Feed Control Officials.
This organization provides legislation recommendations for states. They do not control or endorse pet food labels .
In other words, state legislation may use the guidelines provisioned by AAFCO or chose to use their own guidelines.
What are the laws involved in naming cat food?
When looking at cat food, you’ll notice a lot of terms used to describe the product.
There are laws involved in the naming process. Understanding these laws will help you figure out the quality of the food you intend to purchase.
Let’s go through the basics.
Product name (95% rule)
An ingredient used in a product name needs to comprise at least 95% of the total ingredients in the food (or 70% adjusting for water). If there are two ingredients listed (e.g. lamb and mackerel) then the first listed name must have more of it in the food .
Descriptor rule (25% rule)
Descriptors get used if the ingredient listed on the product name is less than 95% of the food, but more than 25% (10% if including water).
A descriptor includes words such as ‘dinner’, ‘nuggets’, ‘platter’, ‘entree’, and ‘formula’.
For example, if I made a cat food with 40% chicken, then I would have to call my food ‘chicken dinner’ or use another descriptor. Similar to the 95% rules, if there are two ingredients with a descriptor the first ingredient must be higher in the product .
With rule (3% rule)
Cat food products also abide by the ‘with’ rule.
The ‘with rule’ means the ingredient listed must comprise 3% of the product weight.
For example, a food that says Cat Food with Beef only needs 3% beef.
Flavor rule (trace amount rule)
When you see the word ‘flavor’ on a cat food label, it’s a concern.
The word ‘flavor’ means only a trace amount of the ingredient needs detection . This means there is little nutritional benefit provided by the listed ingredient (e.g. salmon, chicken).
Some examples of product names
Chicken Dinner (food must contain at least 25% chicken or 10% with moisture)
Mackerel Nuggets (food must contain at least 25% mackerel or 10% with moisture)
Chicken Recipe (food must contain at least 25% chicken)
Lamb Cat Food (food must contain at least 95% lamb or 70% with moisture)
Cat Food with Salmon (food must contain at least 3% salmon)
Cat Food with Beef Flavor (only trace amount of beef needs detection)
Tuna and Chicken Cat Food (food must contain at least 95% tuna and chicken combined or 70% with moisture. The main ingredient must be tuna)
What does chicken meal or chicken by-product mean?
On many cheap cat foods, you’ll see a meat source followed by the word ‘meal’ or ‘by product’.
A common example is a chicken meal or a chicken by-product.
This sounds like a good ingredient because it’s an animal-based food, however, let’s take a closer look at the definition of a meal.
‘Rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of any added blood, hair, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach, and rumen contents.’ 
As you can guess by this short description, a meal product is of lower quality than actual meat and organs (e.g. lamb liver).
Meat by-products are similar.
Meat by-product definition
‘Non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially defatted low-temperature fatty tissue, & stomachs & intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth & hoofs.’ 
As you can see, a by-product does not include rendered meat. A meat meal does.
Rendering involves blasting parts of meat at high temperatures and preparing them in powdered form for use in cat food . This leads to a less nutritious product compared to non-heat treated meat.
In contrast, this is the definition of meat:
‘Clean flesh of slaughtered mammals and is limited to…the striate muscle…with or without the accompanying and overlying fat and the portions of the skin, sinew, nerve and blood vessels which normally accompany the flesh.’ 
Overall, you want to opt for meat > meat by-product > meat meal where possible as an order of preference.
The best cheap cat food products use more good quality meat. Check out more on reading cat labels with my helpful guide.
Is the best cheap cat food dry food or wet canned food?
Wet is usually best.
This is because wet cat food contains less carbohydrate and more meat. 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 usually need to invest quite a bit more to get top-quality dry cat food.
When looking at canned and dry cat food, you will notice there seems to be a higher percent quantity of protein and fat in dry food. This makes it seem like dry food is superior food.
The percentage of the total weight of the product includes moisture. The dry matter basis is the total percentage of the product minus the moisture.
For example, a product with 10% moisture has a 90% dry matter basis.
To make a fair comparison between canned and dry food, use an as-fed basis conversion.
How to calculate the as fed basis of cat food
Let’s look at a canned food and dry food example:
30% crude protein
10% moisture (90% dry matter)
7% crude protein
80% moisture (20% dry matter)
To find the actual as of the fed basis of protein, you need to use the following equation:
Protein/dry matter basis x 100
So for each example:
Dry food: 30/90 x 100 = 33%
Canned food: 7/20 x 100 = 35%
In this example, the canned food is higher in protein when accounting for moisture.
Remember, moisture is an advantage. Cat’s have a hard time drinking enough water if they only eat dry cat food. Wet cat food is a better overall choice.
Conclusion: The Best Cheap Cat Food
In this article, I’ve looked at the best cheap cat food on the market.
Whilst spending more money on food helps to get a more quality product, there is still plenty on offer in the budget range. For the most part, wet food is the best cat food option on the market.
Wet food contains a higher amount of protein from animal-based foods, essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. The food best to feed your cat is a carnivore (meat-based) diet as this is easier for your cat to digest and thrive on. Wet canned food is a better option than dry cat food.
Budget dry cat food tends to contain a higher carbohydrate content from wheat, oats, potato, tapioca starch, corn, and peas. Cat’s can usually tolerate a small number of carbohydrates, but too much impairs their digestion and overall health.
As a general rule, wet food best suits your cat’s needs. The cat food best for an individual cat may vary depending on texture and flavor preference. Some dry cat foods that use fewer carbohydrates may be viable.
To check if your cat’s diet contains balanced nutrition for digestion, strength, skin, and coat it is best to label read, and check individual ingredients. Whole animal foods (e.g. chicken, ocean fish) are better than a heat-treated meal (e.g. chicken meal).
A dry matter basis analysis is a good idea to check the ratio of protein to carbohydrate in the product. Good cat food should contain less than 10% carbs on a dry matter basis for good health.
Our Top Pick: Best Cheap Cat Food in 2021
This product is a great quality affordable cat food for a balanced healthy meal.
In this product, the main ingredient is trout followed by fish broth, chicken, liver, catfish, and egg products. The fish broth provides moisture for great kidney health, and the other foods are high protein animal-based foods to give your cat the essential nutrients it needs.
The food is completely free of grains and gluten, with no sneaky pea, potato, wheat, soy, or rendered by-products as fillers.
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