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7 Best Cheap Cat Food Choices in 2021

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 healthy.

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.

This guide will help you find a better quality product on a budget.

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 look at what you’ll find in this article:

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 Trout & Catfish Pate Recipe Canned Cat Food, 3-oz, case of 12
Pros
  • High in animal protein for optimal health
  • Extra moisture from broth for kidney health
  • Grain and carrageenan for easy digestion
Cons
  • Not enough variety
  • Carrot ingredients may test sensitive stomach
  • Borderline high in carbs

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.

GUARANTEED ANALYSIS

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 Natural Atlantic Tuna, Mackerel, Chicken & Shrimp, Trout & Tuna Variety Pack Canned Cat Food, 2.47-oz, case of 12
Pros
  • High-quality human-grade animal protein for top health
  • Limited ingredients for maximum tolerability
  • Four flavors in the pack for a variety
Cons
  • High end of cheap cat food price range
  • Not suitable as a sole source of nutrition due to very low fat content
  • Too many seafood flavors

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%)

Moisture: 80.0%

Energy: 710 kcal/kg (49.7 kcal/can)


Best Cheap Cat Food Dry: Nulo Grain-Free Dry Cat Food

Nulo Freestyle Duck & Lentils Recipe Grain-Free Indoor Dry Cat Food, 2-lb bag
Pros
  • High in animal-based protein for top health
  • Grain-free for better digestion
Cons
  • Not appropriate as a sole source of nutrition due to high carbohydrate content
  • Needs to be supplemented with wet cat food for moisture

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.

GUARANTEED ANALYSIS

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 Perfect Portions Grain-Free Multipack Seafood Entrees Cat Food Trays, 2.6-oz, case of 12 twin-packs
Pros
  • High in animal protein for strength and immune system function
  • High moisture content to support kidney health
  • Grain-free for healthy digestion
  • Affordable choice
  • Chunky pate for fussy cats
Cons
  • Chicken is the main ingredient in the flavors which may test a sensitive stomach
  • Too high in carbohydrate due to tapioca starch
  • Limited variety of options
  • Guar gum might be hard on digestion for some cats

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.

GUARANTEED ANALYSIS

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 Indoor Multipack Salmon &Turkey Recipe Pate Grain-Free Cat Food Trays, 2.6-oz, case of 12 twin-packs
Pros
  • High in animal-based protein for top health
  • High moisture content to support your cat’s kidney health
  • Grain-free for healthy digestion
  • Fish oil added for healthy skin and immune system
  • Affordable choice
Cons
  • Chicken is the main ingredient, which may not suit all cats taste preference
  • Only 2 options in a variety pack

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.

GUARANTEED ANALYSIS

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 Chicken, Duck & Salmon in Gravy Stew Canned Cat Food, 5.5-oz can, case of 8
Pros
  • Whole animal-based protein for strength and vitality
  • Rich in moisture for healthy kidney function
  • No added nasties such as carrageenan or gluten
  • Two can size to suit cats of all life stages
  • Great low carbohydrate choice
Cons
  • Won’t suit a cat needing a limited ingredient diet
  • Cat’s that prefer a pate texture won’t be satisfied

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.

GUARANTEED ANALYSIS

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 Grain-Free Variety Pack Canned Cat Food, 3-oz, case of 24
Pros
  • Great variety of flavors
  • High amount of animal meat for perfect health
  • Low carbohydrate content for weight control
  • No grains or legumes for easier digestion
Cons
  • Minced texture might turn off fussy cats
  • Contains guar gum which might test a sensitive stomach

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.

GUARANTEED ANALYSIS

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)


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 cats 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 [1].

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.

Best cheap cat food

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.

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

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 [2].

Brewers rice is a lower quality form of rice made from the husks of rice that are normally removed [3]. 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 [4]. Cellulose helps decrease the gastrointestinal transit time of ingested hairs [5].

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 [6]. 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

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 [7].

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.

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 [8].


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 [9].  

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 [8].

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 [8].

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 [8]. 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)

Learn how to read cat food labels to find what is best for your cat

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.

Meal definition

‘Rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of any added blood, hair, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach, and rumen contents.’ [8]

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.’ [10]

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 [11]. This leads to a less nutritious product compared to non-heat treated meat.

In contrast, this is the definition of meat:

Meat definition

‘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.’ [8]

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.

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

How to calculate the as fed basis of cat food

Let’s look at a canned food and dry food example:

Dry food

30% crude protein

10% moisture (90% dry matter)

Canned food

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 (Final Thoughts)

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

Here are my final thoughts on the best cheap cat food:

  • Cats are obligate carnivores. The thrive off animal based products for top nutrition
  • Wet cat food is a better option with a limited budget. Wet cat food has more animal based products than dry cat food
  • The more animal based ingredients in the cat food, generally the better. The more grains and plant based foods in the cat food – generally the worse it is
  • Budget dry cat food is high in cheap carbohydrate foods such as wheat, oats, potato, tapioca starch, corn, and peas. This is to increase profit margins and not to benefit your cat
  • Cats tolerate a small amount of carbohydrate but too much impairs digestion
  • The best cat food depends on your cats texture and taste preference
  • Learn to read cat food labels to find out which products are best for your cat. Don’t rely on misleading front labels

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

Our Top Pick: Best Cheap Cat Food in 2021

Purina Beyond Grain-Free, Natural, Adult Wet Cat Food Pate

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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