| |

5 Best Dry Cat Food Brands For Health

Disclaimer

As a Chewy and Amazon affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases. This does not impact our reviews and comparisons.

What is the best dry cat food brand for your cats health?

Many dry cat food brands load up your cat with carbohydrate. This saves production costs but won’t be best for your cats health.

In this article I’ll help you find the best dry cat food brands that are lower in carbohydrate. This will help your cat enjoy better digestion and long term health.

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 dry cat food brands we’ve looked at.

> Overall Best Dry Cat Food Brand: Dr. Elsey’s Clean Protein

> Best Premium Dry Cat Food Brand: Ziwi Peak Air Dried Lamb Cat Food

> Best Affordable Dry Cat Food Brand: Nulo Freestyle Duck & Lentils

> Best Dry Cat Food Brand for Kittens: Acana First Feast High Protein Kitten

> Best Dry Cat Food Brand for Picky Eaters: Orijen Original Grain-Free Dry Cat Food

Dry Cat Food Buying Guide

The best dry cat food brands should be low in carbohydrate as possible and high in animal based foods. This is the easiest type of food to digest for cats.

Feeding your cat the wrong type of dry cat food may result in food refusal, digestive upsets, and long-term health issues.

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

  • 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)
  • Avoid grains
  • AAFCO approved for all life stages

Here’s some things to look at when choosing dry cat food:

Protein

Cats need a high protein diet from animal-based foods. A cat needs a diet of at least 16% protein on a dry matter basis for energy and strength.

Protein consists of 20 types of amino acids. 10 of those are ‘essential’ to a cat, meaning they can’t survive without them. Animal protein food sources are highest in essential amino acids.

Cats must get the essential amino acid, taurine. This is only found in animal products or supplemental forms. Taurine is vital for heart and eye health.

When given a choice, cats prefer a high protein diet (~50% on a dry matter basis), which reflects dietary intake in the wild. All cats are carnivores in the wild, eating small prey such as mice, birds, and insects.

How do you know if the cat food has enough protein?

Look for the nutritional panel on the bag.

Check for crude protein, fat, fiber, ash, and moisture. Use an online calculator to find out the dry matter basis protein.

If the protein level is higher to 50% protein on a dry matter basis this is a good sign.

30% protein on a dry matter basis is enough protein for cats.

If the quality of protein sources is low, then this is a problem for your cats health.

Lower quality protein ingredients include meat meals, plant protein and grain based proteins.

In short:

The closer to 50% protein with more animal based ingredients, the better. This is important for senior cats as they need more protein to help with muscle loss.

Trying to tease out the quantity of each ingredient is very difficult but there’s clues on the label. The words used to describe the product give you an idea of the ingredient quantity in the bag.

For example, some labels might say something like ‘with’ (e.g. cat food with chicken) or ‘recipe’ (e.g. chicken recipe). The amount of chicken in those cat foods could be very different.

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

What to look for in brief:

  • Aim for a dry cat food with close to 50% protein on a dry matter basis (especially for senior cats and kittens)
  • Choose food with more animal based ingredients higher on the ingredient list
  • Be mindful of labelling and what the words mean about ingredient weighting
A cat hunting in the wild. Cat's eat small prey as a main source of nutrition in the wild.
Cat’s are obligate carnivores and prefer a high animal protein diet. Aim for a dry cat food with close to 50% protein on a dry matter basis.

Fat

Fat is a cat’s preferred energy source and helps with vitamin absorption. When given a choice, cats prefer a moderate-fat diet from animal fats (25-40% on a dry matter basis). This is the ‘tastiest’ amount for a cat.

There are two essential fatty acids in the diet, omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids.

Cats cannot convert linoleic acid (plant-based omega 6 fat source) into arachidonic acid [AA]. They must get AA from animal-based foods such as chicken and turkey.

AA helps with inflammation, an important part of healing.

Cats also need omega 3 fatty acids from eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). 

Omega 3 helps control inflammatory processes, circulation, and immune system function.

Coldwater fish such as salmon, are some of the best sources of omega 3 fatty acids.

Senior cats generally need a higher fat diet to combat age-associated weight loss. Make sure to look for a higher fat product for senior health.

What to look for in brief:

  • Choose a dry cat food with around 25% fat on a dry matter basis for best taste results
  • Look for animal based fat sources for essential fatty acids
  • Salmon and other fatty fish are high omega 3 foods that can help with immune system health
A cat eating fish. Fish is a source of essential amino acids like taurine.
Cat’s prefer a moderate fat diet from animal based fat sources. A cat can’t utilize the essential fatty acids from plant sources, only animal based food sources like salmon.

Moisture

Moisture is important as cats don’t drink enough water. Unfortunately, dry foods are low in moisture which limits the amount of water in a cat’s diet.

If not given access to eating wet foods and meat, a cat does not drink enough water. In the wild cats eat small prey which is 70-85% water by weight.

Wet food has the benefit of giving cat moisture for kidney health and helping weight loss.

Most dry cat food brands are between 10-15% moisture, so there’s not much moisture on offer in most brands.

To improve moisture intake make sure to give your cat a diet including wet canned foods as well. My recommendation is to give your cat a diet of 80% wet foods and 20% dry foods.

An alternative is to add moisture to your cat’s dry food.

What to look for in brief:

  • Most dry cat foods are low in moisture
  • Make sure you mix in wet food in your cats diet or add water to the dry food
A cat drinking water.
Dry cat food isn’t high in moisture. Make sure to give your cat wet food to help with hydration or add water to the food.

Micronutrients

Micronutrients are needed for health and metabolism.

Micronutrients include:

  • Vitamins
  • Minerals

There are at least 25 recognized micronutrients needed in the diet for health. These nutrients provide a wide array of functions ranging from metabolism to structure.

An unbalanced diet may lead to deficiencies of micronutrients.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) defines nutrient recommendations for pets.

Many pet food manufacturers follow the AAFCO nutrient guidelines. “AAFCO approved for all life stages” is a label used to recognize nutritional adequacy.

This label isn’t a 100% guarantee that the food will meet the nutrition needs. There are some cases where independent research find that foods don’t add up.

Whilst having a food approved for all life stages is a good sign, also consider the food sources.

Is the cat food high in nutritional ingredients (e.g. meat, organs, bones) to start with?

Or is it high in low quality ingredients (e.g. grain protein, rice) and loaded with synthetic nutrients?

Think of it like breakfast cereal marketed to people. Usually they are sugary refined grains with a lot of marketing labels.

But are these best for health? No.

Use that same mentality when choosing cat food.

What to look for in brief:

  • Look for cat food AAFCO approved for all life stages
  • Consider whether the ingredients are nutrient dense or not
A person choosing cat food at a supermarket.
Look for cat food AAFCO approved for all life stages. This means the food is balanced for kittens, adults, and senior cats. Don’t forget to check the quality of ingredients.

What Should I Avoid In Dry Cat Food?

In general, a cat’s diet should be a simple as possible. Cat’s don’t benefit from a wide variety of plant based foods as this can cause digestive issues. It’s best to feed your cat a simple diet high in animal protein.

Here are a few things to look for:

Functional Foods

Some dry cat food brands add functional foods and claim health benefits.

Functional foods include:

  • Probiotics
  • Cranberries
  • Super foods
  • Quinoa

There is no evidence that cats benefit from functional foods for health. No functional foods help with weight loss in cats.

There’s no evidence a high fiber diet helps a cat lose weight or affects satiety.

Some ingredients such as rice bran and apple pomace decrease taurine digestibility. This is problematic since cats must get taurine from their diet. Taurine maintains the heart and eye health.

What to look for in brief:

  • There are no proven functional foods that help your cats health (and may be worse for your cat)
Apples aren't necessary for cats.
Functional foods sound fancy but don’t benefit your cat. Cat’s are obligate carnivores and benefit from animal based ingredients.

Carbohydrates

Cats prefer a low carbohydrate diet when given a choice.

Carbohydrate based foods include:

  • Brown rice
  • Wheat
  • Oats
  • Potatoes
  • Fruit
  • Corn
  • Tapioca starch

Cats have low levels of carbohydrate digesting enzymes. They also lack taste receptors for sweetness. When given a choice, cats prefer a diet low in carbohydrates (~10% on a dry matter basis).

Giving your cat too many carbohydrates may result in poor digestion and diarrhea. Some grain-based foods may result in food intolerances.

Most dry cat food brands are well over this (+30% carbohydrate on a dry matter basis). I recommend steering clear of these options in favor of a lower carbohydrate choice.

What to look for in brief:

  • Choose a dry cat food brand lower in carbohydrate (~10% dry matter basis or as near as possible)
  • Be weary of high carb dry foods (over 30% on a dry matter basis) as this can cause digestive issues and long term health problems
A picture of carbohydrate foods. Cat's don't need any grains or carbohydrate based foods in their diet.
Carbs are great for humans but not so much for cats.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I Feed My Cat Dry Cat Food?

Dry cat food is not essential to your cats health. Wet canned foods give cats all the nutrients they need and also give your cat moisture.

Dry cat food offers benefits to owners including:

  • Convenience
  • Affordability
  • Greater flavor variety
  • Faster to feed your cat

There are some downsides to dry cat food.

Most cat food brands are high in carbohydrates, which may result in poor health. Dry cat food is also calorie-dense and increases the risk of obesity.

I recommend feeding your cat mostly wet canned foods (80% of the diet) and using dry food sparingly. Choose a high-quality brand for the best results.

Bottom Line: Dry cat food is not compulsory. A diet of wet canned foods gives cats all the nutrients they need for health.

A cat eating dry cat food.
Dry cat food is not compulsory. A diet of wet canned foods gives cats all the nutrients they need for health.

How Can I Tell If My Cat Is Thriving On Dry Food?

Here are things to look for:

  • Clear eyes without discharge
  • Clean ears without discharge or redness
  • No halitosis (bad breath)
  • Clear gums
  • Shiny coat without hair loss
  • Healthy weight
  • No change in litter box use

Use the Body and Muscle Condition Score chart to find out whether your cat is at a healthy weight.

This chart shows you what your cat should look and feel like.

Signs a cat is carrying too much weight include:

  • Ribs are not felt under heavy fat cover
  • Distended abdomen
  • Visible fat on the face and neck

If you notice any problems, contact your vet for help.

Bottom Line: Check your cat’s weight and general health on a regular basis. Contact a vet if you notice anything unusual.

A cat getting a vet check up. Regular check-ups are important to make sure your cat is thriving.
Contact your vet for a health check if you notice any unusual changes to your cat’s health.

Is Dry Cat Food Better Than Wet Cat Food?

No. Wet cat food is the superior choice. This is because wet food has more moisture and usually contains more animal food sources.

Cats find it hard to drink enough water without added wet food.

Some cats benefit more from wet canned foods. These include:

  • Senior cats
  • Cats with kidney disease
  • Cats with diabetes
  • Cats with obesity

Cats with kidney disease benefit from wet cat food diets.

Check out my best-wet cat food for kidney disease to learn more.

Bottom Line: Wet canned cat food is a better choice for most cats for a variety of health conditions. Dry is better as an occasional food.

A cat eating food out of a bowl.
Wet cat food is the best choice for health.

What Is Freeze-Dried Cat Food?

This is cat food frozen and vacuumed to remove moisture. The technique increases shelf life and retains nutrients in the food.

Most freeze-dried cat food is pricier.

However, this food type can offer more vitamins and minerals to supplement your cat’s diet.

Bottom Line: Vacuumed freeze-dried cat food has a longer shelf life and retains more nutrients than other cat food options.

How Much Dry Cat Food Should I Feed My Cat?

The fastest way to find out is by using an online calculator. The main thing that affects your cat’s food needs is their weight. The higher your cat’s weight the more they burn on average.

However, your cat’s needs are also affected by other things such as:

  • Age
  • Activity
  • Desexing
  • Pregnancy

Learn more about how much to feed your cat in this article here.

Bottom Line: The fastest way to find out how much to feed your cat is by using an online calculator.

A cat with a calculator. Calculate your cat's energy needs to find out how much dry food to feed them.
The fastest way to find out how much to feed your cat is by using an online calculator.

Can I Add Water To Dry Cat Food?

Yes. Cats eating a dry food-only diet tend to get dehydrated. This increases the risk of kidney stones and urinary infections.

Adding water to dry food is one way to help a cat struggling to drink enough. Cats need about 1 cup of water per day from food and water.

Other ways to increase water intake include:

  • Adding wet food to dry food
  • Giving a cat meaty broths to drink
  • Giving a cat small amounts of milk (if tolerated)
  • Adding more drink bowls around the house
  • Changing the location of drink bowls
  • Using a water fountain

Check out my best cat water fountain choices for hydration to learn more about this option.

Bottom Line: You can add water to dry cat food if your cat isn’t drinking enough.

Feeding a cat dry food. Adding water to dry food helps with hydration.
Add water to dry cat food if your cat isn’t drinking enough.

Is Dry Cat Food Good For Dental Health?

Dry food may help prevent periodontal disease.

This is due to the mechanical nature of chewing removing plaque from the teeth.

Ask your vet for more advice on dental health.

Bottom Line: Dry cat food may help prevent periodontal disease by removing plaque from the teeth.

A vet examining a cat's dental health.

What is the best dry cat food brand for senior cats?

Ziwi Peak Air-Dried is the best dry cat food brand for seniors.

Senior cats tend to lose weight as they age. This is due to an impaired ability to digest protein and fat. Kidney disease is also common in senior cats.

Nutritional recommendations for senior cats include:

  • A high calorie diet to combat weight loss (4-4.5 kcal/g dry matter)
  • Omega-3 fatty acids for joint mobility
  • High protein diet (>40% on a dry matter basis)*
  • A high calcium to phosphate ratio (1:1) to prevent and/or slow kidney disease

*May need protein restriction with kidney disease.

Ziwi Peak is a great choice since it addresses all these senior cat nutrition needs.

Bottom Line: Ziwi Peak Air-Dried is the best dry cat food brand for seniors.

A senior cat. Ziwi Peak Air-Dried cat food is a great choice for senior cats as it contains more fat and animal-protein to combat weight loss.

How Long Can I Store Dry Cat Food?

Dry cat food lasts six weeks after opening. Check the brand label for further instructions.

Seal and store dry cat food in a cool dark location to improve shelf life.

Bottom Line: Dry cat food lasts about six weeks after opening.

Seal a bag of dry cat food to extend the shelf life.

Conclusion

In this article, I’ve talked about the best dry cat food brands.

When choosing dry cat food, look at the ingredients carefully. The main thing to look for is a high animal protein food. This is the best choice for a cat’s health.

Many dry cat foods are high in carbohydrates and grains. This may cause digestive symptoms and food rejection.

Dry cat food is low in moisture. Add water to dry food or use wet canned foods to keep your cat’s kidneys healthy.

Similar Posts