Choosing the best dry cat food brands is a daunting task. There are so many factors to consider, and it’s hard to know what is important when you’re looking for quality pet food for your furry friend.
A lot of people don’t realize that there are some huge differences between different types of dry kibble, but once you start researching this subject, you’ll see how true this really is!
Our guide will help you choose the best dry cat food brands based on your unique needs as an owner. You’ll find out about all sorts of things like protein content, grain-free options, and more!
Cat’s are obligate carnivores in the wild. This means cats tend to hunt and consume small prey like mice, birds, and fish. Cats have a short digestive system that benefits from easy-to-digest food.
Invented in the 1950s using a method called extrusion, dry cat food is a product with a long shelf life (similar to breakfast cereals). Dry cat food was heavily marketed and promoted in the following decades and cat owners followed along.
Many adult dry cat food options use cereal-based ingredients such as wheat, rice, barley, oats, and peas. They contain essential vitamins and minerals from supplements to provide a balanced food source for health. Companies flavor dry cat food to try to mimic a meaty taste.
In this article, I am going to review the best dry cat food brands for top health. I’ll also give you a buying guide to help you with shopping and a frequently asked questions section.
My name is Derrick and I am a writer for Simply Cat Care. This website provides easy-to-read helpful guides for your cat. Most dry cat food isn’t that good, but I will recommend some better products to help your cat in this article.
I am not a vet and recommend speaking with one before changing your cat’s diet.
Let’s get into the article:
Product Review: Best Dry Cat Food Brands in 2021
Best Dry Cat Food Brands – Food Allergies: ZIWI Peak
Top Product Choice: ZIWI Peak Lamb Air-Dried Cat Food
Let’s take a look at Ziwi Peak Air-Dried cat food.
The majority of dry cat food brands use high amounts of grains and legumes. Almost every dry cat food is a ‘nonstarter’ for long-term health. I like that ZIWI peak dry cat food is ‘air-dried’ to avoid needing grain products as binders and fillers.
I also like the premium grass-fed dried lamb and nutritious New Zealand green mussels. This gives your cat high amounts of protein and fat for optimal health and performance.
What else does ZIWI peak dry cat food have to offer?
Well, the lamb and venison air-dried cat food products are also suitable for a limited ingredient diet. Some cats may have allergies to common animal sources such as chicken and beef. Cats may also have food intolerances to a wide variety of grains and fillers.
Vets may prescribe a limited ingredient elimination diet if a cat is experiencing allergy or food intolerance symptoms. This cat food is a great option for that purpose.
The main downsides of this dry cat food brand are the cost and mixed-taste reviews. The bag is also stronger smelling than many other cat food choices.
Overall, this is the best dry cat food on the market in 2021.
Lamb, Lamb Heart, Lamb Tripe, Lamb Liver, Lamb Kidney, Lamb Lung, New Zealand Green Mussel, Lamb Bone, Lecithin, Inulin from Chicory, Dried Kelp, Minerals (Dipotassium Phosphate, Magnesium Sulfate, Zinc Amino Acid Complex, Copper Amino Acid Complex, Iron Amino Acid Complex, Manganese Amino Acid Complex, Sodium Selenite), Salt, Preservative (Citric Acid, Mixed Tocopherols), Vitamins (Choline Chloride, Thiamine Mononitrate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid, Vitamin D3 Supplement), DL-Methionine, Taurine
Best Dry Cat Food Brands – Runner Up: Dr. Elsey’s Cleanprotein
Top Product Choice: Chicken Formula Grain-Free Dry Cat Food
Dr. Elsey’s Clean Protein Dry Cat Food contains the proper nutrition missing from many commercial cat dry foods. This product is high in protein and fat, and low in carbs.
I like that this product uses gelatin instead of gluten or corn as a binder. This is an easy-to-digest animal protein source for cats. Another benefit of this product is the low levels of oxalate which help to prevent kidney stones.
This dry food is as good as it gets with no obvious flaws. Some of the other flavors produced by this brand have a little more carbohydrate than the chicken flavor.
The only other downside is the circular shape of the food which may be a little different than the saucer shapes of many dry foods. Also, the product is a little more pricey.
Chicken, Dried Egg Product, Pork Protein Isolate, Gelatin, Chicken Fat (Preserved With Mixed Tocopherols), Flaxseed, Natural Flavor, Salmon Oil, Potassium Citrate, Calcium Carbonate, Fructooligosaccharide, Calcium Carbonate, Choline Chloride, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Niacin Supplement, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin A Acetate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid), Minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Calcium Carbonate, Manganous Oxide, Copper Sulfate, Iron Amino Acid Chelate, Manganese Amino Acid Chelate, Zinc Amino Acid Chelate, Copper Amino Acid Chelate, Sodium Selenite, Cobalt Carbonate, Ethylenediamine Dihydroiodide), Potassium Chloride, Mixed Tocopherols (Preservative), Taurine, Salt, Rosemary Extract
Best Dry Cat Food Brands – Affordable Choice: Nulo Freestyle Indoor Cat
Top Product Choice: Duck & Lentils Recipe Grain-Free
Nulo freestyle indoor cat duck recipe is a good alternative to most dry cat foods on the market. It’s a high protein choice (44.4% dry matter basis) with less reliance on carbohydrates (sparingly low 21.7% on a dry matter basis). Nulo doesn’t use grains (e.g. wheat, corn) which is part of the reason for this.
As with most dry cat foods, there are inherent disadvantages. The low moisture content (10%) makes this (and other dry foods) less appropriate as a sole source of nutrition.
Deboned Duck, Chicken Meal, Turkey Meal, Deboned Cod, Whole Peas, Lentils, Chicken Fat (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols & Citric Acid), Pea Fiber, Natural Flavor, Ground Flaxseed, Dried Chicory Root, Dried Kelp, Dried Sweet Potato, Dried Cranberries, Calcium Carbonate, Dl-Methionine, Taurine, Zinc Proteinate, Choline Chloride, Vitamin E Supplement, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (Source of Vitamin C), Iron Proteinate, Niacin Supplement, Copper Proteinate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin A Supplement, Manganese Proteinate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Sodium Selenite, Riboflavin Supplement, Dried Bacillus Coagulans Fermentation Product, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Calcium Iodate, Folic Acid, Rosemary Extract
Guide to the Best Dry Food Brands
Let’s talk about the best dry cat foods for your cat.
I will go through some things to look for as well as a few brands to choose from.
Most dry cat foods are high in carbohydrates and cheap ingredients. This drives down the cost of the product at the expense of the proper nutritional needs of your cat.
Some cats may experience frequent digestive complaints consuming a diet high in dry foods.
Check out my article on dry heaving to learn more about digestion.
Another problem with dry cat foods is they tend to lack moisture.
Cat’s struggle to drink enough water to compensate for a diet based on dry food can lead to urinary tract problems. Wet cat food and raw meats have the advantage of providing your cat the moisture it needs.
Cat’s do not need to consume dry cat food.
Ultimately, the role of dry cat food for many pet owners is to provide convenience. Some dry cat foods take more care of their products than others.
If you are using dry cat food, I recommend picking a brand that is higher in protein and animal-based foods.
Let’s delve deeper into what to look for in a dry brand.
What Dry Cat Food Should Cat’s Eat?
Let’s take a closer look at what to look for in dry cat food.
Remember, always speak with a veterinarian before changing your cat’s diet.
Ideally, cat food should be grain-free.
Why is this?
Cat’s are obligate carnivores.
They have a digestive system adapted to the consumption of meat products. Grains are high in carbohydrates which cats have a limited ability to digest.
Cat’s cannot digest legumes effectively.
Many dry cat foods use soy and pea in place of grains. Too many legumes may give your cat flatulence or diarrhea.
Fillers such as gums (e.g. carrageenan, xanthan gum) may lead to sensitive stomachs.
Cats are obligate carnivores and don’t require vegetables in their diet. Some vegetables (e.g. onions, garlic) may lead to food intolerance.
What Nutrients Does a Dry Cat Food Need?
The best dry cat foods contain a balanced formula that contains a high amount of protein from animal-based food sources.
It is important that cats get enough protein.
Called the ‘building block’ of life, protein is essential to your cat’s health.
The constituent of protein is amino acids. Amino acids form bone, hair, skin, teeth, muscles, and other organs.
If your cat does not get enough protein, these bodily structures would waste away. Used for energy in times of food shortage, the protein in a cat’s body becomes emergency fuel.
Gluconeogenesis is a process used by the cat’s body to convert consumed protein to glucose. The brain needs glucose, among other bodily tissues that are dependant on glucose .
When given a low protein diet, cats do not have the ability to downregulate the loss of protein in order to conserve bodily protein stores .
A cat’s diet needs to be at least 16% protein by energy .
As mentioned, amino acids are small molecules that combine to form protein.
Of the 20 amino acids, 10 are ‘essential amino acids.
If not provided by the diet, the body will develop a deficiency. The body cannot produce these amino acids itself.
The other 10 amino acids are non-essential amino acids. Your feline friend can create these amino acids in the body from other dietary sources.
You need to ensure your cat is getting enough essential amino acids in its diet.
A good example is the essential amino acid taurine:
In a human, taurine is a non-essential amino acid. On the other hand, taurine is essential for cats.
Not surprisingly, taurine is only found in animal products and if not supplemented otherwise, will lead to a cat having a taurine deficiency .
Taurine produces bile salts, which help digest fats and fat-soluble vitamins. A range of taurine deficiency conditions exists which include liver fat accumulation and degeneration of the retina .
Blindness, for example, can be a sign of taurine deficiency. Feline taurine retinopathy or feline central retinal degeneration (FCRD) are the clinical signs of taurine deficiency .
Meat-based products are the best source of protein for cats.
Fats are an important source of calories to provide a cat with its total energy needs.
Moreover, fat improves the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins – which are important in cats since they must obtain vitamin A and D from animal foods.
There are two amino acids considered ‘essential’ in the diet.
They are the polyunsaturated fats omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids.
Omega 6 Fatty Acids
Omega 6 fatty acids regulate inflammation in the body.
The precursor to many steps of inflammation is the molecule arachidonic acid [AA], which is a form of omega 6 fatty acid.
Inflammation sounds bad but this is a necessary process for general healing in the body.
What is important is cats cannot convert linoleic acid into arachidonic acid [AA] .
Plant-based products such as linseed and canola oil contain a high amount of linoleic acid, however, this is of no benefit to cats due to the inability to convert these fats into AA .
Animal-based foods like chicken and turkey provide a source of AA. Cats require a small amount of AA for good health.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Cats may also require a small amount of omega 3 fatty acids from eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Omega 3 helps regulate inflammatory processes and improve validation and immune system function . Cats have a limited ability to convert plant-based omega 3 fatty acids (α-linolenic acid) into essential fatty acids .
Small amounts of cold-water fish provide omega 3 for a cat in a form their bodies can use. An example of a good source of omega 3 fatty acids is salmon.
Cats are not able to convert the plant-based α-linolenic acid sources such as flaxseed and chia seed into a useable form in their body. Linseed and chia are not necessary foods for a cat.
Vitamins and Minerals
As with humans, a healthy cat needs a sufficient amount of vitamins and minerals for all stages of metabolism and structural maintenance (e.g. hair, bones, skin, muscles, teeth).
Two important vitamins your cat must obtain from animal-based foods are vitamin A and vitamin D.
Let’s look at those briefly.
An important vitamin for health is Vitamin A, needed for eyesight, proper growth of a kitten, and reproductive health .
In humans, beta carotene converts into retinol (vitamin A).
Found in many plant foods including carrots, pumpkin, and spinach, beta carotene is a key source of Vitamin A in humans.
In other words, a human can simply eat a lot of these plant foods to obtain the vitamin A they need in their diet.
On the other hand, cats cannot convert beta carotene to Vitamin A . Whilst they can absorb beta-carotene, it gets excreted before conversion into vitamin A.
Cats must consume foods that are high in pre-formed vitamin A (retinol).
Found in animal-based products such as egg yolks and liver, this pre-formed vitamin A is a crucial requirement for cats.
If a cat was not provided animal products, it would be deficient in Vitamin A.
Cats cannot make vitamin D from sunlight, unlike humans.
Vitamin D is important for bone, and teeth health. Plant food does not contain much vitamin D, and humans rely mostly on either supplementation or exposure to moderate sunlight exposure.
Since cats don’t have the ability to convert sunlight exposure on the skin into vitamin D .
They must obtain vitamin D from the diet.
Food sources include liver, fish, and egg yolks .
Carbohydrates include starches (polysaccharides) and sugars (disaccharides and monosaccharides).
Common carbohydrate foods include grains (e.g. brown rice, wheat, oats), potatoes, legumes, fruit, and vegetables (e.g. corn).
Starting at the mouth, the enzyme salivary amylase begins the process of carbohydrate digestion.
Cats have a very limited amount of salivary amylase. Moving into the intestinal area, cats also have low amounts of disaccharidases (needed to digest sugar molecules) and these levels don’t increase in response to dietary carbohydrate intake .
In other words, giving a cat more carbohydrates won’t help them produce more enzymes needed to break down carbohydrates in the diet.
On top of this, cats don’t have taste receptors for sweetness . When provided water with or without sugar, cats had no preference for sweet water.
An excessive amount of carbohydrates in the diet (especially if not cooked properly) creates digestive issues for cats.
I recommend keeping the carbohydrate content of your cat’s diet low, although it is probably not necessary to restrict carbohydrates entirely for good health.
Do cats need fiber?
It’s often believed that without fiber, you cannot have a bowel motion. Cat’s have existed in the wild for many years as obligate carnivores without plant foods.
If a no-fiber diet was going to be a problem, the cat population would have died off quickly.
What Ingredients are Best for a Dry Cat Food?
A high-protein dry cat food based on animal products is best for your cat.
This ensures the nutritional quality is adequate for your cat.
Animal-based foods such as chicken, turkey, duck, beef, and salmon provide the quality your cat needs for health. These foods are high in protein and fats, whilst also being low in carbs.
Grain-free and Low Carbohydrate
Cats don’t digest carbohydrate foods very well.
This leads to vomiting and other digestive upsets. Most dry food contains a large number of carbohydrate foods. This drives the percentage of calories from carbs to a high level which is not appropriate for cat nutrition.
The fewer of these foods in the product is usually the better.
What is freeze-dried cat food?
Freeze-dried cat food is usually a meat-based product frozen into bite-sized chunks.
These foods are stored in the freezer and reheated (e.g. in the microwave) to serve to your cat.
They have some of the convenience factor of dry food with the health benefits of meat-based foods that cats love.
This is a great option to give to your cat.
Conclusion: The Best Dry Cat Food Brands (Final Thoughts)
In this article, I’ve talked about the best dry cat food brands.
Here are my final thoughts:
- When choosing a dry cat food brand, look at the ingredients carefully
- The main thing to look for is how much high-quality animal-based foods are used
- Some brands promote themselves as natural dry cat food but this means a lot of things. Plants and grains are natural, however, they aren’t optimal for your cat’s health
- Be wary of the term natural dry cat food
- The best dry cat food brands are Ziwi Peak and Dr Elsey. They produce a low carbohydrate dry cat food with better quality animal protein
- Cats cannot get many nutrients from plant based foods (e.g. essential amino acids, vitamin A, and vitamin D)
- Dry cat food is low in moisture.
- Cats may develop urinary tract infections and/or kidney health issues if they only eat dry cat food
- I recommend a mixture of high quality wet and dry cat food for urinary health
- Free feeding too much dry cat food (especially indoor cats) leads to weight control
Speak with a vet for more assistance with cat nutrition.
Our Verdict: The Best Dry Cat Food Brand
This dry food brand is based on air-dried meat.
The products do not contain chicken meal, grains, potato, soy, or corn. It is appropriate as a kitten food or for adult cats.
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