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Best Dry Cat Food Brands in 2021

In this article, I am going to review the best dry cat food brands in 2021. The best dry cat food is high in animal-based protein and low in fillers.

I chose the ZIWI Peak Air-Dried Cat Food – All Natural as the best dry cat food brand on the market. This is because of the use of real animal-based foods and the exclusion of high carbohydrate-based foods.

Cat’s are obligate carnivores in the wild. This means they tend to hunt and consume small prey like mice, birds, and fish. This forms the majority of their nutrition and their physiology is adapted to these types of foods (e.g. strong vertically moving jaw for clamping down on prey, short digestive tract to digest animal-based foods).

Dry pet food was invented in the 1950s using a method called extrusion, which creates a dry product with a long shelf life (similar to breakfast cereals). The type of food was heavily marketed and promoted in the following decades and cat owners followed along.

Many adult dry cat food options are made with cereal-based ingredients such as wheat, rice, barley, oats, and peas. Then, they are supplemented with essential vitamins and minerals to provide a balanced food source for health.

This means most dry food offerings are not optimal for your feline friend. Cats of all ages thrive off animal-based foods, and the best brands utilize a high protein and fat product from meat.

My name is Derrick and I am a writer for Simply Cat Care. This website provides easy-to-read helpful guides for your cat. Extensive analysis of essential dry food criteria guided the selection process in this article. I am not a veterinarian and I recommend seeking the advice of a vet before making a purchase.

To choose a good dry cat food brand, I recommend the following criteria as a general starting point.

  • Avoids allergenic proteins:  Turkey, lamb, rabbit, and duck products are less likely to cause an allergenic reaction.  Chicken, beef, and fish may lead to allergic reactions.  Speak with your vet for help.
  • Grain-free:  Avoid wheat and other grain-based products in dry cat food.  Easier to digest carbohydrate sources such as rice and potato are minimal.
  • Soy-free:  Cat’s are not able to digest legumes.
  • No/minimal fillers:  Fillers such as gums (e.g. carrageenan, xanthan gum) or artificial preservatives may lead to sensitive stomachs
  • No/minimal vegetables:  Cats are obligate carnivores and don’t require vegetables in the diet.  Some vegetables (e.g. onions, garlic) may lead to food intolerance.  

Let’s look at the best dry cat food brand in 2021.

The Best Dry Cat Food Brand in 2021

ZIWI Peak Air-Dried Cat Food – All Natural, High Protein

PRODUCT DETAILS

Flavors: Lamb, Beef, Chicken, Mackerel & Lamb, Venison

Product weight: 2.2 lbs

Manufacturer: ZIWI

INGREDIENTS (LAMB):

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.

GUARANTEED ANALYSIS:
  • Crude Protein (min) 35%
  • Crude Fat (min) 33%
  • Crude Fiber (max) 2%
  • Moisture (max) 14%
  • Ash (max) 12%
  • CALORIE CONTENT: 5600 kcal ME/kg | 318 kcal ME/level scoop
PROS
  • 100% grain-free with no added potato, corn, or peas to promote digestion
  • No soy-based or legume-based products
  • 96% free-range lamb produce with added green mussels to provide essential nutrients to keep your cat healthy
  • Appropriate for all life stages
  • Limited animal food source product to minimize allergies
CONS
  • Expensive, however, may reduce cat food needs due to higher nutritional quality
  • Strong smell
SUMMARY

In my previous article, I reviewed the Ziwi peak product as the best dry cat food for a sensitive stomach.

However, I would also say the Ziwi Peak air-dried high protein cat food is the best dry cat food on the market for any cat.

Unlike many dry foods, Ziwi peak is grain-free but also does not use cheap fillers like corn or peas. Many cat foods promoted as grain-free still opt for cheap fillers. Soy and pea protein is used as a cheap replacement for real animal products in the large majority of dry cat food brands.

Ziwi does things against the grain, pardon the pun.

Importantly, the choices of products are appropriate for a limited ingredient diet and food allergies. Some cats may have issues with single animal sources such as chicken for example. By being able to buy a product limited to one meat (supplemented with green mussels), you can clearly identify the troubling ingredient.

There are 5 meat sources to try, which gives you a lot of choices to find the best food for your individual cat. You have the option of buying small 14 ounce packs to try a variety of flavors out with your cat to see which limited ingredient option is highly digestible for your cat. Most other cat food brands stick with chicken, however, some cats tolerate lamb, turkey, or beef better.

The bags themselves are on the pricier side of the cat food section. Understandably this is due to the high-quality nutrition used and the omission of cheap fillers such as wheat. The benefit is you’ll use less food to feed your cat (more bang for your buck), however, it is still an expenditure to consider. A lot of owners don’t put a price on the health of their precious pet, however, some may be in a tight financial situation. In that case, there might be other options on the table (e.g. offcuts of meats at the butcher).

Owners and cats alike may not be used to the smell of pure animal-based food. Cat’s need time to adjust to any dietary change regardless of the quality. Some cats may initially reject the first offerings and lead owners to conclude that natural healthy food isn’t what their cat wants. Similar to humans who are addicted to junk food, it takes time to adjust to balanced nutrition and healthy choices. There is going to be some trial and error in this process which requires a hands-on approach to feeding and testing. If you’re more a set and forget type, then this might not be the brand for you.

Overall, this is the best dry cat food on the market in 2021.

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.

Best dry cat food brands

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.

Grain-Free

Ideally, cat food should be grain-free. Why is this?

Cat’s are obligate carnivores. They have a digestive system that is adapted to the consumption of meat products. Grains are high in carbohydrates which cats have a limited ability to digest.

Read my helpful tips on cat nutrition for more information.

Soy-Free and Pea Protein Free

Cat’s cannot digest legumes.

Many dry cat foods use soy and pea in place of grains. This isn’t ideal for cats.

No/minimal fillers

Fillers such as gums (e.g. carrageenan, xanthan gum) may lead to sensitive stomachs

No/minimal vegetables

Cats are obligate carnivores and don’t require vegetables in their diet.  Some vegetables (e.g. onions, garlic) may lead to food intolerance.

Check out my helpful article on foods that are dangerous for cats.  

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.

Protein

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 used to break down consumed protein for glucose.  The brain needs glucose, among other bodily tissues that are dependant on glucose [1].

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 [2]. 

A cat’s diet needs to be at least 16% protein by energy [2].  

Amino Acids

As mentioned, protein is made up of amino acids.

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 called non-essential amino acids. Your feline friend cannot synthesize these from other dietary sources.

Put simply, you need to ensure your cat is getting enough essential amino acids in its diet.

One important distinction between a cat and a human is the need for taurine in a cat’s diet.

In a human, taurine is a non-essential amino acid, however, this 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 [3].

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 [3].

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 [4].

Meat-based products are the best source of protein for cats.

Fat

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 that 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 are needed to 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] [3].

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 [3].

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 [3]. Cats have a limited ability to convert plant-based omega 3 fatty acids (α-linolenic acid) into essential fatty acids [3].

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.

Some types of fish provide a high amount of omega 3 fats and are a useful source of nutrition for dry cat foods.

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.

Vitamin A

An important vitamin for health is Vitamin A, needed for eyesight, proper growth of a kitten, and reproductive health [4].

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 [5].  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.

Vitamin D

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 [6]. 

They must obtain vitamin D from the diet.

Food sources include liver, fish, and egg yolks [11]. 

Carbs

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 [3]. 

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 [3].  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?

No.

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

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 that is frozen into bite-sized chunks.

These can be taken out of 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.

What are the best dry food brands on the market?

I’m going to provide a short summary of the options available on the market.

Ziwi Peak

By far the best dry food brand on the market.

They have a formula that contains zero grains and other carbohydrate sources. They use whole proteins from animal-based foods such as turkey, chicken, duck, and beef. The food uses real chicken and not a chicken meal or any other meat derivative.

This is a balanced nutrition product to maintain a healthy cat. The best natural healthy dry food for all life stages.

The downside is this range of products is pricier than others. Be prepared to invest a little more for the quality.

BEST CHOICE

ZIWI Peak Air-Dried Cat Food – All Natural, High Protein

Blue Buffalo

Blue Buffalo offers a wide range of dry cat foods that are popular choices among cat owners.

In terms of quality, the products are reasonable. They offer limited ingredient and gluten-free options. However, many products still contain some potato, pea protein, brown rice, and tapioca starch.

If you want to steer clear of all carbohydrate sources, then Ziwi is a better choice. However, Blue Buffalo are one of the better alternatives on the market.

BEST CHOICE

Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein, Natural Adult Dry Cat Food, Duck

Science Diet

Science Diet is a pet food brand from Hill’s that promotes itself as being a research-backed product.

However, as with many other dry cat food options, there are a lot of carbs and unnecessary foods added to the products. There are a lot of formulations designed for different ages of cats and conditions.

Most of the products do not contain corn, wheat, or soy. Brown rice and peas are used as a predominant carbohydrate source. The products are supplemented with vitamins and minerals.

Chicken is the main flavor that is used. There are a limited range of alternatives such as duck, turkey, beef, or lamb.

Science Diet is an affordable alternative with a few limitations worth considering.

BEST CHOICE

Hill’s Science Diet Dry Cat Food, Adult, No Corn, Wheat or Soy Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe

Purina

Purina offers ONE Natural range of products in their dry cat food stocks.

I had a look at the grain-free chicken option. As the title would suggest, the product does not contain grains but it does have a high amount of soy and pea protein. Pea protein increases the protein content at a lower cost.

This trick is used in the fast-food industry to create a pseudo meat patty that has the protein of a real meat patty at a much lower cost.

Overall, Purina are another reasonable choice on the dry cat food market at a more affordable price point.

BEST CHOICE

Purina ONE True Instinct Grain Free High Protein, Natural Formula Adult Dry

Conclusion

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

When choosing a dry cat food brand, look at the ingredients carefully. Whether the food is marketed for adult cats or as kitten food, 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, however, 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.

Cats thrive off meat and animal-based foods as they are obligate carnivores. A cat cannot obtain the nutrients it needs from plant-based and grain-based foods (e.g. vitamin A and vitamin D).

Dry cat food is low in moisture. Cats can develop urinary tract infections or experience other health issues if restricted to only dry cat food. Make sure to provide a mixed diet of wet and dry cat food for urinary health.

Free feeding excessive dry cat food to an indoor cat may lead to poor weight control. To maintain a healthy weight, ensure to measure out the amount of dry cat food properly to your cat for the day.

Speak with a vet for more assistance with cat nutrition.

Our Verdict

ZIWI Peak Air-Dried Cat Food – All Natural

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.

However, this product is on the pricier side. There are some lower-cost alternatives on the market that use a mixture of carbohydrate-based foods such as potatoes that your cat may tolerate.

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