7 Worst Cat Food Brands Ranked in 2023

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As a cat owner, you want to make sure the food you provide is nutritious and safe for your beloved feline companion.

However, not all cat food brands are equal.

Some have serious issues with quality, ingredients, and production practices. This can harm your cat over time.

In this article, I’ll discuss the some of the worst cat food brands. I’ll take a look at the problem with feeding cats low quality food.

Identifying poor quality cat food isn’t easy. Brands do their best to hide their ingredients with marketing labels like ‘premium’.

By knowing the factors that contribute to cat foods being “worst”, you can make educated decisions about what to avoid.

I’ll go through the result of feeding cats poor quality food and go through healthier options.

Key Takeaways
  • Labels are misleading on cat food brands.
  • Recognize ingredients and production issues that contribute to low-quality cat food.
  • Learn to read the label to find healthy cat food options.

Recognizing Poor Quality Cat Food

When looking for the best cat food, it’s important to know the difference between high quality and low quality ingredients.

High-quality cat food should be high in animal protein (e.g. chicken, turkey) and animal fats. That’s what cats evolved to eat as carnivores.

The cat food should contain all the vitamins and minerals cats need in the right amounts.

Poor quality food contains cheap fillers that provide low quality protein.

They can also contain additives like carrageenan, that may harm your cats health.

Meat By-Products

When looking at a cat foods ingredient list, look for named meat ingredients. Think turkey liver, venison tripe, or chicken breast.

This gives you the information to know what you’re getting in the food.

Meat by-products are nutritious but non-specific to the source. That means you don’t know what parts are in the food and in what amount.

A 2015 study ran tests and found 20 of 53 wet cat foods with meat by-products came from meat not listed on the label.

That’s not good news for cats with allergies, as you have no idea where the meats coming from.

You’ll also get inconsistent quality.

Sometimes your cat will enjoy the food, and sometimes not.

Sometimes it’ll stink terribly, and other times not.

The protein quality is also variable, with most of it potentially coming from collagen. This doesn’t give cats the essential amino acids they need.

That’s not going to help with muscle maintenance.

Whilst meat by-products are fine to eat, it’s preferable to have named meat ingredients.

Meal Meals

Meat meals are heat treated and used heavily in kibble.

The protein quality in meat meals is about 80% compared to raw meat.

What that means is if you compare a cat food with 40% protein from raw meat to meat meal, you’re really compared 40% to about 32%.

Not great if you’ve got a senior cat, who need more protein to help with sarcopenia (age related muscle loss).

Grains and Legumes

Ingredients like corn, wheat, and soy are best limited or avoided completely.

They can cause digestive upset in high amounts, due to a cats lack of carbohydrate enzymes.

This is one possible reason why wet canned foods help resolve diarrhea.

Legumes like soy and peas can cause unpleasant gas symptoms. Not fun.


When looking at cat food, inspect the protein, fat, and carbohydrate level.

Use an online calculator to convert the guaranteed analysis into a dry basis.

What you’re shooting for is at least 40% protein on a dry basis.

This ensures all cats (regardless of age) have enough to maintain muscle strength and reflects a cats diet in the wild.

It’s also what cats prefer, meaning they’re more likely to finish their food without it going to waste.

Aim for less than 10% carbohydrate.

This is ideal for minimizing digestive issues and what cats prefer.

Eating carbs causes your cats blood sugar to spike. Sugar directly increases glycosuria (sugar in pee) in cats and is an ingredient best avoided.

Whilst eating a little bit of carbohydrate won’t hurt cats, there’s really no need to include much of it.


Another essential factor to consider is the type of preservatives used in the cat food.

Chemical preservatives like BHA and ethoxyquin can pose health risks and best avoided.

The latter is linked with kidney disease (although not confirmed).

Instead, opt for added vitamin E (tocopherol). This is an essential vitamin, preservative and antioxidant.

Other Ingredients to Look For

Keep an eye out for the following undesirable ingredients found in low quality cat food:

  • Corn gluten meal and wheat gluten: Low quality protein sources and potential allergens. Corn gluten meal can constipate cats.
  • Soybean meal and soy flour: Cheap fillers with low nutritional value.
  • Carrageenan: A thickening agent that can cause gastrointestinal inflammation in some cats.
  • Food starch (e.g. tapioca): A hidden source of carbohydrate that doesn’t contribute to your cats nutrition.

Statement of Nutritional Adequacy

You want to make sure you choose food labelled as complete and balanced (check the back or side).

This means it contains all the vitamins and minerals that are essential for your cats health.

Keep in mind that different life stages require specific needs.

For kittens, choose food for ‘growth’ or ‘all life stages’.

For adult cats (1 – 7 years) choose ‘maintenance’ or ‘adult cat maintenance’ (or all life stages).

Keep in mind that you can toss in all the vitamins and minerals into low quality food and call it a day.

Whilst that’s great, you still want to make sure you’re picking quality food.


Cat food labelling must adhere to laws specified by the FDA.

What’s most important is the descriptor term.

This is the word used after the flavor (e.g. chicken dinner or gravy with chicken).

The choice of word dictates how much of that named ingredient is in the tin or bag.

And this helps you get a sense of the quality of what you’re choosing.

The best cat foods actually give you a percent amount of ingredients (e.g. 92% lamb and lamb organs).

This is a great sign of a top quality product chock full of the animal ingredients cats need and love.

Failing that, you’ll want to go for food with at least 25% of named ingredients.

The descriptor dinner, recipe, nuggets, feast, all indicate at least 25%.

So for example, chicken recipe means at least 25% chicken and as much as 95%.

The only thing to be mindful of is the ingredient sandwiching strategy some cat food brands.

What the heck is that?

Let’s say the label is ‘chicken recipe’.

We know that means there’s a minimum of 25% chicken.

However, the ingredient list could be something like rice then chicken.

Because ingredients are labelled by weight and chicken must be more than 25%, we can deduce that there’s at least 25% rice in the cat food.

If you find the with descriptor, it means only 3% of that ingredient is required by law.

So ‘cat food with chicken’ could only have 3% chicken (it can have up to 25% though).

Finally, there’s flavor label which is the lowest quality option.

In this case, only trace amounts of the ingredient are required by law.

Chicken flavor therefore could have barely any reasonable amount of chicken.

Pet food manufacturers can always use other ways to trick consumers (e.g. putting a big juicy chicken and hungry cat picture) to make it look like a food packed with meat, but they can’t get around the labelling laws – so that’s what you want to pay attention to.

7 Worst Cat Food Brands to Avoid

Here is a list of the worst brands that don’t offer the best quality.

Keep in mind that some brands have varying quality between product lines.

Most wet cat food is almost always the best choice from a brand. For comparison, I’ve shown the rating for key criteria and specs (see our review practices for more).

Here’s my list:

1. Friskies Dry Cat Food

Surfin’ & Turfin’
  • Protein: 34% (20% adjusted for quality)
  • Carbs: 41%
  • Ingredients: 4/10
  • Nutrition: 1/10
  • Label: Flavor
  • Top 5 Ingredients: Ground Yellow Corn, Chicken By-Product Meal, Soybean Meal, Corn Gluten Meal, Beef Fat Preserved With Mixed-Tocopherols.

Friskies are a popular dry cat food brand with a range of options including Surfin’ & Turfin’ and Seafood Sensations.

Whilst customer reviews for this dry kibble brand are encouraging, the ingredients and nutrition leave a lot to be desired.

First, they all use the flavor label, which should already tell you the named meat ingredients don’t have to appear as top ingredients.

And that’s indeed the case with ground corn being the main ingredient here.

The cat food is made with very little meat, and what it does use is from meat and poultry by-products. Both are sub-optimal meat sources for protein quality.

In the final analysis, there’s around 40% carbohydrate and 30% protein (dry matter basis) in the bag, which isn’t the ideal ratio for a cats health.

That can harm digestion and lead to deficiencies in protein, especially in senior cats with higher needs.

Adjusting for protein quality, the amount of protein is at the point it fails to provide enough for even adult cat maintenance.

Yes they’re a budget choice and a popular one at that.

But Friskies is just barely scraping by with nutrition quality and not the best food to feed your cat every day.

2. Purina Dry Cat Food

Purina ONE Hairball Formula
  • Protein: 39% (31% adjusted for quality)
  • Carbs: 33%
  • Ingredients: 3.5/10
  • Nutrition: 3.5/10
  • Label: With
  • Top 5 Ingredients: Chicken, Corn Gluten Meal, Chicken By-Product Meal, Rice Flour, Soybean Meal.

Friskies are a brand owned by Purina, and sure enough – Purina themselves have a range of sub-par dry cat foods that aren’t the best for your cat.

It’s a highly processed cat food and is pumped full of carbohydrate.

Their cat food uses the with label and chicken is the main ingredient.

However the other ingredients are mostly corn which really doesn’t do much for your cats health.

Nestlé, the parent company of Purina, has faced recalls in the past, which is something to keep in mind when choosing their products.

3. Meow Mix Dry Cat Food

Meow Mix Original
  • Protein: 35% (25% adjusted for quality)
  • Carbs: 37%
  • Ingredients: 2.5/10
  • Nutrition: 4.5/10
  • Label: Flavor
  • Top 5 Ingredients: Ground Yellow Corn, Corn Gluten Meal, Chicken By-Product Meal, Soybean Meal, Beef Tallow (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols).

Another one for the ‘cat crack’ files.

Meow Mix is popular and seemingly a top food for cats…well until you take a closer look.

It uses corn gluten meal as a primary ingredient which aren’t the most nutritious options for cats.

Whilst there are a few meat based ingredients on the label, they’re down the list and need to be higher up.

4. Royal Canin

Royal Canin Feline Health Nutrition Dry
  • Protein: 40% (23% adjusted for quality)
  • Carbs: 35%
  • Ingredients: 3/10
  • Nutrition: 5/10
  • Label: Recipe
  • Top 5 Ingredients: Chicken By-Product Meal, Brown Rice, Brewers Rice, Chicken Fat, Wheat Gluten.

Whilst Royal Canin make decent quality wet cat food, their dry food leaves a lot to be desired.

It’s a disappointingly weak product here, which barely counts as adequate for kittens.

5. Hill’s Science Diet Wet and Dry Cat Food

Hill’s Science Diet Adult 1-6 Dry Cat Food
  • Protein: 34% (25% adjusted for quality)
  • Carbs: 35%
  • Ingredients: 3/10
  • Nutrition: 5.5/10
  • Label: Recipe
  • Top 5 Ingredients: Chicken, Whole Grain Wheat, Corn Gluten Meal, Chicken Fat, Dried Beet Pulp.

The cat food recipes on this list are all budget picks, so it’s expected that they aren’t the healthiest.

Except Hill’s.

They charge a premium price and present themselves as one the well-regarded pet companies that vets recommend.

Unfortunately, their ingredients in their wet and dry cat food are predominately rice and other grains.

The protein barely scrapes by in meeting baseline requirements for optimal cat care.

If I’m paying a premium price, I’d want a premium quality product (e.g. Tiki Cat After Dark, Feline Natural or Smalls).

This ain’t it. 

6. Fancy Feast Dry Cat Food

Fancy Feast With Savory Farm Raised Chicken & Turkey
  • Protein: 38% (25% adjusted for quality)
  • Carbs: 32%
  • Ingredients: 2.5/10
  • Nutrition: 4.5/10
  • Label: With
  • Top 5 Ingredients: Ground rice, poultry by-product meal, corn gluten meal, beef tallow naturally preserved with mixed-tocopherols, whole grain corn.

Purina are back at it again with Fancy Feast.

Whilst their wet food diet foods are fine for cats as a budget pick, their dry food for cats is not great.

It’s a similar story to most of the above.

A high carbohydrate food with less meat in the bag.

7. Iams Dry Cat Food

Iams ProActive Health
  • Protein: 38% (25% adjusted for quality)
  • Carbs: 35%
  • Ingredients: 2/10
  • Nutrition: 5/10
  • Label: With
  • Top 5 Ingredients: Chicken, Chicken By-Product Meal, Ground Whole Grain Corn, Corn Grits, Corn Gluten Meal.

In the first five ingredients Iams have three types of corn: ground whole grain corn, corn gluten meal and corn grits.

Guys, what’s with all the corn?

I know it’s cheap and all but how many pet food manufacturers want to scrimp on quality to save on cash?

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is a Good Dry Cat Food?

The best dry cat food is Ziwi Peak.

Whilst it is pricey, it’s got everything you want to feed your cat. Real named meat ingredients with to feed your cat better and a complete meal for all ages.

It’s also great for food allergies, using novel protein options like venison and lamb.

There’s also green lipped muscle which beneficial for cats joints and digestive health.

Is Felix Bad for Cats?

Felix is a brand found in Australia and England.

Whilst it’s a controversial option, it’s not the worst choice for cats. The cat food mostly uses meat based ingredients and some cereal protein.

It’s a common cat food in many locations and affordable. I’ve found (like many budget picks) the quality wavers, with some stinky out the pouch.

Is Whiskas Bad For Cats?

They are one of the worst dry cat food brands, on par with many on pet food companies on this list.

Their canned food options are better quality but not something my cats particularly like.

What Is Extremely Harmful to Cats?

Unbalanced cat food is harmful or food with toxic ingredients like garlic and onion.

Homemade cat food seems like a great idea for many, but that requires a serious understanding of cat nutrition.

To put it in perspective, research found 99% of recipes online aren’t balanced with enough nutrition for cats.

It’s simply not viable without a cat food database listing every possible food source and nutrient.

There are so many micronutrients that are easy to overlook (e.g. zinc, iron, thiamine) and miss out on without extreme care.

Raw food can contain parasites which infect your cat and you.

Diets of only meat can lead to a range of health problems relating to calcium deficiency.


Many brands opt to load up on cheap ingredients, with the bare minimum quality to meet FDA pet food requirements.

I listed 7 of the lowest quality choices, but there’s many similar.

The main trick is to learn how to read cat food labels and not fall for enticing marketing terms and imagery.

Cats are obligate carnivores and are best served with a named meat based diet, ideally with listed percentages on the pack. This is the most nutritious for cats.

Discuss the best options with your vet for more help.

Further reading:

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I'm qualified dietitian that's turned their attention to cat nutrition. My goal is to help tease out the science on how best to feed your cat.