Best Cat Foods Without Fillers


best cat food without fillers

Sometimes trying to find the right cat food for your kitty can be…overwhelming. Pet labels can quickly get confusing and sometimes it feels hard to figure out what’s filler and what’s real food for your cat. 

That’s why I’ve put together this list of the 6 best cat foods without fillers.

But first, we need to get on the same page for what we mean by “filler.”

What Do We Mean By Fillers In Cat Food?

What exactly does filler mean? 

As Dr. Khuly points out in an article for Embrace, “To be honest, there’s no agreed-upon definition for “fillers” in veterinary nutrition literature.”

You also won’t find filler defined by the American Association of Feed Control Officers (AAFCO), even on their long list of ingredient definitions for pet food.

This is really important to point out because so many food companies and their detractors are quick to use the word filler as if it had a standard meaning that we all agree on!

So let’s start by coming up with an agreed-upon definition for what filler means in cat food. I’ve taken Dr. Khuly’s definition and simplified it a bit:

A filler is any bulky, starchy, carb-rich, or animal by-product ingredient that could have been replaced by a higher quality, more species-appropriate one. 

While this definition is not without its loopholes and exceptions, it gives us a lot more to work with then simply saying “no fillers”. It also touches on an important concept, which is the idea of species appropriateness.

Your Cat Is A Carnivore

Species appropriateness is a useful lens to use when it comes to reviewing cat food and avoiding fillers. A species-appropriate diet for your cat describes the food that your cat would naturally eat in the wild.

Cats are obligate carnivores ” meaning they cannot obtain all the nutrients that they need from the plant kingdom and bacteria.” That means your cat needs animal sources of protein and fat to get the nutrients they need.

What your cat doesn’t need is corn, soy, wheat, or even vegetables. Left to their own devices in the wild, your cat would be eating mostly mice and other small mammals- not raiding the cornfields or grazing the open pasture.

So Why Are There Vegetables In Cat Food? 

If cats don’t need things like vegetables, why does it constantly show up in cat food?

One of the biggest factors is cost. Plants and plant proteins will always be cheaper to produce than animal sources. There’s also the perceived benefit since many cat owners might assume that seeing a load of vegetables in their cat’s food is a good thing.

But it’s not all bad.

While vegetables wouldn’t be something your wild cat would seek out, they do have benefits in terms of providing micronutrients and they’re much preferred to mostly useless fillers like corn. There have also been studies showing that cats can digest plant proteins.

The Commercial Compromise

So is there any cat food that’s complete WITHOUT filler?

It all comes back to our definition of filler. Remember, we said that it’s any food where an ingredient could be replaced by a more species-appropriate one. With that requirement, you could almost always find an improvement.

So when we’re looking for a cat food without filler, it really comes down to degrees and while some wet foods are almost entirely meat, cat owners will have to compromise a bit when buying any kind of commercial foods.

But just to be as clear as possible, let’s talk about the fillers we believe you should always avoid by breaking them down one by one.

Meat, Fish, and Poultry By-Products

As already mentioned the AAFCO has a great resource that helps cat parents understand what’s actually in pet food. Starting with meat by-products we see that it includes but is not limited to ” lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially de-fatted low-temperature fatty tissue, and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth, and hoofs.”

Poultry by-products have a similar definition but also includes “heads, feet, viscera, free from fecal content and foreign matter except in such trace amounts as might occur unavoidably in good factory practice.”

Well…yuck.

But more importantly, heads and feet aren’t very nutritious.

I do want to make one important note about liver as an ingredient. While it is included in the category of by-products, chicken liver is a nutrient-dense food that shouldn’t be considered in the same category as chicken heads and feet. While we do want to avoid foods that simply list “chicken by-product” I’d be comfortable feeding my cat food that specifies “chicken liver” as an ingredient.

Meat, Fish and Poultry By-Product Meals

When you see “meal” attached at the end of an animal product it means that it’s been rendered and ground into a meal. Rendering is a heating process where fat and water are removed.

Let’s look at the AAFCO definition for poultry by-product meal “consists of the ground, rendered clean parts of the carcasses of slaughtered poultry such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers except in such amounts as might occur unavoidably in good processing practices.”

Corn

You’ll find corn in just about every low-quality cat food on the market. As a prime example of pure filler, let’s look at the top five ingredients for Meow Mix:

Ground Yellow Corn, Corn Gluten Meal, Chicken By-Product Meal, Soybean Meal, Beef Tallow

It’s more corn than anything else!

That’s also why Meow Mix is one of the lowest cost cat foods on the market. Corn shows up in several forms including corn, corn gluten, corn bran, corn cellulose, corn scratch…you get the idea. 

Corn doesn’t have much nutritional value but can raise your cat’s blood sugar. These empty calories can also lead to rapid weight gain. In other words, corn is almost all filler. And it’s one the cheapest ways to bulk up any pet food. 

Wheat

Wheat shows up a little less frequently in cat food as compared to corn but isn’t much better. When it comes to pet food, the wheat is usually leftover from the human food industry, unless otherwise indicated. 

Again, the problem arises from the fact that wheat isn’t very nutritious so it ends up adding “empty calories” to your cat’s diet. That means increased blood sugar and weight gain. 

Rice

Of the ones we’ve covered so far, rice is certainly the best. Rice has a more favorable glycemic index since it’s a more complex carbohydrate (that means it’s slower to digest resulting in a less significant spike in blood sugar). 

Soy

Soy is sometimes used as a protein source and usually appears lower on the ingredient list. Its typical forms are soybean hulls, soy hulls, soy flour, soy meal, soybean mill run, or partially hydrogenated soybean oil. 

It’s important to look for soy for two reasons. First, it’s a lower quality protein but it still contributes to the total protein displayed on our cat food’s label. Second, soy is one of the most common causes of feline allergies.

Best Wet Cat Food Without Fillers

With the background facts out of the way, let’s start our list with the best wet foods without fillers.  Most cats go crazy for wet food and eventually get excited at the sound of ANY can. Wet food can be a great treat or the main staple of your cat’s diet and if you’re looking for the best without fillers we’ve got you covered. 

Best Overall: American Journey Wet Food

american journey wet cat food without fillers

 

Buy On Chewy

I’m a very big fan of American Journey cat foods they’re a clear winner for the best overall category. When you consider the balance of price and quality this Chewy only truly has both. Not to mention a perfect record with zero recalls since their inception in 2017.

I also love the long list of quality ingredients with all five of the first ingredients coming from animal sources. Chewy is also offering 25% off your first order of American Journey and you can check the latest price by clicking here. 

Pros:

  • Great balance of quality ingredients and price
  • Zero recalls since they started production in 2017
  • Chewy offers 25% off your first order if you’re a new customer

Cons:

  • Poultry based flavors which some cat owners may prefer to avoid

Let’s take a closer look at the first 10 ingredients to really get a feel for what’s inside American Journey cat food. We’ll be looking at the chicken recipe:

1. Chicken

This is exactly the kind of first ingredient we want to see. It’s animal-based and based on our AAFCO definitions named poultry means that “it is the parts of the bird as you would find if you purchased a whole chicken or turkey at the grocery store. Frankly, it often consists of the less profitable parts of the bird, such as backs and necks.”

No issues there and I’m happy to feed my kitty chicken back!

2. Chicken Broth

Broth is a typical ingredient in wet foods and I’m happy to see that our first broth matches our main protein source.

3. Turkey Broth

We see another broth and while I’d love to see more meats included, there are more coming and I’m glad to see we’re still sticking with animal-based ingredients.

4. Chicken Liver

As I’ve already mentioned, even though chicken liver gets grouped in with heads and feed as a by-product by AAFCO standards I don’t think this is even close to the same category as chicken feet for instance. The liver is certainly a species-appropriate ingredient and something your cat’s wild ancestors are regularly chowing down on.

5. Dried Egg White

Dried eggs are one of the cheaper protein sources available but that doesn’t mean low quality. Eggs are of course animal-based and have high biological availability.

6. Peas

We’re at our sixth ingredient and now we’ve found our first vegetable. When it comes to veggies in cat food, peas at least contain some protein and while they’re not species-appropriate having to face our first compromise at ingredient number 6 is acceptable.

7. Peas

We’re at our sixth ingredient and now we’ve found our first vegetable. When it comes to veggies in cat food, peas at least contain some protein and while they’re not species-appropriate having to face our first compromise at ingredient number 6 is acceptable.

8. Natural Flavor

Natural flavor is the extracted flavor from a natural source when used primarily for flavor and not nutrition. You can read the FDA’s full and very length definition by clicking here.

9. Dried Egg Product

I’m happy to see more animal-based protein included without out top 10. With dried eggs in the number nine spot, that means we have 7 out of 9 consisting of animal products and 7 out of 8 if we exclude natural flavor.

10. Guar Gum

Guar gum is likely the most controversial ingredient on this list but also one of the most common cat food ingredients. Guar gum comes from a plant which is the first strike against it. It’s used in pet food as a thickening agent and is an important part of the manufacturing process. The problem is there’s not enough information about the effect of guar gum on cats. Some argue for the health benefits in cats while others claim that it has negative effects on the digestive process.

Guar gum isn’t a filler, instead its primary purpose is to help the manufacturing process. There also nothing definitive that indicates guar gum is dangerous for cats and it’s present in almost every pet food on the market. I consider ingredients like this part of the commercial cat food compromise and it’s the price we pay for convenience.

Still, I’m not too concerned about guar gum and have no problem feeding my cat this food. But for that are worried, our runner up wet food is one of the rare foods that are guar gum free.

Complete Ingredients and Guaranteed Analysis

Here’s the complete list of ingredients in the chicken recipe:

Chicken Recipe: Chicken, Chicken Broth, Turkey Broth, Chicken Liver, Dried Egg White, Peas, Natural Flavor, Dried Egg Product, Guar Gum, Flaxseed, Sodium Phosphate, Salt, Fish Oil (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Sunflower Oil, Taurine, Potassium Chloride, Calcium Carbonate, Cranberries, Blueberries, Choline Chloride, Inulin, DL-Methionine, Iron Proteinate, Zinc Proteinate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin E Supplement, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Sodium Selenite, Niacin Supplement, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, Biotin, Potassium Iodide, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid, Rosemary Extract

Here’s the guaranteed analysis:

  • 9% Protein
  • 4% Fat
  • 1% Fiber
  • 82% Moisture

American Journey Summary

American Journey is excellent cat food and one of the best on the market. This Chewy only brand combines quality ingredients at a great price. If you want to learn more, you can read my complete review of American Journey cat food by clicking here. 

Runner Up: Instinct Original

instinct original cat food

Buy On Amazon

Our runner up for the best cat food without fillers is Instinct Original from Nature’s Variety. With a wide range of flavors including chicken, lamb, rabbit, duck, beef, salmon, and even venison this food gives a lot of options to cat owners looking for alternative proteins. But what makes this brand really stand out of the crowd is the exclusion of guar gum or the closely related xanthan gum.

How do they pull that off?

By including montmorillonite clay as ingredient six. You may have seen montmorillonite clay sold as bentonite in health stores or in skincare products. In fact, bentonite clay has been studied and found to have a long list of health benefits including easing GI distress. But in this formula, it’s also used as an aid to the manufacturing process which allows the production of wet food at scale without having to rely on guar or xanthan gums.

But as with anything, you’ll find a long of detractors who argue that montmorillonite clay isn’t healthy for pets while sources like Dr. Palmquist, while writing for the Huffington Post, says that bentonite clay can help manage diarrhea.

I really like this food from Nature’s Variety and based on my research I’m comfortable including it on my list of the best cat foods without fillers. However, you’ll have to make your own decision and because of the addition of montmorillonite clay I’ve decided to list it in the runner position. You can check the latest price on Amazon by clicking here. 

Pros:

  • Plenty of flavors and main protein sources to select from
  • Doesn’t include guar gum or xanthan gum and instead uses montmorillonite clay
  • They use cage-free chickens in their chicken recipes

Cons:

  • There is some montmorillonite clay controversy

While we’ve already dug deep into ingredient number 6, let’s take a deep look at Instinct Original by reviewing the first 10 ingredients.

1. Chicken

As with any food, we want to see a high-quality animal protein as the number one ingredient. With a named poultry source we know that we’re getting quality cuts of meat. According to Instinct Original, they also specifically use cage-free chickens which is excellent.

2. Turkey

I like seeing another named poultry source here. As you saw in our best overall (and in many other wet foods) broth is typical as a second ingredient so seeing another quality protein source is excellent.

3. Chicken Liver

We’ve talked about chicken liver a few times already and while it does get lumped into the by-product group per AAFO definitions, I’m confident to call this an exception. Chicken liver certainly doesn’t fit our definition of a cat food filler.

4. Chicken Broth

We’re on our fourth ingredient and only our first broth.

5. Ground Flaxseed

Flaxseed is a less common ingredient for cat food and while it doesn’t score any significant points in terms of being species-specific it is a rich fiber source and is also high in fatty acids.

6. Montmorillonite Clay

We’ve already covered this ingredient extensively. It’s used as an alternative anti-caking agent and may have some other benefits to digestion.

7. Egg Product

While egg product is a bit vaguer than I’d like to see, I’m happy to see another animal-based protein on the list of ingredients.

8. Peas

We see our first vegetable at ingredient number 8 which is great. It’s also peas, which while not something a wild cat would eat, is at least one of the more benign options.

9. Carrots

Another vegetable takes the 9th ingredient and again while not species-specific it’s far cry from filler in the traditional sense.

10. Potassium Chloride

Potassium Chloride helps balance the pH of your cat’s food. It’s not filler and not of much interest overall.

Complete Ingredients and Guaranteed Analysis

Here’s the complete list of ingredients in the chicken recipe:

Chicken, Turkey, Chicken Liver, Chicken Broth, Ground Flaxseed, Montmorillonite Clay, Egg Product, Peas, Carrots, Potassium Chloride, Salt, Minerals (Iron Proteinate, Zinc Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Sodium Selenite, Potassium Iodide), Choline Chloride, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Niacin Supplement, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, Biotin, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid), Taurine, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate, Menhaden Fish Oil (Preserved With Mixed Tocopherols), Artichokes, Cranberries, Pumpkin, Tomato, Blueberries, Broccoli, Cabbage, Kale, Parsley.

Here’s the guaranteed analysis:

  • 10% Protein
  • 7.5% Fat
  • 3% Fiber
  • 78% Moisture

Instinct Original Summary

Overall, this is a great low-filler cat food and one I would wholeheartedly recommend to most cat owners. Still, I had to put it in our runner up position due to the someone what controversial inclusion of the montmorillonite clay ingredient.

Premium Pick: NomNomNow Cat Food Delivery Service

My premium pick for cat food without filler comes from the boutique cat food delivery company called NomNomNow. While it does contain a variety of vegetables (and fruits) that aren’t species-appropriate, it makes up for it in the overall quality of food. One of the best things about the food is that you can actually see what’s in it. Instead of arriving as a brown mass, NomNomNow delivers perfection portioned and lightly cooked meals with identifiable ingredients.

It’s much closer to raw food than you’ll get with most commercial products and even though it features quite a few veggies, it still deserves a spot on our filler-free list. You can learn more about NomNomNow by clicking here.

Pros:

  • You can actually see the ingredients in the food- which is amazing!
  • Food is lightly cooked in small runs, not mass manufactured
  • Portions are custom to your specific cat so they always get the right amount
  • Half the total ingredients of most cat foods

Cons:

  • The cost can be prohibitive for some

Let’s see how the top five ingredients stack up compared to the rest of the foods on our list. It’s worth noting, that the chicken recipe we’ll be looking at from NomNomNow only has 23 ingredients. That’s almost half as many as our best overall pick, American Journey.

So what does this mean?

It means that this food has less potential room for fillers just by way of having fewer ingredients. It also means that ingredient 10 is more comparable to ingredient 20 of American Journey rather than a pure apple to apple comparison.

Keep that in mind as we’ll see some supplemental compounds within our top 10 ingredients that we won’t see in others on this list.

Here’s what’s inside the chicken recipe:

1. Chicken Thigh

It’s unusual to see a specific part of the animal protein named- but I really like seeing that they’re specifically using chicken thigh. We know exactly what’s going into your cat’s food and that’s it a quality cut of the chicken.

2. Chicken Breast

Not only do we see another named portion of the chicken but this time it’s leaner and high-quality cut. Even better, it’s the second ingredient which means our first two ingredients are both specific cuts of high-quality protein.

3. Chicken Liver

Another ingredient and more chicken! While the AAFCO would technically call this a by-product it’s completely different from chicken heads or feet which are fall in the same category. I feel completely confident about NOT including chicken liver as a by-product or as a filler ingredient.

4. Carrots

While cats don’t need carrots as an obligate carnivore, it’s still and acceptable ingredient.

5. Asparagus 

Asparagus is a more unusual ingredient in cat food but still quality and certainly not filler in the traditional sense. I also wrote a recent article about why cats like asparagus if you’re interested in learning about cats and asparagus.

6. Asparagus 

Asparagus is a more unusual ingredient in cat food but still quality and certainly not filler in the traditional sense. I also wrote a recent article about why cats like asparagus if you’re interested in learning about cats and asparagus.

7. Cantaloupe

Cantaloupe is an interesting and unusual ingredient but I was surprised to learn that a lot of cats go crazy for the smell (and taste) of cantaloupe. While it scores low in species- appropriateness it’s acceptable in small amounts and I wouldn’t want to see it any higher than this on our ingredient list.

8. Spinach

Spinach doesn’t score very high in terms of being species-specific but its very low in carbohydrates while boasting a long list of micronutrients so it’s an acceptable addition to this recipe.

9. Dicalcium Phosphate

This adds texture to your cat’s food and provides the essential mineral, phosphorous.

10. Calcium Carbonate

Calcium carbonate is primarily used to provide additional calcium to your cat’s food. 

Complete Ingredients and Guaranteed Analysis

Here’s the complete list of ingredients in the chicken recipe:

Ingredients: Chicken thigh, chicken breast, chicken liver, carrots, asparagus, cantaloupe, spinach, dicalcium phosphate, calcium carbonate, salt, taurine, choline bitartrate, zinc gluconate, ferrous sulfate, vitamin E supplement, copper gluconate, manganese gluconate, thiamine mononitrate (vitamin B1), selenium yeast, riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin B12 supplement, cholecalciferol (source of vitamin D3), potassium iodide.

Here’s the guaranteed analysis:

  • 18% Protein
  • 4% Fat
  • 0.8% Fiber
  • 73% Moisture

NomNomNow Summary

This premium cat food is some of the best money can buy. While at first glance the top ten ingredient list may look like it features more additives than other foods, it’s important to realize that NomNomNow has almost half the amount of ingredients as many other cat foods making this a great choice if you’re looking for cat foods without fillers.

 

Best Dry Cat Food Without Fillers

Dry food is easier to manage day-to-day and less expensive than most wet foods. I’ve picked out the three best dry cat foods with limited fillers.

Let’s get started!

Best Overall: Dr. Elsey’s Cleanprotein Formula Dry Cat Food

Dr. Elsey's Cleanprotein Formula Dry Cat Food without fillers

 

Buy On Amazon

Pros:

  • Truly the best dry cat food without fillers
  • No fruits, vegetables or carbohydrates
  • Very high protein content with 90% of sources coming from animals
  • A perfect recall history with ZERO recalls

Cons:

  • Super high protein may upset some cat’s stomachs, especially at first

Dr. Elsey’s Clean Protein dry food is a clear winner when it comes to the best overall dry cat food without fillers. They’re unique in the world of commercial cat food as they feature NO fruits, vegetables, or even carbohydrates. Instead, they use gelatin to bind and manufacture the food.

This dry kibble replaces those carbs with excellent animal-based protein sources bringing the total protein content up 59%! That’s almost double the protein content of Meow Mix which has 31% protein. While Meow Mix might not be a fair comparison (since it’s the true bottom of the barrel) it still illustrates the point!

That means this food is some of the most species-appropriate dry food you can find and if you’re looking to leave fillers behind, I think this is the best overall option. You can check the latest price on Amazon by clicking here. 

Let’s take a closer look inside this amazing kibble by reviewing the first 10 ingredients.

1. Chicken

We always want to see a named protein as the first ingredient and chicken is exactly what we’d expect to see here.

2. Dried Egg Product

Eggs are a highly biological available source of protein and an excellent second ingredient.

3. Pork Protein Isolate

A protein isolate is similar to the meal we see in other ingredients. That makes this is an animal-based, concentrated protein source is great.

4. Gelatin

Gelatin is used in place of traditional binding ingredients. That means Dr. Elsey’s is able to avoid carbohydrates like potato or tapioca starch that’s common used in the manufacturing process. Gelatin is typically an animal-based product that comes from the collagen of animals. While it does add some to the total protein profile of the recipe it’s most interesting for its role in the production of the food.

5. Chicken Fat

Another animal-based product means that the first five ingredients are all sourced from animals (if you include gelatin, which I do). Fat is certainly species-appropriate and a far cry from filler.

6. Flaxseed

Flaxseed is our first non-animal-based ingredient but it’s not a carbohydrate. Flaxseed is a solid source of essential fatty acids and also adds a bit of fiber to the total recipe.

7. Natural Flavor

Natural flavor simply adds taste to the food without impacting the nutritional profile.

8. Salmon Oil

Salmon oil is another animal-based ingredient which just shows how species-appropriate this filler-free food really is. Salmon oil is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and I like that we continue to see named sources of fat on the list of ingredients.

9. Potassium Citrate

This is used to balance the overall pH of cat food and provide a supplemental source of potassium.

10. Calcium Carbonate

Calcium carbonate is used to supplement your cat’s calcium and helps preserve the kibble.

Complete Ingredients and Guaranteed Analysis

Here’s the complete list of ingredients in the chicken recipe:

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.

Here’s the guaranteed analysis:

  • 59% Protein
  • 18% Fat
  • 4% Fiber
  • 12% Moisture

Dr. Elsey’s Cleanprotein Formula Dry Cat Food Summary

Dr. Elsey’s cat food is one of the best on the market. Not only is the best overall dry cat food without filler, but it might also be the best dry cat food you can get. Period. This food comes highly recommend not only for most cat owners but especially for those looking to avoid fillers completely.

Best On A Budget: American Journey Salmon Recipe Grain-Free Dry Cat Food

american journey cat food review

 

Buy On Chewy

Pros:

  • Excellent list of ingredients with animal sources proteins making up the first 4 of the 5 ingredients
  • An absolutely perfect recall history with zero recalls for any pet food since production started in 2017
  • The balance between price and quality is one of the best on the market

Cons:

  • Only available from Chewy- not much of  a con since they’re great but some may prefer Amazon
  • Includes a carbohydrate within the first three ingredients

This salmon based dry food from American Journey is our best on a budget selection. While it does include tapioca starch (a carbohydrate) in the first three ingredients, the overall ingredient profile is solid and free of meat by-products, corn, and grain. 

If you’re trying to feed your cat a quality food without breaking the bank, this is a great option. You can even get 25% off your first order- click here to see that deal. 

Let’s take a closer look at the list of ingredients.

1. Deboned Salmon

We always want to see a quality, named protein source as our first ingredient. Deboned salmon is a great start to this list and not only a great protein but also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.

2. Salmon Meal

Salmon meal is the concentrated, ground protein from salmon. It’s made by heating salmon until most of the fat and water are removed then grinding up the remains. It’s a good source of animal protein for your cat.

3. Tapioca Starch

This isn’t the ingredient we’d want to see here but it also represents one of the many problems with dry food. The manufacturing process requires some kind of binding agent to form the food and that usually comes in the form of carbohydrates. Tapioca starch is a common choice in grain-free and corn-free diets and it’s part of the commercial compromise that we have to make. Still, the list of ingredients does get better which is why this food is on our filler-free list at all.

4. Menhaden Fish Meal

Similar to the salmon meal, this is concentrated protein from menhaden fish and another source of animal protein.

5. Dried Egg Product

Egg is an excellent source of biologically available protein.

6. Pea Protein

While pea protein is a plant-based protein (and so lacks all the amino acids of an animal-based protein) your cat is still able to digest it.

7. Peas

Peas are again one of those non-species appropriate ingredients that we don’t love to see. But it’s at least listed as the 7th ingredient and peas are a much better option compared to something like corn.

8. Natural Flavor

Natural flavor is exactly what it sounds like: flavor added from a natural source. It doesn’t carry any nutritional significance.

9. Canola Oil

According to PetFoodIndustry.com, “canola oil in a pet diet contributes a significant amount of the essential nutrient linoleic acid. With its content of linolenic acid, it helps narrow the ratio of these two fatty acids to a level consistent with the values suggested by the US National Research Council (2006)”

10. Flaxseed 

While flaxseed doesn’t pass the species-appropriate test, it’s still a source of essential fatty acids for your cat.

Complete Ingredients and Guaranteed Analysis

Here’s the complete list of ingredients in the salmon recipe:

Deboned Salmon, Salmon Meal, Tapioca Starch, Menhaden Fish Meal, Dried Egg Product, Pea Protein, Peas, Natural Flavor, Canola Oil (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Flaxseed, Pea Fiber, Potassium Chloride, Choline Chloride, Inulin, Taurine, DL- Methionine, Salt, Spinach, Apples, Blueberries, Carrots, Cranberries, Pumpkin, Mixed Tocopherols (Preservative), Vitamin E Supplement, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Proteinate, Zinc Sulfate, Iron Proteinate, Niacin Supplement, Copper Sulfate, Sodium Selenite, Vitamin A Supplement, Copper Proteinate, Thiamine Mononitrate, L-Carnitine, Manganese Sulfate, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Manganese Proteinate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid, Calcium Iodate, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Rosemary Extract, Yeast Culture, Dried Enterococcus Faecium Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus Acidophilus Fermentation Product, Dried Aspergillus Niger Fermentation Extract, Dried Trichoderma Longibrachiatum Fermentation Extract, Dried Bacillus Subtilis Fermentation Extract.

Here’s the guaranteed analysis:

  • 40% Protein15
  • 15% Fat
  • 4% Fiber
  • 10% Moisture

American Journey Summary

While this Chewy only brand is a major contender for the best dry cat food without filler, it’s hard to ignore the inclusion of tapioca starch in ingredient three. Still, this is an excellent dry cat food at an affordable price for those who are looking to avoid fillers without breaking the bank. But if you’re looking for no compromises in your search for cat food without fillers, check out our best overall or our premium pick.

Premium Pick: Stella & Chewy’s Chick Chick Chicken Dinner Morsels Freeze-Dried Raw Cat Food

stella and chewy freeze-dried dinner morsels

Buy On Amazon

Pros:

  • Combines the convenience of kibble, the benefits of wet food, and the nutrient density of raw diets into one unique formula
  • Added probiotics to help with digestion

Cons:

  • Strong smell (because it’s high quality) that some cat owners may not like

When it comes to dry food, Stella & Chewy is doing things differently. While technically still dry food, it’s a freeze-dried kibble that you can actually add water too. This freeze-dried chicken focused diet is intended to act as a raw diet while keeping your cat safe from harmful bacteria. I really like how this diet offers the convenience of dry food while still giving you the option of getting many of the benefits of wet food when you rehydrate.

And of course, this low carbohydrate food scores great in terms of being species-appropriate and filler-free. If you’re interested in picking up a bag, you can check out today’s price on Amazon.

Let’s dive deeper into this freeze-dried food by looking at the first 10 ingredients:

1. Chicken (Ground With Bone)

The specific addition of bone is more unusual when it comes to cat food. While bones can be a great source or micronutrients your cat needs, they can also increase the levels of phosphorus present in the food. Most cats likely won’t have a problem with this but if your cat is older or dealing with chronic kidney disease you’ll want to consult your veterinarian.

2. Chicken Liver

I’ve mentioned before that even though the AAFCO definitions include liver in its big definition of by-products named liver ingredients are really in a league of their own. Not only are they species-appropriate they’re also nutrient-dense and overall a solid ingredient.

3. Chicken Gizzard

Again, we see a named ingredient that may sometimes get wrapped up into the by-product definition but a gizzard is pretty darn different from the feet of a chicken. Gizzard is also nutrient-dense and an excellent ingredient in this recipe.

4. Pumpkin Seed

We don’t often see pumpkin seeds making their way into cat food but they’re a surprisingly good source of fatty acids, fiber, and antioxidants. While it might not satisfy the strictest interpretation of filler-free it’s still an acceptable ingredient.

5. Potassium Chloride

This ingredient helps balance the pH of your cat’s food.

6. Sodium Phosphate

Also helps balance the pH of your cat’s food.

7. Choline Chloride

Provides additiona vitamin B to the overall nutrient profile.

8. Dried Pediococcus acidilactici Fermentation Product

Winner of the longest ingredient name award, this is a probiotic with several studies health benefits including improved digestion.

9. Dried Lactobacillus acidophilus Fermentation Product

This an additional added probiotic.

10. Dried Bifidobacterium longum Fermentation Product

Yet another added probiotic that also helps prevent bacteria growth. 

Complete Ingredients and Guaranteed Analysis

I’ve added the full list of ingredients in Stella & Chewy below but keep in mind the ingredients may look a little different than other dry kibbles since Stella & Chewy have added several stinky poop preventing probiotics. For example, the extremely long-named Dried Pediococcus Acidilactici Fermentation Product is a probiotic with a variety of health benefits.

Chicken (Ground With Bone), Chicken Liver, Chicken Gizzard, Pumpkin Seed, Potassium Chloride, Sodium Phosphate, Choline Chloride, Fenugreek Seed, Dried Pediococcus Acidilactici Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus Acidophilus Fermentation Product, Dried Bifidobacterium Longum Fermentation Product, Dried Bacillus Coagulans Fermentation Product, Taurine, Tocopherols (Preservative), Dandelion, Dried Kelp, Zinc Proteinate, Iron Proteinate, Vitamin A Supplement, Vitamin E Supplement, Niacin Supplement, Copper Proteinate, Riboflavin Supplement, Sodium Selenite, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Manganese Proteinate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid, Vitamin B12 Supplement.

Here’s the guaranteed analysis for Stella & Chewy:

  • 45% Protein
  • 25% Fat
  • 5% Fiber

Stella & Chewy Summary

Stella & Chewy does it’s best mimic raw food while giving you both the convience of kibble and the benefits of high-moisture wet food. There’s also a long list of probiotics that not only help prevent bacteria growth but can also aid in digestion.

Frequently Asked Questions

Cat food is complicated. Especially if you’re trying to avoid specific ingredient or ingredients with broad defintions like “fillers”. While we’ve already tried to provide some structure to what a filler actually is along with our favorite filler-free foods, you might still have questions.

Well, we’ve got answers! Let’s get into it!

Q: What is the worst cat food filler? 

While it’s hard to say as some of it will depend on your specific cat, the worst fillers are one that are the least species-appropriate and raise your cat’s blood sugar the most. The most common culprit is corn and corn related products.

Q: Are cat food without fillers more expensive?

Cat foods without fillers will typically cost a bit more but you really do get what you pay for. Not only is there a chance you could save on future vet bills when you feed your cat a filler-free food but your cat may also eat less as they get full faster.

Q: Should I feed my cat a homemade diet that’s completely carb-free? 

A carb-free would be more species appropriate and while that’s usually considered more healthy it’s not always practical. Still, there are some great options for low or no-carb diets like the ones we’ve listed here.

Q: What cat food has no by-products?

By-products will have slightly different meanings for each cat owner, but all six of the foods listed here feature high-quality ingredients that don’t feature any meat by-product unless you include chicken liver in that category.

Q: Is canned tuna good for cats?

Canned tuna can be great for the occasional snack but it should not be the primary food source for your cat. Not only is tuna missing a balanced nutritional profile, but it’s also high in mercury and over time leads to mercury poisoning. 

So while it might seem like the perfect solution to finding the best cat food without fillers, tuna alone just isn’t enough for your furry feline. 

Q: What meat is best for cats?

The best type of meat for cats will depend on your individual cat. It comes to preference and of course avoiding allergies. While studies have shown that the most common allergy for cats is related to chicken, it’s also the most common ingredient in pet food. 

We suggest trying a few types of cat food to find out what your cat likes best and exploring the variety of novel protein options that are available on the market. 

Closing Thoughts

Finding the best cat food without fillers can be difficult but at the end of the day, it’s worth it to feed your cat high-quality ingredients. Remember, you might save a few dollars on cat food in the short term, but your cat’s health will be paying the price. That means more costly vet bills and a shorter lifespan. 

We think the few extra dollars a month to go for filler-free or higher quality food is worth it. What do you think?

Logan M.

Logan has always loved everything about cats! Growing up with a family full of pets and a lifelong passion for animals he pursued work in the veterinary industry. After 10 years, he started BetterWithCats.net to help cat owners learn more about their feline friends.

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