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7 Best Dry Cat Foods For Adult Felines

7 Best Dry Cat Foods For Adult Felines
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best dry cat for adult cats

Finding the right dry cat food can be confusing…to say the least.

There’s an almost endless number of cat food brands out there and they’re all telling you that they’re healthy, nutritious, and tasty for your feline friend.

On the other side of things, you’ve probably heard knowledgeable experts railing against grains, carbs, and a long list of other ingredients that are commonly found in commercial cat food.

So who’s right and how can you find the best dry food brand for your cat?

Well, as with any complex subject, there are valid points on both sides…but that doesn’t make finding the best dry food for your cat any easier. That’s why I’ve put together this complete guide to finding the perfect dry cat food for your individual feline along with 7 of our favorite options.

We’ll cover everything you need to know, but if you just want to skip ahead and see what made the list you can check out all our favorites below or use the table of contents to skim around.

  1. Best Overall Dry Cat Food: Dr. Elsey’s Clean Protein
  2. Runner Up: Tiki Cat Born Carnivore
  3. Best On A Budget: American Journey Turkey and Chicken Recipe
  4. Best For Weight Loss & Hairball Control: Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein Dry Cat Food
  5. Best For Urinary Health: Farmina N&D Functional Quinoa Urinary Dry Food
  6. Best Limited Ingredient and Poultry-Free Dry Food: Instinct Original LID Rabbit Recipe
  7. Best Freeze-Dried: Feline Natural Beef & Hoki Feast

Let’s start by explaining one very important fact about your cat and their natural diet.

What's Inside show

Your Cat Is An Obligate Carnivore

Your cat is a carnivore.

However, they aren’t just any old carnivore, and instead, they’re what’s called an obligate carnivore. That means cats require meat and animal-based proteins in order to survive and function. They simply can’t get the nutrients they need from plants and in the wild, your cat would consume very little to no plant matter at all.

For an example of how our omnivore physiology is different from obligate carnivores like our cats, we can turn to vitamin A, beta carotene, and carrots. As omnivores, we’re able to eat a carrot and convert the beta carotene to vitamin A. Our cats also need vitamin A to stay healthy but as obligate carnivores, they can’t get it from the carrot.

Instead, cats get their vitamin A from liver meat and other animal sources.

That’s just one of the dozens of examples illustrating how the biology of an obligate carnivore differs from that of an omnivore like humans or dogs.

But what does all this have to do with finding the best dry cat food?

Now that we know how important animal-based protein is for our cats, we should expect to see meat ingredients towards the top of any quality ingredient list and we should expect to see plenty of protein in the best recipes.

How Did We Select The Best Dry Cat Food?

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to picking the best dry food for your feline friend and providing proper nutrition is one of the most important things you can do.

But that can also lead to a lot of confusion as you work your way through all the available information.

That’s why we’ve put together a simple checklist of everything we looked for when picking the best dry kibbles. Everything on this list will meet these requirements but you can also use them as a starting point for your own search or next time you’re in the pet supply store.

If you’re in a hurry, you can just read the headlines so you know what you’re getting into but if you’re looking for deeper knowledge and understanding read the description below each headline as well.

✅ Minimum Of 35% Protein On A Dry Matter Basis

We’ve already established that cats are a special kind of carnivore that can only get their required nutrients from animal sources so it should be no surprise that protein is a critical component of any quality dry food.

We’ll be looking for a protein content of at least 35% on a dry matter basis. A dry matter basis means that we’ll be removing water (usually listed as moisture) so we can compare apples to apples (so to speak) and avoid any confusion that comes from comparing two dry kibbles with differing moisture content.

Can you go lower than 35% protein?

Yes, and PetMD suggests that cats need a minimum of only 26% protein in their food but I’d rather not ride the minimum for my cat. By sticking with 35% as the minimum, we immediately eliminate a lot of lower quality foods and we also get closer to a cat’s natural diet which would be roughly 55% protein.

✅ Animal-Based Protein As The First Ingredient

As you might expect, high protein alone isn’t always enough and it’s important to consider protein quality as well.

As a general rule, we’ll want to see an animal-based protein as the first ingredient. Because ingredients are listed in order of predominance, the items at the top of the list are those used in the greatest amount, and finding a quality animal protein in the first spot is always a great start.

If you’re shopping on your own, looking at the first ingredient can be a great filter to immediately eliminate lower-quality recipes that use corn or wheat as the number one ingredient.

Ingredients like chicken by-products have their place and aren’t inherently bad but we still don’t want to see these types of ingredients in the first position. Instead, we want to see meat products with as few extra qualifications as possible. That means simply named ingredients like chicken, beef, or a specific type of fish.

The AAFCO defines these ingredients as “primarily the muscle tissue of the animal, but may include the fat, gristle and other tissues normally accompanying the muscle, similar to what you might see in a portion of raw meat sold for human consumption.”

Even though named meats are the best, they are the most expensive, so for some of our budget selections, we’ll comprise and allow meal-type ingredients to make the top of the list of ingredients. Meat and poultry meals are dried and ground into a meal or powder and will appear as “Chicken Meal” or “Duck Meal”. These still meet our requirement of being an animal-based protein but they can be a little less costly to produce.

Because of the high heat that goes into creating a meat-based meal and any dry food, it’s especially common to find meal-type ingredients in dry cat food.

✅ At Least One Additional Animal-Based Protein Within the First 5 Ingredients

For our furry little obligate carnivores, more animal-based ingredients are almost always a good thing.

So in addition to finding an animal protein in the first ingredient, the best dry cat foods will also include more quality animal-based ingredients at the top of the list. This of course includes named meats but also fats and organ meats.

For this list, we’ll be looking for at least one additional animal-based protein within the first 5 ingredients. Once again, this will immediately eliminate some lower-quality dry kibbles from the list.

We’ll also allow some specific organ meats to meet this requirement and while some folks may see these as a bad thing (especially because these ingredients can get grouped into the “by-product” category) that’s not entirely true.

The AAFCO explains that by-products are “most of the parts of the animal other than the muscle tissue, including the internal organs and bones. It includes some of the parts people eat (such as livers, kidneys and tripe), but also parts that are not typically consumed by humans in the US. Some by-products, like udders and lungs are not deemed ‘edible’ by USDA for human consumption, but they can be perfectly safe and nutritious for animals not inclined to be swayed by the unappealing nature of these parts of animals”

In the wild, your cat wouldn’t think twice about eating the liver, lungs, and every other part of a fresh mouse that they catch. The same is true if they happen to track down a chicken.

Even though these cuts aren’t appealing to us, they have a place in quality dry cat food. The problem occurs when there’s too much by-product or when it’s not balanced by other higher quality animal-based ingredients.

So we won’t include any recipes that prominently feature generic by-products but we will include a few recipes that feature organ meats.

✅ 30% Carbohydrates Or Less (But Grain-Free Isn’t Required)

Again, as obligate carnivores, cats don’t need carbohydrates in order to get the nutrients they need.

That doesn’t mean cats can’t benefit from antioxidants provided from fruits and vegetables (they can) or that they can’t digest protein from carbohydrate-rich and plant-based sources (they can do that too).  Additionally, fiber, which isn’t found in meat products, has dozens of benefits for cats including healthier stools, weight management, and hairball reduction.

Even though carbohydrates aren’t species-appropriate, in that a feline’s digestive system didn’t evolve to handle them, carbohydrates not only have a place in cat food but plenty of benefits for our feline friends as well. Additionally, carbohydrates help reduce the cost of commercial dry cat food.

But carbohydrates still shouldn’t make up too much of a cat’s diet and the priority should always go to high-quality protein sources. We’ll try to strike a balance and look for recipes that are 30% carbohydrate (on a dry matter basis) or less. A lower carbohydrate percentage will usually indicate a high-quality dry cat food.

While 30% might sound high, it’s common for dry kibble to include more carbohydrates since it’s hard to avoid adding some as part of the manufacturing process. It’s also worth pointing out that our top two dry cat foods have only around 10% carbohydrate content.

However, grain-free isn’t a requirement. In many cases, grain-free doesn’t really tell you anything about the amount of carbohydrates and the grains can often be replaced with another carbohydrate source that may not be any better. Instead of focusing on grains, we’re going to pay more attention to the overall carbohydrate content.

Lastly, it’s important to note that carbohydrate content isn’t regularly listed on nutritional labels which means we’ll need to do some math to figure it out. In some cases, we won’t be able to get a precise number but instead a close estimate.

✅ Avoid Low Quality and Potentially Harmful Ingredients

We also want to see kibble that feature quality ingredients across the board. That means limited artificial flavors and additives in favor of more natural options.

Even more important, it means completely avoiding ingredients like carrageenan which is not safe for anyone to eat and yet still finds its way into some cat foods.

✅ Stick With Reputable Brands With Zero Or No Recalls

The production of dry cat food is a complicated process that requires ingredients sources from dozens of locations and vendors. There are a lot of moving parts and while that’s never an excuse for lower quality products, the fact is recalls of specific ingredients can happen.

However, we want to avoid recalls whenever possible and stick with brands that have a solid reputation for producing quality products. Every cat food brand on this list has limited history of recalls and have never had a recall at all.

7 Best Dry Cat Foods

Now that you know how we selected the recipes on this list, let’s dive into our favorite dry cat foods starting with the best overall.

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

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Dr. Elsey's Clean Protein
1,412 Reviews
Dr. Elsey's Clean Protein

✅ All 5 of the first ingredients are sourced from animals (if you include gelatin)
✅ 67% protein content on a dry matter basis
✅ 9% carbohydrate content on a dry matter basis which is one of the lowest you can find in any dry kibble

Dr. Elsey (yes, he’s a real guy) started producing cat litter in 1987 with the goal of helping cats stay in their home by preventing inappropriate urination. They still make great litter today and they’re still focused on helping cats by donating their litter and other resources to shelters in need.

They’ve also made their way into the world of cat food with their exceptional line of protein-focused recipes featuring chicken, turkey, salmon, duck, or rabbit-centered recipes.

But what makes them deserve the spot as the best overall dry cat food?

Their focus on high-quality proteins that are perfect for your carnivorous cat! If you include gelatin (which is usually sourced from animals) then all 5 of the first ingredients are animal-based ingredients. That’s almost unheard of in dry cat food.

This focus on carnivore-friendly ingredients gives them an exceptionally high protein content of 67% by dry matter and a carbohydrate of around 9%. Again, you’re not going to see protein and carbohydrate content like that in many other dry food brands.

Additionally, at the time of writing, Dr. Elsey’s brand of cat food has never been recalled.

It also helps to know that there’s a real person who actually cares about cats behind the brand. Before he ever got into cat food or litter, Dr. Elsey started a feline-only veterinary practice in Denver…so he’s the real deal when it comes to caring about cats. That doesn’t guarantee great food but it does give me a little peace of mind.

You can read more reviews from happy cat parents, check out all the flavors, and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

But if you want to get an even better idea of what’s inside, we’re going to take a closer look at the first 5 ingredients in the Chicken recipe.

1. Chicken

As we’ve already mentioned, we want to see a quality animal-based protein as the first ingredient in any dry cat food. According to AAFCO guidelines, named poultry like this is similar to what we’d expect to find in the grocery store but with some less common or less appealing cuts (at least to humans) thrown in.  It’s a great start to any dry kibble.

2. Dried Egg Product

Eggs are an extremely bioavailable source of protein and other nutrients for our feline friends. When included in cat food, egg product refers to dehydrated eggs (with the shell removed). While this dry cat food isn’t a budget pick, the inclusion of dried egg can help keep the cost down compared to other ingredients.

3. Pork Protein Isolate

Exactly what it sounds like, this is the isolated protein of pork. Isolates are a good way to add additional protein and while you wouldn’t want them to be the only source of protein it’s part of a well-balanced list in this dry cat food.

4. Gelatin

Manufacturing dry cat food requires a binding ingredient of some kind and because this usually means starches, grains, veggies and other carbohydrates it’s one of many reasons why dry kibble usually has higher carb content.

However, this dry kibble takes a different approach and uses the somewhat more expensive gelatin. Gelatin isn’t going to change much in the way of the nutritional profile but it does keep carbs out and animal-based ingredients in.

5. Chicken Fat

Another animal-based ingredient is a welcome addition to this dry kibble and while it’s not a protein, our cats still need plenty of fat sources. Chicken fat does the job and helps make the flavor more appealing for our feline friends.

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 on a dry matter basis (moisture removed):

  • 67% protein
  • 9% carbohydrates
  • 20.5% fat
  • 4.5% fiber

 

Runner Up: Tiki Cat Born Carnivore

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TIKI PETS Tiki Cat Born Carnivore Chicken & Egg Grain Free Dry Food Gluten Free, 5.6 lbs. (47014)
1,380 Reviews
TIKI PETS Tiki Cat Born Carnivore Chicken & Egg Grain Free Dry Food Gluten Free, 5.6 lbs. (47014)
  • HIGH PROTEIN - 4.6 lbs. of chicken ingredients, nutrition that mimics cats natural prey diets. Because...
  • BAKED DRY CAT FOOD - Baked to preserve nutrients and enhance flavor, no animal by-products, no corn, no...

Tiki Cat is often overlooked in the world of premium cat foods but they’ve absolutely earned a spot as one of the better options.

The cartoon cat and silly names for their recipes can throw some people off but when you take a closer look at what’s inside you’ll find quality animal proteins, minimal carbohydrates, and a company owner that’s willing to eat her own cat food product on camera! Okay, that last one doesn’t make cat food good, but ita always nice to know when companies and owners stand by their products.

We’re specifically looking at Tiki Cat’s Born Carnivore line of dry cat food for this list and it checks all our boxes with high protein content, low carbohydrate content, deboned chicken as the first ingredient, and minimal additives.

Additionally, Tiki Cat is one of a handful of dry cat foods that use a baking process instead of the traditional extrusion process. Both require high heat, but baking is generally considered to be less harsh on dry food and the folks at Tiki Cat suggest that this may help improve the taste, texture, and quality of the dry kibble.

While there’s some debate around the pros and cons of both techniques, baking does appear to change the flavor and some cats may prefer the baked kibble flavor over other dry cat foods. That can make this kibble a good choice for picky cats that may enjoy the unique baked flavor.

Tiki Cat is a great dry food, but with slightly fewer animal-based ingredients at the top of the ingredient list, I had to list them in the runner up spot. Still, they make up for it with pricing that’s a little easier on the budget than many other truly premium dry cat foods.

You can check out more reviews, take a closer look at the size options and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

And if you’d like to learn more about what’s inside, keep reading as we review the first 5 ingredients in the Deboned Chicken & Egg recipe. Just a head’s up, you may see this recipe listed as both “Deboned Chicken & Egg Flavor” and “Chicken Luau” but these are the same recipes and at the time of writing Tiki Cat was going through some rebranding.

1. Deboned Chicken

As we’d expect from any dry food on this list, an animal-based protein is first on our list of ingredients. According to the AAFCO, this includes the same sort of cuts you’d see at the store along with plenty of cuts that humans wouldn’t want to eat (like backs, necks, etc). As deboned meat, the chicken has been processed in a way that removes bone from the final product.

2. Chicken Meal

Another animal-based protein, chicken meal is primarily meat from chickens after it’s been treated with high heat and ground into a meal. Chicken meals are high in protein but limited in other ingredients like fat. So this ingredient is primarily focused on increased overall protein content.

3. Dehydrated Chicken

Dehydration techniques aren’t mentioned on the AAFCO guidelines but based on the way this is written, it should be the same or similar chicken products that we’ve already seen in this recipe but dehydrated. This can help preserve the nutrients of the meat while making it easier and cheaper for manufacturers to use.

4. Dried Egg Product

Dried eggs are another easy-to-manage ingredient and can be a great source of highly digestible protein for cats.

5. Tapioca

According to veterinarian Jacqueline Dobranski, tapioca acts as a binder for dry cat foods which helps manufacturers create the neat little kibbles were used to seeing. It is a carbohydrate source but it’s quite minor and Tiki Cat is still able to keep total carbohydrates at 10.7%.

Complete Ingredients and Guaranteed Analysis

Here’s the complete list of ingredients in the Deboned Chicken & Egg recipe:

Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Dehydrated Chicken, Dried Egg Product, Tapioca, Natural Chicken Flavor, Ground Whole Flaxseed, Chickpeas, Peas, Chicken Fat (Preserved With Mixed Tocopherols And Citric Acid), Brewers Dried Yeast, Calcium Sulfate, Choline Chloride, Inulin (Prebiotic), Salmon Oil, Pumpkin, Taurine, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Sulfate, Vitamin E Supplement, Niacin Supplement (Vitamin B3), Copper Sulfate, Vitamin A Supplement, Manganese Sulfate, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), D-Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Biotin, Riboflavin Supplement (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12 Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Calcium Iodate, Folic Acid, Sodium Selenite, Rosemary Extract, Ascorbic Acid (Preservative), Citric Acid, Tannic Acid.

Here’s the guaranteed analysis on a dry matter basis (moisture removed):

  • 47.7% protein
  • 10.7% carbohydrates
  • 21.1% fat
  • 3.8% fiber

Best On A Budget: American Journey Dry Cat Food Turkey and Chicken Recipe

American Journey Dry Cat Food Turkey and Chicken Recipe

Buy On Chewy

✅ The first 3 ingredients are animal-based proteins
✅ 44% protein content on a dry matter basis
✅ Around 23% carbohydrate content is on the higher end but still good for a budget pick
✅ Easy on the budget

Our best on a budget option comes from the folks at American Journey which is a Chewy-only brand. In other words, you won’t find this product anywhere else besides Chewy so it may not be a brand you’ve seen before.

If you’re looking to keep carbohydrate content as low as possible, then you’ll want to stick with one of the two brands above. But if you’re for something that strikes a balance between price, protein, and carbs then American Journey is certainly worth exploring and at roughly 23% carbohydrate content, this recipe still meets our requirements.

I’ve specifically selected the Turkey and Chicken recipe since it has more animal-based ingredients compared to other American Journey flavors. Since this is a budget-friendly dry food, we’ll see a bit more meals (the ground version of the protein source) included along with some plant protein.

In the case of American Journey dry cat food, we see pea protein as ingredient number 6. Studies have found that cats can digest plant protein and while it’s not something we’d want to see at the top of the list, including it further down the list of ingredients is a great way to keep protein content high and price down.

Overall, American Journey is a budget option that makes good choices when it comes to balancing price and quality. Keep in mind, that as a Chewy-only brand, the best place to find this brand is on Chewy’s website and you can check out today’s price by clicking here.

If you’d like to learn more about what’s inside, stick around and we’ll review the first 5 ingredients in the Chicken and Turkey recipe.

1. Deboned Turkey

Even as a budget dry food, we still expect to see an animal-based ingredient as the first on the list. As we’ve seen with other poultry products, deboned turkey includes a mix of cuts you’d see in the store and some that are deemed undesirable for human consumption. Of course, our carnivorous cats don’t mind eating cuts like the neck or back.

The deboning process, in this case, refers to a mechanical process that separates bones from meat.

2. Turkey Meal

Meal is made by heating meat and grinding it up into a powder-like form. As such, it’s easier to manage but still has high protein content which makes it a common choice in budget-friendly foods. It should be no surprise then that we see it twice on this list.

Just as with other named ingredients, AAFCO guidelines tell us that turkey is primarily the meat of from the bird.

3. Chicken Meal

Just as we saw above, this is a budget-friendly way to add a lot of protein to any recipe.

4. Tapioca Starch

Tapioca starch helps hold dry cat food together and aids in the manufacturing process. While it’s a carbohydrate, it still allows pet foods to market themselves as grain-free.

5. Dried Egg Product

Dried egg products are eggs that have had the shell removed and then dehydrated. Eggs are a great source of protein for cats and this ingredient keeps the price down while increasing protein content.

Complete Ingredients and Guaranteed Analysis

Here’s the complete list of ingredients in the Turkey and Chicken recipe:

Deboned Turkey, Turkey Meal, Chicken Meal, Tapioca Starch, Dried Egg Product, Pea Protein, Peas, Deboned Chicken, Natural Flavor, Menhaden Fish Meal, Chicken Fat (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Flaxseed, Pea Fiber, Choline Chloride, Potassium Chloride, Inulin, DL-Methionine, Taurine, Salt, Spinach, Apples, Blueberries, Carrots, Cranberries, Pumpkin, Mixed Tocopherols (Preservative), Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Proteinate, Zinc Sulfate, Vitamin E Supplement, Iron Proteinate, Niacin Supplement, Copper Sulfate, Sodium Selenite, Copper Proteinate, Vitamin A Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, L-Carnitine, Manganese Sulfate, Manganese Proteinate, D-Calcium Pantothenate, 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 on a dry matter basis (moisture removed):

  • 44.4% protein
  • 22 to 24% carbohydrate
  • 16.6% fat
  • 4.4% fiber

 

Best For Weight Loss & Hairball Control: Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein Dry Cat Food

Sale
Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein Dry Cat Food
1,981 Reviews
Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein Dry Cat Food

✅ High fiber (~8% by dry matter) helps cats feel more full and eat less
✅ 39.5% protein (by dry matter) is on the higher end of limited ingredient diets
✅ Extra fiber can also help with hairballs
✅ Great balance of ingredient quality and value

It might be a little surprising to see a dry cat food that’s designed to help with both weight control and hairballs but each problem can be helped by higher fiber diets.

When it comes to weight loss, higher fiber helps cats feel more full and may even help stop cats from begging as much. Dr. Beth Flickinger explains how this works: “Dietary fiber may help dogs and cats feel fuller by diluting calories. Fiber is essentially calorie-free, so adding fiber to a diet helps reduce caloric density, which allows the pet to eat a larger volume of food without consuming additional calories. This larger volume of food helps contribute to gastric distension, which is one of the satiety cues that signal to the pet that it is full.”

And even though cats would have almost no fiber in their natural diet, studies have shown that fiber can positively impact hairballs.

That’s where this budget-friendly dry kibble from Blue Buffalo comes in and with fiber content at just under 8% (by dry matter) it’s one of the higher fiber options available. Of course, it also checks our other boxes with an animal-based protein as the first ingredient and animal proteins throughout the recipe.

But even though fiber is considered “calorie-free” it does show up as carbohydrates on guaranteed analysis which is why this recipe is on the higher side of carbohydrate content.

Blue Buffalo also includes their LifeSource Bits in this recipe which they explain contain extra nutrients and vitamins. I certainly realize the marketing aspect of the LifeSource Bits but I will say that my cat (and dog) both love those little bits and usually like to pick them out first.  I know that’s not exactly a large sample size but I can’t help note how much my picky cat loves those bits!

Overall, Blue Buffalo’s Weight Loss and Hairball formula finds a great balance between palatability, fiber content, ingredient quality, and price. You can read more reviews and check today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

But if you’d like to dig a little deeper, keep reading as we quickly review the top 5 ingredients in this kibble.

1. Deboned Chicken

As we’d expect, this recipe starts with an animal-based protein. Even though the deboned version of chicken does mean that it has to go through some processing, it’s still a good source of protein for our feline friends.

2. Chicken Meal

Chicken meal is high in protein but does lose some of the fat and moisture in the production process. It helps add extra protein to this recipe while keeping the overall cost down.

3. Tapioca Starch

Tapioca starch is a binding agent that’s used in the manufacturing process. It doesn’t add much in the way of other nutrients but does add some carbohydrates and helps with the manufacturing process.

4. Pea Protein

While animal protein is always preferred, pea protein is digestible by cats and helps keep the overall cost of this recipe down.

5. Peas

Because meat doesn’t contain fiber, we should expect any high-fiber dry cat food to contain a bit more in the way of vegetables and this recipe is no different. Peas provide fiber and once again help keep costs reasonable.

Complete Ingredients and Guaranteed Analysis

Here’s the full list of ingredients inside the chicken recipe from Blue Buffalo:

Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Tapioca Starch, Pea Protein, Peas, Menhaden Fish Meal (source of Omega 3 Fatty Acids), Powdered Cellulose, Pea Fiber, Chicken Fat (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Flaxseed (source of Omega 6 Fatty Acids), Natural Flavor, Potato Starch, Choline Chloride, DL-Methionine, Psyllium Seed Husks, Potassium Chloride, Calcium Sulfate, Dehydrated Alfalfa Meal, Potatoes, Dried Chicory Root, Taurine, Calcium Carbonate, Caramel Color, Potassium Sulfate, Salt, preserved with Mixed Tocopherols, Sweet Potatoes, Carrots, L-Carnitine, Ferrous Sulfate, Niacin, Iron Amino Acid Chelate, Zinc Amino Acid Chelate, Zinc Sulfate, Vitamin E Supplement, Cranberries, Blueberries, Barley Grass, Parsley, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Dried Kelp, Turmeric, Copper Sulfate, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Copper Amino Acid Chelate, Oil of Rosemary, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (source of Vitamin C), L-Lysine, Biotin (Vitamin B7), Vitamin A Supplement, Manganese Sulfate, Manganese Amino Acid Chelate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Calcium Pantothenate (Vitamin B5), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid (Vitamin B9), Dried Yeast, 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, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite.

Here’s the guaranteed analysis on a dry matter basis (moisture removed):

  • 39.5% protein
  • 29% carbohydrate
  • 13 % fat
  • 7.9% fiber

 

Best Dry Kibble For Urinary Health: Farmina N&D Functional Quinoa Urinary Dry Food

Dry cat food of any kind shouldn’t be your first choice when it comes to promoting urinary health so it might be surprising to see this added to the list. While some suggest that the difference between wet and dry isn’t as significant for healthy cats when it comes to preventing urinary issues, felines that have had past urinary issues will benefit more from wet food.

But some cats simply love dry kibble and some owners need to have a dry food option.

That’s where this urinary health formula from Farmina comes into the picture. To be clear, this food is not a treatment and your veterinarian should absolutely be involved if your cat has any history of urinary issues. But for cat parents that want to head off urinary problems while feeding quality proteins, this recipe is worth looking into.

For starters, this dry cat food has reduced magnesium and phosphorous content which are the two minerals that most often contribute to urinary stone formation. Reducing the amount of these minerals in your cat’s food has been found to help reduce the chance of stone formation.

Farmina has also added cranberries as the 9th ingredient to this recipe which, according to PetMD, can help with urinary health. Of course, cranberries aren’t a substitute for veterinary treatment but it’s one of many nice-to-have ingredients that this dry kibble has included.

Finally, this recipe checks all boxes we look for in dry cat food with 35.9% protein by dry matter, plenty of animal-based ingredients at the top of the list, and minimal carbohydrate content at roughly 20%. You’ll also notice that duck is the main protein and some felines will be extra interested in the somewhat novel protein.

You can read more reviews and check the latest price on Amazon by clicking here.

But if you want to take a closer look inside this dry cat food, stick around as we review the first 5 ingredients.

1. Boneless Duck

As with any other recipe on this list, we want to see an animal protein at the top of the list of ingredients and duck is a great start. It’s boneless, which means it goes through a bit more processing than plain duck would, but it’s still a great start to this list of ingredients.

2. Dehydrated Duck

Dehydrated duck is similar to the above ingredient but with different processing. Dehydrated poultry may help bring the cost down compared to other types of animal-based ingredients.

3. Pea Starch

Some kind of starch or binding agent is needed to produce dry food and while this is a carbohydrate it’s good to see it 3rd on the list as opposed to higher up.

4. Chicken Fat

Chicken fat isn’t a pure protein, but additional animal-based ingredients are a welcome (and flavorful) addition to this ingredient list.

5. Quinoa Seed

Even though it wouldn’t be a normal part of your cat’s diet, there is some evidence to suggest that quinoa seeds could provide some digestive benefits to our feline friends.

Complete Ingredients and Guaranteed Analysis

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

boneless duck, dehydrated duck, pea starch, chicken fat, quinoa seed, dried whole eggs, dehydrated herring, herring oil, dried cranberry, chamomile, fructooligosaccharide, yeast extract, psyllium seed husk, calcium carbonate, potassium chloride, brewers dried yeast, salt, vitamin A supplement, vitamin D3 supplement, vitamin E supplement, ascorbic acid, niacin, calcium pantothenate, riboflavin, pyridoxine hydrochloride, thiamine mononitrate, biotin, folic acid, vitamin B12 supplement, choline chloride, beta-carotene, zinc methionine hydroxy analogue chelate, manganese methionine hydroxy analogue chelate, ferrous glycine, copper methionine hydroxy analogue chelate, DL-Methionine, taurine, aloe vera gel concentrate, green tea extract, rosemary extract, mixed tocopherols (a preservative).

Here’s the guaranteed analysis on a dry matter basis (moisture removed):

  • 35.9% protein
  • ~20% carbohydrate
  • 18% fat
  • 2.3% fiber

 

Best Limited Ingredient and Poultry-Free Dry Food: Instinct Original Limited Ingredient Rabbit Recipe

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Instinct Original Limited Ingredient Rabbit Recipe
1,726 Reviews
Instinct Original Limited Ingredient Rabbit Recipe

✅ Single protein source of rabbit means there's no chicken or other animal proteins present
✅ 38.5% protein (by dry matter) is on the higher end of limited ingredient diets
✅ Limited ingredient diets may help cats with sensitive stomachs or picky palates
✅ Coated with freeze-dried meat for a unique flavor and taste

Limited Ingredient Diets (often abbreviated LID) can be a little confusing. Just based on the name, you’d assume that it’s a dry cat food without a lot of ingredients- and in some cases, that is true.

But the real focus of a limited ingredient diet isn’t on total ingredients but instead ingredient variety. Ideally, that means no more than one animal-based protein source and one vegetable so you can reduce the number of ingredients that cats could be sensitive to.

Instinct Original follows these guidelines and uses rabbit as the protein source with peas as the vegetable, along with other ingredients to provide all essential nutrients.

There are dozens of LID dry kibbles available, but I’m a big fan of this one because it completely avoids any poultry (like duck or turkey) and offers cats a much more novel protein in the form of rabbit. While allergies should be diagnosed with your veterinarian’s help, studies suggest that chicken is one of the more common causes of feline food allergies.

But even if your feline friend doesn’t have any food allergies they may appreciate the variety that a rabbit-focused recipe brings to the table…or bowl in this case.

Beyond the requirements of using limited ingredients, this dry cat food checks all of our other boxes with relatively high protein, an animal protein as the first ingredient, and minimal carbs. Because limited ingredient diets limit the available protein choices they can often lead to overall lower protein content but Instinct Original has done a great job keeping protein content high- at least relative to other LID dry foods.

Rabbit isn’t the only ingredient that sets this recipe apart and Instinct Original is one of only a handful of companies that use montmorillonite clay as an anti-caking agent instead of traditional ingredients like guar gum or xantham gum. While this ingredient can be controversial, some folks prefer it over other thickening agents like guar gum.

Montmorillonite clay is used in humans to detox and remove heavy metals and it’s been found to help with diarrhea in some animal patients. However, veterinarian Jacqueline Dobranski explains that the same effect that helps reduce diarrhea could lead to stools that are too firm in some felines. Still, montmorillonite clay appears as the 8th ingredient and it’s important to emphasize that its primary role here is to assist in the manufacturing process and not provide any kind of therapy.

Overall, the combination of limited ingredients, novel proteins and unique anti-caking agents make this one of the more unique dry cat foods available. You can learn more about this rabbit-flavored kibble, see more reviews and check out today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

But if you’d like to take a deeper look inside this dry cat food, keep reading as we review the first 5 ingredients.

1. Rabbit Meal

As with any meal, this is primarily the meat of the named animal that’s been rendered to remove fat and moisture. From there, it’s reduced to a meal for easy management and manufacturing. That makes this a highly concentrated form of protein and while plain rabbit meat would be preferred, it’s still a good start and meets our requirement of starting the recipe with an animal-based protein.

2. Peas

While we’d prefer to see more animal-based ingredients at the top of the list, some compromises have to be made when dealing with limited ingredient dry cat foods since ingredients are, by definition, limited. Despite being a vegetable, a handful of studies and millions of healthy cats suggest that cats can digest carbohydrates like peas when part of a balanced recipe.

3. Tapioca

Tapioca is another carbohydrate that’s also used as a binding agent in the manufacturing process. Again, we’d rather see more animal proteins but tapioca is usually well tolerated by cats.

4. Canola Oil

Canola oil is rich in omega 3 fatty acids along with other important nutrients. We’d prefer an animal-based source of fats but this can help reduce overall cost.

5. Rabbit

With the option for only one protein, it should be no surprise to see rabbit show up again- this time without any modification which makes this a great addition to this list.

Complete Ingredients and Guaranteed Analysis

Here’s the full list of ingredients inside the rabbit recipe from Instinct Original:

Rabbit Meal, Peas, Tapioca, Canola Oil (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols and Citric Acid), Rabbit, Natural Flavor, Coconut Oil, Montmorillonite Clay, Taurine, Choline Chloride, Potassium Chloride, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate, Niacin Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin A Supplement, Riboflavin Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Biotin), DL-Methionine, Minerals (Zinc Proteinate, Iron Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Sodium Selenite, Ethylenediamine Dihydriodide), Freeze Dried Rabbit, Salt, Pumpkinseeds, Rosemary Extract.

Here’s the guaranteed analysis on a dry matter basis (moisture removed):

  • 38.5% protein
  • 24.8% carbohydrate
  • 20.9% fat
  • 6% fiber

Best Freeze-Dried: Feline Natural Beef & Hoki Feast

Feline Natural Freeze Dried Cat Food
1,001 Reviews
Feline Natural Freeze Dried Cat Food

✅ All 6 of the first ingredients are sourced from animals
✅ 51% protein content on a dry matter basis
✅ Almost no carbohydrates in this protein and fat-focused recipe
✅ Only 19 total ingredients make this recipe super simple

While it’s not a dry kibble in the traditional sense, this recipe is most certainly dry cat food. Entirely freeze-dried cat foods and the addition of freeze-dried ingredients are becoming more popular and can be a great way to add flavor or variety to your cat’s routine. Freeze-dried foods are somewhere between raw and commercial diets and allow cat food brands to offer almost raw foods without the hassle of preparing them on your own.

As an entirely freeze-dried food, Feline Natural can be fed as is for a meal that’s close to dry kibble or you can rehydrate it for something that’s more like wet food. That makes recipes like this extra convenient since instead of having to manage cans of partially used wet food, you can only offer your cat as much as they need with no can management required.

Beyond being freeze-dried, Feline Natural isn’t your standard dry cat food and includes a variety of uncommon ingredients that can be a hit or miss with cats. The most common complaint with this cat food, as with most cat food, is that cats just didn’t like it. So despite an exceptional list of quality ingredients, it may not be a hit with some picky felines.

Because this is is a freeze-dried recipe, the manufacturing process is much simpler and doesn’t require the addition of carbohydrates or other traditional thickening agents. In fact, you’ll only see 19 total ingredients in this recipe which again is possible because of freeze-drying instead of the traditional approach.

Feline Natural isn’t the most budget-friendly dried cat food on the market but it does have some of the most unique ingredients that you won’t find anywhere else. You can read more reviews, check out each of the flavors, and see the latest price on Amazon by clicking here.

But if you’d like to learn more about what’s inside, keep reading and we’ll review the first 5 ingredients in the Beef and Hoki recipe. Keep in mind that with such a short ingredient list, these 5 ingredients represent 25% of the entire recipe so it gives you a very good idea of what’s inside.

1. Beef Heart

Feline natural has several unexpected and unusual ingredients including this one. Beef heart checks our first box in terms of an animal-based ingredient and while it’s organ meat it’s a specific organ meat and that makes a big difference. Organ meats can be rich in a variety of nutrients and the veterinary school at UC Davis points out that beef heart is high in the essential amino acid taurine.

2. Hoki

You may not have ever heard of Hoki (or Blue Grenadier as it’s also called) but it’s a sustainable fish that’s primarily found around Oceania. As with most fish, Hoki is rich in protein and fatty acids. Because it’s listed without any qualifications and Feline Natural adheres to AAFCO requirements, we know that this includes some quality cuts of meat.

3. Beef

You may not see beef in many cat food recipes but it most certainly checks the boxes we’re looking for in terms of quality proteins. Again, because this ingredient comes without any additional qualifiers we know that it includes some quality cuts.

4. Beef Kidney

While organ meats may have a bad reputation with some folks, our cats would have happily eaten all parts of whatever animal that hunted. Additionally, veterinarian Dr. Coates explains that “kidneys can provide high levels of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, iron, phosphorus, and sodium” which can all be beneficial for our feline friends.

5. Beef Liver

The last ingredient is again sourced from animals and provides cats with extra flavor and vitamin A.

Complete Ingredients and Guaranteed Analysis

Here’s the full list of ingredients inside the Beef & Hoki feast recipe and it’s hard not to notice just how short it is:

Beef Heart, Hoki, Beef, Beef Kidney, Beef Liver, Beef Blood, Sunflower Oil, Flaxseed Flakes, New Zealand Green Mussel, Dried Kelp, Taurine, Vitamin E Supplement, Magnesium Oxide, Zinc Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid, Water added for processing.

Here’s the guaranteed analysis on a dry matter basis (moisture removed):

  • 51% protein
  • <5% carbohydrates
  • 34.8% fat
  • 1% fiber

 

How To Pick The Best Dry Kibble For Your Individual Cat

Most folks will do just fine starting with our best overall pick, runner up, or best on a budget but let’s break down some of the other factors that will help you figure out which brand is right for your specific feline friend.

Medical History

If your cat has any preexisting conditions then you’ll want to consult with your veterinarian and that sort that out first. Nutrition is a critical part of your cat’s health and the right food can make a world of difference for your feline friend.

Age and Life Stage

Even though we’re only focusing on dry cat food for adult felines on this list, as cats age their nutritional needs can change. Most notably, geriatric or senior cats, which are usually defined as cats older than 8, will usually be less active and need less food. VCA Hospitals suggests dropping calories by around 20% to 30% for cats in this age range, with some exceptions for active senior kitties of course.

Reducing portions is the most obvious way to do this but feeding a high quality (usually higher protein) food can also reduce the amount of “empty calories” to better match an older cat’s activity level.

If your veterinarian is on board, increasing fiber content can be another great way to make this work as well. Fiber doesn’t contribute to overall calories intake and can help cats feel more full. So adding in a higher fiber brand, like our pick for the best dry kibble for weight control, can help reduce total calorie intake without making your older cat feel like they’re losing out on their usual portions.

However, not all cats react well to fiber so make sure to start slow and watch up for any upset tummies.

Activity Level and Current Weight

Then there are the young cats that just aren’t active or cats that already have a weight problem.

Higher fiber can work for these cats too but in some cases just reducing overall carbohydrates and getting cats on a more species-appropriate diet is even better. The folks at Texas A&M Veterinary explain that “Past studies evaluating the use of a canned low carb, high-protein (45 percent or higher) diet for weight loss in cats has revealed that all cats lost weight and maintained lean body mass.”

The majority of dry cat foods on this list are at least 45 percent protein and our budget option is within 1 percent of that target. Not only that, but our best and best overall brands are very low in carbohydrates- especially compared to other dry foods so they’re right in line with this suggestion from Texas A&M.

Food Preferences

“Preferences” is putting it nicely and many cats will flat out refuse to eat anything that isn’t up to standard. Of course, many cats will come around within a few hours of their hunger strike but we still want to feed cats foods they like.

Our list of the best dry cat food brands has included a huge range of primary protein sources which will usually make the biggest impact on taste. Consider branching out from the usual chicken to things like rabbit, duck, and beef to see what your cat likes. Beyond protein used, there’s a huge amount of variety between freeze-dried additions, baked vs traditional production, kibble size, and more.

Budget

Quality protein isn’t cheap and finding the best dry cat food isn’t just about what’s inside…it’s also about what you pay for it.

There’s no doubt that the best overall pick is premium cat food, but our best on a budget pick is a great option as well.

Just know that you can find great dry cat food at a great price that fits your budget!

Watch Your Cat’s Water Intake When Feeding Dry Food

Cats are notoriously bad at drinking water but it’s not their fault. In the wild, cats would get the majority of their hydration from eating rats and mice that they captured as prey. Wet food can provide a similar effect and cats that get canned will likely drink less water and be better hydrated.

But if you’re feeding your cat a mostly dry food diet you’ll need to take some extra considerations to keep your feline friend hydrated.

Consider A Water Fountain

Cats can’t help but be interested in moving water! Not only is it more fun to play with, but it’s possible that their instincts remind them that moving water is more likely to be safe, and therefore more appealing when compared to stale, stagnant water.

By introducing a water fountain, you can increase the visual appeal, taste, and even quality of the water your cat drinks. Even if your cat is frequently eating wet food, adding a water foundation and increasing hydration is almost always a good thing.

Have More Than One Water Bowl

A study by Royal Canin found that cats prefer multiple water locations and even cats that had a perfectly good bowl of water still enjoyed drinking from the occasional water pail. That means one of the easiest ways to improve hydration is to add more water bowls and strategically place each of them in prime feline real estate. That usually means away from food and should include the occasional elevated spot as well.

Consider Adding Water Or Something Extra To Your Cat’s Dry Kibble

Adding a little extra moisture to your cat’s dry food is a great way to get the benefits of both types of wet and dry cat food.

Water is the obvious choice, but cats can also drink goat milk and a handful of other liquids. Just about any dry cat food can handle a little extra moisture and some of the freeze-dried options are specifically made for extra moisture.

If you go this route, just make sure that you don’t leave your dry cat food and water combination out too long. Not only will it quickly become uninteresting to cats but moisture can also increase the risk of various toxins in the kibble.

Is Wet Food Better Than Dry Kibble?

With all this talk about moisture and carbohydrates, you may be wondering if you should be feeding your cat dry food at all?

While wet food is often promoted as the best option, it’s not always so clear-cut. I know it’s not the most satisfying answer but even when you look at dozens of studies analyzing the pros and cons of both wet or dry food, what’s best for your cat will depend on your individual feline’s needs.

That means you should consider things like your cat’s hydration, protein needs, activity level and food preferences and then see how your choice of wet or dry food satisfies those needs and adjust as needed.

Frequently Asked Questions

We’ve covered a lot of information but you still might have a few questions about finding the perfect dry cat food brand so let’s go over some of the more common questions along with some quick answers!

What is the #1 dry cat food?

The best dry food will vary between individual cats but the majority of cats will benefit from a high protein and low carbohydrate dry food that lines up with their natural diet. Dr. Elsey’s CleanProtein is a great choice with some of the highest protein and lowest carbohydrate content that you’ll find in dry cat food.

What is a good dry cat food for indoor cats?

Indoor cats will benefit from the same dry cat foods as any other cats but may need fewer calories since they’re likely to be less active than outdoor cats. High protein and low carbohydrate dry foods are always a good starting point.

How do I choose dry cat food?

Cats need protein so always start by looking for at least 35% protein and the first ingredient should be an animal-based protein. You’ll want to see other proteins within the first 5 ingredients and avoid recipes where carbohydrates make the majority of the main ingredients.

Closing Thoughts

There you have it!

Everything you need to know about selecting the best dry cat food for your favorite feline friend!

I know we covered a lot of information here but selecting the right brand for your cat is one of the most important things you can do so it’s worth the time to research.

What do you think? Did you find your new favorite dry cat food brand? Or more importantly, did your cat find what they were looking for?