Actual good dry cat food?
January 14, 2020 2:20 PM   Subscribe

I want to begin combination-feeding my cats, who have been healthy on a raw diet. But so many recent reviews of all-natural or organic dry cat food are disturbing, with many 1-star reviews, news of reformulations, acquisitions by megacorporations and quality declines, recalls, lawsuits, etc. While online reviews can be biased toward extraordinary experiences, it's still concerning. Can you recommend an all-natural, safe dry cat food, without a lot of grain or potato fillers, available on Amazon Prime ideally, that I can count on to be healthy for my cats?

I wrote this question up yesterday and then one of my cats sat on my laptop and somehow restarted it. So starting over...

The cats currently eat Darwin's Natural Pet Products' Natural Selections raw food, Smallbatch sliders, and Vital Essentials' freeze-dried minnows. They're very healthy, but I want to begin combination-feeding them during the day for a number of reasons. I'll save some space and time for folks who don't want to read through all this and put it in small print.

1. They are intensely needy about food and very food-insecure, probably from their past life as indoor-outdoor deli cats. It's exceedingly difficult to prepare any food—theirs or mine—without continually fending them off. I want to provide free-feeding opportunities to help them feel more secure in their food supply.

2. Their food insecurity extends to things like stealing an entire hamburger in its wrapper and running off with it, with just a moment's lapse of attention, grabbing an entire package of hamburger buns and running off with it, gobbling their food very very quickly, etc. I also had to put a drying rack over the sink to keep them from going into it and licking everything.

3. I work remotely now, but during periods of travel and coworking, it would be much more convenient to be able to let them free-feed on a set amount of dry food during the day, with wet raw food morning and night.

4. I am aware of the potential pitfalls of dry food—too little water from diet, eventual possibility of kidney disease, too many fillers that they wouldn't normally eat leading to obesity and other disease, etc. But the cats do have a fountain and would still receive wet raw food morning and night.

Unfortunately, what I've found so far in my research and reading reviews of dry food is disturbing. These aren't even all the brands I researched; when my cat accidentally shut down my computer yesterday, I lost some of my Amazon research, heh, including some really horrific reports of dry food brands that seem implicated in cats' deaths.

1. Blue Buffalo has had many recent complaints of alleged incredible declines in quality, multiple pets, both cats and dogs, vomiting blood, declining significantly and dying, etc. So that brand is absolutely off the table. I know someone who used to use it and has switched due to these issues.

2. Natural Balance was another recommendation, but reviews speculate a recent reformulation, since it was bought by Smuckers, and increased sugar with the new ownership. There are a lot of reports of the new formulation bringing back cats' allergies.

3. Taste of the Wild was a recommendation that has terrible recent reviews, with speculation of a recent reformulation, talk of cats vomiting with new bags, etc.

4. Similarly, Wellness CORE Grain Free seems to have had mixed reviews recently and a lot of reports of cats simply turning their noses up at recent bags of it. Apparently reports on Wellness Complete Health Grain Free have suggested that it has an incredibly high level of lead.

5. Instinct Original, same deal, recent reviews all mention a change in formulation and the addition of chemicals that are implicated in increased vomiting and diarrhea in cats.

6. Orijen/ACANA Regionals, same kind of deal, apparently the company moved to the U.S. from Canada and has reformulated. There are many reports of cats getting sick, getting diarrhea, having bloody stools, with high levels of heavy metals, potential lawsuits, etc.

7. Muse Natural Grain Free, similarly, apparently has a very high level of carbs.

And so on. I would rather continue as is, despite the food insecurity and resulting behavioral issues, than risk harming these cats with bad food. So does safe, all-natural dry cat food exist, without a ton of grain, potato fillers, heavy metals, bugs, etc.? What can you recommend?
posted by limeonaire to Pets & Animals (23 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
i have my cats on tiki cat's born carnivore chicken and they love it and are having no major digestive issues. the brand has been consistent, and i got them a fountain to help get more water in them. i also supplement with tiki cat chicken wet food when i have to give them a treat (cutting claws, etc), and they seem to really love that too. both are available on amazon, or chewy.
posted by koroshiya at 2:31 PM on January 14

My cat eats Farmina dry cat food. We landed on it because she was super picky when we adopted her and puked all the time. She runs to the bowl when we feed her now, but it didn’t fix her scarf and barfing. It’s grain-free, made in Europe (which I guess has higher standards?), and available at the local pet store, so we’ll keep on keeping on. She likes the wild boar and lamb flavors. She also eats some fancy local pet food deli wet food and pukes that, too...

If you research it and find anything bad, let me know!
posted by Maarika at 2:42 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

I decided to trust my vet's recommendation for Royal Canin dry cat food. (We don't buy our food from the vet, so that's not affecting her recommendations.) Their ingredients list may contain things that don't sound as lovely as those in the grain-free brands, but they haven't had the problems that some of those brands have had, because they've actually tested the foods to make sure they really are good for the animals.

My two cats love Royal Canin Feline Health Nutrition Spayed/Neutered Appetite Control Dry Cat Food. They would prefer that I give that to them all the time, although I make them eat wet food, too. I measure out their allotment (at this point it's one cup between the two of them) and give it to them at my bedtime. It's usually gone by the time I've finished my own breakfast the next day.
posted by chromium at 2:54 PM on January 14 [4 favorites]

I like the ethos of Open Farm, and I like that they have set up a program through terracycle for recycling their bags. That shows to me that they're probably not entirely about the bottom line.
posted by euphoria066 at 3:04 PM on January 14

I feed my cat the Farmina N&D line linked above, he LOVES it. It’s expensive but I only give him a little snack to supplement his wet food. Honestly he loves it so much I’m a little worried about free feeding, even though I’ve wanted to experiment with it for times I’m out of the house for a day or two to make my life easier.

Edited to add I think you can get it on Chewy.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 3:12 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Full disclosure - this is my site: CatFoodDB. The site reviews over 3000 individual cat food products - just about every commercially available cat food in North America. We rate the foods based on ingredients (quality protein sources rank high, cheap filler carbs rank low) and nutrition (high protein is good, high carbs is bad). We also have our "best dry cat food" blog post, but if your criteria differs from the ones used here you can use the search page to examine the data a bit and find something you like. Anything with an orange "check price" button is available in Amazon (or was at some point) and a blue button links to

But to comment on the research you've done already, you're right - most (all?) dry foods aren't nearly as good as their canned counterparts. A dry cat food's very nature means they're full of carb fillers to hold them into kibble form, and cats dont need carbs - they need protein, ideally from animal sources.

With that in mind, you might want to look into freeze-dried (shelf stable) raw, if your cat will eat it in that state (ie without added water). Off the top of my head Stella & Chewys has a decent product, for example, but looking back at the blog post it looks like there are others that rank even higher.
posted by cgg at 3:13 PM on January 14 [24 favorites]

Another vote for Tiki Cat Born Carnivore. Tiki Cat Dash Tuna Flakes are her favorite treat, too.
posted by sweltering at 3:33 PM on January 14

For dry kibble, we feed out cat Petcurean Go Carnivore (grain-free chicken, turkey, and duck recipe). The first several ingredients are meat: chicken, turkey, duck, salmon, and trout. I also like that it's manufactured in Canada.

It did look like some of the Amazon reviews for the product complained about expiration dates, though. We order ours from, and have never had a problem with expired food.
posted by oiseau at 3:37 PM on January 14

My vet raised a concern this fall about the instinct limited ingredient food my cats love, because there is some evidence the "no carbs = bad for dog's hearts" applies to cats too, though all of it is still preliminary. I think of cats as obligate carnivores, so this is hard for me to mentally model in a way that makes sense, and would love if a cat nutrition pro could weigh in on this thread.
posted by lorimt at 4:03 PM on January 14

I also feed Petcurean Go grain-free varieties. I feed my dogs raw food but my cat wasn't interested in any that we tried, and he scarfs and barfs wet food*, so dry food it is!

I understand completely your worries about pet food safety. I am also extremely skeptical of most manufacturers and as you can tell by my raw feeding, I want to give my companion animals food they're meant to digest, not fillers. I got the recommendation for the Petcurean Go line from a local pet store who carries an extremely limited and very well researched variety of dry food. I’ve also met some of the Petcurean reps at events (for my volunteer work with animals) and found them to be knowledgeable.

One thing I caution is using Amazon as a source for those kind of reports because there is no verifiable way to make sure those aren't reviews planted by competitors, a known problem on Amazon. I started to get suspicious after I saw essentially the same review, posted on the same day but from different accounts, in the same kind of writing style that said variations of “I fed my cat this dry food and he went into kidney failure and died, this shouldn't be allowed on the market!” on a bunch of different brands when I was trying to find a bag I felt safe buying on PrimeNow when I ran out with foster kittens and needed food quickly.

I do tend to trust Chewy reviews, I buy my food locally but I do use Chewy to do research because I like how easy it is to find ingredient lists and people usually ask the same questions I have in the Q&A section.

* Also this is unsolicited so ignore if it's not helpful, but I use this for dry food around the house because my cat actually scarfs and barfs dry food too, since cats are hunters it can be really enriching to set up food like this. Maybe it's the opposite of what your cats need since you said they have food insecurity! I thought of it while reading your question though because they do seem to already been skillfully hunting for food in your house and maybe this will satisfy that urge in a safer way.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 4:05 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

I feed my cat Ziwi Peak canned food, but they have a dry food version. It's not like your typical kibble; the dry version is basically like little tiny pieces of beef jerky (in texture/appearance). I've been really happy with this brand of food, and when I've reached out to the company with a question, they were very responsive and helpful.
posted by litera scripta manet at 4:09 PM on January 14

lorimt: One major problem with the study from Tufts University that's behind the stories about grain-free diets is that it was paid for by the largest pet food companies. Here’s a thorough takedown of it.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 4:11 PM on January 14 [2 favorites]

Our cats eat Hill's® Prescription Diet® w/d (see
Our vet prescribed it. Here's the amazon link:
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:27 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

We feed our cats a few different wet foods and the Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Duck dry food. It's the only food our picky eater ever gets excited about. He'll eat more of his wet food now that we've switched to flavors that he digests poorly because he was wasting all the other flavors and only eating his kibble, getting no liquid or dietary diversity in the process, but this particular crunchy food has been a hit for years and kept me calm when I was freaking out about him not eating enough.

I didn't know about the Smuckers acquisition. Looking into it a bit they appear to have been bought off of Del Monte in 2015. It appears there's been some recall shenanigans with the dog food recently. Have the complaints you've been seeing been about the limited ingredient diet flavors, or the other ones? I imagine that a reformulation to the LID flavors would be less drastic. Anyway I can happily report that our picky allergic cat has suffered no ill effects in the past four years.

Regardless, pet food is almost always a series of compromises. If my picky cat would be like my other cat and just eat anything in sight at light speed I wouldn't do dry food, but if I didn't do dry food my picky cat would have starved himself. You won't be able to find the "perfect" dry food, you just won't. People get intense about pet food in ways they don't really get about people food, I think it's something about the human/pet relationship and trust and reliability and stuff? It leads to outrage in reviews and accusations that companies ignore because culturally pet food is going through a transition right now, because the place of pets in our homes is changing too. You're clearly on one end of the bell curve, so you're not going to have your needs particularly well-met by companies. But please know there are tons of amazing wonderful cat owners with amazing wonderful healthy cats who feed them a bunch of different dry food all the time.
posted by Mizu at 5:48 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

My kitty had diarrhea on Iams so we tried Hill Science Diet and he's been happy since. He also gets a tiny bit of wet food each day. He's a healthy guy.
posted by emjaybee at 10:06 PM on January 14

Popping up to second the recommendation to look into adding in some kind of foraging component for them. The foraging/food puzzle is basically both free-feeding that reduces scarf and barf and also mental challenge that is supposed to help them use those instincts and energy in productive ways by "hunting" for their food. There are a lot of options. But from the way you describe their behavior it sounds like your cats might benefit in multiple ways from feeling like they can get food whenever they like by "hunting" for it.

I think I am a lot less particular that you are about which food I feed my cat - he's been thriving for 13+ years on "protein-first kibble from the pet store" and "grocery store wet food by Purina or whatever" - but I would encourage you to take online reviews with about a ton of salt, because there is a LOT of review manipulation that goes on and also a lot of companies that pay for reviews "off the books" through various complicated schemes (not to mention the ones who just pay for fake reviews outright on themselves or competition.)
posted by oblique red at 9:25 AM on January 15

My diabetic cat eats Dr. Elsey's Clean Protein Chicken dry formula that I have autoshipped to me from Chewy's. Catfooddb referenced by cgg in an earlier post gives it 9 out of 10 for dry cat foods. I don't know cgg but I do think the blog is an excellent source of information and contains a link to order it on Chewy's as well.
posted by Gino on the Meta at 11:26 AM on January 15

If you want to try an inexpensive forage feeding application; buy a few wiffle balls; tape all but one hole closed and then fill with dry food. My carb loving kitty loves pushing around the treat ball for intermittent rewards.
posted by mightshould at 4:58 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]

I have to feed one of my cats a kidney-safe diet ever since she had urate stones removed. I ended up feeding her just regular Science Diet 7+ cat food after a year and a half on very expensive renal disease food since she doesn't have kidney failure, just a messed up bladder and has been fine on it for years now. When we got our FIV+ cat, I just fed him the same thing and he's doing great - shiny fur, reduced skin problems, doesn't smell bad anymore. FIV+ cats have their own set of problems and feeding them a raw diet is strongly discouraged. (Would you let immune compromised people eat unwashed salad? Probably not.)

It's not fancy food but with my combined problem cats it works. I give them both moist and dry.
posted by fiercekitten at 7:58 PM on January 15

Yeah, online reviews and databases aren’t by pet nutritionists, and are often by people trying to make money.

My understanding is that cat food needs some non-meat content because cats naturally eat some plants and the plant-based stomach contents of their prey (and some bones and dirt and...). Factory farmed/ domesticated animals also have a different nutritional profile from wild mice/birds.

I feed my cat Purina Pro Plan kibble, changing up the variety to avoid her getting too attached to only one. They do AAFCO feeding trials. There’s a previous pet food AskMe or FPP about grain free food that convinced me to do some more research and switch to a brand that does trials, but I’m not up for finding it on mobile. Anecdotally, her poop stinks less than when she was on midrange grain free foods, which is a nice bonus.

Her puzzle feeding is kicking the automatic feeder until it drops a couple extra bits - she loves both eating and attention so much that I wanted to offload some of her persuasive energies.
posted by momus_window at 9:59 PM on January 15

It's funny, our creatures will refuse to taste any brand of wet food except for one paritcular flavour of Natural Balance that they like; but they'll consume any dry brand, so we just cycle thru various decent quality grain-free brands and try a different one every time. They're good cats. Yeah, they poop outside the box sometimes, but hey.
posted by ovvl at 5:02 PM on January 16

Follow-up: I tried Farmina, and the cats liked it, though they didn't love it as much as their usual raw food. That actually seemed like a bonus, as it seemed to calm them a bit, both in terms of food anxiety and energy levels. Unfortunately, so far it's a no go, just like canned cat food, 'cause both types give them and their leavings such a strong scent. When they eat just raw food and freeze-dried fish treats, on the other hand, you would scarcely know there are cats around on the basis of scent alone. We're exploring other ways to establish a routine and reduce their food neediness. That said, if anyone looks back at this and can let me know if the dry food they recommend above doesn't give cats a super strong scent, I'm up for giving it another shot!
posted by limeonaire at 12:34 PM on February 4

Update: Tried it again, this time with much more food in the bowl at the beginning of the day, and it has actually made a big difference in the cats' overall calmness and ability to resist the charms of people food. So right now, the regimen is wet raw food first thing, dry food filling a bowl immediately after, wet raw food again for dinner. When they don't only eat dry food and we scoop in a timely manner, the scent is manageable! So far, so good!
posted by limeonaire at 6:03 PM on February 13

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