As natural obligate carnivores, cats don’t need grains in their diets. For some cats, grains might even make them sick. We’ll show you how to choose the best grain free cat food for your kitty. You’ll learn about the benefits and how to decide what type of food is best for your cat. Our top pick is: Instinct Original Grain Free Recipe Natural Dry Cat Food
Whether your cat has a food allergy or you prefer your cat has a more natural diet, grain free cat food is worth trying.
Here are the top 7 best grain free cat foods:
- Instinct Original Grain Free Recipe Natural Dry Cat Food
- WELLNESS CORE Natural Grain Free Dry Cat Food
- Nulo Grain Free Dry Cat Food
- Solid Gold – Let’s Stay In – Grain Free – Indoor Formula
- Tiki Cat Grill Grain Free, Low-Carbohydrate Wet Food
- Purina Beyond Grain Free, Natural, Adult Wet Cat Food
- Weruva B.F.F. OMG – Best Feline Friend Oh My Gravy!
Why choose a grain free cat food?
Before we get into which grain free cat food is the best, let’s talk about what a grain free diet is. Grain free cat food doesn’t contain common grains such as corn, barley, wheat, or rice.
There are several reasons you may consider a grain free diet for your cat — and other reasons not to! Let’s start with why this type of food may be right for your cat.
Some cats have food allergies, which can include grains (1). Cats with grain allergies can experience adverse reactions to foods containing grains. Symptoms of cat food allergies may include:
- Excessive grooming, bald patches, and hair loss.
- Itchy and inflamed skin.
- Scabs and sores.
Some cats may have an intolerance rather than a full-blown allergy. If so, your furry friend could experience gastric symptoms when consuming grains, such as diarrhea or sickness.
If you notice any negative changes in your cat after eating grains, consult your vet. They may recommend performing an elimination diet to determine what is causing the symptoms.
Is a grain free diet better for cats?
Besides being the best choice if your cat has allergies, there are a few surprising benefits of feeding your cat a diet free of grains.
Pros of a grain free diet
- Grain free cat foods more closely mimic a cat’s natural diet. Felines are obligate carnivores, meaning their diet primarily consists of proteins from animal tissue or meat. In the wild, grains would likely be off the menu (2).
- Some cat food brands use grains as fillers. Manufacturers add grains to bulk up the number of carbs in their food. Grains are relatively inexpensive, so grain free cat foods typically contain higher quality ingredients.
- With grains, there’s always the possibility that your cat is intolerant or allergic. A grain free cat food would eliminate that concern.
- Your cat may feel a lot better on grain free cat food because it is easier to digest.
Cons of a grain free diet
Although a grain free diet can benefit your cat, it’s important to consider the brand you choose carefully.
- When removing grains from cat food, something needs to replace it. In grain free foods, this is often fat, which could cause an imbalance in your cat’s diet. Even though fat is essential to a cat’s diet, excessive amounts can lead to trouble. Particularly when combined with a sedentary lifestyle (3).
- Many cat parents opt for grain free cat food because grains are higher in carbohydrates and are associated with obesity. However, carbs from grains aren’t always the cause of weight gain (4). Giving your cat table scraps or overfeeding can also result in obesity.
- Most grains contain gluten, which can trigger an allergic reaction in some cats.
- Grain free cat food is often more expensive than those containing grains. That said, your cat will need smaller portions to meet their daily nutritional requirements. A bag of grain free cat food may last longer, which can balance out the cost.
Does grain free cat food contain more protein?
Protein is a vital part of your cat’s diet. Unlike other animals, such as dogs, a cat’s primary energy source is animal protein (5). Proteins provide essential amino acids, which are converted into energy.
Grain free cat foods often contain more protein to compensate for the lack of grain. However, the amount of protein depends on the brand and product quality.
Low-end manufacturers will sometimes replace grains with poor-quality proteins like by-product meals. This is an issue because tracing where the by-products come from is hard and your cat may consume contaminated ingredients (6).
Some grain free options that are higher in protein may contain more significant amounts of phosphorus. While phosphorus is an essential nutrient, your cat can consume too much. Studies revealed that foods high in phosphorus foods could lead to kidney disease in cats(7).
How to choose the best grain free food for your cat
Choosing a new food for your cat is not a decision to take lightly. Cats require a complete and balanced diet to thrive. We’ve compiled a few points to consider when searching for the best cat grain free food for your cat. Always consult your vet before making a change to your cat’s diet.
Consider the brand
If you choose to buy grain free cat food, it’s a good idea to compare brands. Quality control in both sourcing and manufacturing is essential, but not all brands do it.
Unfortunately, you can’t just rely on the nutrition label and will need to visit a brand’s website for more information. The best cat food brands also have consumer relations departments and are happy to answer questions.
Wet or dry?
Grain free cat food can be wet or dry. The type you choose typically depends on your cat’s dietary needs and your budget.
Wet vs. dry food is a highly debated subject. Some cat parents claim wet food is better than dry food and vice versa. Others argue that cats do best eating both. However, it often comes down to price and convenience.
Cats need to stay well hydrated but often don’t drink enough water. In the wild, cats get most of their moisture from their food. Wet cat food can contain up to 78% moisture (8). So, it makes sense to mimic this by offering wet cat food.
Dry cat food is longer-lasting, more convenient, and relatively inexpensive compared to wet food. It’s also easy to store and works better for free-feeding. Check out some of the best dry cat food brands here.
Review the ingredients
Reading the ingredient list is vital. Remember that brands list each ingredient according to their weight. Ingredients higher in moisture such as poultry, beef, and fish are usually listed first.
Further down the list, you’ll find key nutrients like protein without moisture. Next, you’ll find essential nutrients such as taurine, vitamins, and minerals (9).
When researching grain free cat food, make sure grains are replaced with an equivalent or better ingredient. By-products are okay, but only if the label states a source. Avoid all brands that list “animal by-product!”
Analyze the nutrients
Most cat foods have a nutrition label listing analysis of the ingredients. This list tells you the minimum percentage of fat and protein the food contains. It also shows the percentage of maximum fiber and moisture.
Comparing your top grain free cat food choices can help you see which is better in terms of nutrients. However, don’t use it as a guarantee of ingredient quality or digestibility.
Consider your cat’s life stage
Felines have different dietary needs throughout their life (10). Always consider your cat’s age when selecting a type of food.
The best food for kittens is high in fat and protein. They need a balanced diet to support their growing bodies and minds.
In contrast, a senior cat may need a diet that will give them an energy boost. Your chosen cat food should also be compatible with any ailments your cat has.
Review AAFCO guidelines
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has guidelines pet food manufacturers must adhere to. These guidelines prevent cat food brands from excluding certain details from their labels.
If a brand advertises the food as having a single ingredient, it must have at least 95% of that ingredient. The same applies if it states a combination, like a turkey and chicken (11). However, this requirement excludes water.
The AAFCO guidelines are a great resource because they give you an idea of a food’s overall quality.
Frequently asked questions about cat food
What is the best cat food for indoor cats?
An indoor cat needs a complete and balanced diet to ensure optimal health. The downside to having your cat inside is the limited exercise opportunities (12).
Less activity means an increased chance of weight gain and its side effects. With that in mind, it’s crucial to fine-tune your feeding routine.
There are many special foods available created specifically for indoor cats. These foods often contain fewer carbs to prevent weight gain.
In addition to the food you’re feeding your cat, consider the schedule at which you feed them.
Many cats prefer free-feeding (13). Free-feeding is where you leave a portion of food out for your cat to nibble on throughout the day. Avoid doing this with wet cat food as it can go stale or rancid.
Cat parents can also get indoor cats used to eating several smaller portions throughout the day. This feeding schedule is especially beneficial if your cat is overweight. Just be sure to consult your vet before making any drastic dietary changes.
What is the healthiest cat food on the market?
There’s isn’t a one-way answer to which food is the healthiest for your cat. As a carnivore, your cat needs animal protein to maintain optimal health (14). That being said, the type of cat food you choose will depend on your cat’s age and health.
If you’re in doubt about what food to give your cat, consult your vet. They can examine your cat and help you come up with a healthy feeding plan.
What is the best cat food recommended by vets?
When asking a veterinarian what food is best for a cat, they’ll probably give you an answer similar to this: any cat food that’s high in protein, moderate in fat, and has minimal carbohydrates is suitable.
Your cat also needs a dozen nutrients, minerals, vitamins, fatty, and amino acids. It’s important to note that although your cat needs these nutrients, they can quickly get too much.
Adding supplements isn’t always necessary, especially if your cat is already eating complete and balanced food. Too much of the good stuff can do more harm than good (15).
The best food for your cat always comes from a quality brand to ensure they receive a properly balanced diet.
Reviews of the best grain free cat food
Now that we’ve discussed the benefits of a grain free diet, let’s review some of the best grain free cat foods.
If you’re looking for a more natural take on dry cat food, we recommend Instinct Original.
This grain free option consists of cage-free chicken, and up to 81% of its ingredients are meat. In our opinion, it’s the best dry food for cats.
Instinct Original is a high protein formula made without potato, soy, or by-product meal. In addition to animal protein, it contains wholesome fruits and veggies.
What sets this dry cat food apart from the rest is its raw-coated pieces. Each morsel contains a coating of freeze-dried raw taste and nutrition. Thanks to this process, the flavor is more intense, and fewer nutrients are lost.
We also appreciate the minimal processing involved in producing this food. Instinct Original is made in the U.S. with ingredients sourced from reputable suppliers from around the world.
One thing to be aware of, however, is that the recipe contains peas. Although it increases the fiber content naturally, it’s not suitable for all cats.
- Freeze-dried raw coated dry cat food.
- High protein.
- Made from cage-free chicken.
- Minimally processed.
- Quality ingredients.
- Contains wholesome fruits and veggies.
- Contains peas, which isn’t suitable for all cats.
Despite being grain free, this option from Wellness Core is high protein. It contains 80% more animal protein than traditional cat foods, including those with grains. It’s one of the best dry cat foods.
This is a natural, delicious recipe made with turkey, chicken, whitefish, and herring. The formula also includes a healthy dose of wholesome vegetables and essential vitamins and minerals.
Wellness Core supports overall health, cellular activity, and disease-resistance by boosting your cat’s immune system.
The recipe is rich in antioxidants and omega fatty acids for a shiny coat and healthy skin. It also includes live prebiotics and probiotics to aid your cat’s digestion and gut health.
What we like about Wellness Core is that it doesn’t add fillers to its formulas. There are no animal by-products or artificial flavors; its taste is natural meat. Wellness Core produces everything in the US, and its products come with the Wellness Guarantee.
This formula is suitable for adult cats over a year old. It isn’t compatible with kittens, pregnant, or nursing momma cats.
One thing to consider is that dry food pieces are tiny. Some cats may find it difficult to chew and will instead swallow them whole.
- Contains a mix of animal-based proteins.
- High protein.
- Free of fillers, additives, and other unnecessary components.
- Rich in antioxidants and omega fatty acids.
- Fortified with essential vitamins and minerals.
- Small pieces.
- Contains phosphorus.
For indoor cats, we suggest this recipe from Nulo. It’s grain free and consists of a high-meat, low-carb principle.
The formula contains 83% animal-based protein. It’s high in natural amino acids and, of course, that meaty flavor.
A great element of this recipe is the low carb content, which is excellent for an indoor cat that doesn’t get much exercise. To avoid reducing the nutrient content, Nulo replaced the carbohydrates with low-glycemic ingredients, including sweet potato, lentils, and chickpeas.
Another fantastic component is the patented BC30 probiotic. This ingredient supports healthy gut flora, aiding in digestion, immune response, and metabolism regulation.
This formula also contains Nulo’s disk-shaped morsels. They’re quite small compared to other brands, but they pack a punch of flavor.
Nulo states the disc shape helps to maintain your cat’s teeth. However, you should still perform regular cleanings to prevent a build-up of tartar and plaque. Read our in-depth review of Nulo cat food lineup here: leluandbobo.com/nulo-cat-food.
- High-protein, low-carb formula.
- Contains low-glycemic ingredients.
- Tailored for indoor cats.
- Includes patented BC30 probiotics.
- Disk-shaped morsels.
- Small pieces.
- Not all cats like the taste.
If your cat has a problem with hairballs, consider this option from Solid Gold. This is another recipe suitable for indoor cats and was created with their needs in mind.
The formula includes non-fermentable fiber from ingredients such as peas and lentils to naturally reduce the formation of hairballs. It’s also fortified with probiotics and is suitable for sensitive stomachs.
Solid Gold’s Let Stay In formula includes live probiotics that continue to remain viable until consumed. Once inside your cat’s digestive system, probiotics aid in digestion and gut health.
This recipe contains 100% salmon. It’s free of any by-product meals, offering an authentic seafood taste. Solid Gold also emphasizes that it obtains all its ingredients from high-quality sources.
In addition to protein, this formula contains a blend of superfoods, including almonds, broccoli, pumpkin, and lentils. There are also essential minerals and vitamins to help your cat thrive.
Solid Gold is passionate about delivering high-quality food produced within the U.S. and offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee.
- Reduces hairballs.
- Contains non-fermentable fiber.
- Fortified with live probiotics.
- High in omega fatty acids to support skin and coat health.
- Includes superfoods like pumpkin and almonds.
- 100% satisfaction guarantee.
- Small pieces.
- Contains peas and pea protein.
If your cat prefers wet cat food, this option from Tiki Cat should suffice. This is a grain free, low-carb formula suitable for any cat who can’t resist a little gravy.
With a recipe designed to suit all life stages, Tiki Cat’s formula provides complete and balanced nutrition. It’s high in moisture, with tender morsels sitting in a rich seafood consomme.
Tiki Cat sells a variety pack with a bundle of six different seafood-inspired flavor combinations. This is a fantastic way to see which flavors your kitty likes and keep them from getting bored with their food.
One thing that we like about Tiki Cat is that you can see what’s in the food. Instead of being a mush of ingredients, you can clearly see the morsels and what they are.
Each can has a protein-rich recipe without fillers, by-products, carrageenan, or grains. All ingredients come from high-quality sources and are rich in omega fatty acids to support skin and coat health.
One thing to consider is that you shouldn’t give this canned food to your cat daily. Because all recipes contain seafood and chicken, it can do more harm than good if you feed your cat too much.
- Variety pack consisting of six different flavor combos.
- Grain free and low-carb.
- Rich in moisture with a seafood consomme.
- Looks like real food.
- High protein.
- No fillers or artificial components.
- Supports skin and coat health.
- Not suitable as a sole diet.
- Cans are small.
Purina Beyond is a natural, grain free wet cat food recipe. This option is free of gluten, corn, soy, wheat, and poultry by-products. It’s a wholesome formula that provides your cat with a 100% complete and balanced diet.
This is a recipe suitable for adult cats. The food is made with high-quality ingredients and is high in protein. Purina Beyond also offers a range of flavors, including wild salmon, chicken, beef and carrot, and chicken and sweet potato.
Purina Beyond’s paté style wet cat food also includes wholesome vegetables. Purina stresses that there are no artificial colors, preservatives, or flavors. All of the ingredients come from reputable sources.
Additionally, this grain free cat food has the right amounts of fat, protein, and carbs. It will support a long, healthy life for your cat.
- Free of fillers, grains, and artificial additives.
- High in real animal protein.
- One hundred percent balanced nutrition for adult cats.
- Contains wholesome vegetables.
- Low carb.
- May cause constipation in some cats.
- Not all cats like the texture of paté style canned cat food.
Lastly, we have a wet cat food option from Weruva. Weruva is a family-owned company that has been around for over 10 years. This food is worth checking out if your cat loves gravy.
The Weruva wet cat food collection focuses on nutrition and hydration. With this particular recipe, the main ingredient is cage-free, ground chicken in a tasty gravy. Your cat will love the tender pieces and scrumptious sauce!
Everything in the recipe is land-based. All ingredients are high protein and low fat, so it’s suitable for indoor cats.
Aside from being grain free, this formula doesn’t contain gluten or carrageenans. It’s also completely free of artificial preservatives and colors.
We like that Wervuva makes all of its recipes in human-grade food facilities. Each can has a balance of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
If your cat is a little finicky, Wervuva has other flavors and textures to try. This line of cat food is available in cans, bags, or pouches so you can choose what suits you best.
- Made with cage-free chicken.
- Lots of moisture-rich gravy.
- Tender morsels.
- All proteins are land-based.
- Low in fat.
- Free of artificial additives.
- Fortified with minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.
- Small cans.
- Not all cats like how liquidy this food is.
The best grain free cat food
Grain free cat food is an excellent option if your cat suffers from allergies or needs to lose weight. Because cats are carnivores, they don’t actually need grains.
When looking for the best grain free cat food, always check the ingredients. Make sure it contains ample amounts of high-quality protein from an animal source.
All of the options on our list are worth checking out, but our favorite is the Instinct Original Grain Free Recipe Natural Dry Cat Food. This dry cat food is made from cage-free chicken and contains raw, freeze-dried pieces. It’s grain free and produced with minimal processing.