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I first began exploring grain-free diets for my cats in an attempt to find a healthier kibble. But with the rise in popularity of the grain-free diet, there are virtually endless options. So, what’s the best grain-free cat food? And, taking a step back, is grain-free food really as beneficial as marketers lead you to believe?
Grain-free cat food is precisely what it sounds like—food made without using grains like wheat, barley, rice, and oats. Advocates of the grain-free diet for felines suggest it’s more species-appropriate because cats don’t need refined carbohydrates to thrive. While our kitties love making biscuits, they’re really not digestively suited to eating them.
Grain-free diets are also recommended for cats with allergies. While food allergies in felines are typically caused by animal sources, particularly beef, fish, and chicken, cats may experience allergies to grains.
If, like me, you believe your cat could benefit from a grain-free diet, it’s essential to understand that “grain-free” doesn’t equate to being healthy. See what I discovered when researching grain-free cat food, and view my top picks.
Primal Pet Foods
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Factors To Consider For Grain-Free Cat Food
As I began looking into different pet foods, it became clear that many pet food companies, eager to capitalize on the latest trend, quickly replaced grains with non-grain counterparts such as tapioca and potatoes and slapped a “grain-free” label on the product without considering if these ingredients added value to the recipe. And most of the time, it didn’t.
Instead of increasing the healthy meats and fats in the formulas, manufacturers replaced grains with other plant-based fillers that offer minimal nutritional benefits for our carnivorous friends.
If you’re like me, you want to know that the ingredients in your pet’s food offer bioavailable nutrients that benefit your companion’s health. So, I went looking for grain-free foods with quality meats, healthy fats, and ample vitamins and minerals.
But checking the ingredient list wasn’t enough. I want to know where ingredients are sourced, how they’re processed, and if the product is ethically and sustainably made. Finally, I factored in the cost. High-quality cat food can be hard on the wallet, so I found some affordable grain-free options for the budget-conscious consumer.
Best Overall Grain-Free Cat Food
Feline Natural Review
- All recipes free from grains and gluten
- Low carbohydrate
- Free of fillers, gelling agents, artificial flavors, and preservatives
- GMO-free ingredients
- Ethically-sourced animal protein
- Subscribers to their site get 30% off first delivery and 5% off following orders
Feline Natural is the best grain-free cat food overall and one of the best cat foods I’ve seen. The Feline Natural product line is 100% species-appropriate. It’s grain-free, very low in carbs, and consists primarily of named protein sources.
Feline Natural’s ingredients are sourced in New Zealand and are of human-grade quality. New Zealand boasts one of the cleanest supply chains worldwide, and the country is a leader in eco-friendly technology and climate change initiatives. Agriculture and livestock significantly contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, so the fact that Feline Natural is manufactured in New Zealand is a huge plus. The country has earned a reputation for producing healthy livestock and adhering to high safety and quality standards.
Feline Natural offers canned and freeze-dried meals. All recipes are complete and balanced, high in meat, and low in carbohydrates. Proteins include grass-fed beef, cage-free chicken, free-range lamb, grass-fed venison, and sustainably caught salmon.
Recipes are straightforward and composed of 98%+ muscle meat and organs. Some recipes feature single-origin meat, making them suitable for cats prone to allergies.
Other ingredients include:
- Flaxseed Flakes: Flaxseeds are a source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They support your pet’s immune system and digestive tract and promote healthy skin and coat. Flaxseeds are also a source of dietary fiber that can help your cat pass hairballs.
- New Zealand green-lipped mussels: This shellfish is a source of several anti-inflammatory compounds. It contains icosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to help reduce inflammation. Omega-3s also support healthy skin, coat, joints, heart, and the development and maintenance of the brain and eyes. Green-lipped muscles also contain chondroitin sulfate, a building block of cartilage that may also reduce inflammation.
Feline Natural cat food complies with The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines for a complete and balanced diet. All products are free of grains, gluten, dairy, soy, potato, and fillers. Feline Natural packages its wet food in BPA-free, recyclable cans.
The only downside to Feline Natural is its price. Assuming you have a 10-pound cat, feeding them one of the canned recipes will cost about $4.79 per day. But, if your budget is big enough to cover this brand’s price tag, your pet will be eating one of the best cat foods in the industry.
Runner-Up Grain-Free Cat Food
ZIWI Peak Review
- All recipes free of grains and gluten
- Low carbohydrate
- Free of grains, potatoes, glycerin, and other questionable ingredients
- All recipes contain New Zealand green mussel as a natural source of omega-3 fatty acids
- Ethically-sourced animal protein
- Meat free of GMOs, antibiotics, and growth hormones
Another New Zealand brand, ZIWI Peak makes excellent grain-free cat food packed with high-quality protein sources. All of ZIWI’s recipes are suited to all life stages, including kittens and senior animals. Air-dried recipes are composed of 96% meat, organs, bones, and New Zealand green mussels, with canned options slightly lower at 92%. ZIWI sources 100% of its ingredients from New Zealand.
I like that ZIWI stays away from low-quality factory-farmed meat, instead sourcing from ethical farms and fisheries. Recipes include free-range, grass-fed beef and lamb, free-range poultry, and wild-caught sustainable seafood.
All of ZIWI’s meals also include a 10% Z-BOOST superfood blend, which is composed of sea-derived ingredients:
- Cold-washed green tripe: This is a bioavailable source of amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and probiotics. It supports digestion and is especially helpful for kitties with sensitive stomachs.
- New Zealand green mussels: Green-lipped mussels are rich in omega-3 fatty acids to promote healthy joints, skin, and coat. All ZIWI Peak recipes contain a minimum of 3% green mussels.
- Organic kelp: This seaweed is a source of trace minerals.
All ZIWI recipes meet AAFCO nutrient profiles. Wet foods recipes contain chickpeas, so keep this in mind if you want to keep your cat away from legumes. Air-dried recipes contain inulin from chicory root. Inulin is a prebiotic fiber that supports digestion and feeds the beneficial bacteria in the gut’s microbiome.
To feed a 10-pound cat ZIWI’s canned foods, you’ll spend a whopping $5.76 per day—but anything for your furbaby, right? Air-dried meals are significantly less at $3.42 per day.
Best Raw Grain-Free Cat Food
Primal Pet Foods Review
- All recipes are made without grains, gluten, wheat, corn, lentils, and soy
- USDA Organic ingredients
- Antibiotic, hormone-free meats that are ethically raised
- Made with naturally-derived vitamins and minerals
- Frozen raw, freeze-dried raw, and gently cooked recipes
- Third-party tested
If you’re in the market for raw, grain-free cat food, you can’t beat Primal Pet Foods. Primal gets major points for its quality ingredients and transparent sourcing. I love that you can visit Primal’s website to look up the origin of each ingredient, as well as the health benefits. Not only does this save you time as a conscious consumer, but it also shows the meticulous thought and care that goes into every recipe.
All Primal recipes use only natural, whole-food ingredients. Primal sources its ingredients from vendors that practice sustainable farming and humanely raise their animals. Meats include basics like beef, chicken, and salmon but also less-common selections like venison, buffalo, rabbit, and quail. Instead of feed-grade ingredients, Primal uses only USDA-grade meat, including wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, and cage-free poultry. Farmers raise animals without antibiotics, steroids, or added hormones.
While all Primal recipes are grain-free, they do contain a healthy mix of organic fruit and vegetables, providing vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Absorption rates are typically lower with synthetic vitamins, so I was happy this company uses real food ingredients.
Other standout ingredients include:
- Cage-free/wild-caught muscle meat, organ meat, and ground bone
- Omega-3 fatty acids sourced from anchovies, cod liver oil, and salmon oil
- Gelatin to support the digestive system, bones, joints, and skin
- Mineral-rich, organic kelp powder for healthy skin and coat
- Probiotics to support gut health and immunity
All Primal products meet AAFCO standards. Primal also uses a third-party laboratory to test every batch of finished products for pathogenic bacteria.
Overall, Primal cat food uses top-quality ingredients to formulate its whole prey-inspired recipes. But Primal has drawbacks, too. As with any raw food diet, feeding Primal increases the risk of you and your pet encountering pathogens like Salmonella, Listeria, and E. Coli.
Primal is also significantly more expensive than your average dry food. Purchasing the 14-ounce back of free-dried nuggets for your 10-pound cat will cost about $3.60 daily.
Best Budget Wet Grain-Free Cat Food
Kirkland Signature Review
- All recipes are made without grains, gluten, wheat, corn, and soy
- Made without artificial flavors, colors, preservatives
- Fortified with vitamins and minerals
- 3-favor variety pack (chicken, turkey, and salmon)
- 2-day delivery
Kirkland Signature is Costco’s private label, and while this cat food won’t beat our top pick in terms of variety and ingredient quality, it’s a good choice for those looking for a budget-friendly option that’s grain-free and species-appropriate. (Kirkland’s dry food uses grains and is very carb-heavy, so stick with the wet food.)
The patés come in 3.5-ounce cans sold in a pack of 45 trays. Kirkland Signature manufactures its recipes in the United States from domestic and imported ingredients. Each features animal protein as the first ingredient.
There are three recipes: chicken, turkey, and salmon. Recipes are pretty similar, aside from the primary protein source. Here’s an example of ingredients you’ll find in Kirkland Signature’s cat patés:
Chicken recipe ingredients: Chicken, Chicken Liver, Chicken Hearts, Natural Flavor, Calcium Carbonate, Powdered Cellulose, Locust Bean Gum, Carrageenan, Sodium Tripolyphosphate, Salt, Taurine, Potassium Chloride, Canola Oil, Ascorbic Acid, Magnesium Carbonate, Vitamin E Supplement, Zinc Sulfate, Xanthan Gum, Thiamine Hydrochloride, Copper Amino Acid Chelate, Iron Sulfate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Manganese Sulfate, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid, Calcium lodate, Biotin.
As you can see, some of the ingredients could be better. I’d prefer to see an animal-sourced fat instead of canola oil, and the recipes use various thickeners (cellulose, carrageenan, and locust bean gum) intended to improve texture and shelf life. Still, they may trigger allergies and digestive upset in sensitive pets.
Still, the meals look impressive compared to similarly priced products from other brands. Feeding a 10-pound cat Kirkland Signature paté will cost about $2.41 per day.
Best Budget Dry Grain-Free Cat Food
- Made without grains, wheat, white potatoes, corn, or tapioca
- Contains probiotics for digestive and immune health
- Specialized formulas for indoor cats, kittens, seniors, hairball control, and weight management
- Small, disc-shaped kibble
- Available in 2, 4, 5, 12, and 14 lb. bags
Creator Michael Landa was disappointed to discover that most pet foods on the market were no more than carbohydrate-heavy meals filled with empty calories and filler ingredients. As a result, Nulo’s recipes focus on being high in animal-based protein, low in carbs, and featuring low-glycemic ingredients.
Nulo manufactures its cat food in the U.S. and sources its ingredients from around the world. Nulo’s high-meat cat kibble features three to four animal proteins in every recipe. Recipes are also fortified with probiotics and prebiotic fiber for digestive support.
I like that this company uses various animal proteins in their recipes to give your cat a variety of nutrients. Other standout ingredients include:
- Dried chicory root to support your cat’s digestion
- Dried cranberry to support urinary tract health
- Dried kelp provides trace minerals
- Ground flaxseed is a source of fatty acids and fiber
What’s not to like? Nulo does contain some not-so-great ingredients, including whole peas, lentils, and sweet potatoes. So, while Nulo’s dried foods are grain-free, they contain a high carbohydrate content.
Still, if you’re looking for cheap, grain-free food for your cat, Nulo is a good choice. You can feed your 10-pound cat Nulo’s kibble for $0.80 daily, making this the cheapest option in this review.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some questions we frequently get asked about grain-free cat foods. Don’t see yours? Ask us in the comments.
Should Cats Be Eating Grain-Free Diets?
Cats are carnivores that do not require carbohydrates in their diet, according to the AAFCO. Proponents of the grain-free diet argue that cats’ bodies aren’t designed to digest grains properly. Ideally, your cat’s meals should be centered around quality animal proteins, animal fats (like fish oil and beef tallow), and water. Felines also need micronutrients, which are typically added to commercial foods.
That being said, your cat likely doesn’t need to be on a grain-free diet. While it’s true that you won’t find your kitty’s wild ancestors munching on grains, whole grains can be a quality source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Grains can also improve digestive health by feeding your cat’s gut microbiota.
Is Grain-Free Cat Food Better?
Cats with food allergies or specific health problems, such as diabetes, may benefit from a grain-free diet. That said, no conclusive evidence exists that whole grains harm the general cat population.
Remember, grain-free does not equal higher quality. Many commercial brands have jumped on the “grain-free” bandwagon just to replace grain with equally unhelpful fillers. Grain-free also doesn’t mean low carbohydrate. Sure, the average grain-free diet may have lower amounts of carbs than a diet with grains, but there are plenty of grain-free recipes with similar or even higher amounts of carbs as recipes with grains.
More Grain-Free Cat Food Options
While I picked out my favorite grain-free products, many other brands just missed making the best-of list. For more grain-free food options, read our reviews of Smalls, The Honest Kitchen, Rachel Ray Nutrish, and Stella & Chewy.
Why Trust Love Your Cat?
Tara is a writer for Love Your Cat, specializing in health and nutrition. She has worked in the wellness industry for 6+ years, advising pet parents on supplements and nutrition for their furry friends. Tara has personally tested the grain-free diet on her cats and spends countless hours vetting companies and their products.