Cheap Cat Food

Price Range

$2 - $3

Cheapism

$3 - ...+

Mid-Range

...+

High End

Cats, cats, and more cats. The Humane Society reports that one-third of American households own at least one furry feline and more than half of these cat masters care for two. That's a lot of food over kitty's lifetime -- up to 17 years and counting for some indoor cats. And while pampering your pet may provide great pleasure, there's no need to serve up high-priced delicacies. The best cheap cat food, whether wet or dry, is both healthy and satisfying.

Cheap Cat Food Buying Guide

We researched cheap canned (a.k.a., wet) cat food and cheap dry (a.k.a. kibble) cat food to find the best of each for the average cat. In the canned cat food column we put Trader Joe's Premium (starting at 69 cents/5.5-ounce can) in first place for its quality ingredients, followed by Friskies Meaty Bits (starting at $11/24-pack 5.5-ounce cans) for the their bargain price and popularity with consumers (that would the cats). In the dry cat food column, Purina One Smartblend Adult Variety (starting at $27/16 pounds) earns top billing for relatively high protein content and low price while Taste of the Wild Feline Formula (starting at $28.50/15 pounds) comes in second for its perceived health benefits and feeding efficiency (owners say a little goes a long way). Two cheap cat foods that just don't rank are Special Kitty Premium (starting at $10.18/24-pack 5.5-ounce cans), Walmart's in-house brand, and Friskies Dry (starting at $13.50/16 pounds), both of which sink on the ingredients test.

The experts at Doctors Foster and Smith say sufficient protein from the right food sources is critical for cat health. Cats may be domesticated but their hearts and digestive systems remain wild. They should eat as though they still roam free, which means a diet rich in protein from muscle meat. The vet a, a fierce proponent of canned food, ranks poultry above beef as the best protein source and is wary of fish due to allergies, toxins, and its addictive qualities. Animal experts frown on the inclusion of meat and fish byproducts (e.g., bone, blood, brain) and say plant-based protein should play a marginal role in a cat's daily intake. Grains and carbohydrates, including complex fruits and vegetables, should be kept to less than 10 percent of their diets.

The best cheap cat foods contain a good balance and mix of inputs, but typically less real meat and more fillers and additives than show up in the priciest cat food. Raw food enthusiasts rave about Stella & Chewy's, a freeze-dried product made of ground meat or fish and no hormones or antibiotics, grains or fillers, artificial preservatives or coloring -- but a 12-ounce bag of chicken dinner will set you back at least $20. In between the familiar cheap cat food brands -- Friskies, Meow Mix, Purina, 9Lives -- that line supermarket shelves and the upper tier cat food brands are others such as Iams, Hill's, Eukanuba, and Wellness.

If you're looking for a product to try out on a fussy cat that costs less than a bundle but provides nutritional bang for the buck, the options on our list are a good place to start. We culled expert advice from the web, read online reviews, and informally polled cat owners we know. All point to the critical importance of nutritional value, the cat's own preferences, and price when choosing the best cheap cat food. Many cat food producers offer a variety of formulas for specific needs (e.g., hairball control, urinary tract health, weight control) and life stage (e.g., kitten, adult, senior). We researched standard formula cat food for adult cats.

One issue not so readily resolved is the wet cat food versus dry cat food conundrum. Some vets recommend wet food only, citing benefits such as high moisture content and protein levels. Dry cat food boasts advantages, too -- lower price, greater convenience, and possibly better dental health -- and some vets say either wet or dry is acceptable as long as it contains sufficient nutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids) and the animal drinks enough water, particularly when following a kibble-heavy diet. Ultimately, what really matters is the quality of the meals served. As the experts at Catster point out, any cat is better off with the best dry food than the worst canned food.

Nowadays most cat food, cheap or high-priced, bears the label "complete and balanced" or "100 percent nutritious." These products meet standards set by AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) for nutritional adequacy. Federal and state regulations require that pet food labels specify, among other things, ingredients listed in order of relative weight, a statement of nutritional adequacy for a given life stage, and a guaranteed analysis that indicates minimum percentages of protein and fat and maximum percentages of fiber and moisture. (Note: Comparing protein content of dry cat food to wet cat food is like comparing apples to oranges. The percentage stated in the wet cat food guaranteed analysis always will be lower than for dry cat food because of the high proportion of moisture in the canned product.)

There are also clear that control the naming of a cat food product, the name being a giveaway to the amount of a particular ingredient (invariably an animal protein). For example, a can of "lamb cat food" must contain at least 95 percent lamb minus the water used for processing or at least 70 percent lamb including the water (so-called "condiments" are also excluded from the calculation). At the other extreme, cat food with the term "lamb flavor" in the name need only have a detectable amount of the flavor, which may not come from lamb at all. Holding the middle ground are terms like "platter" and "dinner," which require at least 25 percent of the named ingredient, and "with XXX" (i.e., turkey, chicken, lamb, beef, tuna, salmon), which contains just 3 percent of the named component. Still, experts advise pet owners to always check the ingredients before buying a bag, box, or can of cheap cat food.

Cats are notoriously independent and what they don't like, they cannot be persuaded to eat. Most cat owners find that trial and error is the only way to discover which cheap cat food will keep their finicky customer well fed. The informal poll we conducted revealed that many cat owners would prefer to feed their cats what one person terms "holistic" food but are dismayed that the cat has other ideas. Regardless what you and the cat agree on as the food of choice, always make sure the animal has plenty of fresh water. Experts recommend at least a cup a day for each 10 pounds of weight if the diet consists entirely of kibble and about half that if wet food is the norm.

Cat food is one category for which online ordering is not always a bargain deal. Cheap cat food is readily available at local brick-and-mortar stores, including big-box retailers and specialty pet supply houses, where store brands are usually cheaper than national name brands.

Cat Food Reviews, Best Dry Cat Food

As many pet owners attest in dry cat food reviews, kibble deserves respect. It's cheaper than canned cat food, mess-free (no slop on the counter or floor, no cans to recycle), and generally gives off a less pungent odor than wet cat food. Dry cat food may help keep cats' teeth sharp and healthy and won't spoil when left all day in the feeding bowl, freeing owners to go about their business without worrying about meal time.

On the other hand, pound for pound dry cat food generally contains less protein (choose a product with a minimum crude protein of at least 30 percent) and more filler (necessary for processing) than canned cat food, which arguably suggests a less nutritious diet. Dry cat food also contains much less water than the canned variety, which is problematic because cats are "programmed" to get most of the fluid they need from the meat they eat and don't instinctively drink lots of water; dry cat food without sufficient water intake can leave pets dehydrated and susceptible to urinary tract problems.

Our favorite dry cat food, Purina One Smartblend Adult Variety (starting at $27/16 pounds), wins over feline diners. Dry cat food reviews at Walmart note that cats leap for joy at meal time, and one says the "salmon & tuna flavor" is the only fishy food or treat that doesn't make the pet sick. Some reviewers attribute improvements in their cats' health to this food; one post at Amazon says the new shine in the coats of four strays that were taken is due to the "chicken & rice formula" they started eating. And while some reviewers grumble about the filler, they find consolation in the listing of real chicken or salmon as the first ingredient in the two standard Smartblend cat food products. A respondent in our informal poll considers the ingredients merely acceptable but buys the brand because her cat eats it.

Taste of the Wild Feline Formula (starting at $28.50/15 pounds) is our runner-up pick. Dry cat food reviews at Chewy rave about pets' improved health (shinier coats, weight loss, disappearing rashes and infections) after switching to Taste of the Wild and the enthusiasm with which cats chow it down. To the humans who buy the product, a large part of the appeal is the so-called natural formula, which contains no grains, only meat and/or fish, vegetables and fruits such as sweet potatoes and blueberries, and additional plant-based protein. Dry cat food reviews say this is about the only affordable product without any grains, and cats with soy, corn, or wheat allergies scarf it down and keep it down. Another benefit, according to one reviewer: the odor is far more pleasant than what wafts out of a bag of regular cat food.

Most people who dish out Friskies Dry cat food (starting at $13.50/16 pounds) do so for its bargain price and their pets' enjoyment, according to owners' dry cat food reviews at Walmart. More than one reviewer reports bowls licked clean and tearing at the bag when it comes into the house. At Pet Smart, however, one owner writes that a vet attributed a cat's low weight to a Friskies Dry diet and a subsequent switch to a brand without filler or preservatives resulted in a shinier coat and much needed poundage. Indeed, it's the ingredients that relegate this product to the bottom of our list. Although the guaranteed analysis indicates sufficient protein, all the proteins come in the form of meal; the first ingredient listed is ground yellow corn followed by corn gluten meal.

A higher-end dry cat food, Hill's Science Diet (starting at $22/7 pounds), is the brand of choice among the people we polled but doesn't make our list because it's not cheap. Respondents told us this kibble brand is vet recommended, particularly for cats with health problems. Cat owners who posted dry cat food reviews at Petco add that Hill's Science Diet seems to keep their cats healthy and happy. Another mid-price brand that popped up in our poll is Iams (starting at $13/6.8 lbs).

Best Canned Cat Food

Canned (a.k.a. wet) cat food is less popular than dry cat food because it's pricier, messier, smellier, needs refrigeration once opened, and the cans must be disposed of. Still, many vets and some canned cat food reviews express a preference for wet cat food because it most closely mimics what cats would eat in the wild; that is, more protein, more food-based moisture, and fewer carbohydrates. Although the percent of protein listed on wet cat food labels trails what you see on dry cat food labels, pound for pound (once the water is removed) the canned variety contains more protein.warns that inadequate protein can lead to weight loss, a weakened immune system, and a dull coat, among other assorted ills. Canned cat food also slightly lessens the need for water intake because of the high moisture content (at least 70 percent in many brands), which in turn may diminish the likelihood of urinary tract infections and kidney disease.

Although Trader Joe's Premium canned cat food (starting at 69 cents/5.5-ounce can) is available only at Trader Joe's, this product may be a reason to frequent the store. Pet owners gush about the quality-to-price ratio, stating in canned cat food reviews at and that the premium ingredients (no byproducts or artificial flavors) come at a relatively cheap price. And, it goes far; one owner says a can lasts for up to four feedings with the daily addition of a spoonful of water. According to canned cat food reviews, cats really like it -- they come running when they hear the sound of the lid coming off, digest it with ease, and seem friskier and healthier. Some owners rotate Trader Joe's Premium into their cats' diets with more expensive brands, although one says the pate-like texture of the turkey & giblets dinner is a cat turnoff.

Second on our list of best wet cat foods is Friskies Meaty Bits (starting at $11/24-pack 5.5-ounce cans), a grocery store staple. Canned cat food reviews at Walmart indicate this brand is a favorite among owners and their pets -- the former for the low price and the latter for, well, not sure exactly, but it often goes over big. The meat chunks may be one reason, and one canned cat food review at Pet Smart says Friskies Meaty Bits spoiled the cats for anything else. And yet, some reviewers note that cats lap up the gravy but leave the meaty chunks. Regardless, several owners report their cats have fed on this brand for years and attribute their good health and smooth, thick coats at least partly to the feeding regimen.

The wet cat food brand relegated to last place on our list, Special Kitty Premium (starting at $10.18/24-pack 5.5-ounce cans) is a Walmart exclusive. Canned cat food reviews at the retailer's site say the product, which comes in pate and sliced forms and several taste combinations, is long on affordability and cat appeal. One reviewer feeds it to a small herd of appreciative neighborhood strays and another reports his picky cats prefer Special Kitty to a well-known name brandand some pet owners, however, ding the product for its ingredients. Although the brand meets AAFCO standards for 100 percent complete and balanced, critics express concern about inadequate nutrition from recipes whose top ingredient is not a muscle meat protein. The Mixed Grill, for example, lists meat byproducts first, followed by water and poultry byproducts, and then liver, chicken, and fish.

Once again, our poll respondents voted for Hill's Science Diet. As was the case with dry cat food, vet recommendation played a big role in their choice. One told us she would rather feed her cats an all-protein brand but they prefer Hill's. Another high-priced wet cat food often mentioned in our poll is Wellness (starting at $26/24-pack of 3-ounce cans). Natural food lovers undeterred by the cost say they value the Wellness ingredients, which include human-grade meat, fruits and vegetables, and barely any grain. Canned cat food reviews at Pet Food Direct say cats gobble it down and live long and healthy lives.

Elizabeth Sheer

Elizabeth Sheer is a Brooklyn-based writer and researcher. In addition to researching and writing about household appliances and other consumer items, Elizabeth draws on her history of preparing cooking-related articles to conduct taste tests on all things delicious.

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