5 Best Grain-Free Cat Foods to Help Your Kitty Thrive 2019

Cats are unique animals unlike any other pet out there. But as a cat owner, you already knew that.

But what makes a cat unique isn’t limited to their weird quirks and obsession with small spaces. A cat’s nutritional needs also set them apart from most other pets.

Choosing the right diet with the right ingredients is the first step in making sure your cat’s unique nutritional needs are met. This usually means a grain-free, high protein diet packed with bioavailable vitamins and minerals.

But not all grain-free cat foods are created equal, so how do you choose the right one for your feline friend? In this article, we’ll discuss the specifics of kitty nutrition and take a look at some of the best grain-free cat foods on the market.

Cats are Obligate Carnivores

One of the most important differences that set cats apart from the most common pet in the world, the dog, is that they are obligate carnivores. So what exactly does that mean?

Dogs, and even their wild wolf cousins, have always been a bit opportunistic when it comes to food. Because of that, they have evolved with the unique ability to digest some plant material.

Unlike dogs, cats’ systems have been shaped by thousands of years of eating exclusively meat-based diets. Every nutrient a cat needs, they can find in or make from the animals they hunt.

Of course, your house cat has long since traded the wild life for a more pampered existence. But their dietary needs haven’t changed with the scenery.

In an ideal world, you would feed your cat a diet of raw, nutrient-dense, muscle, organ, and sweetmeats along with ground bone, cartilage, and a feather or two thrown in for good measure.

But for the average owner, that kind of diet isn’t an option. Dried and canned foods are more affordable and more convenient, but only a select few come close to replicating the nutritional value of a wild cat’s natural diet.

What to Look for in a Quality Cat Food

If you’re reading this, then you already know the importance of choosing a grain-free cat food for your frisky friend.

Cats aren’t made to eat fruits and vegetables, let alone cheap, hard-to-digest grains. But choosing a food made without grains is just the first step in identifying a quality diet.

Dry kibble, in order to hold its shape during processing, must include some starch. That means, if you’re looking for a dry diet, there will be some plant matter included in the ingredients list.

The best you can do is look for a food with the most named meat ingredients at the beginning of the list and plant ingredients farther down.

Canned diets don’t require starch for processing and often contain fewer plant ingredients than dry foods.

However, meat in any form is expensive. Most companies offset the cost by adding cheaper plant-based ingredients into the food and pass those savings on to the customer.

This means, your average food, whether kibble, canned, freeze-dried, and even commercial raw diets, will likely include some plant-based ingredients.

To avoid foods that are too-plant packed, PetMD recommends dry foods with at least 30% protein and supplementing that with canned foods with 40-50% protein. But be aware that legumes like peas, lentils, and garbanzo beans can add to the overall protein content without adding a nutritional benefit for your cat.

How to Identify Quality Meats

While a cat food packed with meat is generally a better choice than one packed with corn, soy, or other plant ingredients, it is important to note that not all meat ingredients are created equal.

The best cat foods have named meats and meat meals like “chicken,” “chicken meal,” and “salmon.” Meats that aren’t specifically named, like “poultry meal” or “animal by-product,” are usually lower quality and don’t contain as many nutrients.

The best cat foods will say how much meat goes into the recipe by listing what percent of the food is made up of animal products. The higher the percent, the better the food.

Reviews of The Best Grain-Free Cat Foods

#1. ORIJEN Dry Cat Food, Six Fish, Biologically Appropriate & Grain Free

Best Overall

Orijen Six Fish
Score: (5/5)

Check Price

High-protein, high-meat diet, with quality, US sourced ingredients for cats.
Pros

85% animal ingredients

40% protein

No synthetic vitamins or minerals

Cons

Pricey

Some protein from legumes

First on our list of the best no-grain cat foods is a truly meat-packed diet with a focus on providing your cat with biologically appropriate nutrition. Orijen’s Six Fish cat food is packed with protein, light on plant-derived ingredients, and a food your cat is sure to love.

As the name suggests, this diet includes six different kinds of fish to provide your kitty with ample protein and a ton of healthy fats. In fact, the first ten ingredients listed in this food are animal-products.

And because this food utilizes whole-fish meals, your cat gets the extra vitamins and minerals provided by bones, marrow, organs, and even scales. Making this diet about as close to a traditional wild diet as your cat is likely to get from a bag.

Overall, this diet contains 85% fish ingredients and only 15% non-animal ingredients. You can’t get much better than that with dry kibble, which is why this food easily takes the spot of best grain-free dry cat food on our list.

In the plant ingredient department, this food does contain a number of named legumes that may add a little protein to the 40% protein listed in the guaranteed analysis. But, the remaining ingredients are all nutrient-packed fruits and veggies that take the place of synthetic vitamins and minerals found in most cat foods.

This product is also sourced and made in the USA, a characteristic unique to the Orijen brand. Of course, all that quality will cost you, and you can expect this food to be on the high end of the price spectrum.

#2. Instinct Ultimate Protein Grain Free Recipe Natural Cat Food & Toppers

Runner Up

Instinct Ultimate Protein
Score: (5/5)

Check Price

Quality diet high in protein and meat, available in kibble or topper varieties for cats.
Pros

Different flavors and types

Very high protein

Quality ingredients

Cons

Some protein from plant sources

Pricey

Second on our list of the best non-grain cat foods, is a line of foods available in two flavors and as a wet or dry diet. Instinct’s Ultimate Protein cat food is packed with quality ingredients and even more protein than our first choice.

This diet is available in either duck or chicken flavor and either kibble or topper.

Both flavors of dry food contain an impressive 47% protein while the wet foods contain about 45% (dry matter).

While the dry diets do include some tapioca and flaxseed high on the ingredients list, 95% of the protein in the food comes from meat. The wet foods contain a short list of ingredients meant to entice your carnivore kitty to eat while providing a healthy dose of quality macronutrients.

What makes the topper option one of the best grain-free wet cat foods is its palatability and quality ingredients. The topper packets are meant to be used in addition to or on top of a balanced dry diet.

These are the perfect solution if your cat is a picky eater or you don’t have the budget for a pricey dry food but still want to add some extra protein to your cat’s diet.

This food is less expensive than our first choice, but still tops the price spectrum compared to our fourth and fifth picks.

#3. Reveal – Grain Free | Wet Canned Cat Food

Highest Protein

Reveal Limited Ingredient Canned
Score: (4.5/5)

Check Price

Super-high protein, limited ingredient, meat-only topper for picky and active cats.
Pros

84% protein

Two flavors are 100% meat

Truly limited ingredient

Cons

Must be fed with a balanced diet

No meals or organ meat

Pricey

If you’re serious about finding a truly natural, 100% meat diet for your cat, our number three choice needs to be part of your regiment. Reveal’s limited ingredient canned cat food is made with only a few ingredients and packed with animal protein.

This grain-free canned food comes in three flavors: chicken, tuna, and tuna with seaweed. The first two flavors contain only the named animal meat and subsequent animal broth and the third flavor contains only tuna, tuna broth, and seaweed.

Basically, this food is made with a single ingredient that happens to be naturally protein-packed and exactly what your cat was made to eat. Each flavor contains about 83% protein.

With that said, this canned diet is made to be fed as a part of a balanced diet. This wet food doesn’t contain any added vitamins, minerals, organ meats, or bone and therefore lacks the right nutrition profile to be fed alone.

But, as a topper or snack, this food will seriously up your cat’s protein intake, which is perfect for active young cats as well as senior cats who need more protein in their diets to retain muscle mass.

This topper is more expensive than the Instinct topper at number two but is a better choice for cats with sensitive stomachs or food allergies.

#4. Taste of The Wild Grain Free Premium High Protein Dry Cat Food Rocky Mountain – Roasted Venison and Smoked Salmon

Most Affordable

Taste of the Wild Rocky Mountain
Score: (4/5)

Check Price

Affordable, quality dry cat food to fit into any budget.
Pros

Affordable

High protein

No fillers

Cons

High in plant ingredients

Much of the protein is from plants

Contains little venison and salmon

The fourth food on our list is both budget-friendly and protein-packed. Taste of the Wild’s High Protein cat food is made with quality ingredients but priced for the average family.

Despite the name, the main animal protein in this food is chicken. In fact, that’s the first ingredient and where much of the 42% protein comes from.

While the roasted venison and smoked salmon may add some tempting flavor for your kitty, they are both low enough on the ingredients list that they probably don’t add a ton of nutrition. In fact, peas and potato protein appear to add more to that number given how high up they are listed.

Still, this food contains a named animal meat as the first ingredient and three more named meats in the top tier, including fish meal. This food is also free from fillers and, of course, grains.

Best of all, this diet is made for all life stages, making it one of the best grain-free kitten food on our list. You can start your new furry family member out on this food when they are young and continue feeding all the way up through their golden years.

If you have an especially active cat, you can even add our number three pick as a topper to up the protein levels and give your kitty an energy boost.

While this food contains far more plant ingredients than our first three choices, the price is hard to argue with. In fact, this is the cheapest food on our list.

#5. CRAVE Grain Free High Protein Dry Cat Food

Most Flavors

Crave High Protein
Score: (4/5)

Check Price

Quality dry cat food available in multiple flavors and kitten or adult formulas.
Pros

First two ingredients are meat

High protein

Multiple flavors

Cons

High in plant ingredients

Much of the protein is from peas

All flavors contain chicken

Last on our list is another budget-friendly cat food that’s easy to find, easy on the wallet, but still appropriate for even the most discerning feline. Crave’s high protein cat food has as much protein as our number one choice but comes in different flavor options to keep your cat excited about dinner time.

This food is available in four flavors and as an adult food or a kitten food. All flavors contain 40% protein and feature the named meat and chicken meal as the first two ingredients.

Like our number four pick, this diet does contain more plant ingredients than is optimal but has no fillers or grains. It also contains additional meats and meat meals listed further down.

A notable percentage of the protein most likely comes from peas and isn’t as biologically available to your cat as the protein from meat. Still, if you are looking for a budget-friendly option that is easy to find in multiple flavors to keep your picky cat happy, this is a great choice.

This food isn’t as cheap as our number four pick but is still more affordable than other foods on this list.

What is the Best Grain-Free Cat Food?

After reviewing many cat foods high in animal ingredients that don’t contain any grains, we’ve chosen Orijen’s Six Fish dry food as the best grain-free cat food. This diet packs a mean punch of six high-quality fish meals and just a handful of nutrient-dense plant ingredients to keep your carnivorous cat healthy and happy.

The first ten ingredients in this food are named animal meats. This alone separates Orijen from other cat foods out there, but add to that the fact that this food was sourced and made in the US and you have a quality diet you can trust for the life of your cat.

Looking for something a little more budget-friendly? We’ve included some great affordable options on our list above as well.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best type of food for cats?
When it comes to wet or dry, both may be the best option for your cat. Wet food tends to have more meat than dry, but quality canned food is more expensive. Feeding a quality kibble with a spoonful or two of wet food is a great compromise.
Is grain-free food really better for cats?
In general, quality grains like rice and oatmeal are no worse for cats than potatoes and peas. But, quality grain free-foods tend to have more meat in them than cat foods that contain grains.
I heard cats need less protein as they age, is that true?
Oddly enough, cats’ energy needs actually increase as they reach their senior years, often leading to muscle and weight loss. Recent studies have shown that increasing a cats protein intake after the age of 10 can help avoid this problem.

Summed Up: The Best Grain-Free Cat Foods

NameOrijen Six FishInstinct Ultimate ProteinReveal Limited Ingredient CannedTaste of the Wild Rocky MountainCrave High Protein
Notable FeaturesHigh protein, 85% animal ingredients, biologically appropriateVery high protein, quality ingredients, dry kibble or topper optionsExtremely high protein, all meat, limited ingredientHigh protein, affordable, multiple meat typesMultiple flavors, high protein, no fillers
Ingredient Quality5/55/55/54/54/5
Price$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Sources

  1. Margaret Gates. “Answers: What Exactly is an ‘Obligate Carnivore?” feline-nutrition.org, 9 February 2013, updated 1 June 2019
  2. Jennifer Coates. “Protein Levels in Cat Foods May Be Too Low” petmed.com, 19 September 2014.
shares