When experts list the top canned cat foods for cats, Halo's Spot's Stew usually earns a recommendation. High quality ingredients and a spotless safety record are why. For example, Halo Spot's Stew Wholesome Chicken Recipe (Est. $1.50 for a 5.5-oz. can) packs chunks of chicken, chicken liver and turkey into a broth rich with vegetables -- carrots, zucchini, green peas, yellow squash, green beans and celery -- and no grains. That's key, experts say, because cats haven't evolved to digest grain. In addition, Spot's Stew flavors are free of any controversial ingredients, though another variety -- Halo's Spot's Pate -- does contain carrageenan. The cat food comes only in smaller-sized cans (3 and 5.5 ounces), but they are BPA-free.
Plenty of cat owners say their cats are crazy about Halo Spot's Stew, but -- cats being cats -- some don't seem too keen on the vegetable content. Some experts say cats don't need vegetables; in the wild, cats basically eat nothing but other animals. But others like veggies as a natural source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Nature's Logic is another top choice, and gets even more expert recommendations. The catch? Nature's Logic canned cat food hasn't yet completed AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) feeding trials, so it can't advertise itself as a complete diet. Despite that, top experts recommend it wholeheartedly (Nature's Logic dry dog and cat food and canned dog food have already met AAFCO standards), and Nature's Logic is one of a handful of manufacturers to sign a pledge sponsored by TruthAboutPetFood.com to fully disclose the quality and origins of all ingredients.
Though it can be expensive from some retailers, if you shop carefully, Nature's Logic can be purchased for nearly the same price as Halo, especially Nature's Logic Feline Canned Food -- Chicken (Est. $1.52 per 5.5 ounce can), which is the least expensive variety. On the plus side, Nature's Logic is made from all-natural, high-grade ingredients -- no synthetic anything. All nutrients come from real foods like blueberries and eggshells (just as cats would encounter in the wild). However, while most cats seem to enjoy the food, we spotted more owner comments than with other top choices that say that their felines rejected it
We found lots of other grain-free foods that rate well with experts as well. For example, Weruva cat foods, such as Weruva Paw Lickin' Chicken (Est. $1.62 per 5.5-oz. can), are made with simple, high-quality ingredients in a U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified factory in Thailand that also produces human food. The company pledges that all varieties are grain, GMO, MSG and carrageenan free. The company, like Nature's Logic and Halo, has a spotless recall record.
If there's a caveat with Weruva it's that its moisture content is higher than many other cat foods. That's great for hydration, but not so much for food costs as you'll need to feed more to get as many calories. Still, if your cat prefers its meals on the juicy side, they'll be sure to lap up Weruva.
Even though some experts point out that cats haven't evolved to digest grains well, some premium cat foods do include better-quality grains. Such foods cost less than grain-free foods but are still top quality, making them a good choice when cost is a consideration.
Though it's not grain-free, Newman's Own uses only USDA-graded meat and other human-quality ingredients, with no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. But Newman's Own takes it a step further: Every flavor contains at least 70 percent organic ingredients, raised without chemical pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. It does contain carrageenan, however, so it's not the best choice for cats with sensitive digestive systems. Still, many experts give it high marks, and About.com's Franny Syufy names Newman's Own Organics Chicken and Brown Rice (Est. $1.25 for a 5.5-oz. can) as one of the best canned cat foods you can buy -- and one of her cats' personal favorites. "These chickens are fed a 100% natural all-vegetable diet with NO antibiotics," she writes. Other pluses include the fact that the food has a spotless safety record, the cans are BPA free, and all profits go to charity.
Natural Balance Original Ultra Formula (Est. $1.09 per 6 ounce can) isn't organic, but the company uses only high-grade meats, poultry and fish, with no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. It's a bit less expensive than the cat foods listed above, but its safety record isn't quite as sterling. However, after being caught up in the 2007 pet food recalls, Natural Balance instituted a well-regarded in-house safety testing program that samples each lot of food for nine different contaminants (E. coli, salmonella and more) before releasing it to stores. Although no Natural Balance varieties tested positive, it was also among the many cat food brands caught up in a 2012 recall over salmonella contamination at a Diamond Pet Food plant where some of the food is made.
Natural Balance includes some grain, but it uses grains that are generally considered to be higher quality. For example, the Original Ultra Formula lists ground brown rice well down in the ingredient list after four named meats -- chicken, chicken liver, duck and salmon. However, like Newman's Own, Natural Balance does contain carrageenan. Still, many cat owners and some experts, such as Syufy, give it good grades. Natural Balance became part of Del Monte Foods in May 2013, and the brand was sold again, this time to J. M. Smucker Co., in February 2015. Though these changes have raised some concerns among pet owners, as of the time of this report the company's product-safety testing has not changed.
It's tough to find a quality cat food at a lower price than either Newman's Own or Natural Balance, since cat food experts don't recommend cheaper supermarket cat food as a rule. They say many of the cheaper brands are full of poor-quality fillers, not to mention "byproducts" -- a vague term that could mean nutritious organ meats such as kidney and liver, or offal like feathers and feet that have little nutritional value.
There are exceptions, however. Trader Joe's Chicken, Turkey and Rice Dinner (Est. 79 cents for a 5.5-oz. can) does contain grain, but there are no byproducts and no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. In fact, reviewers say Trader Joe's surprisingly high-quality ingredients -- like real chicken, turkey, fish and liver -- are pretty similar to what you'll find in some premium cat foods that cost twice as much.
Cat owners say they trust Trader Joe's, too: The company has never had a pet food recall, but it pulled its food off of store shelves during the deadly 2007 melamine recall anyway, just to test it to make sure it was safe.
Fancy Feast earns a few lukewarm recommendations, too -- but only certain flavors. Most Fancy Feast varieties contain wheat gluten, which experts call a low-quality, potentially allergenic filler. But the Fancy Feast Classic Feast flavors -- such as Fancy Feast Classic Chicken Feast (Est. 57 cents for a 3-oz. can) are grain- and vegetable-free. It does contain meat byproducts, but as noted in our discussion of cat food ingredients, experts are of a split mind when it comes to byproducts in pet foods. The fifth ingredient is identified vaguely as simply "fish."
Be sure to read the labels when it comes to Fancy Feast, however. Most varieties still contain a lot of fillers and artificial ingredients, which critics don't like. And it's not cheap: The recommended flavors come only in small 3-ounce cans, so they actually cost more per ounce than better-rated foods like Trader Joe's and about the same (or even a few pennies more) as Natural Balance.
Elsewhere in this report: