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In this report

Grain-free foods mimic a cat's diet

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. $1.65 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.

Nature's Logic is pricier than Halo, too: Nature's Logic Feline Canned Food -- Chicken (Est. $2.50 for a 5.5-oz. can) is among the least expensive flavors at $2.50 for a 5.5 ounce can compared to Halo's Spot's Stew Wholesome Chicken Recipe at $1.65 for a 5.5 ounce can. However, 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). Most owners say their cats gobble up this finely ground paté, but -- as with any food -- a few say their cats don't like it.

We found lots of other grain-free foods that rate well with experts as well. For example, Weruva cat foods, such as Paw Lickin' Chicken (Est. $1.75 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.

Merrick Cowboy Cookout (Est. $1.45 for a 5.5-oz. can) and Merrick's other grain-free flavors earn praise from several top experts, and Evo Turkey & Chicken Cat and Kitten Food (Est. $1.55 for a 5.5-oz. can) has a high caloric content, so you can feed less than with some other grain-free foods. But Merrick and Evo both contain carrageenan.

Best-value Canned Cat Food

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.

"Although Newman's Own Organics Cat Food is slightly more expensive than other brands of cat food, cat owners do not seem to mind," writes Carolyn Glatz at PetFoodTalk.com, who rates it well for its "extremely high quality organic ingredients." Syufy names Newman's Own Organics Chicken and Brown Rice (Est. $1.60 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.

Natural Balance Original Ultra Formula (Est. $1 for a 6-oz. can) isn't organic, but the company uses only high-grade meats, poultry and fish, with no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. It's less expensive than the premium 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.

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. About.com's guide to cats, Franny Syufy, ranks Natural Balance No. 1 on her list of the best canned cat foods, and notes that a different variety, Natural Balance Indoor Cat Formula (Est. $1 for a 6 oz. can) is her cats' current favorite. 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.

Supermarket Canned Cat Food

Cat food experts don't recommend supermarket cat food as a rule. They say most 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, reviews 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. 55 cents for a 3-oz. can) are grain- and vegetable-free. It does contain meat byproducts and poultry by-products, but as noted in our discussion of cat food ingredients, experts are of a split mind when it comes to byproducts in pet foods.

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 as Natural Balance.

Elsewhere in this report:

Best Reviewed Cat Food: From budget friendly supermarket pate to premium varieties that rival what you'd feed your family, we name top choices and explain what you should look for in a quality cat food.

Cat Food Ingredients: While reviews help, reading the label can help an educated cat-food shopper find the best choices. Here's what to look for.

Best Dry Cat Food: Dry cat kibble is more convenient, and often lower in cost, than feeding canned or raw foods. These are the ones that provide the meat that your cats need.

Best Raw Cat Food: These foods can come closest to matching what your cat would eat in the wild. Both frozen and dehydrated raw products are highlighted.

Buying Guide: Not sure where to start to find the best cat food for your pet and your budget? Our editors explain the top considerations.

Our Sources: These are the reviews and other sources we consulted to find the best-rated cat foods of all types. They are ranked in the order of their expertise and helpfulness.

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Natural Balance Canned Cat Food, Premium Ultra Formula, 24 x 6 Ounce Pack
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Halo Purely For Pets Spots Stew Cat, Chicken, 5.50-Ounce (Pack of 12)
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Newman's Own Chicken & Brown Rice Formula for Cats, 5.5-Ounce Cans (Pack of 24)
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Trader Joe's Chicken, Turkey & Rice Dinner 6 Cans
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Feline Chicken Dinner Fare Cat Food 5.5oz (Case of 12)
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