While some experts recommend against dry cat foods, others say that it is fine as long as you make sure your cat is getting plenty of moisture from other sources. However, it's important to pick a species-appropriate dry food. Most dry cat foods are made largely from grain, with little fresh meat (if any). Some experts say that can cause obesity, diabetes and other diseases in cats, which are strict carnivores that haven't evolved to eat much grain.
But a few companies make dry cat foods that are mostly high-grade meat -- and no grain. Among those, Orijen's dry cat food is easily the best you can buy, experts say. This Canadian company now makes its dry cat food products in their own facility in Kentucky, using locally sourced meats and vegetables, and absolutely no grains. Orijen claims 90 percent meat content, and blends in organs and cartilage to mimic whole prey. The remaining 10 percent is made up of vegetables, fruits, and botanicals.
But while there's no grain in sight, Orijen dry cat foods can be pricey. Varieties include Orijen Cat and Kitten Formula (Est. $80 for a 15-lb. bag), Orijen 6 Fish (Est. $85 for a 15-.lb bag) and Orijen Regional Red (Est. $65 for a 15-lb. bag).
Other grain-free or otherwise good quality cat foods rate nearly as highly as Orijen, but at a lower price. Wellness Core Grain Free Original Formula (Est. $40 for a 12-lb. bag) earns good feedback from experts and cat owners. Its top ingredients are all quality meat proteins (deboned turkey and chicken, followed by chicken, whitefish and herring meals). Wellness' meat meals contain no byproducts, and its fish meals use only natural preservatives. Wellness includes probiotics (friendly bacteria) to promote good digestion and immunity.
While grain-free, Wellness Core has higher carbs from other sources compared to Orijen. Wellness Core cat food has a clean recall record, but the company's wet food was recalled in 2011 over a deficiency in vitamin B1. In addition, one variety of Wellness dry dog food was recalled in 2012 over possible salmonella contamination at the Diamond Pet Food plant where it was made, and Wellness cut all ties with Diamond after that incident.
If you are on a budget, but still would like to feed your cat something notably better than typical supermarket kibble, Taste of the Wild cat foods deserve a look. Taste of the Wild Rocky Mountain Feline Formula (Est. $30 for a 15-lb. bag) is grain-free, but costs less than Wellness -- and less than half as much as Orijen. It's byproduct- and soy-free, too. "Chicken meal" is the main ingredient. That's ground meat and bone, and as long as it's high-quality, experts say it's a good protein source. Fruits and veggies add nutrients, and there are probiotics to promote good digestion -- just like the pricey cat foods. The company also offers Taste of the Wild Canyon River Trout (Est. $30 for a 15-lb. bag), which has trout and ocean fish meal as its two top ingredients.
But Taste of the Wild does cut some costs to get its low price. Peas and potatoes appear high on the ingredient list of Taste of the Wild dry cat foods. Some experts say these are quality ingredients, but others say cats simply don't need all those carbs; one frets that pea ingredients could cause some digestive issues in sensitive cats.
Taste of the Wild also doesn't enjoy a spotless recall record and Taste of the Wild's dry cat food varieties were part of the 2012 Diamond Pet Food salmonella recall. Taste of the Wild hasn't been recalled since, but some pet owners wrote scathing reviews of the food at the time. However, plenty of others say their cats have been thriving on Taste of the Wild for years, and most give it rave reviews.
Elsewhere in this report: