While some experts recommend against dry cat foods, others say that it is fine as long as you make sure that 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 hires Canadian farmers and fishermen to deliver the ingredients fresh daily: wild-caught fish, cage-free chicken and turkey, as well as fruits and veggies. Orijen blends in organs, cartilage and wildflower botanicals to mimic whole prey and wild forage.
But while there's no grain in sight, Orijen dry cat foods can be pricey. Orijen Cat and Kitten Formula (Est. $65 for a 15-lb. bag) is the least expensive variety; slightly pricier varieties are Orijen 6 Fish (Est. $70 for a 15-.lb bag) cat food followed by Orijen Regional Red (Est. $75 for a 15-lb. bag), which lists "boneless wild boar" as its first ingredient.
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 a perfect rating from one top expert. Its ingredients are all human-grade, this expert points out -- and 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 proteinated minerals (for better absorption) and probiotics (friendly bacteria) to promote good digestion and immunity.
Franny Syufy, About.com's guide to cats, ranks Wellness Core and Innova Evo Turkey & Chicken (Est. $40 for a 5.4-lb. bag) , a similar and similarly well-regarded dry cat food, at the top of her list of the best dry cat foods. "In my opinion, Wellness Core is neck-and-neck with Innova Evo in providing a dry food closely aligned to a raw diet, and my cats enjoyed both equally," she writes. Still, she notes that she has switched her cats to an all-canned diet to avoid dry-food-related health problems.
While grain-free, both Wellness Core and Innova Evo have 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 where it was made, and Wellness cut all ties with Diamond after that incident. EVO sidestepped the Diamond Pet Food recall, but was itself recalled in 2013 after salmonella was detected in samples of its cat food.
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 or EVO -- and about 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, proteinated minerals are easy to absorb, and probiotics promote good digestion -- just like the pricey cat foods. Trout leads the ingredient list for Taste of the Wild Canyon River Trout (Est. $30 for a 15-lb. bag), with "ocean fish meal" as the second ingredient.
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 Rocky Mountain, and is nearly as high in the Canyon River flavor; some experts say these are quality ingredients, but others say cats simply don't need all those carbs.
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:
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 Canned Cat Food: Canned cat foods provide nutrition and hydration. These are the ones that experts and cat owners say are tops.
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.