Unlike the priciest dry cat foods, these foods contain some grains. But while cheaper supermarket dry cat foods use corn, soy and wheat, which some experts say can trigger allergies and other health problems in cats, these foods instead use higher-quality grains such as rice, barley and oats.
Natural Balance Original Ultra (*Est. $16 for a 6-lb. bag) contains all three of those higher-quality grains, but below chicken meal and chicken in the ingredients list. The chicken meal is chicken meat that has been rendered to remove moisture (no byproducts or bone), and Natural Balance contains no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.
Natural Balance runs its own in-house safety tests. It tests every lot of food for nine contaminants -- including salmonella -- before releasing it to stores. This proved important in 2012: Natural Balance's manufacturer, Diamond Pet Foods, found salmonella in some of its food and recalled several brands. One of those was Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover's Soul, whose Adult Cat Formula (*Est. $11 for a 6-lb. bag) is another consideration in this category. Natural Balance cat food was not recalled.
Another highly rated value cat food, California Natural Chicken and Brown Rice Formula (*Est. $15 for a 5-lb. bag) also runs its own testing program to check for melamine and cyanuric acid -- two contaminants that killed pets and prompted a massive pet food recall in 2007. But California Natural costs more per pound than Natural Balance.