Some experts aren't crazy about dry cat food to begin with, noting that it's a less desirable food choice given a cat's natural low thirst drive. Most have even fewer nice things to say about cheap supermarket cat kibble, which is typically a corn-and-soy concoction that some claim can actually trigger health problems in cats, which are true carnivores that evolved to eat only other animals. Even some pricey, boutique dry cat foods rely heavily on grain (although it'll be higher quality grains, like brown rice and barley).
On the other hand, Taste of the Wild Rocky Mountain Feline Formula (Est. $13 for a 5-lb. bag) is grain-free -- and it costs half as much as the premium grain-free foods. 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. Trout leads the ingredient list for the other flavor, Canyon River. Fruits and veggies add nutrients, proteinated minerals are easy to absorb, and probiotics promote good digestion -- just like the pricey cat foods.
But Taste of the Wild does cut some costs. Peas and potatoes appear high on the ingredient list; some experts say these are quality ingredients, but others say cats simply don't need all those carbs. It props up nutrition by adding DL-Methionine, a synthetic amino acid.
Taste of the Wild was recalled in 2012 for possible salmonella contamination, along with several other brands made by Diamond Pet Foods. Several pets -- and pet owners -- were sickened in the outbreak. 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.
Runner-up California Natural Chicken and Brown Rice Formula (Est. $15 for a 5-lb. bag) was involved in its own salmonella recall in 2013. Its maker, Natura (owned by Procter & Gamble), recalled all of its dry cat and dog food brands after one lot tested positive for salmonella in routine FDA tests. No illnesses were reported, but the recall is a ding against a food that has gotten high marks from experts and owners for years -- though mostly prior to its acquisition by Procter & Gamble in 2010.
Another knock against California Natural Chicken and Brown Rice Formula: It's not grain-free like Taste of the Wild. Brown rice is the third ingredient, followed by plain rice. It likewise adds synthetic DL-Methionine, but no helpful probiotics. For the price, reviewers prefer Taste of the Wild.