Cat owners appreciate California Natural Chicken and Brown Rice Formula's short list of high-quality ingredients -- which makes it good even for many allergic or irritable-bowel cats. It's fairly inexpensive for a premium food, too.
Quality ingredients -- but grains are high up on the list. California Natural Chicken and Brown Rice Formula "is a no-nonsense dry food," says About.com's guide to cats, Franny Syufy, who gives it a perfect 5-star rating. It starts with USDA-approved chicken (that means it's fit for humans to eat), followed by chicken meal (rendered meat and bone, with no byproducts in this case). The ingredient list is short, with no "red flags" for another top reviewer.
But brown rice is the third ingredient, followed by plain rice (probably white rice, which one expert points out has little nutritional value). That's too much grain for critics like veterinarian Lisa Pierson, who says too much grain and carbohydrate can cause health problems for cats, which are strict carnivores.
Pierson and some other experts say cats shouldn't eat dry food anyway, because they evolved to get moisture from their food (their low thirst drive means they won't make up the difference by drinking). Syufy says she has stopped giving her cats dry food for precisely that reason. But other experts see no problem with dry food, and plenty of cat owners report that their pets are thriving on California Natural.
One top expert gives California Natural Chicken and Brown Rice Formula a solid rating of 4 out of 5. Its proteinated minerals are easy for cats to absorb, but it doesn't include probiotics (friendly bacteria that boost digestion and immunity). This reviewer also dislikes the DL-Methionine in the ingredient list, a synthetic amino acid.
Free from any recalls. California Natural is produced by Natura, the same Procter & Gamble company that makes the highly rated, grain-free dry cat food, Evo Turkey and Chicken Formula (*Est. $22 for a 6.6-lb. bag). After Procter & Gamble bought Natura in 2010, some reviewers worried that the quality would drop. But that hasn't happened: The ingredients haven't changed, and all Natura dry foods are still made in Natura's own Nebraska factory.
California Natural hasn't been recalled in recent years, according to a search of the Food and Drug Administration's online pet food recall database (which goes back to 2007). Natura says it tests its ingredients and finished pet foods to make sure they're free of melamine and cyanuric acid -- two contaminants that killed many pets during the massive pet food recall of 2007.
One source notes that California Natural Chicken and Brown Rice Formula gets its ingredients from the United States, except for vitamins from Europe.
Costs more than some competing cat foods. Experts recommend California Natural just as often as another grain-containing premium dry cat food, Natural Balance Original Ultra (*Est. $16 for a 6-lb. bag) -- but Natural Balance costs less, pound for pound.
Like Natural Balance, California Natural costs more than supermarket dry cat food, but several cat owners say their cats' health has improved so much since switching that the pricier foods are worth it.
Excellent Susan Thixton interviews dozens of cat food companies (including California Natural) to find out the quality of their ingredients, where their foods are made and more. She rates the companies, and their individual varieties of food, based on her findings.
Review: California Naturals Chicken and Brown Rice Formula Cat Food Dry, Susan Thixton, As of October 2012
Very Good Franny Syufy, About.com's guide to cats, names California Natural Chicken and Brown Rice Formula to her list of the top dry cat foods. In this short review, she gives it a perfect 5-star rating and notes that it contains no byproducts, animal fats, corn or chemical preservatives. However, elsewhere on the site, Syufy says she now feeds her cats only canned food, to avoid dry-food-related health problems. (Note: ConsumerSearch is owned by About.com, but the two don't share an editorial affiliation.)
Review: California Natural Chicken and Rice Dry Cat Food, Franny Syufy, Not Dated
Good This website selects foods that are suitable for cats with irritable bowel disease (IBD). California Naturals -- which has a short ingredient list -- is one of the few dry foods on the list.
Review: Dry Food, Editors of IBDKitties.net, Not Dated
Fair With about two dozen owner reviews, California Natural Dry Cat Food earns a nearly perfect 4.9-star rating. One owner knocks it down to 4 stars only because it quit coming in a zip-top bag, but others have nothing but praise for this food, which they find healthful and tasty for their cats.
Review: California Natural Dry Cat Food, Contributors to OnlyNaturalPet.com, As of October 2012