For some cat owners, Orijen Cat and Kitten Formula is the holy grail of pet foods: all-natural meat, fish and vegetables; raised or caught in Canada; fit for the human table; delivered fresh each day to Orijen's Alberta factory to be crafted into a grain-free food. But it's still a dry cat food -- which some experts say is not the best alternative for cats.
Fresh Canadian meat and fish -- and no grain. Orijen hires Canadian farmers, ranchers and fishers (and names them on its website) to raise free-range, antibiotic-free chickens and fresh eggs, and catch wild Canadian fish and deliver them fresh daily. Orijen also adds cartilage (to simulate whole prey), fruits and vegetables as natural sources of vitamins and minerals, along with botanicals like dandelion and chamomile to satisfy your cat's "instinct to forage for grasses and weeds." Proteinated minerals like iron and zinc are easy for cats to absorb, and probiotics (friendly bacteria) help with digestion and immunity. The whole package earns a perfect score of 5 from one top expert.
Still, some critics -- including veterinarian Lisa Pierson -- say cats shouldn't eat dry food at all, no matter how high-quality. They say cats evolved as desert creatures with a low thirst drive, and they need to get their moisture from food or else risk painful, potentially life-threatening urinary problems. Orijen doesn't make any canned food, and the company says it has no plans to do so.
Australian recall was due to irradiation. A search of the Food and Drug Administration's online pet food recall database (which goes back to 2007) shows no recalls for Orijen pet food in the United States. In Australia in 2008, several cats were sickened after eating Orijen dry cat food that the Australian government had irradiated upon entry to the country -- but the problem was with the irradiation, not the food itself. Orijen immediately stopped selling its pet foods to Australia, and Australia has stopped irradiating pet food.
Orijen itself gets high marks for safety. It makes all of its food in its own Canadian factory, using only Canadian ingredients, and it tests its food for contaminants like salmonella, heavy metals and mercury.
Orijen costs more than other grain-free dry cat foods. Pound for pound, Orijen costs more than other top-rated dry cat foods like Nature's Logic Feline Dry Kibble -- Chicken (Est. $27 for a 7.7-lb. bag) . But Nature's Logic contains millet, while Orijen is grain-free.
Most other dry cat foods include grain. This cuts costs, but experts say cats are true carnivores that shouldn't eat much grain. Several cat owners also note that their cats actually eat less when they're fed grain-free foods, because the foods are more nutrient-dense.
One grain-free food does cost less, and it gets good reviews: Taste of the Wild Rocky Mountain Feline Formula (Est. $13 for a 5-lb. bag) . It contains less meat than Orijen, relying heavily on peas for protein (which could cause "gastrointestinal issues" in some cats, one expert points out), but it's still a good budget choice, reviewers say.
Susan Thixton researches dozens of cat food brands, including Orijen. She rates the brands and their individual varieties of cat food, based on ingredient quality, safety and more.
Review: Orijen Cat Food, Susan Thixton, As of January 2014
Australian cats developed health problems -- some were blinded or paralyzed -- after eating Orijen cat food that the Australian government irradiated as it entered the country. Orijen no longer sells its food in Australia, and the Australian government no longer irradiates imported cat food.
Review: Orijen Cat Food, Australian Veterinary Association, Not Dated
Orijen makes this list of the best dry cat foods by Franny Syufy, About.com's guide to cats. Elsewhere on the site, though, Syufy says she has switched her cats to canned food to avoid dry-food-related health problems.
Review: Premium Dry Cat Foods for Adult Cats, Franny Syufy, Not Dated
Veterinarian Lisa Pierson argues that dry food is bad for cats, which have a low thirst drive and need to get moisture from their food. She doesn't discuss Orijen dry cat food specifically, but she provides a good overview of the potential dangers of dry cat food.
Review: Commercial Foods, Lisa A. Pierson, DVM, Updated February 2013
Orijen Cat and Kitten earns a nearly perfect 5-star rating here, with about 140 reviews posted (about half of those since Orijen reformulated its recipe in 2013). A few owners say their cats don't like it, but most say their cats gobble it up -- and rave about their cats' health as a result.
Review: Orijen Cat and Kitten Grain-Free Dry Cat Food, Contributors to Chewy.com, As of January 2014