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.
Eighty percent Canadian meat and fish -- and no grain. "If you want to feel as if you are flat-out pampering your cat, buy this food," says Christopher Eng at PetFoodRatings.net, who gives Orijen Cat and Kitten Formula a perfect 5 stars. "If you take a look at the ingredients, you really can't do any better."
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. Farmed Canadian salmon are also used, according to season, and all fish are tested for heavy metals and mercury.
Orijen adds chicken, turkey and herring meals as concentrated protein sources -- again, made only from government-passed, fit-for-human-consumption animals. Orijen also adds fruits and vegetables (russet potato, sweet potato, peas, organic kelp and more) as natural sources of vitamins and minerals, along with "veterinarian-selected botanicals" like dandelion and marigold flowers to "satisfy your cat's instinct to forage for grasses and weeds." The food is 80 percent meat, 20 percent fruits and veggies -- zero grain -- which Orijen says is biologically appropriate for carnivorous cats.
Orijen also includes proteinated minerals like iron and zinc, which are easy for cats to absorb, and probiotics (friendly bacteria) to 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 wet 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.
However, in Australia in 2008, several cats were sickened -- some blinded or paralyzed -- after eating Orijen dry cat food that the Australian government had irradiated upon entry to the country. The irradiation altered the food, depleting its vitamin A and creating tissue-damaging free radicals. Australia didn't irradiate most other cat foods -- only those that included fresh meats or had been cooked at low temperatures, like Orijen. None of the other 50 countries Orijen sells to irradiate the food, and none reported any problems. Orijen immediately stopped selling its pet foods to Australia, and Australia has quit irradiating pet food.
Some pet owners and pet food critics say Orijen should have studied the effects irradiation would have on its food beforehand, and Orijen agrees: "We should have known more about exporting to Australia prior to making the first shipment," the company stated in a March 2009 press release. Otherwise, Orijen 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, grain-free dry cat foods like Evo Turkey and Chicken Formula (*Est. $22 for a 6.6-lb. bag). The two foods have fairly similar ingredient lists, and experts say they're of equally high quality.
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. "It's expensive, but it's ever so worth it," PetFoodRatings.net's Christopher Eng says of Orijen. "Cats who eat this will eat less, and they will be healthy."
Natural Balance Original Ultra (*Est. $16 for a 6-lb. bag) does contain grain, but it also includes other high-quality ingredients that make it a good budget choice, reviewers say.
Orijen's outstanding ingredients -- led by table-quality Canadian poultry and fish -- make it one of the finest dry cat foods you can buy, reviews say. However, some other foods, such as Evo Turkey and Chicken Formula, are equally high-quality, and cost less.
Excellent 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, Updated August 2011
Excellent 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
Very Good Orijen makes this list of the best dry cat foods by Franny Syufy, About.com's guide to cats. Syufy notes that it's grain-free, with a high ratio of meat to fruits and vegetables. Elsewhere on the site, though, Syufy says she has switched her cats to 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: Premium Dry Cat Foods for Adult Cats, Franny Syufy, Not Dated
Very Good 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, Not Dated
Very Good This reviewer raves about the quality of Orijen dry cat food in general, and the Cat and Kitten Formula in particular. He appreciates that it's grain-free and packed with whole, locally sourced poultry, fish and eggs, with fruits and vegetables and added fish oils.
Review: Cat Food Listings & Reviews, Christopher Eng, Not Dated
Fair Two dozen cat owners have reviewed Orijen Cat and Kitten Formula here, all awarding it 4 or a perfect 5 stars. Several tell how their cats' health problems cleared up after switching to this food.
Review: Orijen Regional Poultry and Fish Grain-Free Dry Cat & Kitten Food, 15lb, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of October 2012