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In the wild, your cat would get perfectly balanced, ideal nutrition, neatly wrapped into one small package: a mouse.
Commercial cat foods essentially try to replicate that delicate balance of proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. Some do a surprisingly accurate job, critics say. We found good cat foods at every price point -- from 60-cent canned cat food at Trader Joe's to $40 bags of frozen gourmet duck for your cat.
Among cat foods, there are three main choices:
- Dry cat food can be convenient, but some veterinarians say dry-fed cats don't get enough moisture. Others say dry food works fine. Meat-rich dry cat foods with little or no grain are the critics' choice for carnivorous cats. Top brands cost $16 to $24 for a 5- to 6-pound bag.
- Canned cat food comes closer to a cat's wild diet, reviews say. It's wet, and it usually packs more meat and less starch than dry food. Gourmet cat foods use human-quality meats and veggies; expect to pay about $1.50 for a 5.5-ounce can of these ultra-premium brands, versus 60 cents for the best supermarket cat food we found (Trader Joe's).
- Raw frozen cat food does the best job impersonating prey. Raw meat, organs and bones are ground up in exact proportions to give cats all the nutrients they need. Prices vary wildly, depending on what species your cat dines upon. One brand offers frozen raw chicken for $16 for a 3-pound bag, but you'll pay $40 for a bag of the aforementioned duck.
Finding the best cat foods in every category comes down to evaluating each one based on the quality of its ingredients, safety (history of recalls, etc.) and value. Critics aren't shy about pointing out the foods that fall short. Our expert sources scrutinize cat food labels and closely follow cat food recall news. Cat owners fill in the final pieces of the puzzle -- whether cats seem healthy while eating a certain food, for instance, or whether they turn up their finicky noses at it.