Cat food experts don't recommend supermarket cat food as a rule. They say most brands are full of poor-quality fillers, not to mention "byproducts" -- a vague term that could mean nutritious organ meats such as kidney and liver, or offal like feathers and feet that have little nutritional value.
But Trader Joe's Chicken, Turkey and Rice Dinner (*Est. 60 cents for a 5.5-oz. can) contains no byproducts and no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. In fact, reviews say Trader Joe's surprisingly high-quality ingredients -- like real chicken, turkey, fish and liver -- are pretty similar to what you'll find in some premium cat foods that cost twice as much.
Cat owners say they trust Trader Joe's, too: The company has never had a pet food recall, but it pulled its food off of store shelves during the deadly 2007 melamine recall anyway, just to test it to make sure it was safe.
Fancy Feast earns a few lukewarm recommendations, too -- but only certain flavors. Most Fancy Feast contains wheat gluten, which experts call a low-quality, potentially allergenic filler. But the Fancy Feast Classic Feast flavors -- such as Fancy Feast Classic Chicken Feast (*Est. 65 cents for a 3-oz. can) are grain- and vegetable-free. Veterinarian Lisa Pierson says that actually makes for a better cat food than some of the so-called "premium" foods, which are heavy on grains and vegetables carnivorous cats don't need. Flaked Fish and Shrimp Feast also fares well, but the usual proviso against using fish-based cat foods as anything more than an occasional treat applies.
Be sure to read the labels when it comes to Fancy Feast, however. Most varieties still contain a lot of byproducts and artificial ingredients, which critics don't like. And it's not cheap: The recommended flavors come only in small 3-oz. cans, which actually cost more per ounce than better-rated foods like Trader Joe's and Natural Balance Indoor Cat Formula (*Est. $1.20 for a 6-oz. can).