If you live near a Trader Joe's, you're in luck: Reviews say this quirky grocery store sells its own brand of canned cat food with surprisingly high-quality ingredients -- at a surprisingly low price.
No byproducts, and nothing artificial. Check the label on most supermarket cat foods, and you'll see hazy terms like "animal digest" and "by-product meal" -- plus plenty of artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. Not Trader Joe's.
"Nowhere in there does it say 'by-products' or 'parts,'" writes one cat owner at ZooToo.com. Cats reportedly love the taste -- even super-finicky ones -- and owners appreciate that the major ingredients are simple: chicken broth, chicken and turkey (for the Chicken, Turkey and Rice Dinner). No artificial colors, flavors or preservatives -- and the Trader Joe's website promises that there are no genetically modified ingredients in any of its house-brand products.
In some ways, Trader Joe's canned cat food can't match the priciest premium brands. The fourth and fifth ingredients in Trader Joe's Chicken, Turkey and Rice Dinner are "ocean fish" and "animal liver," and the eighth is "fish protein concentrate" -- vaguer than the premium cat foods, which tend to specify precisely what's in there. For example, the top-rated Halo Spot's Stew Wholesome Chicken Recipe (*Est. $1.60 for a 5.5-oz. can) trumpets its "simple ingredients you know and recognize" -- chicken, chicken broth, chicken liver, etc.
Unlike the highest-rated cat foods, Trader Joe's contains grain. Too much grain isn't good for cats, experts say, because they're strict carnivores that haven't evolved to digest it. Trader Joe's Chicken, Turkey and Rice Dinner contains about as much grain as Natural Balance Indoor Cat Formula (*Est. $1.20 for a 6-oz. can), which is a well-regarded, budget-premium brand in reviews, and cat food experts consider Trader Joe's grains (brewers rice and oat bran) to be of about the same mediocre quality as those in Natural Balance.
Another controversial ingredient in Trader Joe's Chicken, Turkey and Rice Dinner is carrageenan. This seaweed-based thickener has been linked to intestinal problems in some animal studies. Still, a lot of cat foods include it -- even a lot of premium cat foods.
Trader Joe's does add chelated minerals to its canned cat food, which are easier for cats to absorb than non-chelated minerals.
Choosy experts Lisa Pierson (a veterinarian) and Tracie Hotchner (author of "The Cat Bible" and host of the syndicated radio show "Cat Chat") recommend Trader Joe's on their short lists of the best canned cat foods, right alongside the expensive premium brands.
However, note that Hotchner doesn't recommend Trader Joe's Tuna for Cats, which is basically just tuna with added nutrients: "Too much mercury, not a healthy protein source," she says. Pierson likewise steers her readers away from fish-based foods.
Going above and beyond. Unlike premium cat food brands like Natural Balance -- which minutely detail their safety-testing programs on their websites -- Trader Joe's doesn't mention its cat food on its website at all.
Still, we found plenty of reviews by cat owners who say they trust Trader Joe's, partly because the company behaved so responsibly during the deadly pet food recalls of 2007.
Trader Joe's pet foods were made in the Menu Foods factory that added contaminated Chinese ingredients to nearly 100 brands of pet food, sickening and killing many pets. Trader Joe's food wasn't contaminated -- but Trader Joe's pulled all of its food off of store shelves anyway, until it could run its own tests to make sure it was safe.
Pet owners were impressed. "THIS is how to handle a pet food recall," a Dogster.com blogger wrote. A search of the Food and Drug Administration's online recall database (which goes back to 2007) shows no recalls for Trader Joe's pet food.
Close-to-premium quality -- at half the price. Trader Joe's cat food costs about half as much as Natural Balance. Granted, Natural Balance uses more whole, specific foods in its formula (chicken liver and salmon, instead of Trader Joe's "animal liver" and "fish protein concentrate") -- but label-scrutinizing cat owners say Trader Joe's is a far better choice than similarly priced supermarket cat foods, which are full of byproducts and cheap fillers.
"At just 59 cents per can, this is an EXCELLENT canned cat food and one that I definitely will stock up on the next time I visit Trader Joe's," says one reviewer at Viewpoints.com. "I usually spend about $1 per can for Merrick's, Natural Balance or Innova Evo canned cat food."
"Rollo," a reviewer at TraderJoesFan.com, agrees. "Furball loves the taste and I love the price," he says, adding that while it's of lesser quality than the best premium cat foods, it's still "better quality than anything at the supermarket."
Unlike other supermarket brands, Trader Joe's skips the byproducts and delivers a high-quality, meat-rich canned cat food -- at a cheap price. It's easily the best choice among supermarket cat foods, as long as there's a Trader Joe's nearby.
Excellent Susan Thixton doesn't cover Trader Joe's canned cat food in her extensive pet food reviews. However, subscribers to her PetsumerReport.com website do have access to her ingredient glossary, which lists just about any ingredient you'll find in pet food, its definition and whether it's good or bad for pets, to help readers size up pet foods for themselves.
Review: Ingredients, Susan Thixton, Not Dated
Excellent Veterinarian Lisa Pierson recommends Trader Joe's as a high-quality commercial canned cat food. This page links to a chart showing the nutrition profiles (how much protein, fat, carbohydrate, etc.) of Trader Joe's and many other cat foods.
Review: Commercial Foods, Lisa A. Pierson, DVM, As of October 2012
Very Good Tracie Hotchner, author of "The Cat Bible" and host of the syndicated radio show "Cat Chat," includes Trader Joe's on her list of approved canned cat foods. Hotchner advocates high-protein, low-carb diets for cats (who are strict carnivores).
Review: Cat Chat Approved Foods, Tracie Hotchner, Not Dated
Very Good Although she recommends Trader Joe's canned cat food, Tracie Hotchner cautions against one flavor -- the Tuna for Cats. "Tuna is NOT a safe daily food for cats ... too much mercury, not a healthy protein source," she writes. Stick to the poultry-based foods, she advises.
Review: Tuna Is a No-No, Tracie Hotchner, Nov. 28, 2008
Fair Trader Joe's Ocean Fish, Salmon and Rice Dinner earns 4.4 stars out of 5, with more than 30 reviews by cat owners. Owners like the high-quality ingredients, and their cats like the taste.
Review: Trader Joe's Ocean Fish, Salmon & Rice Dinner, Contributors to ZooToo.com, As of October 2012
Fair Cat owners here discuss the pros and cons of Trader Joe's cat food. Some say they could do without the brewers rice and oat bran as fillers, but cat owners here agree that it's not a bad food overall, especially considering the price.
Review: Ever Tried Trader Joe's Wet Food?, Contributors to CatForum.com, October 2008
Fair Three cat owners have reviewed Trader Joe's Turkey and Giblets Dinner here. All give it high marks -- saying that it's high-quality at a low price, and their cats like it.
Review: Trader Joe's Turkey and Giblets Dinner Canned Cat Food Reviews, Contributors to Viewpoints.com, As of October 2012
Fair Trader Joe's enthusiasts submit product reviews on this website. This user -- a frequent reviewer -- praises Trader Joe's Turkey and Giblets canned cat food. Meats are high up on the ingredient list, grains are low (and there's no wheat), and the reviewer's cat loves it.
Review: Turkey and Giblets Canned Cat Food, "Rollo", April 5, 2006
Fair Trader Joe's doesn't list any information about its cat food on its website, but a cat owner here helpfully posts the ingredients and nutritional breakdown for Trader Joe's Chicken, Turkey and Rice Dinner.
Review: Which Food Is Best?, Contributors to Catster.com, June 2011
Fair This blogger posts Trader Joe's press release from the 2007 pet food recall, in which it announced that it would pull all Menu Foods-manufactured foods from its store shelves -- even if they hadn't tested positive for contaminants -- until Trader Joe's could test them and be sure that they were safe. Pet owners on various Internet forums were impressed with the company's ethics.
Review: THIS Is How to Handle a Pet Food Recall -- Trader Joe's, "Joy", March 23, 2007