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The best cat food: Budget buys and premium picks

Best cat food 2020
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Choosing the best cat food for the feline members of your household can be more than a little overwhelming. In fact, with so much choice on the market it might feel like you spend more time planning meals for your cat than you do for yourself! 

Just like humans, cats require a nourishing diet to fuel their days and keep them happy and healthy, and as obligate carnivores they have a biological need for meat. They require lots of protein from high-quality animal sources and limited carbohydrates, so making sure they’re getting everything they need in the right quantities is key to keeping their little bodies running like well-oiled machines.

That’s a lot of pressure on those of us who aren’t even sure if we’re putting the right foods in our own bodies, let alone our cats! For those of us who aren’t trained veterinarians with a thorough understanding of our cat’s nutritional needs then the process of selecting a healthy cat food can be more than a little daunting.

The good news is that you don’t have to add a five-year degree program to your already long to-do list any time soon, because we’ve scoured the reviews and taken a deep dive into the best cat food options on the market to bring you our top six high-quality adult cat food picks. 

Whether you’re trying to decide between the best wet cat food, the best dry cat foods, or no-grain options, you can rest assured that we’ve got you and your beloved cat companion covered.

Best cat food 2020 IAMS

(Image credit: IAMS)

1. IAMS for Vitality Adult Dry Cat Food with Fresh Chicken: Best overall cat food

An expert-recommended brand that cats love

Available online: Yes | Item form: Dry | Amazon Star Rating: 4.8

Good source of omega-3 fatty acids
High-quality, natural animal protein 
100% complete and balanced nutrition
Contains several forms of corn, which is an allergen for some cats

With stellar reviews everywhere from Amazon to Chewy, Iams’ reputation as a trusted brand that always delivers on quality makes it a standout choice in a crowded marketplace.

Made from real animal protein as the number one ingredient, and with no nasty fillers or additives, Iams is a winner with both pet parents and cats alike. The complete and balanced formulas meet all of your cat’s nutrition needs, with healthy doses of omega-3 to keep their coat shiny, and prebiotics and beet pulp to aid with digestion.

Cats love the crunchy kibble, which is great news as it’s been specially formulated with the right blend of vitamins and minerals to ensure good dental health. The extensive range also means you’re bound to find something that meets your cat’s specific needs, with everything from hairball control and urinary tract health to healthy digestion and weight management options.

The Proactive range is best if you’re in the US, but in the UK we prefer the Vitality range. Both are nutritious and complete products that are veterinarian backed, meaning you have expert assurance that what you’re putting in your cat's body is of the highest-quality.

While Iams is the clear front-runner when it comes to providing reputable nutrition that recognizes there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to cat food, its products aren’t completely flawless.

Some of the formulas are higher in carbohydrates than we’d like to see, which isn’t great if you have a cat whose idea of exercise is an 18-hour siesta marathon, and the inclusion of several forms of corn may be an issue for cats with allergies or sensitive digestive systems.

While Iams hasn’t quite earned its halo in cat nutrition just yet, with so many cats giving it the paws up it’s definitely our recommended place to start.

For more information, read our Iams Proactive Health Adult Dry Food review.

Best cat food 2020 Applaws

(Image credit: Applaws)

2. Applaws Multipack Fish Selection in Broth: Best budget option

Kind on your cat and your wallet

Available online: Yes | Item form: Wet | Amazon star rating: 4.5 | 100% natural: Yes

Only includes human-grade ingredients
High percentage of protein
Free of meat by-products, additives and preservatives
May not be suitable for sedentary cats due to the higher carbohydrate content

If you’re looking for a nutritionally sound product that’s both kind to your feline fur baby and your bank balance, then Applaws is well worth a try.

Unlike some of the other more affordable products on the market, Applaws doesn’t compromise on quality by adding in animal by-products, additives and preservatives to bring down the price. The company understands how important your cat's health and wellbeing is and so only 100% natural, human-grade ingredients are used. 

Opening up a tin from the Applaws fish selection range is a bit like taking a trip to the seaside – you’ll be greeted with that ocean-fresh fish smell that cats go crazy for. The only other ingredients to make the cut are broth and rice, which means you can rest assured that your cat isn’t ingesting any questionable or potentially harmful ingredients.

We love Applaws for fussy cats who can smell the fake stuff a mile away, and the limited ingredients and often single-protein formulas are great for cats with digestive issues or food intolerances.

If you have a sedentary cat, though, bear in mind that the addition of rice pushes up the carbohydrate content, so if your cat isn’t very active or is overweight, then you may want to avoid or limit this product. It also doesn’t include any vitamins or minerals, so we wouldn’t advise having it as your cat's sole diet, unless you also provide your cat with supplements. 

Overall we love this high-quality, affordable range, and we’re pretty sure your cat will too.

Best cat food 2020 Ziwi Peak

(Image credit: Ziwi Peak)

3. Ziwi Peak Wet Mackerel and Lamb: Best premium buy

Ethical and sustainable haute-cuisine at its best

Available online: Yes | Item form: Wet | Amazon star rating: 4.2

Limited ingredients – no additives, fillers or carrageenan 
Free range and sustainable farming practices
92% raw meat, organs and bone
Expensive if used as staple diet

If you’re wanting to treat your cat to a Michelin-starred dining experience then look no further than Ziwi Peak, a New Zealand-based company that’s quickly making a name for itself as one of the top cat food manufactures in the world.

It’s not hard to see why: made with 92% fresh meat, organs, bone, and seafood, all of its ingredients are human-grade, free-range, sustainably-caught and sourced within New Zealand using ethical farming and fishing practices.

If your little feline fur baby is prone to shooting you wistful and longing glances each time you sit down to try and enjoy your dinner, then you’ll be relieved to know that you can say goodbye to all that guilt-tripping. Your cat will love this meaty and moisture-rich meal that will leave them feeling less like a cat and more like a human.

This formula offers great peace of mind for you as a cat parent, as no animal by-products, additives or fillers make it into the Ziwi Peak range. It is also free of controversial ingredients such as carrageenan and guar gum, which have the potential to impair nutrient absorption.

While there is a lot to love about this premium product, price may be a factor here. It’s an expensive option if you have multiple cats or are wanting it to form the main part of your cat’s diet. It also contains a small percentage of green-lipped mussels, which not all cats enjoy – this is reflected in the less-favorable consumer reviews, so we would recommend trialling this before committing to buying in bulk.

However, if your cat isn’t averse to the taste, the addition of green-lipped mussels provides glucosamine and chondroitin, vital for healthy joints. The range also features chelated minerals for maximum nutrient absorption.

All in all, this high-quality, nutrient-dense range is cat food at its best.

Best cat food 2020 Wellness Core

(Image credit: Wellness Core)

4. Wellness CORE Natural Grain Free Dry Cat Food: Best grain-free option

High-quality protein that supports optimal health and digestion

Available online: Yes | Item form: Dry | Amazon star rating: 4.5

Includes probiotics for healthy digestion
Contains glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health
Made from premium proteins
Higher carbohydrate content

Grain-free cat food is becoming more popular with those of us who have a fur baby, and with good reason. While carbohydrates are great for giving your cat energy, they don’t need these to come from grains, which are often difficult to digest and can lead to digestive problems and weight gain.

The great news is that there are now plenty of grain-free options on the market, including this standout offering from the Wellness CORE line.

Formulated by animal nutritionists and veterinarians to closely mimic the diet of a cat in the wild, this tasty kibble contains only the highest-quality animal proteins from natural sources, with no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. 

The inclusion of dried kelp boosts the fiber content, which will help keep your cat fuller for longer. The addition of cranberries prevents the growth of harmful bacteria in the bladder and promotes a healthy urinary tract with less chance of infection.

This is a fantastic choice if you’re looking to provide your cat with an easily digestible, protein and nutrient-rich meal, but it is worth noting the high carbohydrate content compared to other grain-free offerings on the market. It’s not an issue if you have an on-the-go outdoor cat, but keep it in mind if your feline’s favorite form of activity is stretching out on its back while napping in the sun. 

Those slight drawbacks aside, this is a great grain-free meal from a reputable brand that regularly ranks highly, both with two-legged buyers and their four-legged taste-testers.

Best cat food 2020 Feline Science

(Image credit: Feline Science)

5. Hill’s Science Plan Perfect Weight Adult Cat Food: Best for weight management

The go-to weight-loss weapon for pet parents

Available online: Yes | Item form: Dry | Amazon star rating: 4.7 | Backed by scientific research: Yes

Proven effective
Only natural ingredients
100% satisfaction guarantee
Veterinarian approved
The large kibble makes it unsuitable for cats with dental problems

If you’ve been noticing that there’s a little bit more of your feline companion to love these days then this formula from the crew at Hill’s Science Plan might be just what your cat needs to tip the scales back in a more favorable direction.

You’ll be relieved to know that the dreaded middle-age spread doesn’t just affect us humans – cats are also prone to packing on a few extra pounds as they get older and less active. However, it doesn’t need to be a cause for concern with this product, which is focused on helping cats shed weight in a fast and effective way.

In a 10-week study, over 70% of cats lost weight when fed this food as instructed. With only high-quality, natural ingredients making the list, such as real chicken, lamb or salmon, your cat will have no clue that their tasty meal is actually a weight-loss weapon in disguise!

At just 300 calories a cup, this high-protein kibble helps your cat become lean while still retaining muscle. 

And the benefits don’t just stop with your cat. With a 100% satisfaction guarantee, you can try this bag risk-free, meaning you have everything to gain, while your cat, with any luck, has everything to lose.

Keep in mind that the large kibble isn’t ideal for cats with dental problems, and the formula does contain gluten, which may not be suitable for cats with particular dietary requirements. If neither of these two things are an issue for your feline, then this is a fantastic product that can help your cat lose weight and improve their quality of life.

Best cat food 2020 Royal Canin

(Image credit: Royal Canin)

6. Royal Canin Hairball Care: Best for hairballs

Helps sweep hair through the digestive tract

Available online: Yes | Item form: Dry | Amazon star rating: 4.7

Veterinarian approved
Special blend of dietary fibers helps prevent vomiting and hairballs
High protein and fat content
Reduces plaque buildup 
Contains wheat and corn

If you’ve ever heard your cat making that dreaded retching noise in another room then you’re familiar with the mad dash to find them and get them outside before they bring up a hairball all over your carpet! 

While you might think that owning a cat means you’re destined to spend time up to your elbows in warm water scrubbing hairball residue off your floors, you’ll be delighted to know that Royal Canin has come to the rescue with a formula that helps move hairballs through the stomach and into the gastrointestinal tract, where they can’t be regurgitated.

What makes this product so special is its blend of insoluble and dietary fibers. The former acts as your cat's very own internal brush, sweeping the hairballs through the body and into the bowel, while the latter makes sure all the nutrients are fully absorbed, keeping your furry friend’s skin and hair healthy. 

The combination of fatty acids and fibers means that this blend has anti-inflammatory properties, making it a great choice if your cat suffers from digestive issues. It also includes nutrients to prevent tartar buildup on teeth, which contributes to dental health.

We love this product for its effectiveness in preventing hairballs and because it comes from Royal Canin, a brand with a reputation for delivering high-quality products that keep cats healthy. However, it does contain wheat and corn, so if you don’t want those in your cat’s diet then you’ll want to give this product a miss. It’s also more expensive than some of the other hairball-prevention cat foods on the market, so this is also worth considering if price is a factor.

However, if those things don’t bother you then this is a great choice that allows your cat to groom themselves to their heart's content without you having to worry about cleaning up after them.

Best cat food 2020

(Image credit: Getty)

How to choose the best cat food

As a cat parent your precious fur baby is likely a much loved member of your family, so it goes without saying that you want to keep them happy and healthy for as long as possible. 

Feeding them a high-quality, nutritious diet is one of the best ways you can do that, but with so much choice available trying to decide on the best option can be confusing and more than a little headache-inducing!

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be. Just like humans, every cat is unique and so focusing on your cat's individual needs is the best way to ensure that you’re fueling their body with exactly what they need to thrive.

All cats need high-quality proteins for lean-muscle growth, omega-3 and 6 fats to keep their skin and coat healthy, fiber to support digestive health, a range of vitamins and minerals, and plenty of water. However, your cat’s age, activity level, metabolism, and health issues are key areas to consider. 

Older and more sedentary cats will have different dietary needs to younger and more active cats. Likewise, those with specific health issues, such as allergies and food sensitivities, digestive or urinary tract issues, or weight problems, will require a different diet to otherwise healthy cats. 

Ingredients and budget are two other factors that are worth considering. Think about what you feel comfortable including in your cat's diet. Potential allergens such as corn, soy, wheat, and gluten can be problematic for some cats, as can artificial colours, flavors and preservatives. 

Price may also be a factor, and while it’s true that the more expensive brands on the market tend to be higher quality, our budget option featured in this guide is there to show you that there are choices available that are kind to your wallet while not compromising your cat’s health. 

Remember that one size doesn’t fit all, and your cat's dietary needs will be determined by their activity levels, weight, and overall health. Always check with your veterinarian to ensure you’re feeding the four-legged members of your family the most appropriate diet for their specific requirements.

You can find out more about specific types of in our round up of the best wet cat food and the best dry cat food.