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Best dry cat food: Give cats a nutritionally balanced meal

best dry cat food guide
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Not only is the best dry cat food utterly delicious, but it also comes jam-packed with health benefits that make it a worthy contender for a place in your shopping cart.

When it comes to the best cat food, we know striking that balance is probably high on your list - after all, what’s the point of buying the highest-quality ingredients if your kitty turns their nose up? 

And the same goes for taste - it can’t be all mouth-watering goodness with no substance because the last thing you want is your feline furkid missing out on the nutrients they need to thrive.

Thankfully, there are no compromises to be found in this guide, with all of our favorite products striking the perfect balance between nourishing and tasty. But before we pull back the curtain and reveal our top picks, it’s worth mentioning some of the benefits of dry cat food.

Unlike the best wet cat food, kibble is ideal if you’re going to be out of the house all day as it doesn’t go off and it won’t smell. Plus, it’s also a breeze to clean up, so if you have a messy eater on your hands, it’s a good choice.

The crunchy texture of kibble also does a brilliant job of cleaning your kitty’s teeth while they chew, gently sweeping away plaque, tartar and debris. The downside is that like the best dry dog food kitty kibble lacks moisture, something you'll find plenty of in wet food. It's also higher in sodium, so if you decide to go down the dry food route, make sure you provide your furkid with plenty of water.

Well, now that you know a little more about the pros and cons of kibble, let’s take a closer look at the best dry cat food stocking the shelves in 2021...

PetsRadar's pick of the best dry cat food

  • Best overall dry cat food: Rachael Ray Nutrish Natural Cat Food
  • Best budget dry cat food: 9 Lives Daily Essentials Dry Cat Food
  • Best grain-free dry cat food: Purina Beyond Simply Grain Free
  • Best for weight management: Blue Buffalo Weight Control Adult Dry Cat Food
  • Best dry kitten food: IAMS Proactive Health Kitten Dry Cat Food
  • Best for preventing hairballs: Royal Canin Hairball Care
  • Best dry food for older cats: Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein Dry Cat Food
  • Best dry cat food for digestive issues: Hills Science Diet Adult Sensitive Stomach And Skin Chicken Dry Cat Food

Best dry cat food. A packet of Rachael Ray Nutrish Natural Cat Food

(Image credit: Rachael Ray)

Rachael Ray Nutrish Natural Cat Food

Best overall dry cat food

Weight: 14lbs | Flavor: Chicken | Calories: 354 per cup | Protein: 34% min | Fat: 14% min

Made from real US farm-raised chicken and chicken meal
Reasonable price
Grain-free
No artificial flavors or colorings
Heavy on carbohydrates
Cats may be prone to gaining weight
Contains corn gluten meal, which is a potential allergen

Founded by the eponymous celebrity chef, the Rachael Ray Nutrish brand is well-known for its natural ingredients and nutritional benefits. It is therefore no surprise that this chicken-based, dry cat food option is a bestseller, and popular among cat owners to boot. 

This particular brand uses real US farm-raised chicken and chicken meal, free from poultry by-products. Full of Omega-6 fatty acids – not to mention protein – your cat’s skin and coat will be guaranteed a healthy shine should you choose to purchase it.

Moreover, it’s grain-free, which effectively reduces any risk of allergies for your cat. Further reducing this risk is the fact that this contains a number of natural ingredients, such as ground rice, brown rice, corn gluten meal, as well as dried ground peas to contribute on the carbohydrate front. Added vitamins and minerals  aid your cat’s digestion and overall health, and there are no artificial fillers.

The small pieces of kibble make it easier to chew and digest, and the crisp and crunch texture is kinder to cats’ teeth, also ensuring that they are kept clean. Many owners praised it for making great treats when training their kitties, too!

However, it should be mentioned that the recipe does contain corn gluten meal, which could be a potential allergen for your cat. So if your cat does suffer from corn allergies, this is probably not the one for you. Also, bear in mind that the formula is quite high in carbohydrates, so you’d need to keep track if your cat starts getting tubby!

Overall, this is the ultimate in dry cat food that provides natural flavors, nutrition, and bags of protein, as well as representing good value for money compared to other premium cat food brands. And with a winning formula created by cat nutritionists, you can only expect the best balance of flavor and nutrition for your feline friend.

Best Dry Cat Food: 9 Lives Daily Essentials

(Image credit: Amazon)

9 Lives Daily Essentials Dry Cat Food

Best budget dry cat food

Weight: 3.15lb, 12lbs, 20lbs and 28lbs | Flavors: Chicken, beef, salmon | Fat content: 9% | Protein: 31%

Nutritionally complete and balanced
Good for those on a budget
Low-fat formula
Contains common allergens

It’s not hard to see why this kibble is proving such a hit amongst pet parents with its large bags, delicious recipes, and affordable price - it ticks all the boxes for most feline furkids and their owners.

Offering 100% complete and balanced nutrition, each tasty and crunchy bite of kibble contains all the nourishment your cat needs to thrive. Omega 3 fatty acids help promote healthy skin and a shiny coat, there’s taurine for heart and vision health, and plenty of protein to help build and maintain strong muscles.

Granted, it’s not going to suit every kitty and the low price does mean you get ingredients thrown into the mix that you won’t find in other more high-end brands, like corn, wheat, and soy. So if you have a furkid with a sensitive digestive system or allergies, it might be best to steer clear of this one. 

But if allergies aren't an issue with your cat and you're looking for a tasty formula that won't break the bank, this kibble from 9 Lives offers solid nutrition and outstanding value for money.

Best dry cat food: Purina Beyond Grain Free

(Image credit: Amazon)

Purina Beyond Simply Grain Free

Best grain free dry cat food

Weight: 5lb and 16lb bags | Flavors: Chicken and fish | Protein: 35% | Fat: 14%

Real meat
High protein
Limited ingredients
Expensive

If you're looking for a high-quality kibble with a limited ingredient list that's free from many known allergens, then look no further than this popular formula from Purina.

High in protein, with real chicken as the first ingredient, this gluten-free and grain-free kibble comes packed with natural probiotics for a healthy digestive system, making it ideal for cats with sensitive stomachs.

With no corn, wheat, soy, poultry by-product meal, or artificial colors, flavors or preservatives, it's gentle on the digestive system but comes packed with nutrition. Featuring taurine for heart and vision health, zinc for a robust immune system, and calcium for strong bones, this kibble has everything your kitty needs and none of what they don't. 

It's more expensive than other kibbles, that's for sure, but if you're looking for a clean and limited ingredient list that's free from a lot of the nasties found in inexpensive brands and has a rich and meaty taste your kitty will love, this option from Purina is well worth a try. 

Best dry cat food. Blue Buffalo Weight Control Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe Adult Dry Cat Food

(Image credit: Blue Buffalo)

Blue Buffalo Weight Control Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe Adult Dry Cat Food

Best for weight management

Weight: 15lbs | Flavors: Chicken, turkey | Calories: 346 per cup | Protein: 30% min | Fat: 10% min

Natural ingredients
Deboned chicken with no meat by-products
No adverse effect on cat behavior
Bit more expensive
Can upset sensitive stomachs

If your cat tends to overeat on those lovely treats and is looking rather plump, Blue Buffalo Weight Control is the best choice to help slim them down.

Blue Wilderness is a product of the US-based Blue Buffalo company, known for making premium-quality pet foods featuring real meat, fruit, and vegetables. The main feature is the real deboned chicken with no meat by-products. The special formula is packed with whole grains and garden vegetables, as well as having carefully balanced calories to help your kittie maintain a healthy weight.

Since older cats develop difficulty chewing, the small pieces of food make it easy to gobble up, and the key thing is they contain hardly any fat.

Priced at around $21.98 (£15.49) for a 7lb bag, it is slightly costly. However, this can be overlooked if it means a more nutritious and calorie-controlled diet for your pet.

While it may be tricky to know straight away of its affect on weight loss, many owners have stated their cats’ have felt lighter within a couple of months. Some owners have even said their kittie seems more energetic, running and playing more, while their coats have a lovely glossy shine.

Bear in mind, some cats may have trouble digesting the food at first, so it’s advisable to monitor portions. Overall, this is a healthy, filler-free, low carb meal for your food-loving kitty.

Best dry cat food. A packet of IAMS Proactive Health Kitten Dry Cat Food

(Image credit: Iams)

IAMS Proactive Health Kitten Dry Cat Food

Best dry kitten food

Weight: 16lbs | Flavors: Chicken, turkey | Calories: 373per cup | Protein: 34% min | Fat: 22% min

Formulated for the needs of kittens
No harmful additives and fillers
High level of protein and essential Omega-3
Risk of cats shedding
Risk of vomiting after meal

When you have little kittens at home, you’d want to take extra care on the meals that you give them. Younger cats especially can be prone to much sensitivity, so it’s important to find the right food that is formulated for the needs of your kitten.

One of the top brands on the market today is IAMS, and it comes highly recommended by vets. Its special formula is created for 1-12 months old or younger kittens that may need to build stronger immune systems. This is also to avoid the risk of different diseases they may develop as they grow.

Packed with all the healthy benefits for a young one, it has prebiotics and pulp to support their developing digestive systems. It contains Omega-3 to aid with healthy brain development and to promote healthy skin and shiny coat. And its high protein and essential minerals help to build strong muscles and bones. This quality formula is essentially designed to help your kitten thrive, and also suitable for pregnant and lactating feline friends.

Kittens really enjoy the flavors, and we liked the fact that the kibbles are small, making it much easier to eat and digest. Another bonus is the kibble soaks up water fast for those kittens that need softer food.

Bear in mind the formula contains corn, so keep an eye out if your kitten may have a potential corn allergy.

Overall, this is packed with all the healthy nutrients to give your young cat the best start in life, and a delicious treat.

Best dry cat food. A bag of Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein Dry Cat Food

(Image credit: Blue Buffalo)

Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein Dry Cat Food

Best dry food for older cats

Weight: 12lbs | Flavors: Chicken | Calories: 443 per cup | Protein: 40% min | Fat: 18% min

Packed with real chicken
BLUE’S ‘LifeSource Bits’ of vitamins and minerals
Grain-free
Slightly more expensive than other brands
Only sold in the US

As your feline friend gets older, there are some things to consider. Firstly, their metabolism starts to slow down, as they no longer get as much exercise. As a result, they need fewer calories in their meals, and smaller portions. Another worry with older cats is they may develop specific health problems and not be eating as well as they should be. To care for your senior cat, you would need to tailor their diet to ensure optimum health and a longer life.

The Blue Buffalo formula has been enriched with its special, LifeSource bits (a unique blend of vitamins, minerals, and superfoods), and made with the best natural ingredients.

The first ingredient is real chicken, which packs a powerful protein punch. It’s also loaded with antioxidant-rich superfoods to support immunity, Omega-3 for a healthy skin and coat, taurine for vision and heart health, and essential amino acids to fuel all their fun activities. Plus, its fiber blend helps maintain healthy digestion, and is kind to tummies. There are never any grains, gluten, wheat, or by-products. It has the added benefit of having more than 75% moisture content that will help your feline pal stay hydrated much longer.

Cats seem to love this brand, and enjoy the flavors, although a few owners have mentioned the kibble being too small for their older cats, causing them to drop out of their mouths. Others have stated that it has helped to alleviate existing stomach problems, and vomiting from other brands. And many have praised the formula for making their feline friend’s coat super soft and shiny.

Bear in mind that a few owners mentioned that it made their cats sick after eating; however this could be due to an undiagnosed allergy. 

Compared to similar brands, prices are expensive, ranging from $16.98-$31.44. The brand is also only sold in the US which means you’ll need to order online if you live outside of the US. However, with all the nutritional benefits, you wouldn’t mind paying a little bit more for quality.

A pack of Royal Canin Hairball Care dry cat food

(Image credit: Royal Canin)

Royal Canin Hairball Care

Best for preventing hairballs

Weight: 22lbs | Flavors: NA | Protein: 34%

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

Royal Canin Hairball Care is a specialist food that aims to provide a superior source of nutrition for cats who have a tendency to cough things up. As such, its formula claims to move hairballs on through the body and out of the stomach, rather than all over your floor surfaces.

To do this it uses a blend of insoluble dietary fibres which sweep through the stomach and into the bowels, meaning hairballs are excreted as opposed to being vomited up. They also help stimulate good digestion and the increased absorption of nutrients.

In addition, Royal Canin Hairball Care’s balance of dietary fibres includes psyllium along with other minerals that will aid the digestive health of your cat beyond just preventing hairballs. This includes benefits like a healthier coat and better teeth to name just two.

It seems to be fairly successful at achieving its aim too, with numerous owners of long haired cats leaving glowing reviews that report a noticeable reduction in hairballs. Although some reviewers remarked that it cost more than standard food, most stated they would remain using it despite the extra cost due to its effectiveness. 

Hills Science Diet Adult Sensitive Stomach And Skin Chicken Dry Cat Food

(Image credit: Amazon)

Hills Science Diet Adult Sensitive Stomach And Skin Chicken Dry Cat Food

Best dry cat food for digestive issues

Available sizes: 3.5lb, 7lbs, 15.5lbs | Flavors: Chicken | Calories: 524 per cup | Protein: 35% | Fat: 22%

High in prebiotic fiber
Easy to digest
Vet recommended
Only one flavor choice

If your kitty struggles with regular digestive upsets then this gentle formula that’s been specially designed for sensitive stomachs could be the perfect solution. With high levels of prebiotic fiber to fuel beneficial gut bacteria and support a balanced microbiome, this kibble is highly digestible for optimal nutrient absorption. 

With plenty of Vitamin E and Omega-6 fatty acids, this nourishing formula is also ideal for cats with skin or coat issues. Designed to help promote and maintain healthy skin and lustrous fur, the soothing blend of ingredients will have your kitty looking their best in no time.

We love that this recipe has recently undergone an overhaul, making real chicken the number one ingredient and introducing a proven antioxidant blend of vitamins and minerals to strengthen your cat’s immune system. 

How to choose the best dry cat food

Cats eat kitten food

(Image credit: Getty)

Finding the right dry cat food to suit your feline friend can be challenging. If you're not sure which is the best dry cat food for your kitty, there are a few important things to consider when purchasing.

Age

First, consider your cat’s age. Dry cat foods are often formulated and specifically designed for the age and size of your kitty. So whether you have older or younger cats, you’ll need a formula to provide the right amount of nourishment.

Protein and fat sources

Look for quality first ingredients such as real chicken, lamb, turkey, salmon and tuna, which are all rich in protein. Chicken liver and heart are both rich in taurine, an amino acid that humans produce but cats cannot. Generally, focus on foods that contain calcium, fats and essential vitamins. And try to avoid those with artificial fillers designed to make your cat feel full, and lack any nutritional value.

Dietary restrictions

Consider your cat’s dietary restrictions, needs or conditions, such as allergies or weight issues. There are some dry cat food brands tailored to specific dietary needs to help maintain optimal health. Cost and value for money is another factor, as cat food can often be expensive.

Value for money

Cost and value for money is another factor, as cat food can often be expensive. Choose a suitable quality brand within your budget and avoid the latest expensive trends. Of course, you need to consider your cat’s tastes and preferences as to what they like and dislike. Whether they prefer chicken or tuna, or large or smaller-sized kibbles, this will influence what you purchase. Plus it will make your beloved cat more happy, healthy and content in the long run!

Is dry cat food better than wet?

Both dry cat food and wet cat food have pros and cons. The benefits of dry cat food includes convenience, ease of use and its typically cheaper cost. 

One of the drawbacks to dry is that it does not provide the same moisture content as its wet counterpart. Felines on a dry cat food diet should have access to a constant supply of water, so pet owners often consider adding a pets drinking fountain to their home. 

Dry cat food does, however, provide a handy addition to a food puzzle dispenser and can also be a very efficient way to provide calories in thin cats with food volume limitations. Wet cat food, on the other hand, can be more expensive but can be beneficial in cats prone to lower urinary tract disease, constipation and that are overweight.  

During routine check-ups, you can ask for a nutritional evaluation from a vet, including diet history and a body condition score, if you're not sure which is best for your feline. Our round up of the best wet cat food or our guide to the best cat food overall can offer some tasty alternatives. 

Cynthia Lawrence

Cynthia Lawrence is freelance lifestyle journalist. Starting off her career in national magazines, she moved to digital and e-commerce publications. When she's not reviewing exciting products, she is obsessed with home interiors and her neighbour's cat!