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As a cat owner, you want to be sure you choose a healthy diet for your beloved feline. A grain-free diet is touted by manufacturers as healthy for cats, but what’s the real story about grain-free cat food?
Grain-free is a marketing term—not a health term. Just because a cat food product is free from grains doesn’t make it inherently healthier, though there are certainly some benefits. Before choosing a diet for your cat, take the time to learn about your options.
We’ve compiled a list of our top recommendations for the best affordable grain-free cat food but before we get to that, let’s take a moment to explore the subject of grain-free pet food in general.
What to Look for in Grain-Free Cat Food
In addition to being built around high-quality animal proteins, your cat’s food needs to provide energy. Fat is the most highly concentrated source of calories for a cat, and certain fats (like omega fatty acids) also support your cat’s healthy skin and coat.
When it comes to grain-free pet food, however, you need to be careful. When removing grains from the equation, some manufacturers fill the void with extra fat which can lead to obesity and other health problems.
Digestibility is another important factor to consider.
Generally speaking, high-quality ingredients are easier to digest than by-products and additives. Keep in mind, however, that even high-quality grain-free carbohydrates like beans and legumes can be difficult for your cat’s body to process efficiently. In large amounts, they can also trigger digestive upset.
If you choose to feed your cat a grain-free diet, make sure it is made with wholesome natural ingredients and properly balanced for complete nutrition.
To help ease the burden of hunting down the best grain-free food for your cat, we’ve done the research for you. Read on to see our picks for the best affordable grain-free cat food brands on the market.
Best Affordable Grain-Free Cat Food
Made with real ocean whitefish as the primary source of protein, this nutrient-packed dry food is grain-free, high in moisture, and supplemented with natural fibers for healthy digestion.Buy Now on Chewy for $29.90
This grain-free pate features real deboned turkey as the main ingredient with digestible grain-free carbohydrates for added nutrition and dietary fiber to support healthy digestion.Buy Now on Amazon for $38.66
Featuring real farm-raised chicken as the main ingredient, this grain-free dry cat food is supplemented with a healthy fiber blend for optimal digestion and hairball prevention for indoor cats.Buy Now on Chewy for $30.99
Though not labeled grain-free, this chicken recipe canned food comes from Amazon’s in-house pet food brand, and it contains no corn, wheat, soy, or other grain-based ingredients.Buy Now on Amazon for $19.99
Manufactured by Merrick Pet Care, the Whole Earth Farms brand is designed for affordability while still providing high-quality products like this grain-free chicken recipe dry food.Buy Now on Chewy for $37.99
Featuring cage-free white meat chicken and fresh pumpkin, this minimally processed wet food is complete and balanced for adult cats and supplemented with fiber and essential nutrients.Buy Now on Amazon for $44.19
Loaded with premium roasted meats like venison and salmon, this grain-free dry food is nutrient-rich and highly digestible to nourish your cat’s body from the inside out.Buy Now on Chewy for $30.99
The Wellness brand is dedicated to holistic nutrition and this grain-free chicken recipe features wholesome, natural ingredients like real chicken, fresh cranberries, and ground flaxseed.Buy Now on Amazon for $35.88
American Journey is Chewy’s in-house brand and this grain-free recipe contains a blend of deboned chicken and turkey for protein-rich nutrition and maximum flavor.Buy Now on Chewy for $24.99
A healthy, holistic recipe featuring real chicken as the main ingredient, this indoor formula also contains a blend of natural fibers to prevent hairballs and support regular digestion.Buy Now on Amazon for $26.04
Grain-Free Cat Food: The Bottom Line
Cats are obligate carnivores, which means that meat is biologically essential for their survival. In the wild, a cat’s diet contains upwards of 50% protein and 30% to 50% fat with minimal carbohydrates.
What does that mean for you as a cat owner?
It means that high-quality animal protein needs to be the foundation of your cat’s diet. Other than that, you have some wiggle room when it comes to choosing between different products.
You’d think that grain-free would be a no-brainer given a cat’s dietary needs, but interestingly, one of the biggest controversies in the pet industry is grain-free pet food.
Grain-free pet food is made with carbohydrate sources other than grains—primarily legumes such as peas or lentils and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes. The idea is that removing grains from pet food reduces the risk of food allergies and, especially for cats, makes the product more digestible.
Though there is no hard evidence to show that grain-free is definitely better, some cats seem to tolerate it more easily. Grain-free pet food also tends to be lower in total carbohydrate content but, according to some research, is otherwise similar to grain-containing diets in terms of calories and nutrition.
For the most part, feeding your cat a grain-free diet is a matter of choice. No matter what kind of diet you feed your cat, however, it must meet his nutritional needs.
Your cat’s nutrition is always a top priority. Feed your cat the highest quality cat food you can consistently afford. If grain-free is your choice, we recommend trying one of the affordable cat food options we’ve reviewed here.
Looking for healthy kitty treats? See Our Favorite Healthy Kitty Treats for 2019.