The best cat food of 2023, recommended by a vet
Our experienced vet shows how to choose the best cat food for peak feline fitness at any age, from Royal Canin to Republic of Cats
As a cat carer for over fifty years and a vet for nearly forty, I’ve learned the importance of finding the best cat food. I have seen poorly-fed cats either looking scrawny with lacklustre coats or struggling with pot bellies and reduced energy levels. I’ve also known many cats to enjoy optimal physical fitness, fuelled by excellent nutrition from a diet that suits them well.
It isn’t always easy to get it right. Cats need a complete and balanced diet providing protein, carbohydrate, fats, minerals, vitamins and fibre, as well as some very specific nutrients such as taurine and essential fatty acids.
Unlike dogs, who thrive on grains and vegetables in their dog food, cats are obligate carnivores: their metabolism has evolved to need some ingredients that can only be found in meat. While it is, in theory, possible to feed cats adequately from a home-made diet that includes meat, it makes more sense to use commercial cat food that has been formulated by companies who employ professional nutritional experts so that their products – labelled as “complete” – include everything your cat needs to thrive.
The challenge for cat carers is that there’s a huge range of products available in pet shops, at vets, and online (there's even a cat food made of insects now.) It can be hard to choose. The aim of this article is to offer guidance on how to select the optimal diet for your feline friend. You can read my full reviews of the current best cat foods further down, followed by a comprehensive guide to cat nutrition, where you'll learn how much and how often to feed your cat, among other things. But if you’re in a hurry, here’s a quick look at my top five:
There are pros and cons to both. Online cat food delivery services such as Tails, Untamed, Republic of Cats and Katkin are a new option and they have the advantages of a wide variety of choice, combined with the convenience of delivery to your door. I write about some of them below. However, pet stores may have a wider choice and, in a physical store, you can pick and choose from products in front of you with expert advice.
There are hundreds of different types and brands of cat food on the market: the following recommendations are based on my own experiences as a vet, plus feedback from the many cat owners who I talk to. Most brands tailor to different life stages – kitten, adult and senior – but only a few tailor to specific breeds, which is where my top choice Royal Canin really shines. Not all cat foods cater for special conditions, such as sensitive stomachs, so that was a factor in my choices too. I don't need to tell you how fussy cats can be about their food.
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From £6.39 for 400g, Pets At Home
Best overall, 10 out of 10
We like: huge range of specific formulations, which cats seem to find unusually tasty
Royal Canin has a wide range of high quality dry cat products, with breed-specific options for pedigree cats, as well as choices aimed at sub-categories for pets, including neutered cats, indoor or outdoor cats and fussy cats, as well as the usual life stage choices. The products are well accepted by most cats, with most cat owners appreciating the fact that their pets enjoy tucking into their daily meals.
Dry cat food – or “kibble” – generally tends to be the most convenient and cost-effective way to feed healthy cats. The quality of dry food varies, with cheaper foods tending to have less carefully chosen ingredients, which can make them less palatable for fussy cats, as well as having a poorer long term impact on body condition and overall health.
Other popular and tasty kibble options include James Wellbeloved and Purina One, which both offer chicken, turkey and fish varieties of dry food that cats enjoy. Purina One includes a proprietary mix of probiotics and a beneficial Lactobacillus bacteria to optimise your cat’s gut microbiome.
From £4.50 for a 12-pouch box, Pets At Home
Best value cat food, 8/10
We like: if your cat likes it, it’s a perfectly good option
Whiskas is a popular grocery brand, and if you shop carefully to take advantage of in-store promotions, it can be exceptionally good value, as well as offering tasty food that your cat will enjoy. Similarly, Felix can be a good choice if you take care to buy good-value multi packs from the right shop at the right time.
Own-brand supermarket cat foods (such as Tesco, Aldi, Sainsburys or Waitrose) can be excellent value, with the proviso that cats can be fussy eaters, and the worst value of all happens when a cat refuses to eat a product. It can be a case of trial and error to work out your own pets’ preferences.
From 70p for an 85g can, Tesco
Best wet cat food, 9/10
We like: biggest selection of different flavours
Purina Gourmet includes a wide range of over sixty options in a variety of flavours including fish (salmon or tuna), meat (beef or game), poultry (turkey, duck or chicken) as well as a variety of textures (gravy, jelly, mousse, pate, terrine, flakes or cake) to give your cat as much of a selection of choices as a human diner might have in a fine restaurant.
Wet (or moist) food tends to be more palatable than dry food, and a wet diet increases a cat’s fluid intake, which is recommended by vets for cats with a number of health issues.
Cats can be finicky eaters, and every cat has their own favourite type of food. It can take trial and error to discover which your own cat prefers. There are two recent additions to the market that deserve special mentions:
Katkin is a fresh frozen product, created from human-quality ingredients and a kitchen-type cooking process, then delivered in individual plastic sachets to be stored in your deep freeze then thawed out as needed.
Untamed offers top-end ingredients, formulated to your cat’s needs, derived after completion of a questionnaire, then steam cooked, packaged in small tins and delivered to your doorstep.
From £4.69 for 300g kibble, Pets At Home
Best kitten food, 8/10
We like: specially formulated for kittens’ developmental needs
Hills offers a choice of both dry and wet for kittens. Most kittens benefit from a mix of dry and moist food, so that they learn to enjoy eating both types of formulation. Although Hills Science Plan Dry Kitten Food is only available in two flavours, it has been specially formulated from high quality ingredients to provide for the developmental needs of kittens, giving them the best start in life and allowing them to grow to maturity with optimal nutritional support. Hills moist kitten food has chicken and turkey options, in sachets and small tins.
Other good options for kittens include Royal Canin, James Wellbeloved and Purina One – all high quality kitten foods that are also available as dry and moist products.
£15 for 28 days' food (with £10 off first order), Republic Of Cats
Best food for elderly cats, 9/10
We like: ingredients tailored to your individual pet
The Republic of Cats (from the creators of Tails.com personalised dog food) asks you to complete a short questionnaire about your cat before recommending a detailed formulation of dry or wet food, or a combination, to fit your pet’s needs. The changing metabolism of older cats means that they have some specific nutritional requirements. Personalisation can be particularly helpful for older cats, who may suffer from a number of underlying health issues such as obesity, arthritis or kidney disease.
Several other manufacturers offer high quality diets specially formulated for older cats, notably Iams whose range includes dry and moist food in various flavours.
From £16.69 for 12 x 85g pouches, Pets At Home
Best cat food for sensitive stomachs, 8/10
We like: better for your cat, and fewer stains on the carpet
Royal Canin Digestive Care (both dry and moist versions) has specially chosen ingredients and kibble designed to reduce irritation to the digestive tract, as well as containing a blend of prebiotics and fibres to support healthy intestinal flora and to regulate the transit of food through the digestive tract.
For cats that are prone to upset digestive systems (vomiting and loose faeces are common consequences), it can be worth seeking a diet like this, that’s less likely to cause gastrointestinal upsets.
As an alternative, the Purina Pro Plan Delicate Digestion range is also highly esteemed, with proprietary blends of helpful bacteria and probiotics to promote optimal digestive tract health.
From £1.25 for an 85g tin, Lily's Kitchen
Best food for fussy cats, 9/10
We like: with over 20 types, surely your cat will find one she likes?
Cats can be exceptionally finicky, so brands with a wide variety of choice are your friend here. The Purina Gourmet range mentioned above has over fifty options, but Lily’s Kitchen's 25 wet and dry varieties are extremely popular for good reason: they're created with carefully chosen natural ingredients designed to appeal to cats.
Sheba moist food is another option, with a range of ingredients (from fish to meat) in formulations including gravy, jelly, flakes, loaf, slices and soup, allowing you to present different options.
Moist cat food, in tins, sachets or aluminium-type cartons, tends to be the most palatable type of cat food, writes vet Pete Wedderburn. It contains far higher moisture levels (over 80%, compared to less than 10% in dry cat food), and this is important for some cats in particular (e.g cats suffering from urinary tract disease).The downside of moist food is that it tends to be more expensive and it’s messier, with more bowl-cleaning needed. There’s also the need to store opened containers in the fridge.
Dry cat food, also known as kibble or biscuits, can also be highly palatable. One of the main reasons for obesity in cats is the fact that many carers leave a full bowl of cat kibble out continually, using an ad libitum self-feeding routine. The lower moisture level makes dry food cheaper to transport and store, and it’s more convenient and less messy for cat carers.
Nutritional needs change as pets grow older. A diet for a growing kitten is very different to one formulated for a fifteen year old elderly cat.
Food for cats up to one year of age should have higher levels of vitamins and proteins, designed to promote healthy growth.
Food for cats in the prime of life, usually between one and seven years old, will be balanced and nutritionally complete, meeting all of an adult cat’s needs.
Food for senior cats, usually defined as over seven years of age, should contain less protein, with high quality ingredients.
There are also a number of specialised diets available for cats with specific medical issues such as urinary tract disease, kidney disease, allergic skin disease, and others. These are usually used on the recommendation of the vet who is treating your pet.
There are no definite rules, due to the variation in individual metabolisms between different animals. The best answer is to weigh your pet and start with the mid-range of the amount recommended on the label for that body weight.
You should also pay attention to your pet’s behaviour: if they seem ravenously hungry, looking for more, then you should give them some more. Or if they leave uneaten food in the bowl, give them less the next time.
A month later, weigh your pet again. If they have gained weight, feed a little less, and if they have lost weight, feed a little more. As long as you are weighing them once a month, you can adjust quantities fed as needed to keep them at their optimal weight. If you are unsure about your cat’s optimal body weight, ask your local vet clinic to help you to assess their body condition.
Growing kittens can be fed around four times daily till three months of age, then three times daily till four months of age, then at least twice daily. Adult cats can be fed up to four times daily, but keep an eye on the total quantity fed.
Many people feed their cats dry food ad libitum, continually topping up the food in the bowl, and leaving it out all the time. While this may be acceptable with lean cats, with the increasing incidence of overweight cats, this is not always recommended: instead, offer your cat frequent smaller meals (up to four meals a day) and feed small amounts each time.
This mimics a cat’s natural feeding behaviour, hunting small prey and being intermittently successful. By the way, it's good for even the most pacific of cats to practice its stalking skills on cat toys once a day.
While it is possible to feed just dry food on its own, a mixture of dry food with occasional wet food can help ensure that a cat enjoys eating both types of food. This can be useful if a cat needs to eat wet food for medical reasons: if they are only familiar with eating dry food, they may not wish to transition onto only wet food. In general, wet food tends to have a richer odour, making it more palatable, so if you have a fussy cat, you may prefer to offer them wet food.
Some recent research has suggested that if cats are fed wet food, they may be less likely to hunt so prolifically. If owners are concerned about their cats preying on garden birds, they may wish to try feeding more wet food to see if this reduces the level of hunting.
Despite statements on the internet suggesting that dry food may promote good dental health, there is no evidence that standard dry cat food is any better for cats’ teeth than wet food. There are some special “dental” diets that include ingredients that limit the accumulation of dental tartar in the mouth, as well as having a more abrasive, chewier formulation which does a better job of rubbing plaque away from the surface of the teeth.
Alternatively, you can offer your cat a daily dental chew, or daily toothbrushing is the ideal if you can train your cat to tolerate this attention.
Cheaper foods tend to include poorer quality ingredients. It can be impossible to judge this from reading the ingredients on a cat food label, since these often follow legal definitions of what needs to be written, rather than describing food items that most consumers are familiar with.
Manufacturers are increasingly aware of a tendency for cat carers to try to make judgements based on ingredients lists, so some labels are now written with this in mind. It should be remembered that there is poor correlation between assessments based on reading the ingredients on the label and the quality of the cat food.
It is more helpful to assess quality by observing a cat’s enjoyment eating the food, as well as their health. A cat on a poor diet tends to have poorer digestive health, with occasional vomiting, and frequent bulky or loose droppings. A high quality diet creates improved digestive health, with better formed, less frequent motions.
Cats tend to be finicky eaters, and they are more discerning compared to dogs. I’ve seen many bowlfuls of cheap cat food going straight into the bin because they have been rejected by pets. Less expensive diets are rarely better value: it makes more economic sense to buy a pricier but higher quality diet that’s more likely to be eaten by a finicky feline.
Unlike dogs, cats are “obligate carnivores”. They have meat-eating teeth and digestive tract and their metabolism has evolved to need nutrients that are only available from meat. Compared to dogs, cats have a high protein requirement and they need some specific amino acids (the building blocks of protein) that can only be found naturally in meat.
They also need arachidonic acid, an essential fatty acid that is only found in animal tissue and the preformed version of Vitamin A, which again is only found in meat. They normally obtain Vitamin B12 from animal tissues as well. If cats aren't given these essential nutrients in their diet, they will not thrive and they can become seriously ill, with a shortened life span. It's theoretically possible to feed cats on a vegetarian or vegan diet, topping this up with artificially manufactured supplements, but there are mixed reports of the consequences. I have heard vets describe vegetarian cats that are stunted, prematurely aged and clearly not thriving, while other vets describe some cats on meat-free diets that seem to be thriving.
Raw meat may seem like a more natural diet for cats, but vets have reservations about this way of feeding for two main reasons.
First, raw meat often carries bacteria that can cause disease in immunocompromised humans in the household (such as babies, elderly people or anyone on chemotherapy). Second, care needs to be taken to ensure your cat is fed a balanced diet: pure meat alone does not provide enough nutrients.
If you do choose this option, look for a supplier who is a member of UK Petfood (https://www.ukpetfood.org/), (formerly the Pet Food Manufacturer’s Association) so that you can be sure that certain standards are adhered to.
It is not a good idea to serve a home-made diet from your own cupboards: there’s a high risk of causing dangerous nutritional deficiencies (such as taurine) or excesses (such as vitamin A) which can seriously harm your cat’s health.
The easiest, and most cost effective, way to meet your cat’s nutritional needs is to use food that has been scientifically formulated to be balanced by a nutritionist employed by a pet food manufacturer. All pet food that is labelled as “complete” is legally obliged to provide all the nutrients that a cat needs.
Arguably, pet stores may offer a wider range of premium type boutique cat foods, while supermarkets may stock a wider range of mass market branded foods. But each of these food types has its own strengths and weaknesses, as I outline in my reviews above.Best overallBest value cat foodBest wet cat foodBest kitten foodBest senior cat foodBest overall, 10 out of 10We likeBest value cat food, 8/10We likeBest wet cat food, 9/10We likeBest kitten food, 8/10We likeBest food for elderly cats, 9/10We likeBest cat food for sensitive stomachs, 8/10We likeBest food for fussy cats, 9/10We like