10 Best Grain-Free Cat Foods Reviewed

best grain free cat food

 

There are different reasons to prefer a grain-free diet for cats. I personally prefer to feed my cats grain-free as it more closely resembles what they would eat in the wild. Others need to go grain-free as many cats have a sensitivity to grain.

However, going grain-free is not straightforward. When it comes to wet food, any grain-free cat food is probably a relatively safe choice, as the food is mostly meat and water. As long as it has a high meat content (over 90% excluding moisture), and the meat is from a quality source, you can’t really go wrong.

Dry food is more complicated, as it needs carbohydrates to bulk it up and make it stick together. If it is not using grains as its carbohydrate, it is using something else. Sometimes these other things can be just as bad for your cat as grains. But don’t worry, in this article I have put together all the information you need to find a good, healthy, grain-free dry cat food for your cat.

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I will take a look at what exactly the problem with grains is, and how to tell if your cat might need a grain-free diet. I will then take you through the alternative carbohydrate sources generally used in dry cat food, and let you know which ones are good for your cat. Finally, I will share my 10 grain-free dry cat food reviews.

 

In a Rush? Top 10 Grain-Free Dry Cat Foods at a Glance

When it comes to grain-free dry cat food I prefer Instinct Ultimate Protein as it is 47% protein from quality meat sources and uses tapioca as its carbohydrate, and is affordable. My second choice is Blue Wilderness High Protein Grain-Free dry recipe. This is 40% protein and also uses tapioca, but contains egg products, which can be problematic for some cats.

  1. Instinct Ultimate Protein Grain-Free Recipe Natural Dry Cat Food
  2. Blue Wilderness High Protein Grain-Free Adult Dry Cat Food
  3. Taste of the Wild Rocky Mountain Grain-Free High Protein Natural Dry Cat Food
  4. Blue Buffalo Freedom Grain-Free Adult Dry Cat Food
  5. Purina Beyond Grain-Free Recipe Adult Dry Cat Food
  6. Wellness CORE Natural Grain-Free Dry Cat Food
  7. Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Dry Cat Food
  8. Merrick Purrfect Bistro Grain-Free Dry Cat Food
  9. American Journey Recipe Grain-Free Dry Cat Food
  10. Earthborn Holistic Primitive Feline Grain-Free Natural Dry Cat Food

 

So, with this information in mind, here are my picks of the best grain-free dry cat foods on the market.

 

Grain Free Cat Food Reviews

 

Instinct Ultimate Protein Grain-Free Recipe Natural Dry Cat Food

This is one of the highest protein dry cat foods available on the market at 47%, and the vast majority of that protein comes from chicken muscle and organs, which is the best thing for your cat. It derives its carbohydrates from tapioca, which is an acceptable source and only makes up 3% of the recipe. As you would expect with such a high protein recipe, it is also high in fat, so portion control is important. The formula is also enriched with a variety of vitamins and minerals, so they should get the nutrients that they need even from a smaller portion. Added prebiotics aid digestion.  View our full Instinct review here.

Pros

  • High in protein
  • Quality meat
  • Low in carbohydrates
  • Added probiotics and antioxidants
  • Added vitamins and minerals

 

Cons

  • High in fat
  • High in calories

 

 

Overall: Quality High Protein

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Blue Wilderness High Protein Grain-Free Adult Dry Cat Food

This is another dry food recipe that prioritizes quality meat products and never uses meat by-products or meal, so we have another high protein at 40%. It uses tapioca as its main carbohydrate, which is a good choice, however, it does also contain dried egg product, which some cats are allergic to. The recipe uses Blue Buffalo’s patented LifeSource Bits which are packed with vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that cats need. As a high protein recipe, it is also high fat, so portion control is a good idea.

Pros

  • Quality meat source
  • High in protein
  • High in fiber
  • Added vitamins and minerals
  • Added prebiotic fibers

 

Cons

  • Contains eggs
  • High in fat

 

Overall: LifeSource Protein

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Taste of the Wild Rocky Mountain Grain-Free High Protein Natural Dry Cat Food

This dry cat food is high in protein at 42%, which is great. But despite saying that it is a salmon and venison mix, the first ingredient listed is chicken meal. It also uses peas and potatoes, which are not great alternatives to grains. However, if you are looking for grain-free and high protein, then this Taste of the Wild recipe is highly affordable. It is also enriched with a range of prebiotics and probiotics, which should ease the digestion of this food. This brand also makes it to our best natural cat food roundup.

Pros

  • High in protein
  • Low-calorie
  • Affordable
  • Added prebiotics and probiotics
  • Added vitamins and minerals

 

Cons

  • Uses chicken meal
  • Uses sweet potatoes and peas

 

Overall: Affordable Alternative

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Blue Buffalo Freedom Grain-Free Adult Dry Cat Food

This formula is specifically designed for indoor cats, so it is lower in calories and lower in fat to compensate for their more sedentary lifestyle. It also means that it is a bit lower in protein, at around 32%. Unlike the other Blue Buffalo formulas on this list, it also contains meal, which means they can sell it a bit cheaper. The recipe has quite a bit of added fiber to aid in digestion and makes it a good choice for long-haired cats, or any cats that suffer from hairball issues. It also includes Blue Buffalo’s patented LifeSource Bits with added vitamins and minerals.

Pros

  • Low in calories
  • Low in fat
  • High in fiber
  • Added vitamins and minerals

 

Cons

  • Contains meal
  • Relatively low protein

 

Overall: Indoor Digestion

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Purina Beyond Grain-Free Recipe Adult Dry Cat Food

The whitefish that forms the basis of this recipe should appeal to most cats and give them plenty of healthy nutrients. Unfortunately, the protein level of the food is topped up to 35% with egg protein, which can be problematic for some cats, but if your cat can eat eggs it should be fine. It uses cassava root as its main carbohydrate, which is a good choice and is enriched with a range of vitamins and minerals, as we have come to expect with premium cat foods. The recipe also contains some peas and potatoes but in relatively small quantities. The recipe is relatively high-calorie considering the relatively low protein level. But this affordable food ticks the grain-free boxes.

View reviews of other Purina Beyond products here.

Pros

  • Quality meat
  • Low in fat
  • Affordable
  • Cassava root carbohydrate
  • Enriched with vitamins and minerals

 

Cons

  • High in calories
  • Contains eggs

 

Overall: Affordable Peace of Mind

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Wellness CORE Natural Grain-Free Dry Cat Food

This dry food has deboned chicken as its first ingredient, but its protein levels are topped up with meal to reach about 40% protein. The resulting recipe is actually quite low-calorie and low in fat, so you can feed it to your cat without worrying about their weight. The recipe is also enriched with L-carnitine, which boosts their metabolism and should have beneficial effects on their weight, digestion, and energy levels. The recipe also contains a range of added probiotics to aid digestion, and cranberries to prevent urinary tract issues. Unfortunately, peas and potatoes do form the main carbohydrate, but overall this is still a pretty good recipe. Check out more Wellness cat food here.

Pros

  • High in protein
  • Low in fat
  • Enriched with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants
  • Added L-carnitine
  • Added probiotics

 

Cons

  • Uses meal
  • Uses peas and potatoes

 

Overall: Metabolism Boosting

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Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Dry Cat Food

This dry food makes it onto the list as it is excellent for cats with sensitive stomachs. Cats with sensitive digestive systems can sometimes find digesting food that uses a wide range of ingredients challenging. By ensuring that the recipe uses just one meat ingredient (salmon, chicken, duck, or turkey) and one carbohydrate (chickpeas or peas) they are limiting the likelihood of irritants. Of course, these are not the best alternative to grains, but this is worth trying if your cat is finding other high protein dry cat foods difficult to eat. This recipe only contains moderate protein at around 30%, but as a result, it is low-calorie and low-fat.

Read more about Natural Balance here.

Pros

  • Single meat source
  • Single carbohydrate source
  • Enriched with vitamins and minerals
  • Low in calories
  • Low in fat

 

Cons

  • High in carbohydrates
  • Uses peas

 

Overall: Grain-Free and Sensitive

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Merrick Purrfect Bistro Grain-Free Dry Cat Food

This is a relatively high protein dry food, at 41%, and contains 70% animal ingredients, though this does include some meal. That means that there is space for too many carbohydrates, which, unfortunately, is derived from peas and potatoes. The resulting recipe manages to be high-protein, while still being low-fat and low-calorie. The recipe is also naturally high in fiber, plus has a range of added prebiotics and probiotics to support digestion. Read our full review on Merrick.

Pros

  • High in protein
  • Low in calories
  • Low in fat
  • High in fiber plus added prebiotics and probiotics
  • Enriched with vitamins and minerals

 

Cons

  • Uses meals
  • Contains potatoes and peas

 

Overall: Protein and Probiotics

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American Journey Recipe Grain-Free Dry Cat Food

This affordable dry food is made from deboned turkey and chicken but also uses meal to get to 40% protein. Despite being high-protein, it is still relatively low in fat and low-calorie, so it shouldn’t create weight issues where there are none. The primary carbohydrate in this mix is also tapioca starch, which is a pretty good choice for cats. The presence of eggs and peas is a bit of a red flag, but this should not be problematic for most cats. As you would expect, it is also enriched with a variety of vitamins and minerals, including high levels of essential taurine.

Pros

  • High in protein
  • Tapioca as carbohydrate
  • Low in calories
  • Affordable

 

Cons

  • Contains eggs
  • Contains peas

 

Overall: Tapioca and Taurine

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Earthborn Holistic Primitive Feline Grain-Free Natural Dry Cat Food

This food is great if you are looking for dry food for both cats and kittens, or for something appropriate for when your cat is in that transitional stage. It is full of the kind of nutrients that kittens need to grow but is also great for adult cats. It is high in protein at 40%, though this is mostly provided by turkey and chicken meal, and the main carbohydrate is peas, which is less preferable than some alternatives. However, added prebiotics and probiotics should aid in any digestion.

Pros

  • High in protein
  • Added nutrients and antioxidant
  • Added prebiotics and probiotics
  • No artificial additives

 

Cons

  • High in fat
  • Uses meal
  • Contains peas

 

Overall: Kitten to Cat

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About the Grain-Free Diet

As I already mentioned, I prefer to feed my cat a grain-free diet to better mimic what her natural diet would be in the wild. But this is not just for the sake of it. Cats pretty much just eat meat in the wild, which gives them a lot of protein and fat. They also get carbohydrates in this way, as their bodies can turn protein into carbohydrates as they need it.

But alongside this, cats also need a variety of nutrients, such as taurine, arginine, and retinol. But unlike other species, cats are unable to synthesize these from grains. This means that grains add pretty much no benefit to a cat’s diet, they just add calories.

As well as not offering any benefits, grains can also be harmful. As cats do not have the capacity to digest grains, they can easily develop allergies, intolerances, or sensitivities to them. The main symptoms to look out for that might indicate that your cat is intolerant of grains are:

  • Inflamed Skin
  • Excessive Grooming
  • Hair Loss
  • Sores and Scabs

 

 

But picking a grain-free cat food is not always straightforward. As I already explained above, wet food isn’t too problematic, as high-quality wet cat foods usually contain 90% meat (excluding water), so any carbohydrate filler is minimal. As long as you have a grain-free food with good quality meat, pretty much any wet cat food will do.

Dry cat food, on the other hand, needs carbohydrates for its texture, consistency, and preservation. In many cheaper cat foods, grain is the carbohydrate as it is cheap and plentiful. Grain-free dry cat foods still need a carbohydrate filler. For this reason, grain-free cat foods are usually more expensive, as they use a more expensive filler. Also, many of these alternative fillers are little better for your cat than grains.

The main fillers used in dry cat foods are:

  • Grains (e.g. rice, wheat, corn, barley, oats)
  • Potato or sweet potato
  • Tapioca
  • Squash
  • Peas
  • Lentils
  • Pumpkin
  • Carrot
  • Apples
  • Bananas

 

Of these fillers, bananas and potatoes are just as bad for your cat as grains. Sweet potatoes and peas are a little bit better for cats digestive systems, but it is pumpkin, carrots, and lentils that offer the best carbohydrate alternative.

Also, beware of eggs and dairy being added as extra fillers, as cats commonly have allergies to these foods.

The ideal dry cat food should have at least 35%-45% protein and 10%-15% fat. Other things to look out for with grain-free dry cat include:

  • Meat source – this goes for all cat foods, not just grain-free. As the meat is the most nourishing ingredient in the recipe, make sure it is from a high-quality source and prioritizes muscle and organ meat over by-products and meal.
  • Fat content – they are generally higher in fat than grain-free alternatives which can lead to weight gain and other health issues.
  • Fiber content – high protein combined with difficult to digest carbohydrates can be a recipe for strange stool for cats. Added fiber, as well as probiotics and prebiotics, will assist with digestion.
  • Added vitamins and minerals – it can be challenging for cats to get all the vitamins and minerals that they need from domestic diets, so good dry cat foods will enrich their food with added vitamins and minerals, especially taurine, B, C and E vitamins, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and antioxidants.

 

Final Thoughts on Starting a Grain-Free Diet

The list above contains the best grain-free dry cat food you can get that’s appropriate for every cat from kitten to indoor lounger to long-haired princess to sensitive senior. Finding the right grain-free dry good depends very much on your cat’s age, lifestyle, and individual preferences and sensitivities.

When it comes to grain-free dry cat food I prefer a recipe that is high in protein that insures that my cat is getting most of her nutrients from meat, and not only avoids grains but also other hard to digest carbohydrates such as potatoes and peas. Instinct Ultimate Protein is 47% protein from quality meat sources and uses tapioca as its carbohydrate, and Blue Wilderness High Protein Grain-Free is 40% protein and also uses tapioca.

A grain-free diet should include a mix of wet and dry food, just like any other cat diet. Dry food can sit out all day without spoiling, allowing your cat to indulge their grazing instincts. In addition, the roughness of the kibble is essential for their dental health. The smell of wet food is important for your cat’s hunter instincts and gives them the hydration that they need and often struggle to obtain through drinking water.

Just as when you start your cat on any new diet, make sure you wean them into the change gradually. Mix 20% of their new food with 80% of their old food, and gradually up the mix over the space of a week or so, allowing them to become accustomed to it. Also, try and ensure that they are getting a bit of variety in their diet. Feeding them the same thing every day not only makes them picky, but they are most likely to develop food sensitivities and allergies to the foods that they eat the most. Avoid this by including variety in their diet.

Finally, whenever you change your cat’s food, you should monitor their habits and weight carefully. If their new food is higher in calories and fat than their old food, and you are feeding them the same, then you can quickly find yourself with an overweight cat. Similarly, if they are lower in calories, they may go through a period of lethargy as they adjust. Also, monitor their eating and bathroom habits. Significant changes in these areas could be a sign that they are not adjusting well to the new food.

Hopefully, you now have all the information you need to have a happy, grain-free cat in only a few weeks.

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Kristen Chapple

Kristen Chapple

Hi I'm Kristen, cat lover and blogger. I was born into a cat-loving family and have been a proud kitty mommy ever since I can remember. I love sharing my cat knowledge and love being an active part of the kitty-loving community.