The Best Pet Food for Cats and Kittens, According to a Vet

updated Jul 19, 2023
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image

Whether you recently brought home a tiny kitten or have been a longtime cat parent, feeding your kitty a balanced and nutritional diet is vital. Not only does it impact your four-legged friend’s growth, but it also prevents cats from developing severe health issues like cancer, obesity, and diabetes. But just like dog food, there are sooo many options to choose from, so finding the best kitten and cat food can be confusing and stressful. But it really doesn’t have to be!

“Just look for an AAFCO seal of approval on the bag, and you’re good to go,” says Dr. Carly Fox, Staff Doctor at NYC’s Animal Medical Center. For the unacquainted, an AAFCO certificate (Association of American Feed Control Officials) is an assurance that the food is nutritionally complete and balanced.

“You’ll also want to do a little Google research and check to see if the company has conducted a feeding trial and analyzed cat reactions to that food, as well as check to see if they publish papers on nutrition,” she adds.

Dr. Fox also recommends sticking with commercially available brands since they have the backing of research and experts supporting their formulations. Plus, they’re inexpensive and easily available from most sites such as Amazon and Chewy.

How to Shop for Cat Food

“Unlike dogs, cats are obligate carnivores,” warns Dr. Fox. “They really shouldn’t be on a vegan or vegetarian diet at all.” In order for your cat to live its best life, you’ll want to make sure that whatever diet you pick packs an adequate amount of protein to support its growth and developmental needs.

“The way a cat’s GI tract functions is that it can only process and break down food that is meat,” says Dr. Fox. So you definitely don’t want to be giving your cat any plant-based food products.

Cats also require taurine, an essential amino acid that has important functions in the heart and brain, including supporting nerve growth. Since taurine can be found only in animal sources like chicken, beef, or seafood, that’s another reason your cat needs a primarily carnivorous diet.

Choosing Wet, Dry, or Fresh Food

Unlike dogs, which prefer both wet and dry foods, wet food and treats for your cat is mostly preferred. According to Dr. Fox, it helps keep them hydrated, since cats are prone to developing kidney issues. “I also advise patients to add some tuna water or chicken stock to their cat’s water bowls to ensure they drink enough water throughout the day,” she adds.

You can offer a rotation of wet and dry food, but make sure you introduce anything new gradually to cat’s diet. “Most people also leave out dry food throughout the day but serve wet food during meal times, and I generally don’t recommend this practice since your cat can quickly develop obesity issues,” says Dr. Fox. “Unlike dogs, cats are more agile and have easier access to things in the kitchen, so establishing healthy eating habits and setting rules is crucial.”

As for fresh food, Dr. Fox says it’s a huge no-no. Cats need very specific ingredients that support their healthy growth, and that’s not easily found in table food or food directly from the refrigerator. “You don’t need to give your cat human-grade food; cat-grade food is just fine,” she says.

Unlike dog food subscription services, there are hardly any AAFCO-approved cat food subscriptions, so Dr. Fox recommends you stick with commercially available brands that are specifically vetted for cats.

Shopping for Cat vs. Kitten Food

“The only difference between adult cat food and kitten food is the difference between calcium and protein in these diets,” says Dr. Fox. “But having said that, it’s important to pick food that is meant for your cat’s correct life stage.”

For instance, kitten food has nutrients and calcium that help with growth and provide the required proteins, whereas adult cat food is formulated to support joint growth and kidney health and tends to be more protein heavy.

Best Cat Food Brands

1 / 6
was $40.00

You can rest assured that you're giving your beloved pets the best when you feed them Smalls. This sampler package allows your cats to try among seven different fresh foods in smooth and ground options with flavors such as cow, bird, and fish. There's also a bag of catnip treats included in your purchase. Not only will your cats love the taste of Smalls, but they'll also be getting optimal nutrition without any harmful preservatives, by-products, or artificial ingredients.

2 / 6

If you're looking to supplement your cat's diet with dry food, Royal Canin is the way to go. Their positively-reviewed meal options are designed to support ideal weight and muscle mass, which is especially important for cats who are... ahem, carrying a few extra pounds. The dry food blend is packed with fibers that help your cat feel full faster and put a stop to random snacking and grazing habits that can cause health issues. Royal Canin is also one of the very few brands that stocks cat food based on breeds. So whether you have a Persian, Maine Coon, or Siamese, you're guaranteed to find something specifically designed for your cat.

3 / 6
was $54.79

In addition to regular pate options for cats, Hill's Science also has a range of prescription foods for kitties with various health conditions such as skin sensitivity, digestive issues, and weight control. If your cat has a habit of throwing up hairballs, Hill's Science also makes a highly rated hairball control food option in both dry and wet forms that reduces the occurrence and supports internal organ health.

4 / 6

This popular AAFCO-approved brand offers quality food formulated by a veterinary nutritionist to meet the specific needs of your adult cat. There are tons of dry and wet food options to choose from; simply type in your cat's health requirements to refine your search and get quick options.

5 / 6

Another reputable brand with AAFCO certification, Weruva is a family-owned company that uses all-natural ingredients to create gently pureed and highly palatable pates, stews, and soups. Fun branding aside, Weruva also has some of the most exhaustive meal options that actually sound pretty darn delicious. Chicken recipe in pumpkin consomme, chicken recipe au jus, or Mediterranean harvest with tuna and veggies, anyone?

6 / 6

An all-natural pet food brand, Wellness Natural is made without wheat, corn, soy, added artificial flavors, colors, carrageenan, or preservatives. Choose from a variety of protein blends like chicken, turkey, salmon, beef, and herring, each designed to support your pet's complete nutritional requirements. Wellness Natural also has several size options — 3 ounces, 5 ounces, and 12.5 ounces — which makes it convenient to shop if you have more than one cat at home.

Best Kitten Food Brands

1 / 5
was $50.16

Formulated to help very young kittens transition from their mother’s milk to solid foods, this meal option is considered a “first-stage” food and is best suited for kittens under four months old. The consistency is like soft mousse and supports a kitten's delicate immune system while packing in an antioxidant complex that is highly impactful to help promote healthy growth. Royal Canin also has several dry and we food options for slightly older kittens (over four months) that are made using real chicken and chicken liver.

2 / 5
was $42.96

Made without grains, potato, soy, wheat, corn, artificial flavors, or preservatives, this premium food features lots of high-quality protein to get your kitten off to a healthy start. There’s a mix of chicken, salmon, liver, and beef that exposes your kitty to a variety of proteins early on while also reducing its chance of developing food sensitivities in the future. Instinct's delicately-textured pates are also great because they're easy for small mouths to chew.

3 / 5

De-boned chicken and sweet potatoes make up Blue Buffalo's popular kitten food kibble, which provides vital proteins and complex carbohydrates essential for your kitty's growth. You’ll find taurine on the ingredients list, too, which is critical for heart and eye development. Blue Buffalo's meals also pack in LifeSource Bits that contain a proprietary blend of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to ensure complete and balanced nutrition.

4 / 5

Packed with Omega-3 and DHA to help your kitten’s brain development, this protein-rich formula has absolutely no added fillers at all. It's just pure chicken, which helps your kitten build strong muscles. IAMS also offers pre-portioned pate that's packed with the essential amino acids all meat-eating animals need. Although the variety is limited, if you're looking for a reputable yet budget-friendly pet food brand, IAMS is the way to go !

5 / 5
was $14.40

The highly rated brand Fancy Feast contains a range of popular grain-free options that provide essential vitamins and minerals for your growing kitty. According to several reviewers, the taste is also irresistible to kittens, making it more easily digestible. The brand only stocks wet food options, although once your kitten grows up, there are some delectable dry cat food options to choose from.

Do you have an adult cat or kitten at home? We would love to hear your favorite pet food brands and meal options in the comments below!