The 7 Best Grain-Free Cat Foods

By Nadine Oraby | 2021 Update

Have you ever thought about what you’re feeding your cat?

If you have, one thing you must have noticed is that your cat food contains a lot of grains.

Most cat food manufacturers use grains due to their low cost, but they aren’t a part of a cat’s natural diet. Cats are obligate carnivores and are best at digesting food with high protein and fat with minimal carbs, which is what grain-free cat foods are.

So why do manufacturers use grains? And should you switch your cat to a grain-free diet as well? 

Let’s discuss these questions and explore the list of best grain-free cat foods below!

The 7 Best Grain-Free Cat Foods

Top ProductsFormWeight
1. American Journey Turkey & Chicken Cat FoodDry12-lb
2. Taste of the Wild Rocky Mountain Cat FoodDry14-lb
3. Blue Buffalo Wilderness Chicken Cat FoodDry12-lb
4. Purina Beyond Simply Grain-Free Cat FoodDry11-lb
5. Wellness Complete Health Chicken Cat FoodWet12.5-oz x 12
6. Weruva Paw Lickin’ Chicken Cat FoodWet3-oz x 24
7. Instinct Original Real Chicken Cat FoodWet5.5-oz x 12

How to Change Cat Food

1. American Journey Turkey & Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Dry Cat Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Deboned Turkey, 2. Turkey Meal, 3. Deboned Chicken, 4. Peas, 5. Chicken Fat

Focusing on high-quality grain-free nutrition, American Journey Turkey & Chicken Dry Cat Food provides all the nutrients necessary for a cat to lead a healthy and active lifestyle. The recipe contains 40% protein sourced from deboned turkey and chicken meat to provide essential amino acids that nourish and encourage muscle growth.

Fruits and vegetables such as apples, spinach, blueberries, and carrots also form a large chunk of the recipe due to their abundance of vitamins and minerals. These ingredients are processed and manufactured in the USA under strict quality control to ensure that your cat only receives wholesome nutrition.


2. Taste of the Wild Rocky Mountain Grain-Free Dry Cat Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Chicken Meal, 2. Roasted Venison, 3. Sweet Potatoes, 4. Smoked Salmon, 5. Dried Chicory Root

Taste of the Wild takes the lead by going above and beyond a cat’s basic nutritional needs. This recipe includes an exotic combination of proteins such as roasted venison and smoked salmon, which help to build muscle and fuels your cat’s energy.

They also eliminate all kinds of grains and fillers and replace them with peas and sweet potatoes for their high digestibility. As for additional nutrient support, Taste of the Wild provides prebiotics to aid digestion and includes vitamins and minerals through dried chicory root and a range of produce.


3. Blue Buffalo Wilderness Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Dry Cat Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Deboned Chicken, 2. Chicken Meal, 3. Peas, 4. Chicken Fat, 5. Pea Fiber

To create a diet similar to that of felines in the wild, Blue Buffalo has come up with a recipe that using only real ingredients and abandons most grains, fillers, additives, and artificial preservatives. It contains premium-quality proteins such as deboned chicken to support lean muscle growth without using by-product meals.

Blue Buffalo Wilderness uses sweet potatoes and peas with high-quality carbohydrates to fuel your cat’s energy levels. Their exclusive LifeSource Bits provide various antioxidants, essential vitamins, and minerals to support your cat’s organs, immune system, and overall body function.


4. Purina Beyond Simply Grain-Free Ocean Whitefish & Egg Recipe Dry Cat Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Ocean Whitefish, 2. Chicken Meal, 3. Pea Starch, 4. Dried Sweet Potatoes, 5. Taurine

For cats with a fondness for seafood, Purina Beyond Whitefish & Egg Dry Food provides a complete nutritional package with the aroma and flavor of fresh oceanic fish. Following a limited ingredient theme, the recipe consists of real ocean whitefish and eggs for protein and sweet potatoes in place of grains for an easily digestible carbohydrate source.

The cat food also provides complete nutritional support through various vitamins and minerals and natural probiotics to improve digestive health. Apart from being gluten and grain-free, Purina Beyond also excludes by-product meals, preservatives, and artificial flavors.


5. Blue Buffalo Freedom Indoor Adult Fish Recipe Grain-Free Dry Cat Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Whitefish, 2. Fish Meal, 3. Peas, 4. Flaxseed, 5. Potatoes

Blue Buffalo Freedom Dry Food takes a more selective approach towards choosing ingredients to create a highly digestible cat food that even the most sensitive cats love. It uses high-quality whitefish meat as the primary source of protein to aid muscle nourishment and heart health. The cat food uses sweet potatoes and peas instead of grains to fuel your cat’s body with carbs.

The cat food utilizes natural fibers to improve digestion and strengthen the digestive system. Moreover, Blue Buffalo’s LifeSource Bits supply antioxidants and essential vitamins to help fulfill the nutritional requirements of indoor cats.


6. Natural Balance L.I.D. Green Pea & Salmon Formula Grain-Free Dry Cat Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Green Peas, 2. Salmon Meal, 3. Pea Protein, 4. Canola Oil, 5. Taurine

Made for cats with sensitive stomachs, Natural Balance has come up with this limited ingredient diet that is highly palatable yet simple. They use premium-quality salmon to provide protein for muscle building and green peas for carbohydrates so that your cat stays fueled for adventures all day long. Following a limited ingredient profile, the cat food is kept free from all additives that might create problems for cats with sensitive stomachs. The list includes grains, artificial colors, flavors, and bleached ingredients. But even with limited ingredients, Natural Balance manages to provide all essential vitamins, minerals, omega fats, and taurine required to keep your cat healthy and energetic.


7. Merrick Purrfect Bistro Grain-Free Real Salmon + Sweet Potato Recipe Adult Dry Cat Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Deboned Salmon, 2. Chicken Meal, 3. Sweet Potatoes, 4. Chicken Fat, 5. Sunflower Oil

One thing that sets Merrick’s Purrfect Bistro Dry Food apart is the balance of nutrients. It has a 70% protein and fat content from salmon, chicken, and turkey, providing your cat with essential amino acids needed for muscle growth. The remaining 30% is easily digestible carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes and many vitamins, minerals, and omega fatty acids.

But what’s even more impressive about Merrick’s Purrfect Bistro Dry Food is that all its ingredients are locally sourced and manufactured in the US. And to keep the cat food as natural as possible, it’s made without grains, gluten, by-product meals, wheat, corn, soy, artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. 


8. Wellness CORE Grain-Free Indoor Formula Dry Cat Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Deboned Chicken, 2. Chicken Meal, 3. Potatoes, 4. Cranberries, 5. Taurine

Made with a goal of creating the highest-quality primal diet, Wellness Core provides a blend of premium ingredients to help indoor adult cats get the nutrition they require to thrive. The protein-rich cat food contains deboned chicken and turkey meal to help your cat develop strong muscles and maintain a healthy weight.

Each bag of Wellness Core cat food is fortified with vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants and probiotics that strengthen the immune and digestive system. While the cat food only uses premium ingredients, it’s also kept free from grains, gluten, soy, artificial preservatives, or flavors. Additionally, each bag is manufactured in the USA. 


9. Wellness Complete Health Pate Chicken Entree Grain-Free Canned Cat Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Chicken, 2. Chicken Liver, 3. Turkey, 4. Carrots, 5. Taurine

This Pate Chicken Entrée from Wellness promises holistic nutrition without grains or artificial preservatives. It’s made from a variety of high-quality proteins, including chicken, turkey, and chicken liver, to provide essential amino acids required for muscle maintenance. 

The pate includes a mix of nutrients such as antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, omega fats to support the digestive and immune systems and help nourish the skin, fur, eyes, and vital organs. Each Pate Chicken Entrée is prepared exclusively in the USA and contains zero grains, artificial preservatives, flavors, or colors.


10. Weruva Paw Lickin’ Chicken in Gravy Grain-Free Canned Cat Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Chicken, 2. Potato Starch, 3. Chicken Broth, 4. Sunflower Oil, 5. Taurine

Weruva has managed to put tons of nutrients in a highly delectable broth-based can of cat food. It combines shredded chicken and supplements into a tasty, broth-based gravy that’s bound to entice even the pickiest cats with its irresistible aroma, texture, and flavor. 

The gravy can be used both as wet food or a kibble topper. Each can provide complete holistic nutrition, including amino acids, vitamins, minerals, omega fatty acids, and taurine. The cat food is manufactured exclusively at Weruva’s facility without any grains, antibiotics, and hormones


11. Instinct Original Grain-Free Pate Real Chicken Recipe Wet Canned Cat Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Chicken, 2. Turkey, 3. Chicken Liver, 4. Carrots, 5. Egg Product

Featuring a 95% protein content and various fruits and vegetables, Instinct’s Original Real Chicken Canned Food truly stands apart in terms of raw nutrition and quality. The premium wet food uses a variety of high-quality proteins like chicken and turkey, both of which provide essential amino acids necessary for muscle nourishment and maintenance.

The remaining 5% of the cat food is wholesome fruits and vegetables that contain plenty of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. To ensure that only quality nutrition gets through, Instinct’s Original Grain-Free Pate is kept free from grains, wheat, soy, by-product meals, artificial colors, and preservatives. It’s manufactured exclusively in the USA with some of the finest ingredients and strictest quality-control methods.


12. Fancy Feast Classic Tender Liver & Chicken Feast Canned Cat Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Chicken Broth, 2. Liver, 3. Chicken, 4. Fish, 5. Taurine

When your cat eats the same dry food every day, they become disinterested and start losing their appetite. This situation calls for a switch to a tasty wet food diet, like the Fancy Feast Liver & Chicken Canned Food. With protein-rich liver, chicken broth, and fish meat, the pate delivers a meaty and moist texture that most cats find difficult to resist.

Moreover, Fancy Feast promises to fulfill all the nutritional requirements of your cat with a single can. The wet food contains vitamins and minerals and antioxidants, omega fats, and taurine, vital for a cat’s heart, vision, and organ health. 


13. Purina Pro Plan True Nature Classic Natural Chicken & Liver Grain-Free Canned Cat Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Chicken, 2. Liver, 3. Chicken Hearts, 4. Natural Flavors, 5. Taurine

Designed to satisfy your cat’s instinctual raw diet cravings, Purina Pro Plan True Nature provides a high-protein and nutrient-rich diet that will help your cat remain as active and healthy as felines in the wild. It contains premium proteins such as real chicken and liver that taste amazing and deliver amino acids required for muscle building and energy.

Purina also promises 100% complete nutrition, with support from antioxidants and omega fatty acids. The recipe doesn’t include grains, corn, soy, artificial colors, or preservatives to mimic a cat’s natural diet as closely as possible. Each can of this wet food manufactured in Purina’s USA facilities is of the highest possible quality. 


14. Blue Buffalo Freedom Indoor Adult Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Canned Cat Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Chicken, 2. Chicken Broth, 3. Chicken Liver, 4. Carrots, 5. Sweet Potatoes

Indoor cats aren’t the best at digesting grains or other heavy carbs. And Blue Buffalo knows how to counter that issue. They’ve identified the main culprits of digestive disorders in cats and have removed them from their recipe. So their Freedom Indoor Adult Canned Food is entirely free from all sorts of grains, by-product meals, corn, wheat, soy, artificial flavors, and preservatives.

Additionally, Blue Buffalo has managed to incorporate wholesome and natural foods into its recipe. It contains real chicken meat and chicken liver for proteins and a range of fruits and vegetables such as sweet potatoes and carrots for vitamins and minerals. The result is a wet food with a texture and aroma that would entice even the pickiest cats.


15. Purina Beyond Grain-Free Chicken & Sweet Potato Pate Recipe Canned Cat Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Chicken, 2. Chicken Broth, 3. Liver, 4. Oceanfish, 5. Sweet Potatoes

The indication of great canned food is that it’s limited in ingredients but still provides every nutrient a cat needs. Purina Beyond shares a similar philosophy and has created a recipe containing only those ingredients that are necessary. 

It’s packed with high-quality protein such as chicken, ocean fish, and liver. The canned food includes antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins derived from wholesome produce such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and eggs. To ensure that the cat food remains as natural as possible, Purina excludes all types of grains, wheat, soy, by-product meals, artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. In the end, your cat receives a balanced and nutrient-rich diet that tastes and smells as good as a fresh kill.


Buyer’s Guide

There’s nothing more worrying than a cat that hasn’t eaten for days. And while there can be a hundred different reasons for lack of appetite, it’s always more or less related to their diet. 

Grains are infamous for disrupting and irritating a cat’s digestive system. If you look around, you’ll find that most cat food manufacturers use various grains in their recipes, but these grains often do more harm than good. And the reason for this is quite simple:

Why are grains bad for cats?

Cats are obligate carnivores and they survive primarily by eating the raw meat of their prey. Most of a feline’s dietary needs can be satisfied by entirely consuming a carcass, which mostly consists of proteins, some fat, and minimal carbs. The only actual carbohydrates cats do consume in the wild are from the pre-digested food in their prey’s stomach.

Compare this to most cat foods. More often than not, you’ll find many grains, such as wheat, corn, and soy, in their ingredient lists. Such grains are too dense and difficult for cats to digest, even when processed or ground. That’s because a cat’s digestive system is designed to digest raw meat, and so, it mainly produces enzymes meant to break down proteins and fat. 

If a cat consumes too many grains, its digestive system must work extra hard, leading to reduced appetite after meals. When you continuously feed them too many grains, their digestive system eventually burns itself out, which results in vomiting and diarrhea.

But that’s not all. Another reason why grains are bad for cats is that they can trigger allergic reactions. Common symptoms of grain allergy include irritated or inflamed skin, sores and scabs, and excessive grooming that leads to bald spots. If you think your cat has started developing these symptoms after a change in its diet, it’s best to get them examined by a veterinarian for grain allergies.

What is grain-free cat food?

Grain-free cat food is free from all types of grains in all forms. This list of grains includes wheat, barley, oats, and rice. These grains often provide a cheap way to increase the calorie count of cat foods. Instead, grain-free foods contain gentler and easily digestible carbs, such as sweet potatoes and peas.

More than that, grain-free cat foods also have a higher protein content to make up for the lost calories. Therefore, a grain-free diet mimics a cat’s natural diet more closely, which means that they’re healthier overall.

However, there are a few downsides to grain-free cat foods, particularly their cost. Let’s look at both the benefits and drawbacks of feeding your cat a grain-free diet:

Benefits of a grain-free diet

A grain-free diet has several important advantages to both cats and their owners that are listed below:

1. Reduction in allergies:

Grain allergies primarily affect a cat’s skin, making it itchy, irritated, and inflamed. When your cat scratches excessively, it can lead to bald spots and an overall poor coat appearance. Shifting to a grain-free diet can improve the appearance of your cat’s skin, make it healthier, and reduce skin irritation. And since your cat won’t be scratching itself that frequently, its fur will also grow back evenly and become shinier.

2. Improved digestive health: 

A cat’s stomach isn’t designed to break down large quantities of unprocessed grains. Because grain-free cat food uses more easily digestible carbs, it puts less load on their digestive system and causes it to start working more efficiently. As a result, your cat starts feeling hungrier and becomes less picky with their food.

3. Increased energy and activeness: 

Efficient digestion and quality nutrition are crucial to a cat’s energy levels. When your cat consumes high-quality grain-free cat food, its digestion automatically speeds up. Therefore, your cat becomes more active, and you’ll find them running around the house more often than before.

4. Better litter habits: 

When your cat consumes an excess of carbs, its body only absorbs some of it and expels the rest as waste. Because cat foods with grains contain a ton of carbs, your cat generates a lot of excess waste, which causes their poop to become larger and smellier. With grain-free cat food, almost all nutrients get absorbed, which brings a noticeable reduction in a cat’s poop size and smell.

5. Improvement in general health and lifespan: 

Digestive issues can become a host of many health problems. Apart from the symptoms brought by grain allergies, poor digestive health become a cause of frequent vet visits and hefty medical bills. Grain-free cat foods not only boost your cat’s digestive health but also help them absorb more nutrients and develop a more robust immune system. All these changes can bring an improvement in your cat’s overall health and increase its lifespan.

Drawbacks of a grain-free diet

While there are fewer drawbacks than benefits of a grain-free diet, here are some worth noting:

1. More expensive: 

Because grain-free cat foods use more proteins and vegetable-based carbs, they cost more than traditional cat foods. However, a grain-free diet will cost you less in the long run, considering the money you’ll save on veterinary bills and medicines for treating digestive issues and allergies.

2. High fat content: 

One issue with grain-free cat foods is that they contain a lot of fat due to the extra protein content. Therefore, it’s best to check a cat food’s fat content before buying, particularly if your cat is already suffering from obesity.

Choosing the right cat food

If you want to switch your cat to a grain-free diet, it’s essential to choose the right cat food as there are both good and bad products in this category. You want to look for cat food with positive reviews that contain high-quality ingredients in a balanced ratio.

While this decision may seem daunting at first, we’ll guide you through the process of choosing the best grain-free food for your cat. We’re listing down some of the most important factors you need to consider before buying. Here’s a list of some of those factors:

Factors to consider before buying

1. Wet or Dry Food: 

Before anything else, it’s important to determine what kind of diet you want to feed your cat. Dry and wet foods have pros and cons, with wet food being more palatable and dry food being much easier to serve and store. 

Another thing you want to consider is the diet you’ve previously been feeding your cat. If your cat is more accustomed to dry food, switching to wet food will be easy. But when you make the opposite switch, you might have to tempt your cat by offering some wet entrée on top of the dry kibbles.

2. Nutrient content: 

Pay attention to this part. Just because grain-free cat foods are free from grains, it doesn’t mean they contain fewer carbohydrates. Some manufacturers switch those grains with high-carb vegetables such as sweet potatoes. But your goal should be to buy cat food that’s high in protein and has less than 15% carbohydrate content. 

So while purchasing grain-free cat food, make sure that the nutrient ratio is well balanced. An average cat requires food that contains 40-60% proteins, 30-50% fat, and less than 15% of carbs to maintain weight and live an active lifestyle.

3. Ingredients: 

Cat food is only as good as its ingredients. A good quality grain-free food should contain at least one real protein source and two to three fruits and vegetables. A trick to identify good quality cat food is to make sure its ingredients are easy to pronounce.

Apart from that, look for cat foods that are free from artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives. Additionally, make sure that they don’t contain fillers, meat by-products, or gluten. 

Other factors to look out for

1. Special nutrient requirement: 

It’s always a good idea to check with your vet before switching your cat to a grain-free diet. Talk to your vet about the choices you’ve shortlisted. If your cat requires any special nutritional supplements or instructions, make sure to sort it out before switching your cat to a non-grain diet.

2. Budget: 

Because grain-free cat food is pricier, make sure that you can afford it in the long run. There’s also a chance that your cat is doing perfectly fine with grain cat food, which you can confirm by checking with your vet. If your cat isn’t suffering from any grain-related side effects, or you can’t afford to pay a premium for a grain-free diet, you can choose to stick with your current cat food as well.


FAQ’s

How much grain-free cat food should a cat eat in a day?

An average cat needs about 24 to 35 calories per pound of body weight in a single day to maintain a healthy weight. For dry food, this amounts to 1/3 to 1/2 cup a day on average, while for wet food, it equals 3½ cans a day. However, this is a very rough estimate, and your vet is the only person who can calculate the most accurate figure. 

Does a grain-free diet help cats in losing weight?

Most grain-free foods do contain fewer carbs that can help your cat shed some extra pounds. Grain-free diets also boost energy levels, which means your cat will be burning off excess calories anyway. If your cat is obese, consider picking a grain-free cat food with lots of fiber and very few carbs.

Should kittens eat grain-free cat food?

Kittens past weaning can be put on a grain-free diet. However, you need to ensure that the grain-free cat food is particularly for kittens and does not contain too many carbohydrates. 

Does grain-free cat food contain taurine?

Taurine comes from animal protein, and meat is plentiful in most grain-free cat foods. Therefore, the removal of grains is not linked to a taurine deficiency in any way. Most grain-free brands add taurine as an additional supplement to support a cat’s heart functioning and vision.

Can grain-free cat food prevent vomiting?

One of the main causes of vomiting is grains in cat foods because grains are difficult for cats to digest. Switching to a non-grain diet can reduce both vomiting and diarrhea in cats.

What is the difference between grain-free and gluten-free cat food?

Grain-free cat food is completely free from all grains in all forms. However, gluten-free cat food might contain grains that don’t have gluten in them. Therefore, grain-free cat food is always gluten-free, but gluten-free cat food might not always be grain-free.

Can a grain-free diet cause harm to cats?

A diet without grains is generally more beneficial for cats than one with grains. The claims that a grain-free diet causes deficiencies and health issues are often misleading as most grain-free cat foods provide complete and balanced nutrition. 

How should you switch your cat to a grain-free diet?

The best way to transition a cat to a new diet is to mix 25% of the new cat food with their old one. Over the next 7­–14 days, slowly increase the proportion of the new cat food while monitoring your cat’s digestion.

What ingredients should you avoid in cat foods?

Avoid glyceryl monostearate, carrageenan, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), sodium nitrate, sodium tripolyphosphate, and titanium dioxide. Other ingredients that you should also avoid include meat by-products, food colorings, wheat gluten, and glucose/dextrose.

Can you leave grain-free cat food out for the night?

You can safely leave dry food out for up to 7 hours at a room temperature of 40-50°F. However, canned and wet food will start to spoil within one or two hours, even at suitable temperatures. If you’re routinely feeding your cat all their daily meals, it’s best not to leave cat food out at night due to its tendency to spoil.

Should you feed your cat grain-free wet food every day?

You can feed your cat grain-free wet cat food every day safely. An average cat will require about 3½ cans of wet food daily divided into two meals. 

Which one is better between wet and dry food?

Each type has its pros and cons. Cats that suffer from urinary tract diseases or constipation can benefit from wet food due to its high moisture content. Dry food is easier to store, can be used with dispensers and puzzles, and is more calorie-dense than wet food.

What is the best way to serve grain-free cat food?

The best way to serve cat food is to make sure it’s at room temperature. If you’re feeding canned food, warm it for a few seconds in the microwave, or let it rest on the counter for 15 mins. A great way to serve dry food is to add ¼ cup of lukewarm to bring out its flavor and aroma.

Is a grain-free diet safe for cats with kidney problems?

Yes, both wet and dry grain-free cat foods are safe for cats with kidney issues. Wet food is a better option as it contains moisture, but you can also add some water to dry cat food to make it more beneficial for your cat’s kidneys.

Does grain-free cat food help with urinary problems?

Grain-free cat foods with fewer carbs and cranberries can help cats with urinary problems. The best option is to purchase wet food as its excess moisture can help with urinary diseases and infections.

How can you increase a cat’s appetite?

Some tips to increase a cat’s appetite include feeding them wet food, adding chicken broth to their kibbles or wet food, slightly warming their food to room temperature, and adding some grated parmesan cheese over their meals.

Which carbs are easiest for cats to digest?

Cats can digest starchy carbs with the most ease. That’s why most grain-free cat food manufacturers use starchy vegetables like potatoes and peas as their main source of carbohydrates.

Why is carrageenan dangerous to cats?

Carrageenan is used as an emulsifier in cat foods due to its strong binding properties. However, researchers have found it toxic to a cat’s digestive system and a possible link to multiple diseases, including colon cancer.

Can cats get DCM from grain-free cat food?

No, the claims of cats getting dilated cardiomyopathy from grain-free cat foods are false. An FDA conducted research found out that there was no link between the two. Because most grain-free cat foods contain natural proteins and additional taurine supplements, a deficiency is very unlikely.