Cheapism: Best budget cat food

By Kara Reinhardt,

The way cat food companies advertise their products — using words such as “succulent” and close-up shots of meaty chunks — you’d never guess the audience isn’t meant to eat them. It’s a testament to how much cat owners adore and identify with their pets that they have such high standards for what goes in that cat dish every day. Still, pet food doesn’t need to sound like something off of a restaurant menu (salmon and brown rice entrée, anyone?) to satisfy your cat and provide necessary nutrients.

Below are Cheapism’s top picks for affordable cat food.

  • Trader Joe’s Premium canned cat food (starting at 69 cents per 5.5-ounce can) may not be as widely available as other varieties, but reviews posted online say it offers outstanding quality for the price. This wet cat food contains high levels of animal protein and no byproducts. One pet owner makes a single can last through up to four feedings just by adding a spoonful of water. (Where to buy)
  • Purina One Smartblend Adult Variety (starting at $27 for a 16-pound bag) is a dry cat food that lists real chicken or salmon (depending on the flavor) as its primary ingredient. Reviewers testify to improvements in their pets’ heath after a switch to this product. (Where to buy)
  • Friskies Meaty Bits (starting at $11 for a 24-pack of 5.5-ounce cans) seems to appeal to cats for its flavor and to owners for its price, which is low for a wet cat food. One reviewer who works at an animal shelter reports that it’s unusual to come across a cat who doesn’t enjoy this variety. (Where to buy)
  • Taste of the Wild Feline Formula (starting at $28.50 for a 15-pound bag) attracts owners and cats alike with premium ingredients. Advocates point out that this is one of the only inexpensive dry cat foods without grains as filler. Reviewers have noticed that their pets have shinier coats, more energy, and/or better digestion. (Where to buy)

The wet vs. dry debate turns on several factors, not the least of which are the preferences of notoriously picky kitties. The ideal cat food mimics what a cat would eat in the wild, with high levels of animal protein,  few carbohydrates, and plenty of moisture. Commercially available wet cat food comes closest, with less filler and more protein (pound for dry pound) than dry cat food and also more water. All cats should have access to fresh water, but consumers who serve dry cat food must take extra care to provide their pets enough water to prevent health problems such as urinary tract infections and kidney disease. On the other hand, dry food is generally cheaper, less messy and odorous, and can sit in a dish all day without spoiling.

All cat food, whether wet or dry, is subject to labeling regulations enforced by the FDA and the states. Ingredients must be listed in order of weight, for example, so consumers can look for meat at the top to ensure adequate nutrition.

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