When you should switch to a grain-free diet? 

When your cat has intolerance to grains 

The main reason for changing your cat’s diet is intolerance to grains. As a rule, it can be noticed right away after giving your cat new food. Typically, cats experience diarrhea and vomiting. If you see such a reaction to the products with grain, try switching to a grain-free alternative and watch your cat’s reaction to it.

When your cat is allergic to grains 

It manifests in allergic reactions, such as reddening of eyes, itching, hair loss, and skin irritation. The worst thing about it is those allergic reactions can be revealed by cat owners too late. In some cases, cat parents notice that there’s something wrong when the allergy is already chronic and affects the pet’s health seriously. Although corn has not been found very allergic, other grains, especially the ones with gluten, might be dangerous for cats in rare cases. Consult your veterinarian and change food only if your doctor suggests so to avoid allergic reactions.

When the recipe is low in carbs and high in proteins

Now, when you have found an appropriate recipe, it’s important to make sure it’s suitable for the daily nutrition of your feline friend. Check the nutritional facts. The regular cat diet should consist of high-protein products. Ideally, there should be ~35% of the protein in grain-free dry cat foods. Pay attention to the quality of protein source: some grain-free cat food producers put a lot of pea or lentils to supply fiber and protein. Meat should be listed first in the contents!

How to choose a high quality grain-free cat food?

Here’s a short algorithm to follow:

  1. Check if it’s AAFCO approved. The label should say that the product ‘meets AAFCO nutritional profiles for cat’s life stages’. It does not guarantee you exceptional quality but at least such formulation ensures the food contains safe components only and is properly tested.
  2. Check the first five ingredients. It’s important for grain-free recipes! Make sure that deboned meat, organs (liver, heart, kidney), and chicken/turkey/fish meal are listed first. Most likely, the recipe will have peas or potatoes but they should go after meaty ingredients. We all want quality sources of protein for our cats.
  3. Check if it’s low in carbs. The majority of cat foods usually have about 20-40% of carbs. When you buy a grain-free product, it should be low in carbs because it’s devoid of the main source of the nutrient. A grain-free recipe should have around 20% of carbs.
  4. Check if it’s high in proteins. Quality cat food for daily nutrition should have about 30-40% protein. The percentage depends on the cat’s nutritional needs. For example, active and outdoor cats, as well as kittens, should consume about 40% of protein. Indoor cats with low activity need recipes with 30-35% protein.
  5. Check if it’s low in fats. As a rule, high-quality cat food has up to 20% of fat. The majority of worthy grain-free recipes have 15-18% of fat. This is the most optimal amount since your cat will get enough proteins without the risk of becoming overweight.

Best grain-free dry cat food 

Cat Food RecipeRatingCalories
American Journey Salmon Recipe Grain-Free Dry Cat Food10382 kcal / 100 g
Taste of the Wild Grain Free High Protein Real Meat Recipe9.9390 kcal/cup
Instinct Original Grain-Free Recipe Natural Dry Cat Food9.9505 kcal/cup
Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets Dry Cat Food9.8410 kcal/cup
Merrick Purrfect Bistro Grain-Free Dry Cat Food9.6410 kcal/cup
Purina Beyond Grain-Free, Natural, Adult Dry Cat Food9.6454 kcal/cup
CRAVE Grain Free High Protein Dry Cat Food9.2379 kcal/cup
Blue Buffalo Wilderness Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Dry Cat Food9.0410 kcal/cup
Solid Gold – Indigo Moon – High Protein & Grain-Free8.9475 kcal/cup

Best grain free wet cat food 

Cat Food RecipeRatingCalories
Tiki Cat Aloha Friends Grain-Free Wet Cat Food for All Life Stages9.961 kcal / pouch
Purina Pro Plan TRUE NATURE Natural Adult Canned Wet Cat Food9.8111 kcal/can
Wellness Core Natural Grain Free Wet Canned Cat Food, Whitefish, Salmon & Herring;9.8144 kcal/5.5-oz can
Weruva Grain-Free Natural Canned Wet Cat Food, Classic Recipes;9.6115 kcal/5.5-oz can
IAMS Perfect Portions Premium Adult Cat Food Salmon Recipe Grain-Free Pate.9.638 kcal/serving


Why grain-free cat food is better?

It’s not equally good for all cats. Vets might prescribe it to pets because of sensitivities and possible allergic reactions. Thus, grain-free food is recommended for cats with allergy. For healthy pets, it won’t make any difference. 

There is no single best food and you should take into account your own situation. For instance, we advise chicken as one of the best protein sources, however, some cats require a poultry-free diet. So please, do not rush, educate yourself about proper feline nutrition and consult with your vet prior to making decisions based on catchy marketing tricks.

Do cats need grains? 

Wild cats used to receive fiber from the grains inside their prey’s stomach. Today, grains are added in cat food recipes to provide fiber. It’s essential for indoor cats because they don’t move much and suffer from slow metabolism. Thus, 100% grain-free food isn’t necessary for all cats.

What other ingredients should you avoid in cat food?

Some experts recommend avoiding food with gluten. However, there’s no scientific evidence that cats suffer from gluten allergies. Soy is also not proven to cause allergic reactions or contain GMOs in 100% of cases.

In a word

Mother Nature made cats 100% carnivores, so they don’t eat plants and don’t need much fiber. Grains often serve as safe fillers but turn out to be dangerous for sensitive felines. If you notice diarrhea and vomiting in your cat, or see it suffering from allergic reactions, it’s high time to check what’s in the bowl. Also you should check grain-free cat treats that will be a nice addition to your cat’s grain-free diet!

Visit your veterinarian and try to figure out whether grains (oat, rice, barley, wheat and so on) have any impact on your pet’s well-being. If you’ve noticed this correlation, the problem can be easily fixed by switching the diet. Leave cereals on your plate! Hopefully, each grain free cat food review in this article will help you make an informed decision and buy both safe and nutritious products for your beloved pet.

I am Claudine, a College of Veterinary Medicine alumni and cat health & lifestyle specialist. In this blog, I share my personal experience and recommendations on improving cat’s diet, behavior, and both physical and psychological state.

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