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10 Best Budget Cat Foods in 2021 – Reviews & Buyers Guide

We don’t always have tons of money to spend on our cat’s food. While many cat owners would love to purchase premium tuna and caviar for their furry friend, that just isn’t practical for most families.

Luckily, some budget cat foods are high-quality.

When you’re purchasing budget cat food, you will have to compromise somewhere. No top-shelf cat food is going to be cheap! The key is knowing where to compromise and still end up with quality food for your feline.

In this article, we’ll help you learn how to do just that. Our reviews cover some of the best budget cat foods on the market, while our buyer’s guide will help you pick the best option for your feline.

A Quick Comparison of Our Favorites

Rating Image Product Details
Best Overall
Winner
Wellness Complete Health Grain-Free Healthy Weight Chicken Recipe Wellness Complete Health Grain-Free Healthy Weight Chicken Recipe
  • Grain-free
  • Plenty of animal meat included
  • Free from artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives
  • Best Value
    Second place
    Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Real Whitefish & Tuna Recipe Dry Cat Food Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Real Whitefish & Tuna Recipe Dry Cat Food
  • Whitefish meal as the first ingredient
  • High in animal-based protein
  • Free from corn, wheat, and soy
  • Premium Choice
    Third place
    Taste of the Wild Canyon River Grain-Free Dry Cat Food Taste of the Wild Canyon River Grain-Free Dry Cat Food
  • Trout as the first ingredient
  • Grain-free
  • Natural fruits and veggies included
  • Purina ONE True Instinct Variety Pack Canned Cat Food Purina ONE True Instinct Variety Pack Canned Cat Food
  • Whole meat as the first ingredient
  • High in moisture
  • Quality meat ingredients included throughout
  • Cat Chow Naturals Indoor with Real Chicken & Turkey Dry Cat Food Cat Chow Naturals Indoor with Real Chicken & Turkey Dry Cat Food
  • High protein content
  • Whole chicken as the first ingredient
  • High fiber contents
  • The 10 Best Budget Cat Foods – Reviews & Top Picks 2021

    1. Wellness Complete Health Grain-Free Dry Cat Food – Best Overall

    First Five Ingredients: Deboned chicken, chicken meal, turkey meal, peas, dried ground potatoes
    Macronutrients: 35% protein, 9.5% fat, 10% moisture

    Wellness Complete is one of the more affordable brands out there. However, they also include high-quality ingredients in their formulas.

    The first three ingredients of this formula are meat-based. Deboned chicken comes first, followed by chicken meal and turkey meal. All of these ingredients are high-quality options for our felines.

    The high concentration of animal protein is rare in budget cat food. While this isn’t the cheapest cat food on the market, the value is unheard of. This factor is essentially why we consider it the best overall budget cat food.

    The formula is grain-free, though it does contain some starchy potatoes. It is also free from meat by-products, artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives. It includes absolutely no corn, wheat, or soy. Every ingredient has its place.

    This food is made in the USA, as are all of Wellness’s formulas. Ingredients are sourced from around the world, however.

    The major downside of this formula is that it includes peas. Peas are very high in protein, which is essentially why they are used in pet foods. However, they do not provide the same high-quality protein that animal-based protein does. Keep this in mind when looking at the protein content – not all of this protein is high-quality.

    Pros
    • Grain-free
    • Plenty of animal meat included
    • Free from artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives
    • No corn, wheat, or soy
    • May help prevent obesity

    Cons

    • Contains high concentrations of peas


    2. Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Real Whitefish & Tuna Recipe Dry Cat Food – Best Value

    Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Real Whitefish & Tuna Recipe Dry Cat Food

    First Five Ingredients: Whitefish meal, dried potatoes, dried peas, chicken meal, chicken fat
    Macronutrients: 35% protein, 14% fat, 11% moisture

    Out of all the cat foods on the market, Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Real Whitefish & Tuna Recipe Dry Cat Food is the best budget cat food for the price. However, it still has many of the key features we look for when rating cat food.

    For instance, it includes animal meat as the first ingredient. Whitefish meal is a solid option for any felines. It is incredibly nutrient-dense and has already had much of the moisture removed. It is also high in omega fatty acids, which may improve your feline’s coat and skin.

    There are also several other animal meats throughout the ingredient list. For instance, chicken meal occurs as the fourth ingredient.

    While tuna is listed in the name of this recipe, tuna doesn’t appear until much further down on the ingredient list.

    This formula is nutritionally complete. It is fortified with many different vitamins and minerals. No corn wheat, soy, or by-product meal is included. Artificial ingredients are absent from the ingredient list as well.

    The cat food itself is made in the United States. However, the ingredients are sourced from around the world.

    Pros
    • Whitefish meal as the first ingredient
    • High in animal-based protein
    • Free from corn, wheat, and soy
    • Grain-free

    Cons

    • High in dried-peas and starchy veggies


    3. Taste of the Wild Canyon River Grain-Free Dry Cat Food – Premium Choice

    Taste of the Wild Canyon River Grain-Free Dry Cat Food

    First Five Ingredients: Trout, ocean fish meal, sweet potatoes, potatoes, pea protein
    Macronutrients: 32% protein, 16% fat, 10% moisture

    For those looking for a bit of higher-quality cat food, we recommend Taste of the Wild Canyon River Grain-Free Dry Cat Food. This formula is grain-free and made with many high-quality ingredients. It is also free from chicken, which is important for cats with allergies.

    The first ingredient is trout, followed by ocean fish meal. Both of these provide healthy fats and protein that your feline needs to thrive. The fats include omega fatty acids, which can improve coat and skin health. These healthy fats may also improve joint problems, should that be a problem for your feline.

    Real fruits and veggies are included for antioxidant support. This ingredient helps prevent oxidative damage, which has been linked to a variety of different diseases.

    Prebiotics are also included for digestive support. If your cat has stomach difficulty, you may want to look into this product.

    The essential minerals are chelated, making them easier for our cats to digest. Your feline will get more out of the nutrients in this cat food, in other words.

    As you might expect, this food is a bit more expensive than other options. It still falls clearly into the budget category, however.

    Pros
    • Trout as the first ingredient
    • Grain-free
    • Natural fruits and veggies included
    • Chelated minerals

    Cons

    • A bit more expensive


    4. Purina ONE True Instinct Turkey, Chicken & Tuna Variety Pack Canned Cat Food

    Purina ONE True Instinct Turkey, Chicken & Tuna Variety Pack Canned Cat Food

    First Five Ingredients: Tuna broth, tuna, wheat gluten, chicken, pork lungs
    Macronutrients: 11% protein, 2% fat, 80% moisture

    Purina is a solid budget cat food brand. Their ONE line is a bit more expensive than their other lines, including higher quality ingredients. The Purina ONE True Instinct Turkey, Chicken & Tuna Variety Pack Canned Cat Food includes three different flavors, which help vary your cat’s diet a bit.

    All the recipes have slightly different ingredients, but they are similar. The tuna recipe includes tuna broth as the first ingredient, followed by tuna. Because this food is high in moisture, it isn’t odd to have broth as the first ingredient.

    Wheat gluten is included as the third ingredient. This additive is lower-quality. It is a wheat by-product that is high in protein. Therefore, it raises the overall protein content of this food with lower-quality protein.

    Due to the inclusion of fish, this recipe is very high in omega fatty acids, which may help cats with joint issues. Some antioxidants are included as well, providing some protection from oxidative stress.

    While this recipe may be more expensive than some other budget options, the use of quality meat products through the ingredient list makes it more than worth it. The value is very good for the price.

    Pros
    • Whole meat as the first ingredient
    • High in moisture
    • Quality meat ingredients included throughout
    • High in antioxidants and omega fatty acids

    Cons

    • Wheat gluten included
    • Slightly more expensive than other options


    5. Cat Chow Naturals Indoor with Real Chicken & Turkey Dry Cat Food

    Cat Chow Naturals Indoor with Real Chicken & Turkey Dry Cat Food

    First Five Ingredients: Chicken, corn gluten meal, brewers rice, chicken by-product meal, soybean meal
    Macronutrients: 38% protein, 9% fat, 12% moisture

    Cat Chow is a notoriously low-quality brand, but their Cat Chow Naturals Indoor with Real Chicken & Turkey Dry Cat Food is better than their others.

    Chicken is listed as the first ingredient. As you likely expect, this is a quality option for most felines. However, the ingredient list goes a bit downhill after that. Things like corn gluten meal and brewer’s rice are included very high on the list.

    These don’t provide much nutrition for our felines. However, they do add lots of plant-based protein, which isn’t the best option for cats.

    The overall protein content of this food is extremely high, especially when compared to similar brands. However, you must remember that much of this protein is plant-based – not animal-based.

    High levels of fiber work to keep your cat fuller for longer – a beneficial feature for overweight cats.

    No artificial flavors or preservatives are included. This formula is also entirely nutritionally balanced, with plenty of added vitamins and nutrients added.

    Pros
    • High protein content
    • Whole chicken as the first ingredient
    • High fiber contents

    Cons

    • Many protein-heavy plant ingredients included
    • By-products included


    6. Fancy Feast Classic Seafood Feast Variety Pack Canned Cat Food

    Fancy Feast Classic Seafood Feast Variety Pack Canned Cat Food

    First Five Ingredients (of Cod Recipe): Cod, fish, liver, meat by-products, fish broth
    Macronutrients: 12% protein, 2% fat, 78% moisture

    Fancy Feast is a well-known budget cat food brand out there. They provide great value for the price, which is why the Fancy Feast Classic Seafood Feast Variety Pack Canned Cat Food ended up so high on our list.

    The first ingredient of the cod recipe is cod – like you would expect. The other recipes included have similar ingredients. For instance, the salmon recipe features salmon as the first ingredient.

    The following few ingredients are meat but slightly lower quality. Fish is included second. While this does boost the protein and fat content, we don’t exactly know what kind of fish it is. The listing is a bit vague, which could mean that the ingredient is lower-quality. Liver is also included. Organ meats are typically quite nutritious. But, again, we don’t exactly know what kind of liver is included.

    Meat by-products are listed as the fourth ingredient. This additive is mystery meat. We don’t know what animal it came from or exactly what the ingredient contains since by-products can be several things.

    Still, this food is nutritionally complete and includes whole meat as the first ingredient, which is better than most budget cat foods.

    Pros
    • Whole meat as the first ingredient
    • High in moisture
    • Grain-free

    Cons

    • Lower-quality meat products included
    • Meat by-product meal added


    7. Iams ProActive Health Adult Hairball Care Dry Cat Food

    Iams ProActive Health Adult Hairball Care Dry Cat Food

    First Five Ingredients: Chicken, chicken by-product meal, ground whole grain corn, corn grits, corn gluten meal
    Macronutrients: 32% protein, 14% fat, 10% moisture

    Surprisingly, Iams is pretty high-quality cat food for those on a budget. Their Iams ProActive Health Adult Hairball Care Dry Cat Food formula includes chicken as the first ingredient. This is a solid option for many cats and is also quite inexpensive, which is why you find it in many budget cat foods.

    Chicken by-product meal is included as the second ingredient. This ingredient isn’t as high-quality as other options. There is simply no way to tell what by-products are included. They may be anything from high-quality organ meats to feathers – which don’t have any nutritional content.

    While the description of this food lists salmon, this doesn’t appear until much further down on the list. It does bring up the omega fatty acid content, though.

    This formula is higher in fiber than most. This feature is essential for overweight felines, as it helps them stay full and therefore eat less. It is also a good idea for nearly any cat, especially considering that most felines are overweight.

    All Iams formulas are made in the USA.

    Pros
    • Chicken as the first ingredient
    • High in omega fatty acids
    • High in fiber

    Cons

    • Chicken by-products included
    • High in corn gluten meal and similar ingredients


    8. SPORTMiX Wholesomes Chicken Meal & Rice Formula Adult Dry Cat Food

    SPORTMiX Wholesomes Chicken Meal & Rice Formula Adult Dry Cat Food

    First Five Ingredients: Chicken meal, brown rice, rice flour, chicken fat, menhaden fish meal
    Macronutrients: 32% protein, 14% fat, 10% moisture

    While it may not be as popular as other cat food brands, SPORTMiX Wholesomes Chicken Meal & Rice Formula Adult Dry Cat Food is a high-quality, budget option.

    It includes chicken meal as the first ingredient. This ingredient is crafted by cooking down a whole chicken and removing much of the moisture content. Therefore, it is more nutrient-dense per ounce than a whole chicken.

    This ingredient is listed first means that this formula likely includes a lot of animal-based protein.

    This formula is entirely corn, wheat, and soy-free. It also doesn’t contain any peas, which is uncommon for budget cat foods. High-moisture meats also aren’t used.

    Omega-3s and omega-6 fatty acids are included to protect your cat’s skin and coat. They are advertised to reduce shedding, though the scientific evidence on this isn’t clear.

    The main negative of this food is its slightly increased price. However, if you can afford something on the upper end of the budget range, we highly recommend this brand.

    It does include some less-than-stellar ingredients, like rice flour. But these are often included in dry foods to help all the ingredients stick together.

    Pros
    • Omega fatty acids included
    • Chicken meal as the first ingredient
    • Free from corn, wheat, and soy

    Cons

    • Slightly more expensive
    • Some lower quality ingredients included


    9. Cat Chow Indoor Hairball & Healthy Weight Dry Cat Food

    Cat Chow Indoor Hairball & Healthy Weight Dry Cat Food

    First Five Ingredients: Chicken by-product meal, whole grain corn, soy flour, whole grain wheat, corn gluten meal
    Macronutrients: 30% protein, 9.5% fat, 12% moisture

    Cat Chow is extremely inexpensive. It is one of the cheapest brands on the market. However, their recipes aren’t the best – as you might expect. Their Cat Chow Indoor Hairball & Healthy Weight Dry Cat Food isn’t the best food out there, but it is a popular option for cat owners on a budget.

    The first ingredient is chicken by-product meal. While it is nice to see a meat product as the first ingredient, this is a lower-quality ingredient. By-products could be anything. They could be nutrient-rich, or they could be filler. Some by-products are nutrient-rich organ meats and cartilage, while others are just feathers.

    You have no idea what this ingredient is – except that it comes from a chicken.

    The other ingredients aren’t high-quality, either. Soy four and corn gluten meal aren’t ingredients that most cats would choose to eat.

    With that said, this is a nutritionally complete option for your feline. It includes all the necessary added vitamins and minerals. The protein content is so-so at 30%, but many felines can get away with that protein level.

    Pros
    • Meat as the first ingredient
    • Inexpensive
    • Nutritionally complete

    Cons

    • Low-quality ingredients
    • By-products as the only primary animal-derived ingredient


    10. Friskies Ocean Favorites with Natural Salmon Dry Cat Food

    Friskies Ocean Favorites with Natural Salmon Dry Cat Food

    First Five Ingredients: Ground yellow corn, poultry by-product meal, corn gluten meal, soy flour, ground whole wheat
    Macronutrients: 30% protein, 10.5% fat, 12% moisture

    We only recommend Friskies Ocean Favorites with Natural Salmon Dry Cat Food for those who need very inexpensive cat food. This recipe is nutritionally complete and can keep your cat alive. However, the ingredients are very low-quality. That’s how they’re keeping the cost so low, after all.

    Don’t let the name fool you – there is practically no salmon in this food. Instead, the main ingredients are corn and wheat. As you might imagine, these are not the best ingredients for our felines. They were designed to thrive on a diet full of meat, not grains.

    The only meat source in the first five ingredients is poultry by-product meal, which is also low-quality. We don’t know precisely what by-products were used, nor do we know the exact type of poultry it comes from. This ingredient is very close to being mystery meat.

    With that said, this formula is free from artificial flavors and preservatives. It also includes antioxidants and omega fatty acids, though in small amounts.

    Pros
    • Very inexpensive

    Cons

    • Corn as the first ingredient
    • Low-quality meat ingredients included


    Buyer’s Guide

    Buying a budget cat food is a big balancing act. On the one hand, you don’t want to purchase premium food that is way out of your budget. On the other hand, you don’t want to choose a food that lacks and doesn’t meet all your cat’s nutritional needs.

    In this portion of the article, we’ll help you choose where you can safely cut corners and save, as well as where it is best to stay firm.

    Meat Ingredients

    When you’re purchasing a budget cat food, you’re going to run across brands with low-quality meat ingredients. Because our cats are designed to eat mostly meat, the type of meat included is vital.

    There is little value in a premium, boutique meat like bison over chicken or another common ingredient. Therefore, feel free to save money by choosing a food containing chicken or beef instead of something “fancy.”

    Meat meals are a great option as well. They’re more nutritionally dense than whole meat, as they have had the nutrient content removed.

    You should avoid brands that don’t have meat as the first ingredient. This doesn’t necessarily have to be whole meat, but it should be some type of meat.

    By-products aren’t always harmful and can’t always be avoided in budget cat foods. However, they should not be the primary source of protein, preferably. The main issue is that you don’t know what by-products are.

    Avoid unknown meat ingredients where possible. If something says “meat by-product meal,” there is absolutely no way to know what that ingredient is. It could be anything!

    The Brand

    Who makes the food is essential. For instance, while Purina has been in the pet food business a very long time, they have very few serious recalls. Their foods are likely safer.

    However, many small brands sell themselves as higher-quality but have far more recalls – like Blue Buffalo.

    Don’t distrust a company just because it is bigger. Your first goal should be to choose safe food for your feline.

    Bigger companies often have the money to:

    • Employ animal nutritionists
    • Conduct vital safety protocols
    • Regularly test their food
    • Operate their facilities
    • Verify finished products

    All of this leads to safer food for your feline.

    AAFCO Nutritional Guidelines

    Cat foods are not required to follow any particular guidelines. However, some of the words they use are monitored by the AAFCO, the Association of American Feed Control Officials. For instance, their foods can’t be marketed as a complete meal if it doesn’t meet the correct nutritional requirements.

    Look for the AFFCO seal on cat food before you purchase it. Otherwise, there is no way to tell if it is nutritionally complete for your feline. Be careful with foods that look like complete meals but state they are “supplements” (sometimes in tiny letters).

    kitten eating
    Image Credit: Purina, Chewy

    Healthy Fats

    Your cat was designed to be a carnivore, which means they thrive on a diet full of meat. Meat is mainly made up of two things: fat and protein.

    We’ve already discussed protein sources, but fat sources are just as important.

    Preferably, food should have animal fat or a very fatty whole meat, like salmon. Fat makes the food taste better and provides the extra fat that is often missing from meat alone. Cats should be getting much of their calorie needs from fat.

    Look for high-quality fats, like omega fatty acids. Natural fat from animals is always better than fat derived from a vegetable source, like flaxseed.

    Artificial Ingredients

    Even though you’re purchasing a budget food, there is no reason to choose a formula with artificial ingredients.

    Artificial colors are unnecessary. Our felines do not care what color their food is. If it’s added, it’s added to encourage people to buy it – not make our cats healthier.

    Artificial preservatives are sometimes used, but some of these are linked with poor health consequences. For instance, ethoxyquin may be linked with liver issues. However, the FDA has ruled that it may be used in trace amounts.

    Long-term exposure is not recommended, though.

    hepper cat paw divider

    Conclusion

    You don’t have to spend a fortune to get high-quality cat food for your feline. There are quite a few options on the market suitable for your feline and less expensive than most options.

    For most cats, we recommend Wellness Complete Health Grain-Free Indoor Healthy Weight Chicken Recipe Dry Cat Food. This formula is cheaper than most, but it also includes high-quality ingredients. Deboned chicken is the first ingredient, for instance.

    If you need something very inexpensive, you may consider Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Real Whitefish & Tuna Recipe Dry Cat Food. It is less expensive than most options but includes surprisingly high-quality ingredients. It is also very high in protein, which is always a plus.

    Choosing cat food is always complicated. When you have a strict budget, it can be even more challenging. Hopefully, our reviews helped you figure out which options are best for your feline.


    Featured Image Credit: AlexanderDubrovsky, Shutterstock

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