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5 Best Budget Cat Foods in 2021 – Reviews & Top Picks

Genevieve Dugal

orange cat eating dry food

If you have cats at home, we assume you consider them part of the family and do as much as you can to provide them with the best.

It is for this reason that feline owners are increasingly offering their mustached companions “high-end”, “natural”, organic, or even grain-based foods without genetically modified organisms (GMOs), without additives, nor preservatives.

These dedicated owners are also willing to pay the price: on average, they spend $500 a year just to feed their cats! However, as our evaluation of cat food shows, it is quite possible to fill the kitten’s bowl with a quality product that meets its nutritional needs at an affordable price. You don’t need to spend lots to feed your felines well, and we can prove it to you.

Check out the five best budget cat food options we’ve handpicked to help you find the one that will make kitty and your wallet happy!

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A Quick Comparison of Our Favorites

Image Product Details
Best Overall
Winner
Purina Cat Chow Complete Dry Cat Food Purina Cat Chow Complete Dry Cat Food
  • Made with real chicken
  • High protein content
  • Affordable
  • Best Value
    Second place
    Iams ProActive Health Dry Cat Food Iams ProActive Health Dry Cat Food
  • Made with real chicken
  • May help reducing hairballs
  • Best option for the money
  • Premium Choice
    Third place
    Hill's Science Diet Dry Cat Food Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe Hill's Science Diet Dry Cat Food Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe
  • High-quality protein
  • No corn, wheat, soy
  • Recommended by veterinarians
  • Best for Kittens
    Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Healthy Kitten Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Healthy Kitten
  • High-quality proteins
  • Kittens love it
  • Great for kittens with food allergies
  • Cat Chow Naturals Grain-Free with Real Chicken Dry Cat Food Cat Chow Naturals Grain-Free with Real Chicken Dry Cat Food
  • Whole and natural ingredients
  • No artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives
  • High-quality protein
  • The 5 Best Budget Cat Food – Reviews & Top Picks 2021

    1. Purina Cat Chow Complete Dry Cat Food – Best Overall

    Purina Cat Chow Complete Dry Cat Food

    First ingredient: Chicken by-product meal
    Taurine: Yes
    Grain-free: No

    In general, veterinarians recommend cat food high in protein, good sources of fat, and low in carbohydrates. In addition, cats need taurine, arginine, niacin, preformed vitamin A, and specific types of essential fatty acids; otherwise, they can suffer from serious health problems. This is why Purina Cat Chow Complete Dry Cat Food is the best overall option due to the quality of its ingredients, the reputation of the brand, and its low price. However, this cat food also contains corn and other grains, which does not make it a low-carb option. Nevertheless, since chicken is the first ingredient on the list, the protein content is higher, which limits the possibility of weight gain.

    Pros
    • Made with real chicken
    • High protein content
    • Affordable

    Cons

    • Contains corn and rice


    2. Iams ProActive Health Dry Cat Food – Best Value

    Iams ProActive Health Indoor

    First ingredient: Chicken
    Taurine: Yes
    Grain-free: No

    You can’t go wrong with Iams. This option is ideal for indoor cats and owners who want to buy a reputable brand without having to break their piggy bank. Not only is chicken the number one ingredient, but it’s also formulated to help cats maintain a healthy weight and reduce hairballs. However, this option is only for indoor cats; don’t buy it if your pet spends his day exploring your neighborhood, as he may need extra calories.

    Pros
    • Made with real chicken
    • May help reducing hairballs
    • Best option for the money

    Cons

    • High corn content
    • Not the best choice for active outdoor cats


    3. Hill’s Science Diet Dry Cat Food, Adult, No Corn, Wheat or Soy Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe – Premium Choice

    Hill's Science Diet Dry Cat Food Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe

    First ingredient: Chicken
    Taurine: Yes
    Grain-free: Yes

    Hill’s Science Diet Dry Cat Food isn’t exactly a cheap option, but because it is made with very good quality protein and is grain, wheat, and soy-free, your cat will be satisfied with less food. This means you’ll be able to last longer without having to buy another bag, making it a better option in the long run. Plus, since Hill’s Science Diet is recommended by vets, you can be sure your cat is getting all the essential fatty acids they need to thrive. However, despite all the good things packed in this bag, some cat owners have reported that their kitten does not like this food. So, to make sure you don’t waste money on an entire bag that will end up in the trash, you should ask your vet for a sample before purchasing.

    Pros
    • High-quality protein
    • No corn, wheat, soy
    • Recommended by veterinarians

    Cons

    • Expensive
    • Some cats don’t like it


    4. Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Healthy Kitten – Best for Kittens

    Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Healthy Kitten Recipe Dry Cat Food

    First ingredient: Chicken meal
    Taurine: Yes
    Grain-free: Yes

    Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Healthy Kitten is a great, affordable option for your new kitten. This dry food combines premium ingredients, natural and whole, which allows the optimal development of your new furry friend. The added taurine aids in the development of sight and healthy heart function, in addition to aiding digestion. However, the carbohydrate content (dry potatoes) is a little high, which may promote weight gain in some kittens. You will therefore need to keep an eye on the portions you are giving your pet.

    Pros
    • High-quality proteins
    • Kittens love it
    • Great for kittens with food allergies

    Cons

    • Small pieces may not be chewed well
    • High carbohydrate content


    5. Cat Chow Naturals Grain-Free with Real Chicken Dry Cat Food

    Cat Chow Naturals Grain-Free with Real Chicken Dry Cat Food

    First ingredient: Chicken by-product meal
    Taurine: Yes
    Grain-free: Yes

    If your cat has a sensitive stomach or is prone to weight gain, then Cat Chow Naturals Grain-Free is an excellent and affordable option. Indeed, it is composed of whole and natural ingredients, with good quality protein and without grains, which will keep your kitty full for longer. However, although “real chicken” is said to be the first ingredient, the label also mentions “by-product meal” after the word chicken, which can be misleading. Besides, some cats, especially senior cats, may find these kibbles a bit hard to chew.

    Pros
    • Whole and natural ingredients
    • No artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives
    • High-quality protein

    Cons

    • May be hard to chew
    • Some cats don’t like it


    Buyer’s Guide

    Things To Consider When Choosing the Best Budget Cat Food

    The cat is a very delicate animal, which makes it vulnerable to its diet. His diet must therefore be more balanced to avoid ailments such as urinary disorders. What’s more, by giving him quality food, you increase the chances of improving his health once he gets old.

    Besides, unlike the Nutrition Facts tables found on foods intended for human consumption, the composition of pet food (referred to as “guaranteed analysis” on kibble bags) is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Therefore, on a voluntary basis, this industry complies with standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), a North American group of scientists who make recommendations. According to this standard, four nutritional elements must appear on food bags: the minimum levels of protein and fat as well as the maximum levels of moisture and fiber.

    • Protein. The cat should be fed protein-rich food: ideally minimums of 28% for indoor cats and 30% for outdoor cats (since the latter usually are more active than indoor cats). Cat food that contains fresh meat and fish, egg products, and meat meal among the first ingredients listed on the packaging are to be preferred. Indeed, unlike plant protein, animal protein provides the cat with the amino acids it needs to survive.
    • Fat. Because they play a direct role in the caloric value of the food, fat intake should preferably be around 9% for indoor cats and between 15 and 20% for outdoor cats. If the products exceed these thresholds, they could make the cat fat, especially if it is not active enough to compensate for this gain. Conversely, a fat deficiency means that the feline may not get enough essential fatty acids (omega-6 and omega-3). These compounds are necessary for a cat’s skin and coat health, vision, immune system, and brain development. So, to make sure your furry friend gets the fatty acids they need, kibbles should ideally contain chicken fat, which is high in omega-6 (more than beef fat and vegetable fat). On the other hand, fish, fish oil, and flax seeds are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
    • Fibers. Fiber is needed to keep the digestive tract healthy. Thus, an indoor cat should, ideally, ingest between 3 and 6% of fiber, and an outdoor cat, between 3 and 4%. On the other hand, too much fiber could cause the animal not to absorb all the nutrients it needs and therefore lose weight.
    • Humidity. The product should not be too wet either; otherwise, it could go moldy. In addition, very dry food (8-10% humidity) is generally more pleasing to the kitty’s palate.

    Importance of Taurine and Magnesium

    • Taurine is an essential amino acid that cats are unable to produce on their own. They must imperatively look for it in their diet; otherwise, they can develop heart and vision problems. Besides, the minimum threshold for taurine should be 0.1%. However, most kibbles do not display the taurine content on their packaging, which makes it impossible to validate whether there is sufficient taurine.
    • Magnesium is another mineral necessary for cats, but which, in excess and associated with a low acid urinary pH, can lead to urinary problems. Therefore, experts have determined that indoor and outdoor cat food should ideally contain 0.1% magnesium, a level that meets all the cat’s needs. However, most products do not display this information.
    cats eating from orange bowls
    Image Credit: Sharaf Maksumov, Shutterstock

    Should You Buy Cat Food From Your Vet?

    To feed a healthy cat, there is no need for products sold by veterinarians. In fact, the food sold in such establishments is mainly intended for animals with specific therapeutic needs. When it comes to high prices, you should know that you are also paying for quality nutritional advice when you buy your food from the vet. In addition, these kibbles are, in many cases, subjected to clinical trials, which are excessively expensive to carry out. Such tests make it possible, among other things, to document whether the food is well digested by the animal.

    What should you take away from all this information? If your cat is healthy, you can easily buy him food from a supermarket or pet store without paying an exorbitant price. Nevertheless, be sure to read the ingredient list carefully so that your cat can benefit from all the elements necessary for his overall health.

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    Conclusion

    If you are on a tight budget, you can still provide quality food for your dear pet feline. According to our reviews of the options available on the market, Purina Cat Chow Complete Dry Food is the best overall, at a more than affordable price. Iams ProActive Health also offers an attractive combination of price and quality, while Hill’s Science Diet Dry Cat Food is the more expensive option but advantageous in the long run. Either way, don’t neglect your kitten’s annual visits and routine checkups, as this will determine whether your pet will ultimately need more expensive food to treat specific health issues.


    Featured Image Credit: Okssi, Shutterstock

    Genevieve Dugal

    Genevieve is a biologist and science writer. Her deep love for capuchin monkeys, pumas, and kangaroos has taken her worldwide to work and volunteer for several wildlife rehabilitation centers in Bolivia, Guatemala, Canada, and Australia. As a Canadian expat, Genevieve now lives in Argentina, where she wakes up every morning to horses and cows saying hello from the vast plain next to her home office window. She is the proud mom of three rescued dogs, Lemmy, Nala, and Pochi, and a frisky kitten, Furiosa. Having the privilege of sharing her knowledge and passion for animals of all kinds is what makes her fulfilled and happy.