How much do you spend on cat food each month? For many pet owners, their biggest concern is the cost of their pet’s food. What’s more important than your pet’s impact on your wallet, however, is his impact on your life. Your cat is your most loyal companion, even if he gets a bit finicky at times.
- Chelated minerals
- High in moisture content
- Rich in protein
- Moderate fat content
In the end, all you really want is for your cat to be happy and healthy, right? Then maybe it’s time to think about what you’re feeding him and to ask yourself if it’s really a good diet.
If you want your cat to enjoy a long and healthy life, you need to start feeding him a nutritious diet as soon as possible. Don’t feel like you have to spend a small fortune on cat food, either. While price and quality are often correlated, there is no reason you can’t find an affordable cat food that offers decent nutritional quality. In fact, we’ve done the work for you!
Read on to learn more about how to shop for affordable cat food that doesn’t cut corners on quality. You’ll also learn what to look for in a good cat food and you’ll receive our top 13 recommendations for affordable cat foods in different categories.
What are the Best Cheaper Cat Foods in 2021?
- American Journey Grain-Free Chicken Recipe
- Taste of the Wild Rocky Mountain Grain-Free
- Crave Chicken Pate Grain-Free Cat Food Trays
- Evolve Classic Deboned Chicken & Brown Rice
- Blue Buffalo Sensitive Stomach Chicken Recipe
- AvoDerm Natural Indoor Hairball Care Formula
- Merrick Purrfect Bistro Chicken Recipe Canned Food
- Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Chicken Recipe
- Wellness Complete Health Grain-Free Chicken Entrée
- Eagle Pack Indoor Adult Dry Cat Food
- Under the Sun Grain-Free Canned Food
- Purina Beyond Indoor Grain-Free Salmon, Egg & Sweet Potato
- Tiki Cat Hawaiian Grill Ahi Tuna Grain-Free Canned Food
What Cat Owners Should Know About Cat Nutrition
The first thing you need to know about cat nutrition is that cats are not just small dogs. While this fact may seem obvious, you might be surprised by the number of pet owners who think dogs and cats can be fed the same food. This is absolutely not the case.
The truth of the matter is that dogs are omnivores while cats are true or obligate carnivores. This isn’t just a simple fact – it is a biological necessity. While dogs have some ability to digest and absorb nutrients from plant sources (in wild dogs, most of this comes from the stomach contents of their prey), cats have a biological need for meat in their diet. They are physically incapable of being healthy on a largely plant-based diet.
So, what does this mean? The first ingredient in whatever diet you choose to feed your cat needs to be a whole source of real animal protein – meat, poultry, or fish. For kittens, the minimum protein content recommended is 22.5% for healthy growth and development. Once your kitten matures and stops growing, his minimum requirements drop to 18%. Keep in mind, however, that these are minimums – more protein is always a good thing, without becoming excessive of course.
After protein, your cat needs healthy fats in his diet. Fats provide a concentrated source of energy in the form of calories (so again, kittens need more than adult cats) as well as sources of omega fatty acids to support healthy skin and coat and a strong immune system. Animal-based sources like chicken fat and salmon oil are best, though plant oils can be used as supplemental sources.
Aside from these basic nutrients, your cat needs an assortment of amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. Limited carbohydrate content (no more than 10% of calories) is generally deemed acceptable in commercial cat food but remember that protein and fat are more important. It also doesn’t hurt if the food contains beneficial supplements like fiber and probiotics for healthy digestion.
What to Look for in a Good Affordable Cat Food
Not everyone has the budget to buy top-shelf cat food, but that doesn’t mean it is acceptable to feed your cat the cheapest cat food you can find. If you’re worried about the cost of a healthy cat food, consider the cost of vet bills down the line when your cat develops a nutritional deficiency or a diet-related disease. It pays to feed your cat well and, after all, if you’re not going to take proper care of your cat you shouldn’t have one.
There’s no reason you can’t find a decent cat food at a decent price, you just have to know what you’re looking for. Here are some things to look for in a good affordable cat food:
- Choose dry food versus wet food as a more affordable option or supplement your cat’s dry food diet with small amounts of wet food daily.
- A quality source of animal protein as the first ingredient – for brands that offer several recipes, the chicken recipe is usually cheapest.
- A recipe that contains several sources of animal protein – single-source protein recipes are ideal, but if you can’t afford premium cat food something that contains more than one protein source might be more affordable.
- Choose a recipe that is fortified with supplements for nutritional balance, but they don’t necessarily need to be chelated (bound to protein molecules to improve absorption) if you’re compromising on cost.
- Forgo limited ingredient diets and diets with novel protein sources (unless your cat has a food allergy) as these tend to be much more expensive.
Whether you’re looking for the best wet cat food or the best dry cat food, these recommendations remain the same. Real animal protein is always the most important consideration, followed by healthy fats and essential nutrients. Read on to see how we make our picks for the best budget friendly cat food.
How Do We Make Our Recommendations?
As dedicated cat owners ourselves, we are serious about providing cat owners with the information they need to make smart and healthy choices for their cats. What you ultimately choose to feed your cat is a matter of preference (and sometimes budget), but it is our goal to teach you enough that you have the tools to make an educated decision. If you choose not to supplement this knowledge with your own research, at the very least we encourage you to select one of our recommendations.
Here are some of the requirements for a cat food to receive our recommendation:
- A source of high-quality animal protein as the first ingredient
- At least 30% crude protein for kittens and at least 26% for adults
- A minimum of 9% crude fat for kittens and adults
- A balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, primarily from animal sources
- A rich blend of nutrients from natural sources and supplements, as needed
- Limited carbohydrate content from digestible sources (like whole grains and veggies)
- No low-quality fillers, by-products, or artificial additives (preservatives, dyes, or flavors)
The 13 Best Affordable Cat Foods
When it comes to shopping for cat food, there are simply too many options to pick from. The only way to choose the best cat food for your cat is to decide which qualities are most important. If you’re looking for the best dry cat food, you might consider different brands than if you were shopping for the best wet cat food. Your options may then change entirely if you start shopping by price.
The thing to remember is that cheap cat food isn’t necessarily good and good cat food isn’t always cheap. Fortunately, if you want to find the best quality affordable dry cat food or wet cat food, there are still plenty of options.
Here’s our top pick for the best affordable cat food brands:
Overall Best Affordable Cat Food in 2021
|Our 2021 Picks: Best Budget Friendly Cat Foods|
|American Journey Grain-Free Chicken
|Taste Of The Wild Rocky Mountain
|Crave Chicken Pate Grain-Free Trays
|Evolve Classic Deboned Chicken
|Blue Buffalo Sensitive Stomach Chicken
|AvoDerm Natural Indoor Hairball Care
|Merrick Purrfect Bistro Chicken Recipe
|Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Chicken
|Wellness Complete Health Grain-Free Chicken
|Eagle Pack Indoor Adult Dry Cat Food
|Under The Sun Grain-Free Canned Food
|Purina Beyond Indoor Grain-Free Salmon
|Tiki Cat Hawaiian Grill Ahi Tuna Grain-Free
If you’re looking for the best quality affordable dry cat food, one of our top choices is this American Journey Grain-Free Chicken Recipe Dry Food. This recipe features real, deboned chicken as the first ingredient, followed by chicken meal as a second and highly concentrated source of protein. Overall, it provides a whopping 40% protein from several different sources, including turkey meal, eggs, and menhaden fish meal. You’ll also find this recipe loaded with natural sources for key nutrients such as fresh fruits and vegetables, not to mention a nutritious, animal-based source of healthy fats – chicken fat. This formula contains probiotics for healthy digestion and chelated minerals to ensure optimal nutrient absorption. It comes in at 405 calories per cup.
- Pros: Rich in protein (40%), several animal sources of protein, moderate fat content (15%), natural sources for key vitamins and minerals, chelated minerals, probiotics for digestion
- Cons: Contains a plant-based protein (pea protein), may be higher in fiber than some cats need
Most Popular Affordable Cat Food: When you’re not sure what to feed your cat, you can always go with a trusted brand like Taste of the Wild. It may not be the cheapest brand on the market, but it is highly affordable for the level of quality it delivers. This Taste of the Wild Rocky Mountain Grain-Free Canned Food features premium animal proteins like fresh salmon and roasted venison as well as chicken liver as a rich source of nutrients. It contains both fish broth and chicken broth as flavorful sources of moisture and both raspberries and blueberries as antioxidant-rich sources of key nutrients. This recipe contains a blend of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for healthy skin and coat as well, and is completely free from grains, fillers, and artificial additives. As dry matter, it contains 44% protein and about 17% fat.
- Pros: Extremely rich in protein, blend of omega fatty acids, rich in natural flavor, fresh fruits and veggies as natural sources of nutrients, chelated minerals, high in moisture content
- Cons: Contains some plant protein (pea flour and peas)
Best Cheap Wet Cat Food: If you’re looking for a high-quality wet food, it is important to choose a recipe that starts with a quality source of protein that is also rich in natural flavor. Our pick for the best cheap wet cat food is Crave Chicken Pate Grain-Free Cat Food Trays. Available in a wide variety of flavors, this particular recipe features fresh chicken as the first ingredient, followed by chicken liver as a rich source of nutrients. It contains both pork broth and chicken broth for natural meat flavor as well as moisture, with fish oil as a healthy source of fats. It is thickened with carrageenan, which some find to be a controversial ingredient, but the jury is still out. Other beneficial ingredients include dried tomatoes as a natural source of fiber and healthy nutrients as well as essential vitamin and mineral supplements for complete and balanced nutrition. Calculated as dry matter, this recipe contains 54.5% protein and 29.5% fat.
- Pros: Real chicken first ingredient, rich in natural meat flavor, very high in protein content, dried tomatoes as fiber and nutrients, complete and balanced
- Cons: May be too high in fat for some cats, contains carrageenan (some find it controversial)
Best Cheap Dry Cat Food: When it comes to the best dry food for cats, look for a recipe that contains more protein than carbohydrate. Typically, this means that the first two or three ingredients are animal proteins, not plants. Based on this and other factors, our pick for the best cheap dry cat food is Evolve Classic Deboned Chicken & Brown Rice Dry Cat Food. Affordably priced under $1.50 per pound, this dry cat food features three sources of premium animal protein within the first three ingredients: deboned chicken, chicken meal, and turkey meal. Next comes brown rice flour, a digestible source of carbohydrates, and peas. This recipe contains chicken fat as a nutritious source of essential fatty acids with some additional fat from the fish meal. Overall, the fat content is a little on the low end at 13% but the protein content is 32%. This recipe also contains probiotics for healthy digestion and dried fruits and vegetables which act as natural sources for key nutrients.
- Pros: Rich in premium animal protein (three sources), chicken fat as a nutritious source of essential fatty acids, fresh fruits and vegetables, probiotics for healthy digestion
- Cons: Contains some plant protein (peas), mineral supplements are not chelated, fat content a little low
Best Food Budget Sensitive Stomach: Cats are known for being finicky eaters, but for some it is more than just a matter of preference – it is an issue of food allergies or sensitivities. If your cat has a sensitive stomach, you will unfortunately probably end up paying a little more for cat food but there are still affordable options out there. This Blue Buffalo Sensitive Stomach Chicken Recipe Dry Food is a good option that is more affordable than many. It features both fresh chicken and chicken meal as concentrated sources of animal protein with digestible carbohydrates in the form of whole grains like brown rice, oatmeal, and barley. To support your cat’s sensitive stomach, this recipe contains prebiotics for healthy digestion and optimal nutrient absorption with the addition of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for healthy skin and coat. Overall, this formula provides 32% protein and 16% fat and 3.5% fiber.
- Pros: Formulated for sensitive stomach, rich in real animal protein, digestible whole-grain carbohydrates, chelated minerals, fresh fruits and vegetables, probiotics and prebiotics
- Cons: Some cats may be sensitive to chicken ingredients, some cats may be sensitive to grains
8 More Top-Rated Affordable Cat Foods
If the five cat food recipes reviewed above don’t seem like the perfect fit for your cat or kitten, don’t worry! We’ve scoured the reviews and tested a variety of products ourselves to bring you our top picks in this category. Here are 8 more affordable cat food brands worthy of your consideration:
If you’re looking for an indoor recipe for your cat that won’t break the bank, consider this AvoDerm Natural Indoor Hairball Care Formula dry food. This recipe features chicken meal as the first ingredient and a concentrated source of animal protein. It also contains herring meal and dried eggs as supplemental source of protein for a total of 32% crude protein. For digestible carbohydrates, this recipe includes ground whole brown rice and ground whole white rice as well as several sources of dietary fiber for healthy digestion. The most notable ingredient in this recipe is real California avocado which is a rich source of healthy fats to complement the highly nutritious chicken fat which is the primary source. Overall, this recipe has 32% protein, 16% fat, and 6.5% fiber at 388 calories per cup.
- Pros: Chicken meal as concentrated source of animal protein, digestible whole grains, rich in healthy animal fats, chelated minerals for optimal nutrient absorption
- Cons: May be too high in fiber for some cats, some cats are sensitive to grains
You shouldn’t feed your cat “people” food, but this Merrick Purrfect Bistro Chicken Recipe Canned Food is just as good. It features tender deboned chicken as the first ingredient with chicken broth and chicken liver for a boost of real poultry flavor. This recipe is rich in healthy fat, including omega-3s, from salmon oil and it has ground flaxseed to balance it out with omega-6s. You’ll find this recipe contains dried cranberries which support your cat’s urinary health in addition to providing a natural source of antioxidants and the formula is fortified with essential vitamins and chelated minerals to ensure complete and balanced nutrition. Calculated as dry matter, this recipe has 45% protein and 23% fat.
- Pros: Deboned chicken first ingredient, rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, dried cranberries for urinary health, chelated minerals for optimal nutrient absorption
- Cons: Contains several thickeners (including guar gum), contains some plant protein (alfalfa meal)
If you’re looking for a dry food recipe that delivers the same quality as the Merrick canned food above, try the Whole Earth Farms brand. This brand falls under the Merrick family and it is designed specifically for affordability. This Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Chicken Recipe Dry Food features chicken meal and turkey meal as the top two ingredients, both concentrated sources of premium animal protein. You’ll also find fresh chicken as a supplemental source of protein and chicken fat is the primary fat in this recipe. Other notable ingredients include grain-free, digestible carbohydrates like potatoes and peas as well as chelated minerals and probiotics.
- Pros: Two concentrated sources of animal protein, digestible grain-free carbohydrates, nutritious chicken fat, chelated minerals, probiotics for digestion
- Cons: Contains some plant protein (pea protein, alfalfa meal), could be higher in fat content
When it comes to canned food, we recommend Wellness Complete because it supports 5 signs of wellness in cats – lustrous skin and coat, healthy digestion, bright eyes, strong teeth and gums, and healthy immunity and energy. This particular recipe features fresh chicken as the first ingredient with nutrient- and flavor-rich chicken liver as the second. It also contains turkey as a supplemental source of protein with ground flaxseed for healthy fats. This formula is supplemented with fresh cranberries for urinary health as well as antioxidants, it also contributes to healthy immunity. Calculated as dry matter, this recipe contains 48% protein and 32% fat.
- Pros: Supports 5 signs of health, rich in animal protein, digestible grain-free carbohydrates (carrots), chelated minerals for optimal nutrient absorption, high in healthy fats
- Cons: Main source of fat is plant-based
Another option in indoor cat food is this Eagle Pack Indoor Adult Dry Food. It features chicken meal as a concentrated source of animal protein with chicken fat as the primary source of healthy fats. It contains digestible carbohydrates like rice, peas, and oatmeal with vitamin supplements and chelated minerals to ensure complete and balanced nutrition. This recipe also contains probiotics for healthy digestion as well as plenty of dietary fiber from numerous sources. Overall, it provides 32% crude protein with 14% crude fat, 4% fiber, and 447 calories per cup.
- Pros: Rich in animal protein (chicken meal), nutritious source of animal fat (chicken fat), digestible carbohydrates, chelated minerals and probiotics, rich in natural chicken flavor
- Cons: Contains some plant protein (peas and alfalfa), may be too high in fiber for some cats
If you would rather not deal with the hassle of transitioning your kitten onto an adult cat food, consider starting with a recipe formulated for both. This Under the Sun Grain-Free Canned Food is complete and balanced for adult cats and kittens and comes with feeding instructions for both. It features a delicious combination of tuna, turkey, and chicken with fish broth and chicken liver for natural flavor. This recipe contains chelated minerals for optimal nutrient absorption and has plenty of fiber for healthy digestion. It is fortified with all the nutrients your cat needs with added taurine for healthy heart function and immune health. Calculated as dry matter, this recipe contains 39% protein and 25% fat.
- Pros: Formulated for adults and kittens, several sources of animal protein, rich in flavor and moisture, chelated minerals for optimal absorption, added taurine for heart health
- Cons: Main source of fat is plant-based, contains some plant protein (pea flour and alfalfa)
The Purina family of brands contains many products that utilize fillers and low-quality grains, but the Beyond line of products is fairly decent in terms of quality and affordability. This particular recipe features fresh salmon as the main ingredient with chicken meal as a concentrated source of animal protein next on the list. It does contain some plant protein, but it is grain-free and contains digestible carbohydrates like cassava and sweet potatoes. This recipe could be a little higher in fat content at just 10%, but the fat does come from a named animal source and the formula is rich in protein. You’ll also find fresh fruits and vegetables on the list like whole cranberries with essential vitamin and mineral supplements included for balanced nutrition.
- Pros: Rich in animal protein (33%), digestible grain-free carbohydrates, named source of animal fat, fresh fruits and vegetables, fortified for balanced nutrition
- Cons: Contains some plant protein (pea protein), may be too low in fat for some cats
If you’re looking for a wet cat food brand that offers a wide variety of different options, Tiki Cat is one to consider. This brand utilizes high-quality animal proteins like the ahi tuna in this recipe and they are all affordably priced. This particular formula is simmered in real tuna broth for a boost of natural fish flavor and it is rich in moisture as well which supports your cat’s digestion and urinary health. It contains sunflower seed oil as the primary source of fat, but there are only three main ingredients in this very low-carb recipe. Calculated as dry matter, this recipe contains a whopping 73% protein and 9% fat.
- Pros: Very rich in protein (73%), real ahi tuna as main ingredient, simmered in flavorful tuna broth, limited number of main ingredients, no carbohydrate ingredients
- Cons: Main source of fat is plant-based, could be higher in fat content
Frequently Asked Questions
- How much should I feed my cat? – The amount of food you offer your cat should be determined according to his nutrient and calorie needs. Younger and more active cats have higher needs for calories than adult and senior cats, so you’ll want to refer to the feeding instructions on the cat food label to determine the appropriate amount according to your cat’s age and weight. If you’re not sure, ask your veterinarian to help you determine whether your cat is at a healthy weight or whether he needs to gain or lose weight. At that point, you can adjust his daily feeding as needed to accomplish the desired goal.
- How often should I feed my cat? – The frequency with which you feed your cat depends on several factors, but it largely depends on your cat. Many cat owners choose to feed their cats freely, simply keeping their bowl full of a reasonable amount of food. Cats tend to be better at self-regulating when it comes to their diet than dogs do, so there is less risk that your cat will overeat and become obese. If you’re worried about your cat’s weight, follow the feeding recommendations on his cat food and divide his daily portion into two meals, one in the morning and one in the evening. Another option is to keep your cat’s bowl partially full and add a little bit of fresh food twice a day to stimulate his appetite.
- What is the best food for indoor cats? – Cats love spending time outdoors but there are a significant number of risks any outdoor cat will face versus the relative safety of an indoor life. If you’re wondering how the diet of an indoor cat differs from that of an outdoor cat, there are no significant nutritional differences. Both indoor and outdoor cats require a protein-rich diet with the right balance of healthy fats and essential nutrients. Outdoor cats do tend to be more active, however, so they may require a higher concentration of calories. Indoor cats may also benefit from slightly higher fiber content to help reduce issues with hairballs.
- When should I switch my cat from kitten to adult food? – Kittens and adult cats have the same basic nutritional needs, the primary difference is simply in the concentration of protein and fat in their diet. When your kitten is still young, he needs a higher concentration of protein and calories in his diet to fuel his growth and development. Protein is needed for strong muscles and lean mass while fat provides a concentrated source of calories and energy. It is generally best to feed your kitten until it reaches 12 months of age, assuming it is full-grown at that point. If you’re not sure when to make the switch, talk to your veterinarian.
- Is a grain-free diet good for cats? – There are several ways to answer this question. Cats are obligate carnivores and, as such, they require a primarily meat-based diet (one with limited carbohydrates). A grain-free diet is likely to be low in carbohydrates, but that isn’t always the case. Grain-free diets often make heavy use of plant-based proteins which are much less valuable for cats in terms of nutrition than animal-based proteins. There is also some concern that grain-based diets may be linked to heart problems, though most of the cases are in dogs. You may want to get your veterinarian’s opinion on the matter if you are considering a grain-free diet for your cat but, no matter what brand you choose, make sure it is high in animal protein.
Take what you’ve learned about cat food here to start shopping on your own, or simply choose one of our top picks reviewed above. Best of luck to you and your cat!