When you’re feeling hungry, you probably wander into the kitchen and open the fridge. You stare at containers of fresh fruits and veggies or cuts of meat, building a meal in your head before you get to the prep work. When it comes to your cat’s meal, however, you probably just open a can or throw a handful of kibbles into your cat’s bowl. That doesn’t sound fair, does it?
- Rich in real animal protein
- Blend of omega-3
The sad truth is that the majority of pet parents don’t think twice about what they’re feeding their pets. They take for granted that most of the products on pet store shelves are technically formulated to deliver minimum nutritional requirements. Quality is another issue entirely. If quality is what you’re looking for, you might want to leave the pet store behind entirely and consider getting fresh cat food delivered right to your door.
In this article, we’ll explore the subject of fresh cat food in greater depth to help you decide if it’s the right option for your cat. We’ll talk about the benefits of fresh food and give you some things to look for in a fresh food company. You’ll also see our reviews of the best fresh cat food delivery services as well as some alternative options you might consider.
What Is the Best Fresh Cat Food?
What is Fresh Cat Food and What Are the Benefits?
Commercial cat food is largely processed in giant batches and exposed to high levels of heat to destroy pathogens and help preserve the product. The same heat that makes the product safer also destroys some of the nutritional value of the raw ingredients. That’s why most commercial pet foods have a long list of supplements at the end – companies have to replace the nutrients lost to meet minimum requirements set by regulatory agencies.
Fresh pet food is different. The truth is that fresh ingredients are more expensive, so most pet food manufacturers don’t bother with them. Only the companies that are really concerned about quality are the ones that use fresh ingredients and they don’t want to waste their money by overcooking them. Most fresh pet food out there is prepared in smaller batches using less heat which results in a higher quality, more nutritious end product.
Here are some of the benefits of fresh cat food:
- Higher energy levels. Overly processed foods are tough on your cat’s digestion and limit his ability to absorb nutrients. Fresh food is more digestible which means more energy and nutrition for your cat.
- Smoother, shinier coat. Healthy fats are an essential component of fresh cat food and the right blend of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids will improve the quality of your cat’s skin and coat.
- Healthier skin. If your cat struggles with food allergies or sensitivities, fresh food could be the solution you’ve been looking for. Made with fresh, wholesome ingredients without by-products and artificial additives, fresh cat food is great for your cat’s skin.
- Firmer, more efficient stools. No cat owner likes cleaning out the litter box but if you switch to fresh food, you may not have to do it as often. Real ingredients are easier to digest which means less waste to excrete from the body. Fresh food can make your cat’s stools smaller, firmer, and less odorous.
- Fewer trips to the vet. The higher the quality of your cat’s diet, the more nutrition he’ll get and that will support his total health and wellness. A cheap cat food might save you money in the short-term but could end up costing you more in the long-term with expensive vet bills.
- Improved quality of life. A healthy diet is the key to your cat being healthy and feeling well. Real food is the secret to a long and happy life where your cat feels good. Balanced nutrition will help extend your cat’s lifespan as well, so you get to enjoy his company as long as possible.
- Healthy weight maintenance. Controlling calories is essential to help your cat maintain a healthy body weight, but the digestibility of your cat’s food matters as well. Real food ingredients are easier to digest, and fresh food may be lower in calories than highly processed dry food. Plus, most fresh pet food companies cater your cat’s deliveries to his unique nutritional needs.
Fresh cat food sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? Just remember that what goes for dry and canned food also goes for fresh food: not all fresh cat food is created equal. Before you subscribe to a cat food delivery or buy a roll of fresh food at your local pet store, you should take the time to know what to look for so you can make a smart and healthy choice for your cat.
What to Look for in Fresh Cat Food
If you’re not sure what kind of cat food you want to buy, you might find it easiest to go to the pet store and look at the different options. When it comes to fresh food, there aren’t as many options and you probably won’t find many of them gathered in the same place. The best way to feed your cat fresh is to have fresh cat food delivered to your door. But how do you choose a fresh cat food delivery service?
Here are some general things to look for in fresh cat food delivery:
- Vet-formulated recipes. Most commercial pet foods adhere to AAFCO regulations, but independent companies sometimes skip that step. To ensure that your cat gets the balanced nutrition he needs, make sure the fresh food is formulated by a veterinary nutritionist.
- Real animal proteins. Fresh or not, animal protein should be the foundation of your cat’s diet. Real meat, poultry, or fish should be the first ingredient in any food you offer your cat.
- Whole food ingredients. The primary benefit of fresh food is that the ingredients retain more of their nutritional integrity. That being said, you need to start with real, whole-food ingredients. Avoid any company that uses by-products or artificial additives.
- Small-batch processing. It’s easier to control quality in small batches, so look for a fresh cat food delivery that doesn’t mass-produce their foods. You also want to make sure that the food is shipped soon after processing to guarantee freshness and quality.
- Freshness and delivery. Fresh cat food doesn’t stay fresh for long, so make sure the food you buy will stay fresh until you feed it to your cat. Some companies freeze their foods while others keep them fresh for quick-feeding convenience.
How Do We Make Our Recommendations?
You want your cat to have the highest quality diet you can afford. If that means fresh cat food, great! If not, we understand. Before you write of fresh food as being too expensive, however, we want you to understand the benefits for your cat. In order to do that, however, you need to know the basics of your cat’s nutritional needs and how different cat food products meet or exceed them. If all of that sounds like too much work, you’ll be glad to know that we’ve done the work for you! We’ve tested and evaluated some of the top brands on the market (including the best fresh cat food delivery services) to help you narrow down your options. But how do we make our recommendations?
Here are some of the general 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)
When reviewing cat food, the first thing we do is compare it to AAFCO food nutrient profiles. These profiles simply outline the minimum nutritional needs of cats in various life stages (kitten or adult). If a cat food meets these requirements, it will carry an AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy on the package. It should look something like this: [X Product] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles for all life stages. After you have successfully determined that the formula is complete and balanced, you can go on to evaluating its quality.
A Review of the Top Fresh Cat Food Companies
There’s no secret that fresh cat food is one of the healthiest options out there for your cat, but how do you choose the right company? In order to make the right choice, you need to know what’s out there and what’s good and bad about each of the different options. Don’t worry – we’re here to help!
To help you decide which fresh cat food company is the best option for you, we’ve compiled a list of the top options along with what we think of them. Check them out below!
|Our 2021 Picks: Best Fresh Cat Foods in 2021|
|NomNomNow Fresh Cat Food Delivery
|Taste Of The Wild Canyon River
|American Journey Minced Turkey
|The Honest Kitchen Grain-Free
|Ziwi Peak Air-Dried Mackerel & Lamb
|Merrick Backcountry Freeze-Dried
|Stella & Chewy’s Chick Chick Chicken Dinner
|Primal Chicken & Salmon Formula
When it comes to fresh pet food, NomNomNow is one of the most popular options out there (and, we would argue, one of the best). NomNomNow sources whole, restaurant-quality ingredients and cooks their products fresh in company-owned facilities each and every week. They adhere to the highest food safety standards and their meals are individually vacuum-sealed and perfectly portioned so all you have to do is open the bag and empty it into your cat’s bowl. Fresh food is sent to your door just days after being prepared and kept cold throughout the journey to ensure quality.
What We Like About It:
- Biologically appropriate diets that are vet-formulated and made with fresh, wholesome natural ingredients.
- Foods are prepared in small batches on a weekly basis and individually portioned for maximum freshness and nutritional quality.
- Everything is prepared in an FDA-compliant kitchen using all-natural and Human-Grade ingredients.
- You can customize your cat’s diet according to his age, weight, and activity level to ensure that he gets the right calories and nutrients he needs.
What We Don’t Like:
- As you might expect from fresh food, NomNomNow is significantly more expensive than traditional canned food or kibble.
- Though you can adjust your cat’s calorie requirements, the recipes themselves aren’t particularly customizable – you’ll need to contact the company about food allergies.
- There are currently only two fresh cat food recipes to choose from (chicken and fish) – cats with food allergies may not be able to tolerate it.
Top 5 Ingredients: Chicken thigh, chicken breast, chicken liver, carrot, asparagus
Packed with lean protein, this formula features three chicken ingredients at the top of the list. This wholesome, natural recipe is completely free from grains and contains vegetable carbohydrates like carrot, asparagus, and spinach. The full ingredient list is fairly limited, containing just seven main ingredients aside from supplements which improved digestibility for your cat. Overall, it is complete and balanced with high protein and moderate fat and calorie content.
What makes Smalls for Smalls different from NomNomNow is that they have a larger variety of fresh cat food recipes and they offer options to make a custom meal plan that includes fresh food as well as dry food. When it comes to transparency about the nutrition of their recipes, Smalls is great. Though the food packages themselves contain minimal information, you can find all the details for each recipe on their website. In addition to providing the full list of ingredients and guaranteed analysis, you can see the percentages used for each of the main ingredients as well.
What We Like About It:
- Choose from four protein-rich recipes for fresh food or combine it with high-protein dry food.
- Customize your cat’s meal plan according to your preferences for price, quality, and food type.
- Food is prepared, cooked, and frozen all in the same day to guarantee freshness – recipes are prepared every week.
- Ingredients are sourced from 100% USDA-certified human-grade supplier, sourced locally as much as possible.
What We Don’t Like:
- Food arrives frozen which means that you have to thaw it before feeding and can’t refreeze it.
- Each recipe comes in 16-ounce packages – they also come with a food storage container but portioning the food isn’t as straightforward.
- There’s no easy online portal to answer questions or customize your order – you need to call, email, or text.
Smalls Recipe Review: Turkey Pate Recipe
Top 5 Ingredients: Turkey thigh, chicken liver, green beans, peas, kale
With turkey thigh as the main ingredient, making up nearly 75% of the total recipe by weight, this is a protein-rich formula. Chicken liver provides a supplemental source of protein but only makes up about 7.5% of the total weight. This is a grain-free formula, relying on green beans and peas for carbohydrates as well as kale and vegetable oil as main ingredients. Smalls states that their supplement mix makes up 2.23% of the recipe and lists the individual nutrients in the ingredients list – they also provide information about the nutrients in milligrams per 100 calories.
The FreshPet company got its start in the Australian pet food market back in the 2000s when fresh food made up 22% of the country’s pet food market but the United States hadn’t even heard of it. Though they started out on a smaller scale, FreshPet can now be found in refrigerators in most major pet store chains and online. Their products are meat-based with a variety of vegetables and supplemental ingredients, formulated in both grain-free and grain-inclusive recipes. When it comes to their cat food selections, there are three different lines: Select, Vital, and Nature’s Fresh.
What We Like About It:
- You can find FreshPet cat food products in most major pet store chains as well as other stores like Walmart and some online retailers.
- FreshPet offers a wide variety of fresh cat food recipes divided across several product lines.
- You’re more likely to find a good fit for a cat with specific food allergies or sensitivities since FreshPet offers more variety than NomNomNow or Smalls.
What We Don’t Like:
- Because FreshPet is a commercial company, their products are made in larger batches than NomNomNow or Smalls and there can be issues with keeping the food fresh in stores before purchase.
- Though made with real proteins and whole food ingredients, FreshPet tends to be fairly high in added sodium, some recipes containing up to 10x the daily recommendation for cats.
- While most canned foods go bad after 3 to 5 days of opening, FreshPet containers are said to last up to 14 days – that makes us wonder about the use of preservatives.
Top 5 Ingredients: Chicken, chicken liver, ocean whitefish, natural flavors, pea protein
This recipe starts out strong with fresh chicken, a rich source of real animal protein. Because this is fresh food, we’re not too worried about the moisture cooking out to reduce the total volume of animal protein. It’s worth mentioning, however, that pea protein is one of the top five ingredients by weight, though chicken liver and ocean whitefish come first as supplemental sources of protein. This recipe also contains vitamins and chelated mineral supplements for nutritional balance.
What Are the Other Options?
Fresh cat food is great. It’s made with high-quality, natural ingredients and the food retains more of its nutritional value since it isn’t highly processed and cooked to death. Unfortunately, fresh pet food is expensive, and it isn’t always easy to keep fresh.
So, what are your other options?
If you want your cat to enjoy premium quality nutrition but you’re looking for an option with more affordability and convenience, you might want to consider dried, dehydrated, or freeze-dried pet food. These options use the same high-quality, whole food ingredients as fresh food, but they are dried or dehydrated to remove moisture. This is an alternative to cooking the food that increases its shelf-life without compromising nutritional quality.
Here are some of our top picks for dried, dehydrated, and freeze-dried cat food:
Loaded with real, natural ingredients this The Honest Kitchen Grain-Free Turkey Recipe is a healthy alternative to traditional dry food. It is gently dehydrated to remove moisture, making it shelf-stable without compromising on nutritional quality. This recipe is packed with 70% free-range turkey as well as real fruits and vegetables to provide natural sources for key nutrients. The thing to remember with this recipe is that you need to rehydrate it with water before feeding.
Another nutritious alternative to traditional cat food is this air-dried recipe from Ziwi Peak. Made with 100% ethically sourced ingredients like grass-fed lamb and whole, blue mackerel, this recipe is made with a gentle twin-stage air-drying process that eliminates pathogenic bacteria while naturally preserving nutrients. This recipe is 95% digestible, loaded with protein and calories so you can meet your cat’s needs efficiently in smaller quantities. It is complete and balanced, made with a limited number of ingredients without any by-products or artificial additives.
Give your cat the nutritional benefits of raw food without sacrificing the convenience of dry food with this Merrick Backcountry Freeze-Dried Raw Chicken Recipe Meal Mixer. Featuring freeze-dried bites of real poultry, this meal mixer adds a boost of flavor and nutrition to anything you’re already feeding your cat. It can also be served as a complete and balanced meal if you prefer. It features fresh chicken and chicken liver as the top two ingredients with dried peas and potatoes after that. You’ll also find fresh cranberries, apples, and carrots as natural sources for key nutrients.
For a complete and balanced diet loaded with real chicken flavor, try this Stella & Chewy’s Chick Chick Chicken Dinner Morsels Freeze-Dried Raw Food. Made in United States kitchens with cage-free poultry and 100% organic-certified fruits and vegetables, these dinner morsels are packed with protein and natural flavor. The list of ingredients is short, featuring real chicken and chicken organs as well as pumpkin seed and nutritional supplements to ensure complete and balanced nutrition for your cat. Overall, this is a highly concentrated source of protein and nutrients that can be rehydrated or fed as is.
Another nutritious option in freeze-dried raw food for cats, this Primal Chicken & Salmon Formula Nuggets features real chicken and salmon as the primary ingredients. This formula also contains organic fruits and vegetables to provide natural sources for key nutrients, minimizing the need for synthetic supplements. This recipe is rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for healthy skin and coat as well as dietary fiber for healthy digestion. Plus, it’s full of natural chicken and fish flavor your cat will love.
Frequently Asked Questions:
- What are the benefits of fresh cat food? What’s the main difference between fresh cat food and other commercial diets? It really comes down to the bioavailability of nutrients. A chicken-based dry food is great if it contains more than 30% protein and other natural ingredients, but how does it compare to a chicken-based fresh food? The difference is that most commercial foods are highly processed and cooked at high temperatures in large batches. This process destroys some of the nutritional integrity of the ingredients, increasing the need for vitamin and mineral supplements to meet nutritional minimums. Fresh cat food uses fresh ingredients and less heat and processing, helping them retain more of their nutritional integrity. That quality and those nutrients get passed along to your cat, improving his overall health and nutrition.
- Should I consider a fresh cat food delivery service? If you are going to spring for fresh cat food, you should definitely consider getting your fresh cat food delivered. Fresh food only has a shelf-life of a couple days. If you buy it at the store, you may find yourself making multiple weekly trips because you can’t exactly buy it in bulk. The best fresh cat food delivery companies have found a way to package the food in smaller portions so you only open as much as you need. The rest you can keep fresh in the fridge or freezer until feeding time. Plus, you save yourself the hassle of going to the pet store all the time.
- Is it cheaper to make your own cat food? You want to give your cat the best food you can afford, but top-shelf cat food gets expensive. If you’re considering fresh foot, you might be wondering whether it would be cheaper to make it yourself. In some cases, it might be, but the question isn’t that simple. Your cat requires a delicate balance of nutrients for optimal health, and it may not be easy to create that balance at home. Even the best fresh cat food recipes often require supplementation with commercial nutrient mixes, so ask yourself whether you’re up to the take or if it might be easier to use a fresh cat food delivery company instead.
- How much should I feed my cat? The amount you need to feed your cat depends on several different factors, but it all comes down to calories. Your cat needs a certain number of calories depending on his age, weight, and activity level. Kittens need a higher number of calories per pound of body weight to support their growth and development while senior cats need a lower number of calories to prevent them from gaining too much weight as their activity level slows down. One of the best ways to find out how much to feed your cat is to simply follow the feeding instructions on your cat food. If you’re subscribing to a fresh cat food delivery service, you don’t have to do any calculations – the company will do it for you when you create your profile and they’ll send you exactly as much food as your cat needs.
- How many times a day should I feed my cat? The number of times you feed your cat each day is up to you, but most cats do well with two daily meals. Kittens and very active cats may benefit from a third meal but be careful not to overfeed your cat. The feeding recommendations on a cat food package are for the entire day – you need to divide it into however many meals you decide. Some fresh cat food companies send you packages that contain your cat’s total intake and other’s divide them by meal, so be careful.
You love your cat and want him to be as healthy and happy as possible. Feeding him a high-quality diet is the best way to support his health, so consider switching to fresh food. If you’re having trouble navigating all of the fresh cat food reviews online, don’t worry – we’ve got your back! We’ve tested some of the top companies on the market as well as some of the most popular fresh cat food recipes to tell you what we think so you can make the choice for yourself.
Whatever you decide, be sure to give your cat the highest quality diet you can consistently afford. If you’re able to feed him fresh food, even just a few times a week, he’ll be healthier for it!