We all want to feed our pets the best food we can, but real-world limitations often prevent us from doing so.
Fortunately, there are a number of affordable foods on the market that will keep your cat happy and healthy, despite their low price.
You’ll rarely find foods at the bottom of the price spectrum of similar quality to premium foods.
You’ll need to prioritize what qualities you are comfortable sacrificing, and which ones are deal breakers.
Be sure to run your selection by your vet – even when money is tight, you must continue to work with your vet to give your cat the best chance of living a long, healthy life. Most vets are understanding of pet parents that are going through hard times, and are willing to work with you to keep your veterinary costs down.
Analysis & Award Winners
Here’s the full list:
- Whole Earth Farms Grain Free Recipe
- Nutrisca Salmon Recipe
- IAMS Proactive Health Specialized Care
- Merrick Purrfect Bistro Grain Free
When shopping for a budget-friendly cat food, it is important to carefully scrutinize the ingredients contained inside, and try to select one that still provides your cat with a healthy diet. It is certainly understandable that we must occasionally select foods at the cheaper end of the cost spectrum, but it is important to avoid foods that won’t provide the kind of nutrition your cat needs.
Feeding your cat a substandard food can cost you more money in the long run, as veterinary care becomes necessary to counteract the problems created by nutritional deficiencies and other diet-related problems. The following foods are some of the best available options:
Best Overall Cheap Cat Food: Nutrisca Salmon Recipe
Nutrisca Salmon Recipe is low-cost, high-quality pet food that most cats appear to love. Salmon is the primary protein and first listed ingredient, but Nutrisca also contains menhaden and whitefish meals for additional protein and omega fatty acids.
The protein-rich diet helps Nutrisca boast a very impressive glycemic index score (9 to 10), which can help prevent obesity and blood-sugar problems.
Additionally, Nutrisca contains many supplemental ingredients that belie its low price point. For example, Nutrisca contains cranberries to help support urinary tract function and health, as well as blueberries, apples, carrots, and beets to help supply antioxidants.
- Pros Packed full of high-quality ingredients, including salmon and vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables.
- Cons Made without any probiotics.
- Bottom Line Nutrisca is a very high-quality recipe available at a reasonable price.
- Read full review
Top Quality Cheap Cat Food: Whole Earth Farms Grain Free Recipe
Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free recipe is a high-quality, all-natural cat food designed to provide your cat with all of the nutrition she needs, without any of the artificial additives, flavors, colors she doesn’t. Additionally, Whole Earth Farms is a 100% grain-free recipe that contains no wheat or corn.
Four different probiotics are included in the recipe, to help ensure your cat digests the food well.
Additionally, in keeping with their commitment to producing the best food possible, Whole Earth Farms manufacturers their food in the USA. Although chicken byproducts are not necessarily a “bad” ingredient, they make some customers uncomfortable, so Whole Earth Farms avoids using any such byproducts in their recipe.
- Pros Grain-free recipe that is made in the USA without any artificial additives.
- Cons Turkey meal is the first listed ingredient. However, it also contains deboned turkey.
- Bottom Line A low-cost food made with a pretty high-quality ingredient list.
- Read full review
Best Bang for the Buck: IAMS Proactive Health Specialized Care
When comparing affordable cat foods, IAMS Proactive Health represents one of the best cheap cat foods available.
Although IAMS features chicken by-product meal as the first listed ingredient, which is not ideal, it also contains real chicken further down the ingredient list.
To keep the price low, while still providing a nutritious option, IAMS leaves out a number of the supplements other cat foods provide. For example, there are no probiotics included in the recipe, nor are any antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables.
Nevertheless, IAMS represents an incredible value and deserves consideration by budget-minded cat owners.
- Pros Very affordable choice that is will provide the nutrition your cat needs without any expensive extras.
- Cons Chicken byproduct meal is the first listed ingredient. Contains no probiotics.
- Bottom Line Although IAMS is not the best food reviewed, it does represent a significant value.
- Read full review
Characteristics of Good Cheap Cat Foods
There is a big difference between cheap and poor-quality cat food and reasonably good food that is available at a low price. It always comes down to trade-offs, so review the following characteristics of good cat foods and decide which ones are most important to you.
- The best cat foods feature whole protein as the first listed ingredient. This is even true of the best cheap cat foods. Whole proteins – such as chicken, beef, duck, fish or other ingredients – should provide more calories to your cat than any other ingredient. However, using a large quantity of high-quality protein is expensive, so many budget-friendly foods feature a chicken meal and similar ingredients as the primary protein source.
- Good cat foods leave out artificial colors, flavors, and other additives. Artificial colors and flavors are generally unnecessary additives that can trigger food allergies or lead to other problems. Instead, opt for foods that feature natural colors and whose flavor comes from high-quality ingredients.
- Awesome cat foods contain omega fatty acid supplements or foods that are full of these fats. Omega fatty acids are helpful for maintaining your cat’s skin and coat, as well as protecting her joints. Salmon, flaxseed and similar ingredients are usually used to provide omega fatty acids. However, some foods provide omega fatty acids via processed supplements.
- The safest food options are usually made in a country with rigid food safety guidelines. Countries like the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and those of western Europe are subject to stricter quality-control guidelines than those originating in many other countries, which helps ensure your cat’s food will be safe and healthy.
- Good cat foods may contain meat meals or byproducts, but they must be labeled by species. Meat meals and byproducts often rely on entirely edible ingredients, yet the manufacturing methods turn many cat owners off. However, these items are perfectly acceptable, provided that they identify the species used in the manufacture. In other words, “chicken byproducts” are fine, but “meat by-products,” are not.
- Great cat foods are made with important supplements, such as probiotics. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that help to digest your cat’s food properly and keep her digestive system operating as well as it should (they also help to halt diarrhea). Because there is no consensus regarding the best probiotic species for your cat, many foods include several different bacterial species.
Best of the Rest
While the following food was not rated highly enough to rank in the top 5, it still represents a reasonable option that cat owners with tight budgets should consider.
Just be sure to review the ingredient list and manufacturing information provided on the packaging (or the manufacturer’s website) and ensure that it meets your cat’s specific needs.
Merrick Grain Free Limited Ingredient Diet Dry Cat Food
Merrick Grain-Free Limited Ingredient Cat Food is an excellent choice for owners for whom cost is a factor in the selection process. Although turkey meal is the primary and first-listed protein in the food, it contains plenty of high-quality ingredients, such as chicken and duck, to help provide a nutritious diet.
While Merrick Grain-Free does not contain any antioxidant-rich fruits or vegetables, it is made with probiotics to help ensure proper digestion for your cat.
When selecting a budget-friendly cat food, it is important to remember that tradeoffs are almost always necessary. Manufacturers simply can’t make a premium food for a low price.
However, some low-budget cat foods are better than others, and it pays to compare the ingredients of any cat food under consideration carefully, so you can make the best possible choice for your pet.