‘Grain-free’ is definitely a popular buzzword when it comes to pet food. Manufacturers are so keen to tell pet owners that their particular recipe contains no grain, that you’ll find the claim plastered across tens of products down any pet food aisle.

As obligate carnivores, cats should never eat large amounts of carbohydrates, so removing grain from their diet is always a plus. However, taking the ‘grain-free’ label as a synonym for ‘healthy’, without a close look at the ingredients list, may leave your cat with a less nutritious dinner than they began with.

To sort the marketing spiel from the genuine health claims, we reviewed hundreds of the biggest grain-free products on the market. Here are the grain-free cat foods that came out on top in 2020.

Why do manufacturers love to shout about being grain-free?

Even though evidence suggests that domestic cats may be able to metabolize carbohydrates far more efficiently than their wild cousins, they still don’t source any major nutritional value from carbs, especially grains.

Despite this, many pet food brands opt to raise their profit margins rather than create the best product possible, by stuffing their products with low-value rice, wheat, corn, oats, or barley. Because these grains aren’t directly harmful to cats, and are hard to spot in a dried or jellied product, manufacturers usually get away with it!

By going grain-free, pet food companies are signaling that they put your cat’s health before their own bottom line (even if they do charge slightly more for their grainless options.) By the same token, it’s assumed that, if a brand goes to the effort of formulating their meals without grain, their recipes also source healthy options for other key ingredients, such as proteins and fats.

On a side note, there may also be some association between the rise of grain-free pet foods and the recent popularity of gluten-free alternatives in human food products.

Adorable cat near bowl of food indoors

Does ‘grain-free’ equal healthy cat food?

Here’s the thing. Making cat food grain-free is definitely a health-forward decision, but taken alone, it’s just not enough information by which to judge the overall nutritional value of your cat’s dinner.

In other words, removing grain is only a benefit if the remaining ingredients stand up to scrutiny, and, if the removed grain isn’t simply replaced by another, less-trending carbohydrate.

There are some cats who may develop allergies or intolerances to different grains, particularly wheat and corn. For these guys, grain-free food is obviously worthwhile. But for the rest of the moggies out there, here are the other nutritional elements needed for ‘grain-free’ to also mean ‘healthier alternative.’

The best grain-free cat food 2020

Tiki Cat Velvet Mousse Chicken Grain-Free Wet Cat Food

For cats observing a low calorie diet, Tiki Cat created their Velvet Mousse Chicken Grain-Free cat food.

Tiki Cat Velvet Mousse Chicken Grain-Free Wet Cat Food
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Key Benefits

  • Mouthwatering (for cats) chicken blend, made into a soft and satisfying mousse, which gets the pickiest cats eating

  • Source of high-quality protein and amino acids to support muscles

  • Grain-free recipe

  • High in moisture from chicken broth, which helps to provide supplemental hydration for your cat

  • Low-carb ingredients (no potatoes, corn, wheat, or rice), which makes it great for cats with sensitive stomachs

  • Great for cats at all stages of life, from your kitten to your old feline friend, it will complete their meat cravings, and provide lots of nourishment

As a high-quality wet cat food, Tiki Cat ensured this recipe was thoughtfully made using whole sources of protein as part of a grain-free, high-protein diet. Featuring an irresistible silky texture, this velvety mousse will tempt the pickiest eaters.

Blended with sensitive kitties in mind, Tiki Cat left out grains, potatoes, corn, rice and wheat, for a low-carb wet cat food. Chock-full of well-balanced ingredients, Tiki Cat added essential nutrients, such as: vitamins, minerals, amino acids, omega fatty acids and taurine for muscle maintenance and overall support. Whether your feline is a kitten, or getting up in years, this velvet chicken mouse cat food is an excellent choice.

Chicken, Chicken Broth, Dried Egg, Sunflower Oil, Tricalcium Phosphate, Xanthan Gum, Potassium Chloride, Choline Chloride, Magnesium Sulfate, Taurine, Zinc Amino Acid Chelate, Iron Amino Acid Chelate, Vitamin E Supplement, Ascorbic Acid (Source Of Vitamin C), Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Niacin (Vitamin B3), Manganese Amino Acid Chelate, Vitamin A Supplement, Copper Amino Acid Chelate, Calcium Iodate, Calcium Pantothenate, Sodium Selenite, Riboflavin Supplement (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Folic Acid, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Biotin, Vitamin K3 Supplement.

Caloric Content

990 kcal/kg, 79 kcal/pouch

Blue Buffalo Healthy Gourmet Pate Turkey & Chicken Entree Adult Canned Cat Food

Serve your cat companion a delicious and delightful dinner with Blue Buffalo Healthy Gourmet Natural Adult Pate Wet Cat Food.

Blue Buffalo Healthy Gourmet Pate Turkey & Chicken Entree Adult Canned Cat Food
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Key Benefits

  • 24-pack of 5.5-ounce cans.
  • Purr-fectly nutritious food for adult cats.

  • Features a smooth texture and savory gravy.

  • Starts with real turkey and chicken to aid healthy muscle maintenance.

  • Does not contain any by-product meals, corn, wheat, soy, artificial flavors or preservatives.

Purr-fect for your grown-up gal, this irresistibly tasty wet food is made using only the finest natural ingredients. It starts with high-quality turkey and chicken, packed with healthy fruits and veggies, then enhanced with vitamins and minerals. Formulated to support the nutritional needs of adult cats, the exclusively wholesome ingredients do not contain any by-product meals, corn, wheat, soy, artificial flavors, or preservatives.

Turkey, Chicken Broth, Chicken Liver, Chicken, Brown Rice, Natural Flavor, Guar Gum, Carrots, Sweet Potatoes, Flaxseed, Potassium Chloride, Carrageenan, Cassia Gum, Taurine, Salt, Cranberries, Choline Chloride, Iron Amino Acid Chelate, Zinc Amino Acid Chelate, Vitamin E Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Copper Amino Acid Chelate, Manganese Amino Acid Chelate, Sodium Selenite, Niacin Supplement (Vitamin B3), Calcium Pantothenate (Vitamin B5), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin Supplement (Vitamin B2), Vitamin A Supplement, Biotin (Vitamin B7), Potassium Iodide, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid (Vitamin B9).

Caloric Content

1,330 kcal/kg, 113 kcal/3 oz can, 207 kcal/5.5 oz can

Blue Buffalo Wilderness Mature Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Canned Cat Food

Older kitties, with their own set of needs, will love canned wet food from Blue Buffalo Wilderness.

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Key Benefits

  • Smooth texture and packed full of taste!

  • Main ingredient is chicken to help with muscle growth and maintenance

  • Specially formulated using DHA and taurine, which support cognition, as well as heart health

  • Does not contain any of the following: byproducts, grains, gluten, corn, wheat, and soy

  • No artificial flavors or preservatives

A grain-free chicken canned cat food, formulated for mature cats, provides wholesome ingredients sans worrisome ingredients, such as: taurine, DHA, by-products, preservatives, artificial flavors, corn, soy or wheat.

A smooth pate texture makes Mature Chicken Recipe canned cat food easier to eat, with a delicious flavor cats love. Blue Buffalo Wilderness wet cat food supports healthy muscle growth, with real chicken, fruits and vegetables. Added vitamins and minerals support heart health, as well as cognitive development – a necessity for aging felines.

Chicken, Chicken Broth, Chicken Liver, Potatoes, Pea Flour, Natural Flavor, Pea Fiber, Flaxseed (source of Omega 3 and 6 Fatty Acids), Fish Oil, Guar Gum, Potassium Chloride, Taurine, Choline Chloride, Carrageenan, Cassia Gum, Salt, Iron Amino Acid Chelate, Zinc Amino Acid Chelate, Vitamin E Supplement, Mixed Tocopherols, L-Carnitine, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Copper Amino Acid Chelate, Manganese Amino Acid Chelate, Sodium Selenite, Niacin Supplement (Vitamin B3), Calcium Pantothenate (Vitamin B5), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin Supplement (Vitamin B2), Vitamin A Supplement, Biotin (Vitamin B7), Potassium Iodide, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid (Vitamin B9), preserved with Mixed Tocopherols.

Caloric Content

1,130 kcal/kg, 96 kcal/3 oz can, 176 kcal/5.5 oz can

Blue Buffalo Freedom Indoor Adult Fish Recipe Grain-Free Canned Cat Food

With whole, high-quality ingredients, Blue Buffalo Freedom Grain-Free wet food for adult, indoor cats, features real fish as the first ingredient.

Blue Buffalo Freedom Indoor Adult Fish Recipe Grain-Free Canned Cat Food
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Key Benefits

  • 24-pack of 3 or 5.5-ounce cans

  • Smooth texture with a great taste to boot!

  • Fish is the main ingredient, which is loaded with great omegas, and provides protein and energy to keep your cat going

  • Free of grain, gluten, byproducts, corn, wheat, soy

  • No artificial flavors or preservatives

By utilizing cod and whitefish for a protein-rich formula, pet parents can rest assured their cats are being fed a well balanced meal. Omega fatty acids, DHA and added taurine support muscle maintenance, vision and overall feline health.

Because it doesn’t contain worrisome ingredients such as gluten, grain, preservatives, corn, wheat, soy, by-products and artificial flavors, adult cats will receive wholesome nutrients, and no filler. Adult cats of all ages will appreciate Blue Buffalo’s pate, featuring a smooth texture even seniors can enjoy.

Fish, Fish Broth, Chicken, Chicken Liver, Carrots, Sweet Potatoes, Natural Flavor, Fish Oil, Flaxseed (source of Omega 3 and 6 Fatty Acids), Powdered Cellulose, Guar Gum, Taurine, Potassium Chloride, Cranberries, Blueberries, Salt, Carrageenan, Cassia Gum, Choline Chloride, Iron Amino Acid Chelate, Zinc Amino Acid Chelate, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Vitamin E Supplement, Copper Amino Acid Chelate, Manganese Amino Acid Chelate, Sodium Selenite, Niacin Supplement (Vitamin B3), Calcium Pantothenate (Vitamin B5), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin Supplement (Vitamin B2), Vitamin A Supplement, Biotin (Vitamin B7), Potassium Iodide, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid (Vitamin B9), preserved with Mixed Tocopherols.

Caloric Content

1,000 kcal/kg, 85 kcal/3 oz can, 156 kcal/5.5 oz can

Feline Natural Chicken & Venison Feast Grain-Free Canned Cat Food

Feline Natural ensures each product is made using New Zealand sourced, free-range, grain-free sources of protein.

Feline Natural Chicken & Venison Feast Grain-Free Canned Cat Food
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Key Benefits

  • Made in New Zealand using local sources of high-quality grass-fed meats (chicken and venison).

  • Natural formula with no wheat, rice, soy, or gluten. Making it friendly to most felines with food allergies.

  • No artificial ingredients, preservatives, additives, or gelling agents.

  • Made using fresh New Zealand water.

  • Great for all ages and breeds. Can be used during pregnancy and lactation periods as well.

  • Green-lipped mussel is added to the ingredients, which has the highest concentration of omegas-3’s of any marine or plant life. This makes it an incredible source of healthy fats.

Sensitive kitties will appreciate the simplicity of ingredients, palatable texture and flavors offered by Chicken & Venison Feast grain-free canned cat food. Suitable for felines of any age, including pregnant and nursing mothers, Feline Naturals produces their wet cat food without gelling agents, gluten, rice, soy or wheat.

You can trust each aspect of Feline Natural’s wet cat food was thoughtfully blended together for immune system support, and muscle maintenance. Omega fatty acids, sourced from green lipped mussel, New Zealand sourced fresh water, taurine, vitamins and minerals all work together to support feline organs and overall health. Cats will enjoy each bite of non-GMO ingredients, in a pate-style texture.

Chicken, Venison, Water Sufficient for Processing, Venison Kidney, Venison Liver, Venison Blood, Flaxseed Flakes, New Zealand Green Mussel, Dried Kelp, Taurine, Vitamin E Supplement, Magnesium Oxide, Zinc Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid.

Caloric Content

862 kcal/kg

Purina Beyond Simply Indoor Wild-Caught Salmon, Egg & Sweet Potato Recipe Grain-Free Dry Cat Food

Pet parents concerned with the overall health of their indoor cat, will appreciate the benefits Purina Beyond Simply Indoor dry cat food has to offer.

Purina Beyond Simply Indoor Wild-Caught Salmon, Egg & Sweet Potato Recipe Grain-Free Dry Cat Food
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Key Benefits

  • Great quality protein, with wild-salmon the number one ingredient

  • Full of high-quality nutrients, using limited natural ingredients, including probiotics for your cat’s digestive tract

  • Indoor formula consists of less fat, to aid weight management

  • Natural fiber for hairball control, and antioxidants to aid the immune system

  • Can be served alone, or with Beyond wet foods or toppers. A great food to boost protein and increase hydration

  • No corn, wheat, soy, poultry byproducts, artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives

Featuring a boosted, natural blend of fiber, Purina Beyond’s wild-caught salmon, egg and sweet potato recipe controls hairballs, while preventing compaction. 

Made without the hassle of added preservatives or artificial flavor, adult cats enjoy bites of real chicken and turkey. In order to promote a healthy lifestyle, this dry kibble encourages optimal weight maintenance through balanced nutrition. Added taurine improves vision health, while omega fatty acids, vitamins and minerals support overall feline health.

New: Salmon, Pea Starch, Chicken Meal, Pea Protein, Canola Meal, Cassava Root Flour, Dried Egg Product, Powdered Cellulose, Dried Yeast, Dried Sweet Potatoes, Pea Fiber, Beef Fat Preserved With Mixed-Tocopherols, Natural Flavor, Phosphoric Acid, Calcium Carbonate, Sodium Bisulfate, Potassium Chloride, Whole Cranberries, Salt, Taurine, DL-Methionine, Choline Chloride, MINERALS [Zinc Sulfate, Ferrous Sulfate, Manganese Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite], VITAMINS [Vitamin E Supplement, Niacin (Vitamin B-3), Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate (Vitamin B-5), Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B-1), Vitamin B-12 Supplement, Riboflavin Supplement (Vitamin B-2), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B-6), Folic Acid (Vitamin B-9), Menadione Sodium Bisulfite Complex (Vitamin K), Vitamin D-3 Supplement, Biotin (Vitamin B-7)], L-Lysine Monohydrochloride, Vitamin E Supplement, Dried Bacillus Coagulans Fermentation Product. C424319.

Original: Salmon, Chicken Meal, Pea Starch, Pea Protein, Canola Meal, Cassava Root Flour, Dried Egg Product, Powdered Cellulose, Dried Yeast, Dried Sweet Potatoes, Pea Fiber, Beef Fat Preserved with Mixed-Tocopherols, Natural Liver Flavor, Phosphoric Acid, Potassium Chloride, Sodium Bisulfate, Choline Chloride, L-Lysine Monohydrochloride, Taurine, Salt, Whole Cranberries, Calcium Carbonate, Minerals [Zinc Sulfate, Ferrous Sulfate, Manganese Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite], Vitamins [Vitamin E Supplement, Niacin (Vitamin B-3), Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate (Vitamin B-5), Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B-1), Vitamin B-12 Supplement, Riboflavin Supplement (Vitamin B-2), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B-6), Folic Acid (Vitamin B-9), Menadione Sodium Bisulfite Complex (Vitamin K), Vitamin D-3 Supplement], Vitamin E. B-4243.

Caloric Content

New: 3,250 kcal/kg, 322 kcal/cup

Original: 3,301 kcal/kg, 357 kcal/cup

FAQ

Grain-free cat food is just as the name says: cat food without grains. The most common grains that are found in pet food include wheat, rice, corn, oats, barley, flaxseed and rye.

If you’re considering purchasing grain-free cat food, here are the most prominent benefits: 

  • Good for food sensitivities and allergies: Allergies will vary on a case-by-case basis but if your cat has a confirmed allergy or digestive issues with grain products, grain-free food might help eliminate the symptoms.
  • More likely to be high protein/low carb: The most important food combination your cat needs is a high protein, low carbohydrate diet. This is because a cat’s natural diet in the wild is low in grains and high in protein. So generally grain-free food has protein as the top ingredient.
  • Easier to digest: For some cats, grain-free food might be easier to digest, especially for cats that develop allergies to a particular grain.

On the other hand, there are also some disadvantages in feeding your cat grain-free food:

  • Sometimes missing nutrients: Sometimes grain-free food could also be free of key nutrients that your cat needs. When opting for grain-free food, ensure that it still has sufficient vitamins and minerals. 
  • More expensive: This is a deterrent for some people who can’t afford expensive food for their pets. Luckily there are still plenty of affordable options that don’t compromise quality. 

Higher in fat content: Grain-free content may be higher in protein (which is a good thing!), however, it can also be higher in fat. Double check the label and feed your cat the correct portion size according to your vet’s recommendations. You don’t want to feed them more fat content than is needed.

AAFCO approval

Food that has the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) label means the pet food company complies with the nutritional guidelines set up for pets to achieve a ‘complete and balanced’ diet. 

Quality, proportional ingredients

Just because food is grain-free doesn’t mean it automatically gets a green check mark. You need to make sure it’s proportionally sound with quality ingredients. This means pure, crude animal protein needs to make up at least 35-45% and 15-25% comes from healthy fats. 

Moisture rich

Hydration is king. And sometimes cats don’t always want to drink from their water bowl. This is why wet food or at least an alternation between wet and dry is ideal. 

Taking into account your cat’s needs

Of course, when it comes to our cats, it might not always be one size fits all. Your cat may have their own health concerns or dietary restrictions. In consultation with your vet recommendations, ensure you’re getting the right food that doesn’t compromise your cat’s health.

On its own – no. Just feeding your cat grain-free food won’t help him or her lose weight. It’s best to stick to feeding the right proportions based on your cat’s age, activity level, etc. And maintain a low-carb, high protein diet (or high protein, low fat), which will be easier to find among grain-free food. But keep in mind that any food in excess can cause weight gain, so always feed your cat appropriately and check the nutritional label.

It’s important to note that while many pet owners subscribe by the idea that grain is bad for cats, the vast majority of stomach upsets and food allergies come from protein sources. There’s no conclusive research that proves grains as harmful to the entire cat population. And not all grain-free food is good for cats or has a complete and balanced nutritional profile. 

But it’s true that because cats are obligate carnivores, they require a heavy protein diet to survive and thrive. Just because you feed your cat grain-free products, doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be consuming less carbs.

Constipation should not occur if your cat stays hydrated and on a consistent feeding schedule. Sometimes mild diet changes can actually help constipation. In this way, grain-free food usually helps our feline friends, due to its high protein and digestible ingredients. Constipation is more likely to occur due to inflammatory bowel disease, allergies, stress, cancer, obesity and more. If you’re worried, check with your vet. Remember that a healthy cat should pass stool at least every 24 – 36 hours.