Much like figuring out the right nutrition for yourself, deciding what to feed your indoor cat can feel a bit overwhelming. How much protein should the food contain? Are carbs bad for cats? Is wet food better than dry food?
Worry not, we researched hundreds of cat food options to come up with the top 10 picks for indoor kitties. We’ve also included a guide on what to look for when choosing food, because ensuring your cat leads a healthy and happy life starts with a complete and balanced diet.
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Our Picks for the Best Cat Foods for Indoor Cats
1. Blue Buffalo Indoor Health Dry Cat Food
Blue Buffalo Indoor Health is made specifically for indoor cats, providing a balance of calories from protein and fat (32% and 15%, respectively) to ensure cats maintain healthy weight, digestion, and a strong immune system. It also comes complete with “LifeSource Bits”, a mix of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
- Dry cat food specifically formulated for indoor cats
- Chicken & brown rice flavor
- Made without wheat, soy, corn, or poultry by-product meals
- Contains a blend of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals chosen by veterinarians and nutritionists
- Also available in salmon & brown rice formula
- Chicken is the first ingredient
- Formulas available for specific life-stages and unique needs such as sensitive stomach, hairball control, or weight control
- All natural and made without artificial flavors or preservatives
- Contains omega 3 and 6 fatty acids for coat and skin health
- Kibble is on the smaller side, which may not work for some cats
2. Wellness Natural Complete Health Wet Cat Food, Turkey & Salmon
Wellness Complete Health has a grain-free formula made in the USA and provides whole body nutrition for your indoor cat. Made up of 10.5% protein and 5% fat, many have found this recipe to be a favorite with finicky eaters.
- Wet cat food in turkey and salmon paté flavor
- Made with ingredients that support energy and immune health, skin and coat, digestion, vision, and dental health
- Contains vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, B3 (niacin), B12, C, D3, E, folic acid, zinc, and more
- Cans available in 3, 5.5, and 12-ounce sizes (sold in 24 can packs)
- Turkey is the first ingredient
- Cranberries for urinary health
- Includes ground flaxseed for omega 3 fatty acids
- Gluten free
- Cans provide longer shelf life
- Pricier compared to other wet cat food options
3. American Journey Turkey & Chicken Dry Cat Food
American Journey Turkey & Chicken is a grain free dry cat food that features deboned turkey, turkey meal, and chicken meal as the first three ingredients. The mix of 40% protein and 15% fat offers a satisfying meal and complete nutrition for adult indoor cats.
- Grain free, dry cat food in turkey and chicken recipe
- Contains essential amino acids like taurine, and antioxidants that support immune system, heart, and eye health
- Manufactured in the USA
- Complete with supplements including vitamin A, B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B12, D3, E, folic acid, and more
- Contains no by-product meal
- Made without corn, wheat, soy, or artificial preservatives
- Suitable for all life stages
- Only available in 5 pound and 12 pound bags
- Exclusive to Chewy
4. IAMS Proactive Health Adult Indoor Weight & Hairball Control Dry Cat Food
IAMS Proactive Health is specifically formulated for indoor cats to support healthy weight and digestion, two main considerations for indoor felines. Chicken is the first ingredient in the recipe, with the kibble containing 30% protein and 11% fat content.
- Dry cat food in chicken flavor
- Formulated to decrease hairballs and help cats maintain a healthy weight
- L-Carnitine to help indoor cats burn fat
- Fiber blend of grains, rice, and beets help reduce hairball issues
- Available in 3.5, 7, 16, and 22 pound bags
- Chicken is the first ingredient
- No artificial preservatives or dyes
- Contains a complete set of essential vitamins and minerals; no additional supplements required
- Contains corn and wheat based ingredients
5. ZIWI Peak Provenance Canned Wet Cat Food
Ziwi Peak East Cape is a wet food suitable for all cat breeds and life stages. Ingredients are sourced from New Zealand and follow the company’s requirements for PeakPrey™ recipes that are high in meat and low in carbs and preservatives.
- Made to match a whole prey diet, with recipe containing 97% meat, organs, seafood, and ground bone
- Made with mutton, goat, and wild-caught fish
- Grain-free and low-carb
- Includes superfoods, such as New Zealand green lipped mussel for joint health, and organic kelp for antioxidants
- 100% of all ingredients are ethically and sustainably sourced from New Zealand farms and oceans
- Low in carbs for cats on special diets
- Suitable for all life stages, from kittens to senior cats
- Can be used as a complete meal or a food topper
- Quality ingredients mean a more expensive price tag
- Only available in 4.5 and 12 ounce bags
6. Royal Canin Feline Health Indoor Wet Cat Food
This Royal Canin wet food is made specifically for adult indoor cats between 1-7 years old. The formula contains chicken liver, pork liver, chicken byproducts, and salmon for its 8.1% protein and 2.2.% fat make-up.
- Wet cat food morsels in gravy
- Complete and balanced formula for indoor cats aged 1-7 years old
- Contains L-Carnitine and taurine
- Includes a host of vitamins and minerals including vitamins B1, B2, B12, D3, E, zinc, copper, and more
- Comes with a 100% satisfaction guarantee
- Made in the USA
- Water (for processing) is listed as first ingredient
7. Blue Buffalo Freedom Indoor Adult Dry Cat Food
Blue Buffalo Freedom is another solid choice for indoor cat food, made with high fiber content for enhanced digestion and a balanced caloric profile for healthy weight. Similar to the other Blue Buffalo option on our list, this kibble formula also includes “LifeSource Bits”, a mix of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants forming a complete supplement profile.
- Grain free dry cat food in chicken recipe
- Formulated specifically for indoor cats
- Made without corn, wheat, soy
- Natural ingredients, made with no artificial flavors or preservatives
- 32% protein, 14% fat content
- Available in 5 and 11 pound bags
- Chicken is the first ingredient
- Does not contain poultry by-products
- Contains flaxseed for omega 3 fatty acids, supporting skin and coat health
- Added LifeSource bits, a mix of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants
- On the pricier side of dry food options
8. Hill’s Science Diet Indoor Kitten Dry Cat Food
If you’re looking for a dry cat food specifically formulated for your indoor kitten, take a look at this Hill’s Science option. This kitten food has a complete and balanced nutritional profile that supports brain and vision development, digestion, and overall healthy growth.
- Indoor kitten dry food
- Complete and balanced diet formulated specifically for kittens under 1 year old
- Contains a full profile of essential vitamins and minerals
- Very small kibble that’s easily chewed and digested
- Comes in 3.5 and 7 pound bags
- Manufactured in the USA
- Contains fish oil for brain and eye development
- Made with prebiotic fibers for a cleaner litter box
- All natural, made without artificial preservatives, flavors, or colors
- Flaxseed with omega 3s for enhanced skin and fur
- Bag sizes are small, even though the food is made for kittens
Indoor Cat Food Buying Guide
Food and nutrition can play a big part in the quality of life for our feline friends. This guide will help take some of the guesswork out of buying indoor cat food by offering information on foods your cat should and shouldn’t eat, the two main types of cat food, reading nutrition labels, and when to feed your cat.
What Should Cats Eat?
Cats are obligate carnivores and require nutrients found in animal products to live a long and healthy life. That means finding cat foods that are high in protein, contain moderate amounts of fats, as well as minimal carbohydrates is important to ensure your cat is getting adequate nutrition.
Animal Based Proteins
Most of the protein in a cat’s diet should come from animal based sources (meat, organs) instead of plant based sources (grains, veggies). Animal based proteins contain a full amino acid profile; while humans can produce the missing pieces not supplied by a plant based diet, cats cannot, and therefore need their proteins from meat.
Taurine is one of the most important compounds cats get from animal protein, as it isn’t found in plants. Taurine is crucial to healthy body functioning in a cat, with a deficiency having the potential to cause blindness, heart problems, or even death. Most pet food manufacturers now add taurine to their food formulas because of this.
Another essential element cats should be eating is water. Yes, you read that right! Cats should be eating, rather than drinking, a majority of their water. Prior to domestication, a cat’s wild prey would normally contain about 70-75% water, leading to cats not having a very high thirst drive. Without a water filled diet, cats can develop bladder and kidney issues.
Fats are a solid source of energy for kitties, essential in the structure of cells, and important for the absorption of vitamins. Essential fatty acids for cats include omega-6 and omega-3, as both help to heal inflammation from allergies and arthritis.
What Cats Shouldn’t Eat
A good rule of thumb is to not let your cat eat human food. A piece of cooked egg or meat from time to time is OK, but many foods can be harmful even in small amounts. For a comprehensive explanation of food safety for your cat, take a read through our veterinarian-written pet safety guide.
The following foods are on the do not eat list for felines:
- Garlic: There’s a myth that garlic will rid your cat of worms, not true!
- Grapes and raisins
- Raw eggs, meat or fish: Bacteria in raw foods can cause food poisoning and interfere with essential vitamins and minerals.
- Artificial sweeteners (found in gum and sugar-free candy)
- Cow milk: Contrary to popular belief, a saucer of milk isn’t good for a kitty. Most are actually lactose intolerant.
- Coffee, tea, soda: Avoid giving your cat caffeine of any kind.
- High-fat foods
- Fruits with a pit
- Dog food: Cats seem to love dog food and though they have many of the same ingredients, a diet of dog food can lead to malnourishment in cats.
- Macadamia nuts
- Liver: Small amounts of liver in cat food are fine, but due to high vitamin A content, it should never be the first ingredient in a cat food recipe. Too much vitamin A can lead to deformed bones and osteoporosis in cats.
- Alcohol: Even a small amount of alcohol can cause a coma or death in cats.
- Bread dough or anything with yeast
- Human medicine
- Tuna: This one surprised us, too! Tuna in smaller quantities is fine, but tuna shouldn’t make up the majority of a cat’s diet. It lacks several necessary nutrients and can lead to mercury poisoning.
Indoor vs. Outdoor Cat Diets
While indoor and outdoor cats essentially require the same nutrition (protein, fat, and water), the amount of food each one needs is different. Indoor cats spend most of their days lounging around the house, so feeding them the same as a highly active outdoor cat that expends energy throughout the day will only lead to the indoor kitty gaining weight. Indoor cats also tend to get more hairballs, as their natural hair growth doesn’t follow the seasonal cycle that outdoor cats experience, leading to constant shedding.
That’s where cat foods created specifically for indoor cats come in handy; these normally have fewer calories and contain increased fiber content to help move hairballs faster through the GI tract. Just be sure the indoor cat food is still a good source of animal-based protein. Sometimes, in order to lower calorie count, manufacturers will swap meat for vegetables.
Types of Cat Foods for Indoor Cats
The two main types of cat foods are wet and dry. All are commercially available and vary in calories, water, protein content, digestibility, and taste. We’ve highlighted the differences between the two options below.
A good source of H2O, wet food generally contains about 75% water. Although it’s more expensive than dry food, wet food is popular with picky eaters, easier to portion control, and provides the crucial vitamins, minerals, and amino acids healthy cats need.
Wet foods are typically lower in carbohydrates and have more animal-based protein than dry foods that can utilize high-carb ingredients and plant-based proteins. The formulas can also be tailored for specific diets or health issues such as gastrointestinal, weight care, renal support, aging, and urinary health.
Unopened cans can be stored indefinitely but should be refrigerated after opening. Not all wet foods are nutritionally complete so read the label and/or mix with dry food to ensure a balanced and complete diet for your cat.
Another version of wet food is semi-moist food, which typically contains around 60-65% water. Some semi-moist cat foods have artificial color, chemical preservatives, or flavors and can be high in sugar and salt, making them an unsuitable choice for some cats. Read the label to understand how semi-moist food will fit into your cat’s diet.
Dry food, or kibble, contains between 6-10% water, is calorie dense and relatively inexpensive. Kibble can also be bought in larger quantities and, when stored properly, maintains its nutritional value for a decent amount of time. The main argument against dry kibble is that it tends to have less protein, less water, and fewer carbs than wet food.
If you allow your cat to graze throughout the day or free-feed, dry food can be left in the open and not spoil as easily as wet food. If you decide to use dry cat food, consider using wet food as a topper to incorporate a little more moisture to their meals.
A lot of dry foods will use the term “grain-free” on their label, but know that it doesn’t mean the food is without carbs. The manufacturer could have still used ingredients (potatoes, peas) that are high in carbohydrates.
A Mix is Preferable
Due to their origins, cats don’t drink a lot of water. As most of their moisture traditionally came from their prey, a mix of wet and dry food is often recommended by veterinarians. And keeping wet food in the mix will ensure that cats get enough water to avoid urinary tract problems that come with being chronically dehydrated.
A note on homemade cat food: A growing trend is to make your own cat food. Unfortunately, homemade doesn’t necessarily mean healthy. Cats need a specific blend of vitamins, minerals, and protein that is difficult to achieve in a personal kitchen. Should you decide to make cat food, be sure to consult your veterinarian for guidance.
Reading the Nutritional Label
All the text on cat food labels can be confusing. Here’s how to figure out what matters.
- Product name and brand name
- Whether it’s dog or cat food
- How much product is in the package
- The nutrients in the product (a.k.a. Guaranteed analysis): Shows the minimum and maximum amount of protein, fat, moisture and fiber in the food
- What type of pet and stage of life the food is suited for
- Feeding instructions
- Name and address of manufacturer
Don’t pay attention to marketing terms like “primal”, “wild”, or “premium” on the label. These words are misleading and don’t actually mean that the food quality is any higher than other brands.
Understanding Product Naming
There’s a lot you can glean from the product name of a cat food if you understand the regulations. Use the naming conventions below as a guide the next time you’re choosing wet cat food.
“Ingredient Cat Food” = Must contain 95% of the named ingredient, ex. Turkey Cat Food is 95% turkey.
“Ingredient Dinner” or “Ingredient Entree” = Contains between 94-25% of the named ingredient.
“Cat Food with Ingredient” = Could contain as little as 3% of the named ingredient, ex. Cat Food with Turkey may have less turkey than Turkey Dinner.
When reading the nutritional label, make sure the first ingredients in the recipe are meat, seafood, or meat/seafood meal/byproducts.
Ingredients are listed in order of weight, so ingredients that are used in higher quantities will be first. Look for recipes where the first few ingredients are meat, poultry, or seafood. Meat, poultry, or seafood meal or byproducts may also be top ingredients and that’s generally OK, too.
“Meal” and “byproducts” aren’t necessarily bad and many manufacturers use them in order to provide high-quality food that’s affordable and nutritious. Meals and byproducts are basically the leftovers from a slaughtered animal after the parts intended for human consumption are removed, have been cooked down and baked into a concentrated protein powder. That said, avoid generic byproducts and meals such as meat meal, animal byproduct, etc. Stick to named ingredients like chicken meal or beef byproduct.
If the ingredients don’t include grains, potatoes, peas, or gravies and sauces, it’s likely that the food is low in carbohydrates. But don’t despair if you see these on your cat food label, carbs in moderation are OK for cats. You can also specifically look for low carb cat foods if you want to minimize carbohydrate intake.
How Often and How Much to Feed Your Cat
The size, age, and energy output of your cat will dictate the amount of food they need. You should be careful not to overfeed, which is easy to do when using wet cat food. Overfeeding leads to obesity which can cause a host of health issues for your feline companion. Once a cat is overweight, it’s difficult to help them shed the extra pounds.
Portion Control Feeding
Similar to portion control for humans, feeding your cat measured amounts of food as meals helps keep them from overeating and becoming obese. It’s common to allow cats to eat the allotted food without a timer.
Timed feeding is making food available for a period of time and taking it away if it isn’t eaten within that span, for example 30 minutes. The amount of time you allow for your cat to eat a meal is up to you and will vary from cat to cat. This method can be used with portion control feeding.
Free feeding involves leaving food out all day and allowing the cat to graze at its leisure. It’s commonly used with dry food since that can be left out for longer periods of time than wet food. Free feeding is OK for kittens, as they need to eat often, but can lead to obesity in adult cats.
Other Feeding Considerations
Cat foods should have instructions on the nutritional label that detail how much a cat should be fed. If you aren’t sure where to start, try using the portion-control method twice a day. Take the amount of food suggested on the label and divide it into two meals spaced about eight hours apart. Once you see how your cat responds you can adjust the portion sizes.
It is recommended to use a mix of wet and dry food when feeding cats but how you do it — wet and dry in the same bowl two to three times a day, or wet food in the morning and dry food at night — is up to the owner’s discretion.
If you still aren’t sure how much to feed your cat, ask your veterinarian or consult an animal nutritionist.
Regarding treats, they should be used sparingly and in conjunction with a balanced diet, not as a source of nutrition on their own. A good rule of thumb is to keep the calories from treats at less than 10% of your cat’s daily caloric intake.
Switching Cat Foods
If this guide has inspired you to switch your cat’s food, be aware that it’s best to make the change gradually. The transition suggestions below are similar to the recommendations of most cat food manufacturers:
Days 1-3: 75% old food, 25% new food
Days 4-6: 50% old food, 50% new food
Days 7-9: 25% old food, 75% new food
Day 10: 100% new food
Frequently Asked Questions
What is essential to my cat’s diet?
Animal-based proteins, water, and fats. Yes, cats need water in their food!
Is wet cat food better than dry cat food?
Not necessarily, but be sure to look at the dry food label to see the water content, carbohydrates, and whether the proteins come from animals or plants. Consider mixing wet and dry food to ensure a balanced and complete diet for your cat.
Are “meals” and “byproducts” bad for my cat?
Not necessarily, they are often the rendered remains of animals that were baked into a concentrated protein powder. Chicken meal, beef byproduct, or other named meat meals and byproducts are OK. Avoid generic terms such as “meat meal” or “animal byproduct,” that could mean an undesirable source.
Cornell University, College of Veterinary Medicine: https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feeding-your-cat
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