We all want our feline friends to be strong, happy, and live long lives. One of the best ways to ensure this is with a high-quality, healthy diet. The problem is that sometimes those high-quality diets carry a price tag that is beyond our means. Fortunately, there are some cheaper cat food options available to us. I’ll cover the best four cat foods under $25 for a 16-pound bag so that you can nourish your cat without deflating your wallet.
1. Best Overall: Purina ONE Tender Selects Blend With Real Chicken or Salmon
Contains no artificial preservatives, flavors, or fillers.
100% Complete And Balanced Nutrition For Adult Cats.
This Purina ONE cat food is an excellent choice because the first ingredient is real chicken or salmon and no artificial flavors or preservatives.
This provides a high-quality source of protein. It contains 34% protein and 13% fat. This will fuel your kitty through any activity, no matter how hyperactive or laid-back they are, without significantly contributing to obesity.
Purina ONE Tender Selects is also a veterinary formulated product that provides all essential nutrients, including omega fatty acids for a healthy haircoat and skin and taurine for heart health. It also features uniquely shaped kibble that promotes healthy, clean teeth and gums. There are also “bonus” pieces, where the name tender selects comes from, that are meatier, softer texture chunks.
As with any cat food, some cats won’t be interested. This could be due to a flavor or texture issue. Unfortunately for some cats, because this product from Purina ONE contains chicken, it can cause issues for cats with food allergies. However, there is also a salmon version flavor if chicken is a problem for your cat.
- Real chicken/salmon as the first ingredient
- Added omega fatty acids
- High protein content
- No artificial flavors or preservatives
- Some cats won’t like it
- Can affect cats with food allergies related to chicken (for chicken recipe)
2. Runner Up: IAMS Proactive Health Healthy Adult Original With Chicken/Salmon
Real chicken or salmon is the #1 ingredient.
Maintains healthy digestion with natural fiber and prebiotics.
Another great option for those on a budget is IAMS Proactive Health Healthy Adult cat food made with chicken as the first ingredient. Real chicken, plus chicken by-product meal, contributes to this food’s 32% protein content. It’s a little higher in fat, at 15%, making it more ideal for active or younger kitties than the more sedentary types.
To round it out, IAM Proactive Health Healthy Adult also packs in omega fatty acids for a healthy haircoat and skin, prebiotics and fiber to balance the gut for healthy digestion. Fiber also contributes to a cat’s feeling of fullness after a meal, reducing the amount that they eat (and beg). Other varieties, including urinary tract health and indoor formula, are available if your kitty has other specific needs.
This product does contain chicken and corn, which could create issues for cats with digestive sensitivities or allergies (salmon recipe also is available). Some pet owners also have issues with their cats not liking the taste or texture. Quality control can also be an issue, especially with larger batches and depending on the supplier. Just be sure to always inspect your cat’s food before feeding it to them to make sure there is no mold or bugs.
- Real chicken as the first ingredient
- Fiber and prebiotics for healthy digestion
- Omega fatty acids to improve haircoat and skin
- Quality issues with some bags containing mold
- Contains chicken and corn
- Some cats don’t like it
3. Best for Active Cats: Kirkland Signature Chicken & Rice
Kibble size is optimized for your cat and helps keep their teeth clean.
Made using fresh chicken and is the #1 ingredient.
If your cat doesn’t have an “off” button, Kirkland Signature Chicken & Rice is for them. This less expensive food contains chicken and chicken meal as the first ingredients. It also contains 20% fat, which helps to fuel those “go-at-all-costs” kinds of cats. Along with that high fat, there is also an adequate 30% protein to help maintain muscle mass and tone. This food would also be a good choice for outdoor cats.
Human-grade, cultured probiotics are another key ingredient in this food from Kirkland Signature. Along with prebiotic fiber, probiotics help to create and maintain a healthy microbiome for optimal digestion. Your cat may also benefit from the added omega fatty acids and antioxidants for a healthy haircoat, skin, and immune system.
Switching to new cat foods can cause digestive upset in some cats. This food is no different. Some cats may experience diarrhea, vomiting, and smelly stools when switching to this food. That’s why it’s essential to gradually transition your cat to any new food to allow their digestive system time to acclimate. Also, some cats may just not like this food. Kirkland Signature is only available through Costco, which requires a membership for purchase. You can check out this product on their website here: Kirkland Signature Chicken & Rice
- High in fat for active or outdoor cats
- Real chicken as the first ingredient
- Probiotics and prebiotics for healthy digestion
- May cause diarrhea and vomiting at first
- Some cats don’t like it
- Requires a Costco membership
4. Best Cheap Canned Food: Fancy Feast Creamy Delights
Comes in many recipes and flavors.
For a softer cat food variety to use as a mix-in, Fancy Feast Creamy Delights will give your kitty a protein boost along with a great taste, all at a low cost. This variety pack contains four different flavors to appease even picky tastebuds and to provide much-needed fluids. Meat and liver are the first ingredients to provide a high-protein meal.
There is also a variety of textures in this canned cat food. Some flavors provide a soft pate-style food, while the other is chunks of meat in gravy. All varieties are highly digestible and easily chewed for cats with sensitive stomachs or dental issues.
Since this is a variety pack with different flavors and textures, there is a chance that some cats won’t like all four flavors. However, that can be easily fixed by buying single flavors of Fancy Feast Creamy Delights. This product also contains a small amount of milk, which can be an issue for cats with allergies or lactose intolerance.
- High protein
- Easily digestible
- Contains meat in the first two ingredients
- Some cats won’t like it
- Contains milk
- Won’t help clean teeth like dry kibble
Cheap Cat Food Buying Guide
There is a difference in the quality of cat foods out there on the market. Usually, that difference comes with a price variation, with higher-priced foods generally being considered better. That isn’t always the case, and that doesn’t mean that lower-priced cat foods can’t still work for your cat.
What is the Difference Between Expensive and Cheaper Cat Foods?
The difference in the price tag of cat food is generally based on the quality of the ingredients. Higher quality ingredients come with a higher price tag. Higher quality ingredients include whole meats, usually locally or regionally sourced, whole vegetables, and whole grains. Cheaper cat foods may also contain whole products, but most will also use by-products or meat meals as protein sources. While these ingredients are generally considered to provide inferior nutrition, that’s not always the case.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials, or AAFCO, is the regulating body for pet foods. They determine if pet food meets the nutritional requirements that animals need to survive. They also define what meat by-products and meat meals used in pet foods are.
Contrary to popular belief, these are not the bits scraped off the floor at the end of processing. By-products and meals contain tissues other than muscle, such as organ meat and fats, that can provide quite a lot of nutrition. They don’t include hair, hooves, teeth, or feces.
There is a difference in the quality of by-products and meals, but that doesn’t mean that they should be looked down on from a nutritional standpoint. And, let’s face it, cats in the wild eat these kinds of things all of the time.
Foods that are considered organic or “natural” also are typically higher priced.
What to Look for in a Cheaper Cat Food
Cheaper cat food can still provide all of the necessary nutrients to help your cat thrive; you just need to know what to look for. With that in mind, compare labels across cat food brands that fit your budget. Here’s what to look for:
- Ingredients: The quality of the ingredients has a lot to do with the price of cat food. Look for products that contain whole ingredients, specifically meats and grains. Ingredients on a cat food label are listed by quantity, meaning that a food will contain more of those ingredients listed first, second, and so on. Check for a food containing meat, ideally as the first ingredient in kibble or as the first or second ingredient in canned. There is some controversy on the addition of grains to cat foods since cats are obligate carnivores and need to eat meat instead of carbohydrates. However, even cats in the wild consume some grains that help provide fiber, protein, and other important nutrients. So, if your cat isn’t allergic to grains, it’s okay if their cat food contains a small amount.
- AAFCO Approval: Again, AAFCO determines if a food is nutritionally adequate for healthy cats. So, make sure that the food you choose is AAFCO approved. This just helps ensure that a cat food isn’t significantly lacking anything significant.
- Guaranteed Analysis: This part of the cat food label breaks down the content of different nutrients into percentages. You’ll want to look for a food around 25-32% protein and anywhere from 8-15% fat depending on your cat’s activity level. Also, finding a cat food that is lower in phosphorus may have some benefit in preventing kidney disease down the road.
- Feeding Recommendations: Different cat foods are going to have different feeding recommendations. This means that you will need to feed more of some foods to provide the listed number of calories. This becomes important when comparing prices since some more expensive foods may require smaller amounts, making them last longer than cheaper foods.
- Artificial Ingredients: You may notice that more expensive cat foods tend to be brown, while cheaper foods may come in a rainbow of colors. This is due to artificial colors, flavors, or other additives.
Your cat doesn’t care what color their cat food is, and some of those artificial additives can be detrimental to your cat. Your best bet is to steer clear of any additional additives that your cat just doesn’t need, including color, flavor, and preservatives.
Even with this information, the process of choosing a less expensive cat food can still boggle the mind. When in doubt, ask your veterinarian. Your vet should be an important member of your cat’s life, including nutritional counseling, and most are more than happy to recommend their top picks for any price range.
The importance of nutrition for the health and longevity of cats is a hot and important topic that has fortunately led to the creation of a variety of quality cat foods for any budget. Just because you can’t afford the pricier brands doesn’t mean that your cat’s diet has to suffer. Hopefully, this guide will help you choose a quality cat food that your kitty will enjoy with a price tag that your wallet can handle.
Dr. Chyrle Bonk has been practicing veterinary medicine since 2010. She lives in Idaho with her husband and two sons, where they spend their free time exploring the great outdoors that is right in their backyard.